The show must go on? I don’t think so!

Continuing to put on concerts should not be the only way to support musicians and preserve independent venues.

Back in July, when the Quebec government passed a law to allow indoor gatherings of up to 250 people, a handful of event organizers got the greenlight to have a few socially distanced shows. This inspired the PHI Centre to host a handful of small, seated performances on their new rooftop terrace, and both MUTEK and Festival De Music Émergente festivals to proceed while adhering to public health directives. Shortly after, small live performances became the norm.

Given that Montreal is one of the Canadian cities hit hardest with a high number of COVID cases and deaths, most people would find it completely illogical to have concerts again. Although the number of cases gradually decreased over the summer, putting on concerts did not seem right. Most venues/promoters explained that their events would be seated to limit motion, require the wearing of masks  at all times and have an extremely limited capacity of 20-50 people. Since then, Montreal entered their second wave with the virus, banning all gatherings until the curve flattens.

As most music fans are aware, attending live shows is the most effective way of supporting musicians. Streaming services becoming the most common way to consume music has drastically affected album sales. In fact, many artists have come to the consensus that their music streams are quite useless. Earlier this year, it came to light that Spotify pays its artists $0.003 USD per stream, which only becomes a liveable wage if artists can generate millions of streams in a consistent manner. That leaves the majority of artists to make most of their income from concert ticket and merchandise sales.

The Canadian government does support musicians through their granting system. This fund exists to help artists create and promote their music with the goal of expanding their audience. However, this effort does not replace touring, which helps artists generate the majority of their income. With the possibility of touring becoming less and less likely for the foreseeable future, it is evident that many musicians and touring staff have been placed in compromising financial positions.

During the summer, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced that the city will dedicate $800,000 to “animate” Montreal, and $500,000 of this will go to support artistic performances, focusing on the Quartier des Spectacles area downtown. She also focused heavily on the aspect of creating new spaces. Although the full details of this project have yet to be fully unravelled, the mayor has yet to mention a plan for small, independent venues.

For the greater part of this year, the majority of music venues will remain empty. Many of the small venues all over the world including Montreal’s beloved La Vitrola have permanently closed their doors. Although there have been relief funds and loans available to help, those donations will not provide venue owners stability as the situation with the pandemic continues to worsen. Those spaces also hold such importance, as they are essential when it comes to launching a career in music.

After putting off these socially distanced shows for a while, I caved and decided to catch a few sets at POP Montreal earlier this fall The festival is known for hosting international artists each year but focused on promoting local artists this time around. The events were mainly held at the Rialto Theatre rooftop to avoid traffic at indoor venues. With Montreal entering code red days before the event, ticket sales were immediately halted. This forced organizers to further reduce their capacity again and only use 25 per cent of their initial capacity, to avoid overcrowding. They also livestreamed the majority of their sets for free.

My experience at the POP Montreal made me realize that there has to be a safe and reliable way to continue supporting local artists and venues. On top of having an elaborate plan to ensure safety and having more security guards to help guide attendees, significantly downsizing the festival definitely impeded the execution of certain events. For instance, the art installations were only available for view from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. instead of having it available until the final shows at the Rialto ended, according to their Instagram stories. As well, both of the performances I caught (Jonathan Personne and Thanya Iyer) lasted roughly 30-40 minutes without any encores, despite having an hour-long slot without openers.

Despite attending multiple seated shows over the years, those ones seemed particularly odd. Whether it was the seats being placed 10 feet from the stage or the lack of artist-to-audience connection with these half-empty rooms that do not radiate a sense of togetherness, attending these makeshift shows was not satisfying at all.

Another important element to consider is that a lot of these spaces used to hold a capacity of over 1,000 people. Proceeding with socially-distanced shows when cases begin to decrease will create inequalities among both artists and promoters. Renting larger venues just to use 25 per cent of their capacity is both costly and will make all venues who have a capacity of under 100 useless, since playing to a crowd of 10-20 in a small venue or bar is both risky and not as profitable. There has to be a proper agenda put in place to help artists maintain their careers and prevent further venue closures to avoid rushing to plan shows without a COVID vaccine.

Even though the prospect of returning to a state where people can genuinely go out and enjoy dancing and moshing at gigs is extremely slim, being patient and looking into ways for effective ways to help rebuild our music scene through supporting local venues is what will save live music, even if the experience is not as pleasant. 

Feature photo by Sun Noor


POP Montreal turns 15

Interview with co-founder and creative director of POP Montreal, Dan Seligman

An underground music event that brings together over 400 local and international musicians and hosts four days worth of events and performances all across town—is this too good to be true? In Montreal, it isn’t, because it’s happening. The annual music festival POP Montreal is back and celebrating its 15-year anniversary between Sept. 21 to 25.

Dan Seligman, POP Montreal’s co-founder and creative director, is responsible for the festival’s musical programming. He launched the festival as a McGill graduate back in 2002, along with co-founders Noelle Sorbara and Peter Rowan.“I was pretty young—just graduated from McGill, majoring in comparative religion. A friend of mine approached me with the idea of getting involved in creating a musical festival,” said Seligman. At the time, he was doing some work in music, managing his brother’s band, Stars. “For the first edition of POP Montreal, it took us six months to make it happen,” Seligman said. “We made contacts, sponsorships and we invited a few international bands.”

The event was a success and the trio decided to make it an annual festival. “Every next edition has been a continuation,” said Seligman. “It’s a lot of fun and it’s always challenging to manage a festival.” As they grew and developed their brand, the trio realized that Montreal has a huge music scene with lots of opportunities in the industry.

Bringing in countless music legends every year, POP Montreal’s 2016 lineup is no exception. John Cale, the founder of the rock-and-roll group Velvet Underground, will be flying in to perform as a headliner at the Rialto Theatre. He will also host an “artist talk” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.“I’m really looking forward to John Cale—he’s a musical legend,” said Seligman. “This is an exclusive show. He isn’t doing any other shows in North America. He’s flying to Montreal specifically for us.”

POP Montreal will also be hosting a series of late-night shows at the Rialto Theatre. The band 69 Boyz will be playing their 90s top hit “Tootsee Roll” and young hip-hop artist Princess Vitarah will also be performing. Besides showing performances in the main theatre hall, there will be special shows on the rooftop. The first floor area is their club house lounge, where different chefs will be there every night. It’s free and open to the public. “It’s a hangout area in between shows,” said Seligman.

Come celebrate POP Montreal’s 15-year anniversary. Graphic by Florence Yee

POP Montreal brings together a variety of music, art and people from all over the world to participate in the festival. “We have industry people coming from all over the world to check out local acts—local emerging artists can help develop their career and territories across the world,” said Seligman. Every year, local artists are invited to submit samples of their music to POP Montreal for a chance to perform at the festival. They can submit their music through POP Montreal’s website. “Certain artists, such as the headliners, we solicit and ask them to perform and some of the up-and-coming artists go through our submission process, where you can apply to perform at the festival,” said Seligman. Over 1,000 artists submitted their music this year, but only 100 made the cut. “We listen to all the music we receive with our committee. We invite journalists [and] artists to come and listen to it all. We work with the programming team to select artists and put it all together,” said Seligman. As the festival’s creative director, Seligman is constantly meeting new artists. “People are always sending me new music,” he said. “I really enjoy programming and bringing different artists together.”

POP Montreal also launched a new monthly video series called “POP Shots” which aims to give visibility to local artists. “It’s an initiative we did this past year,” said Seligman. “It was cool to work with local artists.” Espace POP, which is a space built for artists to perform throughout the year, is where these artists perform while our team films them and post the videos online. “It’s a showcase of local artists all year round. We’re always doing stuff throughout the year,” said Seligman.

POP Montreal “adds a nice flavour to the city,” Seligman said. “I think it’s a special event. I hope that people love it, support [it] and buy tickets and have a good time.” A word of advice from Seligman to all bands interested in trying out for the festival next year: “Try to make really good music that stands out and that isn’t boring. Keep practicing, keep playing shows and keep doing your music if you love it.”

For more information about tickets and the lineup, visit the festival’s website:


A Hybrid of Magic and Theatre

"Now and at the Hour" at the Rialto Theatre

Making my way to the elegant and historic Rialto Theater, I had no idea what to expect from Christian Cagigal’s Now and At the Hour, which made the experience that much more intriguing. I first heard about the production at the launch party for Beyond The Mountain Productions, last July. Now And At The Hour is Cagigal’s latest show, which is in the process of being turned into a documentary film. It was described as combining storytelling, magic and mentalism; not knowing exactly what to expect, I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

The audience was seated on stage, which was kind of unusual but it set the tone for an intimate experience. After the lights dimmed, a stocky and anxious character stumbled onto the stage, carrying a rolled up carpet under one arm and a suitcase in the other. Throughout the next hour, Cagigal recalled what it felt like growing up with his father: a Vietnam war veteran who suffered from PTSD. Cagigal coped with the realities of living with a mentally ill parent through magic, and he shared his experience through the telling of his own memories and by getting the audience to recall their own.

This interaction created a real atmosphere of empathy. In between narrations, Cagigal engaged the audience with some basic sleight of hand tricks, but it was with the mindreading element that I was really taken aback. At one point, Cagigal got the audience emotionally involved by handing every person a blank sheet of paper. He instructed everyone to think about a special person in their lives, past or present, and to imagine that person standing right there in front of them while holding up that piece of paper. Cagigal then pulled out one of his magic instruments, a vintage viewfinder, which he used to read into the audience and analyze their memories.

Audience members sat on stage during the performance.

He then, quite accurately, scribbled down the key elements of each individual memory on the blank sheets of paper. It was startling and moving all at once. While describing his own very personal, and at times painful memories, Cagigal’s Now and at the Hour weaves together impeccably the topics of time, relationships, memory and imagination and it is captivating from beginning to end.

For those of you who are skeptical of magicians and their trade – this show is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Now and at the Hour is definitely worth it, even more so because of the beautiful location and because the money that is raised through programme sales are donated to the Montreal Children’s hospital.

The show will continue running from May 24 through the 26 at the Rialto Theatre.

Exit mobile version