July 28, 2005
The Montreal Music Scene

Thee AP has a long piece today about Montreal's hype-hype-hyped music scene.

I moved here in January, and unwittingly showed up in the middle of this (apparently) super-hot scene. Since I arrived, my roommate (Matt Miller of Mandatory Moustache, the series mentioned in the article) has been interviewed I don't know how many times by journalists who have shown up looking for the hot new thing, making documentaries and filing wire copy.

Having been to shows at Casa Del Popolo, El Salon, Sala Rosa, Pharmacie Esperanza and other venues mentioned as "hotbeds" or whatever the cliché of the day is (and lived with two people who are immersed in the "scene"), I couldn't have told you that there was a red-hot music scene going on. I'm told that turnout to shows is a fair bit higher than normal, though.

I'm not sure if this just means I'm blind, but this paragraph struck a chord:

In many cities, this would qualify as a see-be-seen crowd. But in Montreal, it's the status quo. This is one cosmopolitan city where celebrity and pretence don't exist -- just a strong community of musicians and artists dedicated to their craft.

They don't necessarily need approval from the outside world, despite the onslaught of international media attention. But now that it has arrived -- making Montreal a successor to former musical "hotbeds" like Seattle; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; and the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn -- many here have mixed feelings.
One thing I find refreshing about Montreal is the lack of regular fretting about being a "world class city" or the variation-du-jour on that theme. There's a self-confidence that means people don't feel like they need to move to NYC to feel like they made it--or need to make it at all, for that matter.

I felt like I had the quintessential Montreal experience a few nights ago. I was heading to a friend's place on my bike, and caught a tiny glimpse of what was apparently the grand finale of a massive international fireworks competition, but I was late, and kept going. All I mean is that there are billion decadent, exciting things going on all the time, but I end up missing almost all of it because there is a whole layer of other creative activity on a smaller scale to distract me, whether its indy rock, activism or a horde of zombies clashing with the Society for Creative Anachronism.

New York and to lesser extent Seattle felt that way too when I spent time there, but Montreal feels like a place where more people do things, and fewer people jockey to get into positions of power where they'll be able to do things.

That's probably totally subjective and possibly quite unfounded. However: assuming for a moment that its true, I'd have to further hypothesize that it's due to Francophone Quebec's willingness to substantially support cultural endeavours (I can go see free dance and theatre any time, though I'm alway busy) and its socially progressive edge. I hold the latter (and the high level of tenant organizing and public support for antipoverty work, squats, etc.) responsible for Montreal's celebrated low rent, which is usually attributed to seperatism and an economic downturn, which haven't been factors for a decade. When the intensely militant Quebec students beat the government and rolled back education cuts, it was indicative of the underpinnings of Montreal's unique status quo that are more often than not ignored by those who benefit from them.

All of which is to say: yay Montreal! It's the most militantly left-wing city north of the Rio Grande, it's a great place to live, a firehose of art and music whether it happens to be hyped or not, and let's not forget why, you silly hyped anglos.

posted by dru in culture