WHAT IS THE MONTREAL SOUND?

 
I think if there is any kind of group mind at work here, it is the idea of music for music's sake, without the impetuous notion to 'make it.' No one really has aspirations to rock stardom.
-Hadji Bakara (Wolf Parade)
 
Wolf Parade (l to r) Dan Boeckner, Spencer Krug, Hadji Bakara, Arlen Thompson

So it is not surprising that it has become Canada's musical epicenter as of late, because it is laden with enough muses and stimulus to generously abet creativity. But how did this happen? When Michel was belting out his aria on the frozen train three years ago, The Arcade Fire was an organizational and musical mess, STARS were virtually unknown, and Wolf Parade was either in school or living in Victoria. In addition, Constellation Records was just past its embryonic stage and Godspeed You! Black Emperor was beginning to unleash its political musical manifesto upon the mainstream. So, why do all these bands embody a somewhat similar musical and creative aesthetic, level of maturity, and passion for experimentation? Is it simply one big coincidence, or is there something about this city that creates Michels in all of us, even if most of the music originated in places like British Columbia or Texas? I have frozen and been burnt to a crisp in Montreal, stumbled drunkenly into a 99-cent falafel place shouting obscenities at 4 a.m., done the obligatory Crescent Street pub crawl, gotten lost in the rhythm of Bongo Park, scurried up Mount Royal on hallucinogens in search of God, and bastardized French in an expensive restaurant in Old Montreal. I have been knocked unconscious, stumbled bravely up Rue University in February, and lost money at the Casino, all in an effort to understand this city. In the process, I've discovered that intrinsically, this place embodies an attitude that differs from any other. While it may not clearly explain why the world has shone its sonic spotlight on Montreal as of late, it lends a few hints. Michel understood and emanated this perfectly, even if his goal was to catalog every prostitute in the city centre. This place is different - very different, and it produces different forms of artistic and creative expression.


Bell Orchestre
I decided to approach some of the musicians currently defining whatever the music media has presented as the Montreal sound in order to investigate if anything about the city is to blame for this harvest of unheralded publicity. Is it just one unexplainable coincidence, or does The Arcade Fire or Wolf Parade, for example, embody something more than coincidental. Montreal has become the new millennium's musical Manchester. I tried to find out why, and as you will see below, I came up with mixed results.

"I do not really think about Montreal as having risen to success, because it has been a great, vibrant place full of good people trying to do good things for a very long time. The fact that a bunch of people have become fans of Montreal bands does not really change anything about the city itself. It is just a good place that has its own rules and values and has not really seemed to be a place where people go to 'make it.' Hopefully, it stays that way. That kind of thing can really ruin a city." -Richard Reed Parry (The Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre)


Wolf Parade
"I am not so sure that The Arcade Fire is similar to Wolf Parade, who is similar to Shalabi Effect and Besnard Lakes. We all play pretty distinct styles of music. Erase the media hype surrounding a perceived 'collectivism,' and you will find some pretty disparate music. That being said, the Anglo ex-pat musician community here is so small and filled with (mostly) great folks, so hanging out and working on one another's respective projects is kind of inevitable. To be able to contribute to something you normally would not play yourself is pretty exciting. I think if there is any kind of group mind at work here, it is the idea of music for music's sake, without the impetuous notion to 'make it.' No one really had/has aspirations to rock stardom." –Hadji Bakara (Wolf Parade)

"We could say something about the importance of bagels here, but the truth is there is nothing going on in Montreal that cannot be said for Canada as a whole. It just happens to be a moment in time where Canadians are making interesting pop music that is not American or British-sounding - and getting attention for it." -Sal Ciolfi (Code Pie)


Shalabi Effect
"Ironically, most bands here are allergic to this kind of hype. Constellation bands (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion), in particular notoriously hated all of this crap and refused to pander to journalists and majors. Perhaps this made them mysterious and so fueled a mystique based around the so-called Montreal sound, because there was nothing for journalists to write about except for a few really talented people who did what they did because they really wanted to do it, not because it would make them famous. They did not play the game, but played excellent music. So since the bands did not try to create their own hype, the music journalists invented it." – Will Eizlini (Shalabi Effect)

"It has always seemed to me that the goal here is to create something good, exciting, and unique, and not to concern one's self as much with the commerce side of things or on becoming 'successful' - in terms of fame and money. I feel like our community in Montreal shares those similar sentiments and goals." -Richard Reed Parry (The Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre)


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