Montreal goes ‘pop’, independent style

Montreal being the cultural melting pot that it is, you’d think that a festival celebrating the ever-enveloping independent music scene would have showed its face years ago. Well, for whatever reason it never did, but music lovers in Montreal are now being rewarded for their patience with Pop Montreal, a festival that has attracted indie bands from all over North America (even a few overseas) and will inhabit the Plateau Sept. 26 to 29.

Don’t get thrown off by the term “pop”- it’s unlikely that you’ll see any Britney Spears look-alikes prancing around on stage. What this festival showcases is the grassroots of popular music, the underground sounds that can’t be heard on commercial radio. And the bands are as diverse as the city they’re playing in, ranging from gritty hip-hop to folk, from synth-saturated electronica to down and dirty rock n’ roll.

Not enough? The festival will also be screening the Wilco documentary I am trying to break your heart at Cinema du Parc and is putting together a number of panel discussions and seminars on pop culture and related topics, not to mention the delirious after-hours loft parties that will be taking place at various locations in the downtown area.

The concept behind Pop Montreal is to put bands with a potentially similar audience on the same bill in the hopes of creating a bigger fan base. It also gives smaller bands the opportunity to take a stab at playing some of the bigger venues in Montreal such as the Cabaret and the Spectrum.

“If you put enough great independent bands on one stage, then you’ve created the perfect showcase which is going to draw the industry,” explains festival co-founder Peter Rowan, who is also the mastermind behind the Halifax Pop Explosion.

A strong representation of local bands, both on the French and English sides, is also at the top of the list for festival organizers.

“There is so much going on in Montreal in terms of music, but there’s nothing that really centralizes the pop music scene, that brings together the French and English. The reason why it’s so hard for bands to break into Montreal is that the market is divided between [the two languages],” says Noelle Sorbara, who climbed aboard the Pop Montreal train last February after meeting with Rowan and other co-founder Dan Seligman. She adds that some shows will have both English and French bands on the bill in the hopes of bringing together the two cultures.

If Pop Montreal is a hit, then organizers expect it to become a regular event for the city. Rowan clearly sees the festival as having a very positive effect on Montreal and envisions it as becoming an important musical institution for the city similar to North by Northeast in Toronto and South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“The most important thing that we can do is to demonstrate on a variety of levels that there’s a really viable community [in Montreal] and with that a business as well,” he explains, adding that it’s important for audiences to recognize the value that independent bands have in the music community.

In the years to come, Rowan, Seligman and Sorbara aim to bring in more acts from overseas, enabling audiences to check out bands that normally wouldn’t have the funds or the fan-base to come to North America. One thing about the festival that will never change is its ambition to promote independent music culture, something that Rowan insists upon.

“It’s important to maintain an independent atmosphere for the festival. I wouldn’t be doing this otherwise.”

Pop Montreal runs from Sept.26 to 29 at a number of venues throughout the Plateau. For more information call 842-1919, or visit


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