The M for Montreal music festival is on this year (Nov. 18–20), making good on its mandate to showcase (mostly) local bands for music industry delegates around the world while entertaining local audiences at the same time.
The festival’s 15th edition will be a streaming event, scaled down to focus on about a dozen artists, a line-up count similar to its second or third edition according to affable M programming director Mikey Rishwain Bernard. But M for Montreal is more focused than ever and, Bernard says, more relevant than ever, promoting this edition as nothing less than “a springboard for the relaunching of the music industry.”
“M is looked at as a festival and we drew it out like a festival just to make it look fun, to bring a vibe, but in reality, and as many people know, there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes,” Bernard explains. “The mission has always been to help artists get seen by the right people, and we can still see these people, for much cheaper now. A lot of professionals now don’t have to fly all the way out here, take five days off and take time off their family, so off the bat, they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’ll participate, of course!’ Now more than ever, in a virtual world, there’s a lot more people who can tune in.
“Our international friends and partners love M. Through M we created so many friendships as well as business relationships — Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins met his wife at M. In L.A., I swear to God this happened more than once, people who literally have offices across the street from each other and never once saw or spoke to each other met in Montreal, built a relationship and brought it back to L.A., and M was their bond.
“But of course M is not only valuable for professionals. It’s going to bring our artists from Montreal a platform to keep going into the fucking twilight zone. There’s a lot of ways we can help artists. We’ve always been really active in music supervision for film, TV and ads. We brought out some of the best, like the guys who did Breaking Bad and the guys who did Weeds, they’re all coming back. I’m cranking up the music supervision angle because that’s still very current. With all the series popping up, there’s more sync to be done than ever, and that’s where the money is in the music industry. We’ve got ourselves one hell of a delegation, and with the systems we have set up, people will give direct feedback, it’ll make it easier for people to connect and develop new relationships and hopefully more business for these artists.”
“I love them all,” Bernard says. “These are all people who deserve a chance to either continue what they’ve been doing or to get out there into the world for the first time. I went for a lot of R&B and soul this year, because that Spotify generation is cranking up. Shay Lia, she’s a queen, she’s a Diana Ross of our times, and Janette King is also under the radar. We’ve got a lot of under the radar shit in Montreal that needs to be heard, a lot of cool young artists who are doing shit in their bedroom but they’re not really getting the credit they deserve. We want to put those people in the spotlight.
“Flore Laurentienne brings me to an interesting place. (The album) is a beautiful fucking piece of work, and there’s something remarkably soothing about their sound in this time. It’s very Montreal, it evokes the Godspeed You! Black Emperor scene — they’re also an instrumental group. Then there’s Paul Jacobs of Pottery, I’m really into that. And Population II, they were a shocker. Where did this come from? This is a big fucking deal. They’re like a Montreal version of King Gizzard, but they’re a three-piece and King Gizzard has 15 to 20 people in their band.
“Alex Nicol, we had booked him at SXSW,” Bernard adds, referring to the famous Austin festival that was cancelled this year due to COVID. “I really felt that that was going to be his moment, and he missed his opportunity there, and that’s why I really want to give him a little bit of love.
“Laurence-Anne piqued a lot of interest with a few American labels at M last year, and when American labels come to you for a French act, it’s always exciting,” Bernard says, recalling witnessing the discovery of Corridor by Sub Pop, who subsequently signed the local band. “That gave me an amazing feeling, same thing with Laurence-Anne. As soon as she was done with her set, I had Americans come to me, ‘Who is she?’ ‘What’s her deal?’ ‘Can I meet her?’ She’s got it, definitely.”
M is also presenting a marquee show by one of the artists who made it big at the festival years ago: Mac DeMarco.
“He showed up in 2011 and everyone was laughing at me. People in my own office thought he was a fucking weirdo. Win Butler was at that show and he walked out after one Mac DeMarco song. He was a joke, he was burping and farting, people were looking at me like I was crazy. But from the corner of my eye, I saw every delegate in that room programming him and starting to figure him out so they could work with him the following year, and that’s exactly what happened. His manager, to this day, uses M as a point of reference because that’s kind of where it broke off. The buzz was building, but then he got to play in front of everybody at M and Mac never seemed to have a day off after that. So it’s important to bring that back. Mac hasn’t played one performance in eight or nine months, and now he’s doing this because we asked him but also because he’s cognizant of what we’ve done for him, not only here in Montreal but we took him on many on-the-road activities all over the world. It was so natural — we love him, he loves us, he’s part of our story and we are part of his.” ■
For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.