The Osheaga Top 20

The highlights of the mega music festival that went down at Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau this weekend.

 The main stage crowd at Osheaga 2015. Photo by Lisa Sproull
Osheaga is an experience beyond the bill, bigger than a list of names and rundown of who played what. It’s the people, the staff, the weather, the journey from stage to stage, even the short metro ride from Berri to PDC. So in our annual tradition, here’s a list of our top 20 Osheaga moments:


This year more than ever, I really noticed that the whole of the festival atmosphere, from stage to stage to stage, was tied together by the positivity, if simple congeniality, of its performers. Whether it’s Nas preaching on “One Love” to the crowd, Ben Harper’s implicit spirituality, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes gravitational pull that managed to attract a crowd surfer in a wheelchair all the way on to the stage for a sing-along, there is a real vibe of this kind of, “You only get one life, let’s enjoy it” at Osheaga and, I’m sure, all festivals of this caliber. It can be moving when you hear it coming from an artist you love, cheesy coming from someone you’re less inclined toward, but one thing it hasn’t fully yet become is commodified. The love still feels real, and love is all we need. (Till we get back to work on Monday.) (Darcy MacDonald)
Nas. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Hip hop don’t stop

When Osheaga first popped off 10 years ago, and for a couple of early editions, I was always wondering where the rap was at. Aside from your occasional sets from acts with established credibility, like the Roots or K-os, hip hop was not a factor in the fest’s early days. Then you started to have your Snoops seep in, and of course Eminem’s 2011 set is legendary. That one tipped the scale. The same year had Lupe and Cypress Hill, and from there it seems the festival began to grasp the importance of embracing the genre, opening the gates for the likes of Common, Killer Mike and, notably, Outkast as a headliner last year.

My fest began with back-to-back sets from Run the Jewels, first on Thursday night at a fully charged, sold-out Club Soda show, postponed from last fall. El-P and Killer Mike appeared as moving shadows on stage, barely a moment lit by anything but the strobes and the backdrop of their gun-and-fist logo. So it was quite literally night and day to see them in the light of day for my first official Osheaga set of the weekend. Their music is loud, their energy is raw, their love is pure.

Schoolboy Q’s Friday night closer on the Green stage lacked the full throttle energy he brought to l’Olympia at last year’s POP Montreal festival, and the crowd seemed kind of beat from the sun and sweat, so it could have been a little more, but by mid-set I was still drawn in by the Compton native’s presence and infectious growl-and-snarl cuss-along hooks. I missed G-Eazy’s Friday set and so did everyone else I know, but I have no doubt it was as bright and shiny as an ersatz Christmas tree. As mentioned elsewhere, locals Narcy and Pierre Kwenders both proved rulers on Saturday, no mean feat beside giants like Nas, who fully and completely levelled the audience in a rain storm with a master class in live, classic hip hop. And then there’s Kendrick. (DM)
Kendrick Lamar. Photo by Cindy Lopez


Stop 2015, I wanna get off. Because there is no way any other show I see this year will even begin to compare, unless it’s Kendrick, again. The head of the pack, the boss of the game, hip hop’s present embodiment — “all that and a bag of chips”, to quote I’m Chillin‘s B-Fats.

With a near-perfect mix of classics, deep catalogue cuts and new jawns, we all wanted more, more, more, but we got exactly what we deserved: a command performance by a superstar in his prime. Visibly moved many times over by the embrace of the crowd, Kendrick Lamar’s Osheaga return was, without a doubt, my favourite ever festival set. Only way to top this would be to have him headline all three days next year and do an album per night. Until then, we gon’ be alright right where he left us, near the heavens. (DM)

Rapping in the rain

Osheaga was filled with special and memorable moments, but the one that will really stick out for me is seeing the elder statesman of rap — Nas — perform and bring out Mos Def to join him on stage. When the skies opened up and the rain came down on Saturday afternoon, it forced me to put my not-so-waterproof camera away and just enjoy the moment. Nas gave an amazing performance, shout-singing along with the crowd that if we work hard at it, we’ll be where we wanna be. (LS)
kendrick mos def
Yasiin Bey joining Kendrick Lamar. Photo by Lisa Sproull


Hip hop icon Yasiin Bey, once better known as Mos Def, was all over the place this weekend. Late Friday night, he and Montreal’s own Narcy appeared on stage with A Tribe Called Red for a relatively intimate appearance compared to what was coming next. Saturday, Bey ran this town. Bey was again called into service, again with Narcy, to replace rap schlub no-show Action Bronson cancelled Saturday set. Smart money was on a guest appearance with Nas, which transpired at the height of his insane-in-the-rain Green Stage set later the same day. The question on the true head’s mind was then, of course, “Will Mos Def rock with Kendrick tonight?” An appointed leader of the hip hop movement, the significance of Yasiin Bey’s stage cameo with Kendrick was not lost on the crowd, who embraced the veteran MC with the same awe and fervour as they did the headliner himself. It was, without exaggerating, a touchstone moment in the history of hip hop. (DM)
The Narcicyst, aka Narcy

No Action

Don’t expect me to shed any tears over noted misogynist Action Bronson having been barred from entering the country. Seeing his timeslot given over to our very own Narcy, joined by the one and only Mos Def — two artists who exemplify that, at its root, hip hop is a revolutionary art form with real power to drive social change — was the best possible outcome of the whole Bronson issue. And the icing on this surprise Osheaga birthday cake? Narcy inviting Nomadic Massive’s Meryem Saci to the stage, whose beautiful rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was a very bright festival highlight for me. (LS)

Action, reaction / Tyler, creation

I’m so fucking over the Bronson thing. After all the hoopla about banning the guy, he didn’t show up. Speculation abounds over whether his absence represents a less-than-amicable parting of ways over his controversial contract to perform, or a cancellation driven by a petition to ban him from the event, signed by upwards of 21 000 rubes who believe censorship is the road to better living, I guess. At any rate, no one thought of banning Tyler, The Creator, who also raps about rape and his dick and so on. I’ve never appreciated either rapper, but I’ve got to admit, Tyler’s closing set had me jumping. It’s taken me years to see anything in the guy but his live performance on a good day is, evidently, pretty earth-shattering. His fans, though tired and worn in the last moments of Osheaga 2015, gave it all, and the Creator put it all back out. He is a smart-ass, but I gotta say, he’s got jokes. Tyler, The Creator, is young, slick, kinda edgy-cool dangerous and belongs right at home in Montreal. Action Bronson is lumbering, frustrated, and plain nasty, and though I’ll defend his right to perform private functions anywhere on earth, I wasn’t sad to see him go.
FKA Twigs. Photo by Cindy Lopez


SZA. Photo by Cindy Lopez
SZA. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Before any rumours get started, there’s no beef between these two artists, and shared race and gender are not the reasons they’re being grouped together here. Both FKA Twigs and SZA have appeared on the cover of our newspaper (a year apart), both take a very chill, circuitous approach to modern R&B that usually gets the “alt” tag slapped on it and both bring a (very different) physicality to their performance that’s linked to their backgrounds in dance (and, in SZA’s case) gymnastics. As a 27-year-old Brit, Twigs came up in the age of trip hop, and ghosts of Massive Attack and Portishead weave in and out of her glacial sound. Physically, Twigs is like a mechanical doll doing bellydancing arm flourishes (a guest dancer came out and vogued robotically with her as a Madonna sample played, a highlight of the set), and while SZA was hardly twerking, her sweeping, rhythmic movements were casual and unchoreographed, in keeping with the looser feel of her songs — I can’t say I was that impressed by her live arrangements and sound, which fell a bit short of her recorded material. Both acts were impressive in their own distinct ways, but if there’s one area where they could use a bit of a boost, it’s in the tunes department. FKA Twigs is all atmoshere — her set would’ve fallen flat during the day, without that light show — and SZA is all vibe, and while that’s enjoyable enough, their songs just don’t stick. (Lorraine Carpenter)


Big tunes abound at Osheaga, where sets by the likes of Florence and Weezer and Hot Chip and the Black Keys climax with a hit that towers over the rest of their discography as far as the masses are concerned, even when that song isn’t the last song — I was caught in the crush of people leaving the site after the Black Keys played “Fever” last night, with four songs to go. There are always a few bands on the main stage during the day that recently shot to fame on the strength of one or two massive songs, and this year there was Milky Chance, an unlikely blend of folk, pop, reggae and electronic music — they’re a trio of scruffy bros from Germany, so I guess that makes some kind of weird sense (that band name, too). The phones came out for “Stolen Dance,” a tune that reportedly took the songwriter three years to get right, which seems unlikely given that a lot of the band’s other songs sound pretty similar — maybe the completion of that one tune was followed by a flood of “creativity.” These guys have struck a catchy chord because rather than stand around looking bored waiting for that one song (and I’ve seen it happen), the crowd lapped up the whole set, dancing along in large numbers, myself included. The next day, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros ended their set with their massive tune “Home,” but the singer (who is not and has never been Edward Sharpe, for some reason) let the crowd sing pretty much the whole tune, which can’t be what he gets paid for. That’s some user-generated content right there. (LC)
A Tribe Called Red. Photo by Cindy Lopez


As with all the stages, the acts at Piknic made for a mixed bag of hits and misses, but sets by acts like Brodinski, A Tribe Called Red, Das Mortal, Thylacine, Dusky and Tommy Kruise (who filled in for Flic Flac on Friday) provided some solid danceable moments, even if some were only interludes. Stopping for 10 or 15 minutes of dancing en route from stage to stage may have made us late for some of the sets we intended to get to, but it also enhanced the party. (LC)


I learned the hard way that if you get too close to the Piknic Électronik stage, you WILL get beaned in the head by a very muddy beach ball, and when you avert your attention long enough to wipe the mud off your camera lens, you WILL get doused with a hose spraying cold water at the crowd — a joyful experience for some I’m sure, but not so much when you’re carrying around four months’ rent worth of decidedly non-waterproof camera gear. Lesson learned: I enjoyed the Piknic stage from a safe distance well outside of hose-range after that. (LS)
Inside Perrier

The magical inflated Perrier Kingdom

I walked by the Perrier glassed-in greenhouse thingamajig several times before finally venturing in to see what was going on in there, and had an aha! moment when I discovered its true appeal: air-conditioning! I generally dislike being inside enclosed spaces that exist for the sole purpose of marketing products to me, and was a bit weirded out by the collection of identically dressed go-go dancers whose long Perrier-green sundresses kind of made them resemble a group of bridesmaids, but the local DJs were fresh and did I mention it was air-conditioned? (LS)

Behold the VIP

As a relative newcomer to the Cult MTL team, this was my first Osheaga experience as a media rep, which meant VIP access—cheap beer, wifi, bathrooms with plumbing, private terrasse viewing area a stone’s throw from the main stage, golf cart shuttle rides and bumping into celebrities in the slightly set apart VIP zone were all pretty sweet perks that come with the job, but my favourite VIP moment had to be watching POP Montreal’s Sarah Shoucri be a boss and take charge of the clusterfuck that was the pick-up zone for the post-VIP afterparty shuttle to the ‘mainland,’ holding back the aggressive pushy bros to make space for those with less muscle to come to the front. (LS)
Florence Welch

Florence, the machine

Florence Welch is one of the most interesting characters in rock music these days, and it’s easy to see why from her live show. She’s an incredible performer, running and jumping and writhing across the stage, barefoot and with flaming hair and a flowing white gauzy cloud of a costume as she threw herself completely into hits like “Dog Days Are Over” and “What Kind of Man.” With the way she tornadoed across the stage you’d never know that she’s nursing a broken foot, having injured it during another intense performance earlier this summer. The enthralled crowd was only too happy to comply when she invited them to take off an article of clothing and touch each other in a crescendo of communal love and presence in a shared moment of experience. Next time this powerhouse queen of rock comes through town on tour, you can bet I’ll be first in line. (LS)
young fathers
Young Fathers. Photo by Lisa Sproull

Young Fathers

Another major highlight for me was seeing Young Fathers absolutely tear the shit out of their set at one of the smaller stages on Friday night. I’ve been a fan of this Edinburgh-based rap trio for a couple of years now, since 2013’s Tape Two and thought they were pretty well known, so I was surprised to see only a relatively small crowd gather for their show. Good on those that did, because they just killed it with energy to spare, and the smaller crowd allowed us all to get nice and close. If these guys aren’t on your radar, do yourself a favour and go check them out. (LS)
charli xcx
Charli XCX. Photo by Lisa Sproull

Je suis Charli

Raised in the era of female-fronted Britpop bands and the Spice Girls & co., Charli XCX is one of the U.K.’s premiere pop exports at the moment, and her set at the Green stage was a glorious sugar rush. Not only did she deliver energetic renditions of her big songs “Fancy” (minus Iggy Azalia), “Boom Clap” and “I Love It” (an Icona Pop cover, but one that she contributed vocals to) but she played with a raucous all-female band and preached “pussy power” to the partying crowd. Everyone around me, female and male alike, was mouthing the words, swaying with their friends and soaking up every minute of Charli XCX’s superfun 35-minute set (which unfortunately only included one track from her first album — my only complaint, really). Next to this level of pussy power, Katy Perry is just a pap smear. (LC)
Suicide Squad group shot
The Suicide Squad crew, with Joel Kinnaman (top left), from Jay Hernandez’s Instagram


I’ve heard that Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and others members of the X-Men crew attended the festival this year, but in an interesting Marvel vs. DC twist, so did the cast of Suicide Squad (minus Jared Leto, I think), which is shooting in Toronto — we’re guessing they came over with Cara Delevigne, the model/actress who’s currently dating St. Vincent. One of our style photographers asked Delevigne to be part of our gallery, which she politely declined (not exactly a shocker considering how much she probably gets paid for that kind of thing), but we did get a dorky fan photo with Joel Kinnaman, who’s in Suicide Squad, played Robocop in the recent remake and — more importantly as far as we’re concerned — costarred with Mireille Enos in the HBO show The Killing. Holder! (LC)
Stars. Photo by Cindy Lopez

MTL indie pop survivors

Stars and Patrick Watson played the main stage on Friday and Saturday, the former playing their excellent album Set Yourself on Fire in its entirety, backed by an impressive crew of friends from the Dears, Broken Social Scene (including Kevin Drew, who produced said record), the Barr Brothers and more, while the latter played a lot of fresh material from his band’s new album, the excellent Love Songs for Robots. Both sets were brimming with emotion and with moving renditions of great songs, and they were also celebrations of longevity and success, particularly in the case of Stars — they released their first record in 1999, and have been chugging along consistently ever since. Singer Torquil Campbell dedicated their George W. Bush song “He Lied About Death” to “our soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister Stephen Harper” (spewing his name into the mic à la death metal, then saying “that’s the sound of him sucking Satan’s cock”), and later passionately implored the audience to “start a band with your friends — you never know what’s going to happen.” Classic Torq. (LC)

Friends and stars

On a pretty personal level, it was amazing to see so many locals I know — personally , professionally, or somewhere in between — rocking Osheaga’s stages.  One of my oldest pals, gentleman-on-the-go and Tokyo co-owner Trevor Barnes, was among Stars’ friends. Seeing my dude Narcy and his DJ, Sandhill, not only take the Green stage but run the damn thing with no less than Yasiin Bey, to the sunlit, Saturday afternoon delight of thousands was a moment I will absolutely never forget. Then, Pierre Kwenders took the torch one stage over and burned it down, he and his band providing the soundtrack to one my most rigorous dance workouts of the weekend. Ghislain Poirier brought out his Boundary alter-ego for an early Sunday set on the Piknic stage, drawing an attentive, if subtle crowd. I missed the Franklin Electric on Friday but had some good laughs with frontman and one-time BNB busk partner Jon Matte later on in the fest. Meryem Saci’s accapella rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic may have inadvertently underscored the tone of the weekend for Montreal talent: it’s been a long time comin, but apprently, our moment has come. (DM)

Other standouts

This rap reporter is no shruggin’ thug when it comes to other genres, and so in no particular order, here are some of the bands I knew less, or not at all,  that really opened my eyes and ears with solid performances: Charlie XCX has legs, and not just the ones she was strutting around on stage with her glitzy, pop-powered, girl-band punk. My daughter loved it and so did I. Kicking myself for missing FKA Twigs, but I did catch the latter half of Young Father’s Friday night set and that was without a doubt my coup de coeur of the fest. Seeing Thurston Moore for the first time was memorable, as was hearing Toro Y Moi groove and bop from the back of the crowd on the tree stage Sunday. I’ve never been a huge Hot Chip fan but that was a Sunday highlight, along with Father John Misty’s deliberately aloof but dead-sharp swagger and hooks on the River stage. And, of course, being a big ol’whitey, Weezer drew me out of the VIP lounge in a way only a song like “Beverly Hills” could move a tired, sunstroked bald guy from his beer. (DM) ■