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The best and worst of POP Montreal

by Calvin Cashen September 19, 2017
The best and worst of POP Montreal

The week-long festival brought a plethora of bands to the city’s best concert venues

Following a decrease in enthusiasm over the last few years, there was a fair deal of pearl-clutching over whether or not the summer festival circuit was indeed losing its edge. This doesn’t seem to be much of a concern in Montreal.

As the summer leaves tint to brown, eager concert purists and artsy indie kids flocked to POP Montreal. In its 16th installment, the city-wide music festival still retains the magic that kept it going during its inception. The POP Montreal curators are probably the most well-versed tastemakers around.

Upon discovering all the festival had to offer over the last week, we found that POP is, by definition, a true music festival. But to insinuate that the festival is by all accounts “music first and questions later” is to denounce the key to POP’s success. And that formula for success stems from the festival’s adept understanding of how the music industry operates. There was plenty of music, sure, but gallery installations, Q&A panels, film screenings and programming for kids and families served as the affair’s main crux.

Integral to POP’s programming is an emphasis on the local arts and culture scene. While there was a slew of internationally touring acts at the top of the bill, their performances were supported by local concert staples.

Here’s how it all went down…


Blanck Mass

This year, F**k Button’s Benjamin John Power released his third solo album under the moniker Blanck Mass. The album is intended to symbolize “a previous year teeming with anger, violence, confusion and frustration.” As the brutally shrill opener, “The Rat,” unfolded into a fit of metallic synths and swells, attendees were seen covering their eardrums. The artist’s proclivity for noise injected his performance with an intensity unmatched by other performers.

Oh Sees

John Dwyer has maintained control over his project, Oh Sees, for the better part of two decades—changing lineups and shuffling between sonic territories while churning out some of the most compelling and nail-biting psychedelic music of his generation. Still, despite its propensity for unpredictability, Oh Sees pins down an unparalleled vivacity. This same spirit clearly overtook Dwyer, as he danced and pranced around stage with a devil-may-care inclination.
This didn’t compromise the quality of the performance, however, as his nervy guitar dexterity propelled him through the set. Though this compiled into a rugged, relatively unadorned sound, Dwyer’s franticly kinetic energy was supplemented by his bandmates’ breakneck riffs.


Weyes Blood

Weyes Blood has a brand of artistic finesse that translates just as powerfully live as it does on record. The velvety textures of her voice were often replaced by an infusion of rootsy folk with fuzzy AM rock—styles she no doubt pulls inspiration from. The audience witnessed the artist switch flexibly between scornful kiss-offs and flowery poetics on the turn of a dime. The new Sub Pop Records signee offered no sneak peaks from her forthcoming record, but flexed a variety of fleshed out renditions from her debut, Front Row Seat. The adaptability with which the backing band postured itself allowed them to cycle through the set like the pulse of a heartbeat.



Jay Som

After breaking into 2017 with an ever-poised and confident debut, indie pop artist Jay Som basked in the divine glow of the Petit Campus stage. She performed a collection of gorgeously ornate and burgeoning pop songs with an artistic slant that absorbs from the lofty heights of 80s synth rock.






Naomi Punk

To call Olympia-based trio Naomi Punk alienating would be a crude understatement. The band forged their career with a discombobulated brand of surrealistic grunge and an equally bizarre bass-free lineup. While they’ve amassed a fair share of doubters, the band has no doubt achieved cult status within their specific niche.

Their headlining gig at La Vitrola on POP Montreal’s opening day on Sept. 13, however, did nothing to win over skeptics. Though the energy was there on stage, the lack of bass rendered the set laughably disjointed. The group’s twin guitarists drowned the crowd in a muddle of twangy cacophony.

The trio played as if breaking into abstract jam sessions—performed in the disjointed manner you would associate with school kids playing music together for the first time. The sets closing song, “Tiger Pipe,” a bleary, minimalistic single from their recent double album, Yellow, would go on to define the set.

Performed over a pre-recorded backing track, the audience looked on as the lead guitarist packed up his gear and walked off during the set. Meanwhile, the drummer sat on in his throne having seemingly fallen asleep and the lead singer put his guitar down and began testing his interpretive dance skills whilst howling in his signature Cobainian drawl. A fitting end to a night of noise, confusion and disappointment.

Photos by Mackenzie Lad

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