The POP Montréal music festival goes back to 2002, when its shows numbered rather less than the hundreds they do now. The 15th year of the festival, September 21 to 25, brings so much incredible music, film, art and more to venues across the city that it can seem daunting to the uninitiated. Yet as our Survival Guide to POP lays out, where there’s a will, there’s a way – on top of that, we’ve picked 15 shows to jumpstart your POP journey.
John Cale: Welsh musician and Velvet Underground founding member, John Cale has had a long and fascinating solo career spanning rock to avant-garde noise and collaborated with everyone from the Stooges to Animal Collective – let’s hope he plays his cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at POP, though whatever he plays is sure to captivate. He’ll also take part in the POP Symposium segment of the festival, where he might just answer your burning questions.
Wally Badarou: A long-time synthesizer player with such bands as Level 42 and on albums for Grace Jones, Talking Heads, Jimmy Cliff and a slew of artists, French musician Wally Badarou also seriously brings the funk in his solo work. A pioneer when it came to producing music via computer tech, he produced albums for Fela Kuti, James Brown and others and filled his studio with enviable synths. An engaging performer, it’ll be a treat to see what he jams at POP.
Annette Peacock: An electronic music composer and performer well before synths were ubiquitous in pop music, Annette Peacock broke new ground, adding soulful processed vocals and rap-like spoken-word to her jazz-funk-rock arrangements. She toured with Albert Ayler, collaborated with pianist Paul Bley, and has been covered by Bowie and Eno. With a sound that’s finally met the future it belonged in, Peacock gives a rare performance at POP.
John Waters: Yes, the filmmaker, actor and artist comes to POP Montréal to own it – even if he doesn’t play a lick of music, the spirit of his cult films, from Pink Flamingos to Hairspray and Cry-Baby, has no doubt inspired countless transgressions in pop music. Don’t miss his “This Filthy World” animated talk and swingin’ soirée night at POP.
Angel Olsen: An enchanting singer-songwriter who’s gained exponential attention this year with her third album, Angel Olsen makes beautiful, strange indie-pop songs with a kick and a howl. She brings her captivating melodies and dreamy drama to the stage this year at POP, in a show that opens with another must-see, Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante, and Montréal ambient-pop duo Best Fern.
Colin Stetson Another mixer of classical, jazz and rock styles, experimental saxophonist, sometime-Montrealer and Arcade Fire collaborator Colin Stetson takes more of a post-rock sound-frenzy approach to his music, consistently wowing with his playing techniques and song arrangements (and on-stage anecdotes). He’ll be playing music from new project SORROW – A Reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony at POP.
Ibrahim Maalouf An award-winning French-Lebanese trumpet player and composer, Ibrahim Maalouf crafts a deft mix of classical and electro-pop, jazz inflections and Arabic culture – all infused with heartfelt expression. He’s played with Sting, Amadou Mariam, Lhasa de Sela and many more genre-bending artists, and will have POP audiences dancing and swooning.
Psychic TV: This one-of-a-kind experimental industrial-pysch-punk band born in ‘80s London just keeps on experimenting, even after a break in the 90s when singer, songwriter and thoroughly unique artist Genesis P-Orridge turned to spoken word and video art – the band’s rock power returned by the early 2000s with a heavy dose of artistic provocations. Get there early for local opener Lungbutter. P-Orridge will also be speaking about music, art and more at the POP Symposium.
Emilie Odgen: Musician Emilie Kahn plays her harp (Ogden) and sings in perfect harmony – though that might seem like a gentle indie-folk evening, she adds a darker edge in her lyrics and performance style. The show becomes even more magical in the oratory setting of La Chapelle Saint-Louis in the heart of the Plateau neighbourhood.
POP vs Jock: By now a festival tradition, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler’s basketball game this year gets Vampire Weekend’s Chris Thomson the Strokes’ Nikolai Fraiture and NBA players Matt Bonner, Luke Bonner and Brian Salabrine on the court and features a Space Jam-themed halftime show.
Jef Elise Barbara’s Black Space: Underground superstar, avant-garde RB/pop singer-songwriter and celebratory trans-femme Black Montréaler Jef Elise Barbara and band gives us a show to remember at POP, full of music teeming in slinky disco, funk and no-wave, blending light and dark elements into soulful entertainment. The night’s showcase also features unsung guitar genius Michael Angelo and the re-emergence of post-punk artist Chandra.
SNFU and Chixdiggit: If you’ve ever owned a skateboard or only wished you did, you can’t pass up this classic Canadian hardcore meets pop-punk show of sweat, shout-alongs and the indefatigable Ken Chinn.
Esmerine: Meditative yet unafraid to fill a room with multi-layered chamber-music-inspired post-rock, Esmerine experiments with musical styles that span the globe. That sound comes from the passion of percussionist Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and cellist Rebecca Foon (Thee Silver Mt. Zion), percussionist Jamie Thompson, multi-instrumentalist Brian Sanderson and bassist Jéremi Roy.
69Boyz and Uniiqu3: American hip hop group 69Boyz comes back to play “Tootsee Roll” and more Billboard hits in a late-night party that also features the queen of Jersey’s bass music scene, Uniiqe3, rapper-singer D.R.A.M., and Nigerian American artist Princess Vitarah.
She-Devils: Lo-fi, hi-fi, who cares – the She-Devils are the real deal. The fiercely far-out Montréal duo makes avant-pop-rock that screams its sweetness and actually has an emotional core. They’ll play a late-night showcase with truly extraordinary pop-art music performance The Seth Bogart Show and fun-times indie-rock techno duo Wake Island.
And because 15 is such a sweet age, we can’t help but offer few more show tips: Leif Vollebekk performing three nights on the Rialto rooftop; Hayden playing a 20th Anniversary Celebration show of album “Everything I Long For”; Circuit des Yeux; and incredible avant-garde pianist Jean-Michel Blais.
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