The Under Pressure festival is here

A comprehensive guide to the shows, parties and art events taking place as part of the 20th anniversary edition of the international graffiti festival.

shineCouple of big birthdays coming up, peoples. Under Pressure turns 20 and hip hop as we understand it turns 42.

Think about that. The culture we call hip hop is 42 years old. If hip hop were a privileged person, it would be settling into the second half of its life journey, and hopefully checking in for a regular colonoscopy or masectomy.

But that’s not what the culture is. Hip hop is a privilege to its people. It is timeless, without boundaries, beautiful, immortal. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a check up now and again. And every August since ’96, Montreal has been privy to a free, full physical, at the Under Pressure International Graffiti Festival, the biggest block party in eastern Canada.

I got involved with live bookings at UP two years back, this being my third season on the team. I’ve always loved the fest and as a reporter out covering UP as it grew in scope, musically, over the past decade, I figured that I could help out with my own relationships and insight as a volunteer.

So from the other side of the glass, even just three years in, lemme be the first to tell you that it takes a tremendous number of hearts trying to get to the right place for Under Pressure to breathe every summer, let alone stay alive year by year.

Montreal can be a funny place. Stuff that was built nearly two centuries back stands strong while shit constructed within our parents’ lifetimes falls apart. And I’m not being cynical. Creating and sustaining a movement that has lasted 20 years in this city – one founded in civic counter-expression, and executed by community effort — is no plug’n’play operation.

Graf is and always will be out for fame. But the writers, the b-girls and boys, the DJs, the MCs, the skaters, bikers, the clown dude, the aerosol, Sterling’s cigar, and the thousands upon thousands of Montrealers that come to witness it all, are what give Under Pressure, 20 years deep, the infamy  of love, culture, expression and hip hop, immortal.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to UP20, already underway, to be followed by more events off-fest for the week ahead.


Thursday: Théatre Sainte Catherine hosts a special fundraiser in memory two dear souls lost this past year, Sharon Mount-Real and Thau Weava, scenebuilders each in their own right, par excellence. Under Pressure goes Off the Record for a night of vinyl vibes with Jazz Amnesty Soundsystem, Lexis, the Unlog records crew, DJ Killa-Jewel and more all get up, with proceeds from a five dollar cover going toward the Sharon Mcgoogan Commitment to the Arts Bursary fund.

Never frontin’ on the lyrical, UP also meets weekly freestyle jam le Cypher at Bleury Bar à Vinyle, with festival stalwarts Defective Collective, a MTL/TO microphone-laptop love affair, opening ceremonies for the Urban Science band and all area spit kickers finna rock a mic.

And because it’s UP20 and I worked with event founder Vincent Stephen-Ong to work this jammy out, I’m gonna go ahead and rap tonight, too — on some show’n’prove tip — that’s “show my ass” and “provide a laugh.”  Open call to all MCs out to come mock it.

Friday: An Art Attack for the ages, with Knife & Fork soundsystem canvasing sound.

Saturday: The outdoor fun begins in octogonal HD all along Ste-Catherine east of St-Laurent. Bring the kids. Though it’s true that the early stages of muralism can be a tad technical (ie. it can take awhile before the color patterns really start to kick in) UP holds a skate camp from noon to 4 p.m. and two youth break/pop/hip hop battles from 1 p.m.

This year’s Kids Zone, curated with love all weekend long by Christina Phelps and her dedicated crew, outdoes them all, with new digs in the green space on de Boisbriand. My daughter is the hugest fan of the Kids Zone and having seen photos of the prep — notably, a full out installation piece for all to paint — we can both assure you it’s gonna be amazing all weekend long, with face painting, games, all dat.

Rest assured, UP is as much for the grownups as it is the children.

We’ve got DJs Fathom, Dr.One, Redd Dredd, the Supreme Team, Kwite Sane, Blaster, MC Rain, Lexis, A-Rock, Hatchmatik, Pressure the Gazelle, Furious, Danya, Ez El Dee, Wreck, Solespin, Sweet Daddy Luv, Andy Williams, Conn Shawnery and Bliss all over the map.

The Sunday Scratch Sessions also get down outside Gallery 2 (250 Ste-Catherine E.) with Unlog records crew guesting in.

And on the main stage, live hip hop througout the whole day comes care of TO’s Sabo Forte and Higher Learning Culture and Montreal’s own Taigenz and Cracked Lips.

An official after party goes down when End of the Weak meets UP at Divan Orange, with a semi-final EOW battle card and Under Pressure special guests Osti One and Les gens d’Air, aka Mendoza & Cotola.

Sunday: Hit repeat, only this time around UP rocks with classic DJs Class, Devious, Storm, Horg, Serious Black, Sugaface Nene, Spoon-Bee, Sagewondah, Manifest, Overflow, Adam Papa, Coach, Kafide, Glarge, Wally, Melodrastik, Spacekadet, Milton Clark, Dave Dialect, Kiffah, Nitrous, RCola, Stabba, Generic and Corey K. Respect that.

And as the Street Rumble skate jam takes the street, and as shape and color begin to converge across the campus, the main stage presents the UP Yours b-battle. Always a must-see, the lethal-limbed affair pops off the better part of the afternoon. My dudes Full Course, Monk.E and beat box king X-Wam offer live thrills from around 4 p.m. onward. And you know, there could be a few surprises here and there throughout the day.

One thing I can tell you about the closing, free indoor show for UP20 — it will start on time, and it will fill to capacity quickly. From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., come blow out the candles on it all. Montreal’s Daybi, Ottawa’s Theology 3 and Flight Distance, somewhere-from-outta-nowhere’s own Loe Pesci, and the city’s Sunday finest DJs Brace, Manzo and Killa-Jewel take form the opening committee for an all-star league of headliners.

For the love of hip hop, Under Pressure brings us artist-in-MTL-residence Illa J, turntable legend and OG Skratch Pikl DJ Q-Bert, NYC hip hop champions supreme Lord Finesse and Bobbito Garcia, and none other than true hip hop originator and Under Pressure guest of honour, DJ Kool Herc.

No pressure but you should probably get there early.

Elsewhere in town:

Friday: Take hip hop to the arena. J.Cole plays the Bell Centre with Big Sean, YG & Jeremih, Bas, Cozz and Omen.

Or take it to the jazz café at Resonance where Jai Nitai Lotus, Jahsun, Mah, Sam I Am, Karma and Jean Michel make live to you.

Saturday: Van Horne Station, a new event collab between Piknic Electronik, LNDMRK and les Premiers Vendredis productions brings an afternoon to evening party under the Van Horne aquaduct from 4 to 11 p.m. with big tunes from Poirier, Pierre Kwenders, J.u.D. and Yung Bambii and painting by Hoarkor, Omen, Kevin Ledo and Zoltan.

Tuesday: If you have anything left in you, Get Monet at Apt.200 with Andrea, Foba and DJ Nav.


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