"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.
-Richard Reed Parry (The Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre)
Richard Reed Parry by Youngna Park

So all these musicians, who play many different styles of music, agree that in Montreal, art is made for art's sake - a simple, honest point. Still, regardless of the excessive mainstream acclaim, the musicians who have been recording and making music for years still seem generally disenfranchised to contemplate and label a 'Montreal' sound, other than the music and art for music and art's sake argument. I agree with them.

Montreal Street Musician by Dave Brosha
Montreal is as different as different can be when compared to stereotypical North American culture, much like Michel does not symbolize every lascivious middle-aged Francophone. Yet, it gets significantly more complicated than just bringing forth this skin-deep notion of being different, because underneath that general difference boasts a difference in and of itself, or as McLuhan theorized, a medium of difference hidden beneath the message of difference. Difficult to theorize, yes, but remarkably easy to understand. Since so many unique people are producing so many unique forms of artistic expression in Montreal, be it music, art, comedy, sex, food, or language, it is facetious to lump it all into one generalized statement.

Amy Millan :: STARS
The proof is obvious. While Constellation Records, as Eizlini notes, creates music and imagery that is notoriously anti-mainstream, Montreal houses one of the top-rated mainstream electronic music communities in Canada and a fantastic pop festival to showcase such artists. In addition, while The Arcade Fire, STARS, and Wolf Parade have become similar indie-darlings, this has not been achieved ordinarily. Instead, most of these bands simply refused to give into the apocryphal, rock star ethic, opting instead to make varied music, to be patient, and to cram each melody with richness, maturity, and indie ethic. Ironically, that same ethic has been partly responsible for propelling these acts into the mainstream, as they, along with scores of others, have been adding an innate intelligence to '80s and '90s rock sensibilities, which the critics and writers have uniquely labeled 'indie.'

Shalabi Effect
But still, the city one lives in is just as powerful a muse as any other variable in life, so Montreal must have something to do with it, albeit innately, as implied by the musicians. There are few cities in the world that are truly open every minute of every day, regardless of weather or common sense, that can be busier than New York and quieter than Bryce Canyon in the same neighborhood. Every single band discussed here still lives in Montreal, obviously entranced by a city that has everything, from the oldest Catholic Churches in Canada to libidinous louts like Michel, hopping from one whorehouse to the next.

"Here in Montreal, until recently, you could rent an apartment for pennies compared to any other city. Music takes a lot of time and energy that is not spent running around trying to pay the rent. Montreal was cheap, and therefore ideal for artists. It is also a very human city, easy to get around by public transport, walking, and bike. Neighborhoods where musicians live were close by, so living was easy in some ways. In addition, people in this town don't run around for money or success. I mean Montreal's atmosphere is not really conducive to that kind of hyped-up sink-or-swim lifestyle. People take the time to enjoy life here and now. This is very, very good for creativity." -Will Eizlini (Shalabi Effect)

The Arcade Fire
"I do not think we sound like Montreal; I think we sound like Wolf Parade. The sound of Montreal for me is the following: old Portuguese men screaming at televised Euro-Cup soccer, bad French 'world beat' music, Arabic dance music being blasted loudly out of Honda Civics, or the sound of our own brains eating themselves during the five month deep freeze." -Hadji Bakara (Wolf Parade)

"Unless you count the constant summer construction as a musical presence, there is no such thing as a Montreal sound, so we would say that living in Montreal has done little or nothing to affect our attitudes towards our music. It has, however, made it easy for us to get good food late at night, and there is a lot to be said for that. Frankly, that guy that offers Chinese grub for 5 bucks or less on St Laurent Boulevard is just as important to our band as the city itself." -Sal Ciolfi (Code Pie)

"Still, Montreal is my home. It is snowy in the winter and sunny in the summer, and you can live a really nice life there without going out of your mind trying to pay rent." -Richard Reed Parry (The Arcade Fire, Belle Orchestre)

So in summation, I do not think I have uncovered exactly what makes one sound like Montreal, or if such a sound even exists. Instead, I discovered a group of musicians in love with their home and the musical creativity it fosters. So, I guess Montreal sounds like everything, because in actuality, Montreal is everything.

JamBase | Montreal
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[Published on: 10/27/05]

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toestothenose starstarstarstar Fri 10/28/2005 05:52AM
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Shain -

Smashing read! Montreal breeds insane nights and some top notch music.


appleseed Fri 10/28/2005 08:43AM
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How could you leave out Chromeo? It's like Cameo meets Def Leppard circa 1989. Great, great stuff. http://vice-recordings.com/index.php#Anchor-11481

drpiano starstarstar Tue 11/15/2005 01:27PM
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Living in Montreal, the intriguing thing about it is that there isn't just ONE scene, and that everything informs each other. Members of Bell Orchestre and Shalabi Effect are also highly involved in the jazz and musique actuelle scenes here. The Francophone bands and Anglophone bands share influences and sometimes even musicians. The Jazz Fest books klezmer and African music, the African music fest books hip-hop and reggae, the Francophone music festival books Latin music, Divers/Cité books almost anything that grooves and the reggae fest books... reggae.

There isn't a single definable Montreal sound, but more an attitude and approach to the arts. Groups like Moondata and Kalmunity thrive on the sharing of interdisciplinary and interpersonal creativity and passion, as opposed to other cities where scenes and genres are very segmented and never cross over.