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POP-goer diaries

by The Concordian September 27, 2011

POP Montreal’s five-day-long birthday bash has sadly come to an end. It was the festival’s 10th anniversary, and what a party it was. From the free Arcade Fire show to the various art and fashion events, this year’s edition exceeded expectations.
My own experience of POP was loud, exciting and a bit frustrating, but overall, it was a blast. My back and feet ache, I’m sleep deprived and am fairly certain that my eardrums have suffered some kind of permanent damage. Note for next year: invest in earplugs.
A dear friend and fellow concert fiend bussed in from Hull, Quebec, and we popped around the Plateau from Thursday to Saturday. We managed to squeeze in 15 artists, but considering that more than 300 bands played over the course of the festival, this isn’t much. Alas, life imposes certain time constraints and obligations upon us and since I have not yet discovered how to clone myself, seeing all 300 sets would not have been physically possible. In any case, I saw some bands that I had never heard of before, some that I have seen many times, and some that I had been waiting a long time to check out.
Having missed out on Wednesday night’s performances, the free Arcade Fire show was my first POP stop. Kid Koala, decked in a big, fluffy koala suit, spun, scratched and vibed with the dexterity of someone who has undoubtedly mastered their craft. Some beats were slower and more melodic, bringing the crowd down a few notches, but his more hyped up songs induced some serious dance-alongs.
Montreal francophone trio Karkwa, who incidentally brought home last year’s Polaris Prize, took the stage next. Karkwa has been around since 1998, and the band’s maturity is observable in their music – their instrumentation and vocals were flawless.
After deciding early on that the Arcade Fire show ought not to be the only thing we checked out that night, we headed up to Barfly to see B.C. punk quartet Slam Dunk. Going into it, I thought that the name was awful (and still kind of do), but it is in fact very suited to their musical style. Slam Dunk had the energy of 100 slam dunks in a row, and so did the crowd, which appeared to consist of close friends and faithful followers. Their sound was catchy and accessible, but still heavy and fast enough to leave you spinning like a chicken with its head cut off. This band was definitely a highlight for me and my friend.
Next, we walked up the street to Divan Orange to check out Quest For Fire. The crowd was sparse, probably because the band was scheduled for a late night performance. Quest For Fire played heavy-as-shit psych-rock. Unfortunately, in spite of their tight musicianship, it felt like the long, drawn-out instrumental bits dominated their set, and the slow, stoner-esque vocals had sleepy consequences. There were, however, a couple of dudes near the front of the crowd who were passionately head banging using a slow, full-bodied thrusting motion. Not feeling the vibe, we went home to sleep.
We got off to a late start on Friday night, having begun our roaming at around 11 p.m. The Deep Dark Woods put on a solid, nicely crafted folk-country set at Petit Campus that had the crowd dancing in pairs. We then wandered up to Barfly to check out Dearly Beloved, who played body smashing bass-driven pop-punk. The band’s erratic stage presence had the near-packed audience thrashing and pumping their necks, especially closer to the stage area. Their set was so loud that upon exiting the venue, regular sounds had taken on an almost underwater quality.
We trekked up to Le Belmont for what we expected to be the highlight of the night’s performances, Chicago rapper Kid Sister. We didn’t end up staying for her set, however, because although she was meant to go on at 12:30 a.m., it wasn’t until 12:45 a.m. that rapper Azelia Banks, whose set was scheduled to start at 11:30 p.m., took the stage. Feeling a bit frustrated, we headed over to O Patro Vys to catch the remainder of Toronto indie group Ohbijou’s set.
Ohbijou are extremely talented musicians. Their music is full-bodied and complex while still retaining a soft, playful vibe. I have seen them a few times over the years and they continually fail to disappoint. For their second-to-last song, they revealed a song off their forthcoming album, Metal Meets, which comes out on Sept. 27.
Saturday night’s performances, we accepted, were going to be wild cards. The only plans that we etched in stone were to see Toronto pop artist Allie Hughes at O Patro Vys at midnight, Montreal indie-grunge trio Parlovr at L’Escogriffe at 12:30 a.m. and Toronto post-punk group Metz at Barfly at 1 a.m., which was very ambitious of us. We therefore meandered between the three venues from 10 p.m. to midnight to check out the opening bands.
Mausoleum, a Toronto-based post-wave foursome, was playing at Barfly when we peeked in. They had a cool setup: the synth, which was propped up onto two bar stool chairs, gave their set a catchy ‘80s vibe. The guitarist looked spaced out while bobbing about with melodic progressions and the drummer competently set the pace. The only disappointing aspect of their set was that bassist and lead singer couldn’t sing.
Next, we briefly saw an unmemorable set by Montreal light-rock band Montoire at L’Escogriffe before strolling over to O Patro Vys for an equally unmemorable set by By Divine Right. Their music, played live, sounded like boring, generic indie music, and the female bassist played simple riffs. Although a mic was placed in front of her, she never sang once.
By Divine Right finished late, so Allie Hughes began her set at 12:20 a.m. I had previously seen her play in a small venue in southern Ontario a year and a half prior, where her theatrical stage presence and unpredictable songs made for a highly entertaining act. At O Patro Vys, however, Hughes performed much more mature, melodic tunes that highlighted her musical competency rather than her quirkiness. It’s too bad that her mic volume was low, because her vocal range was effortlessly expansive.
After staying for only three songs, we rushed back to L’Escogriffe for four of Parlovr’s songs, among them “Speech Bubble/Thought Cloud,” off of their debut self-titled album, and a new tune called “Holding On To Something.”
We then booked it down to Barfly to catch the end of Metz’s show. We were stuck way at the back, which was unfortunate because their tightly knit, intensely erratic presence brought the atmosphere to hectic proportions. Moshers emerged from the show drenched in sweat and visibly elated.
While not every show was the greatest, there was certainly no lack of talent and creativity present at this year’s festival. In the festival’s own words, POP “provides a dynamic introduction to the next generation of musical talent and independent art forms.”  For the 10th consecutive year, this mission was a success.

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