Backxwash POP Montreal reviews

Backxwash. Photos by Cindy Lopez

POP Montreal: Reviews of Backxwash, SUUNS, NOBRO, Fernie & more

“POP wasn’t quite fully back to normal in 2021, but they sure as hell made the most of it.”

MAN it feels good to see live music again. POP Montreal’s 20th anniversary went down this past week, and with it came the glorious return — mostly, anyway — of shows in the heart of the Mile End that we’ve missed so much while being cooped up in our homes for the past 18 months. As such, POP wasn’t quite fully back to normal in 2021, but they sure as hell made the most of it.

Though last year’s festival was also a hybrid system of online shows with limited in-person capacity, this year allowed for bigger crowds and more IRL events (nonetheless, many shows were still available to stream on POP’s website). This is in part thanks to attendees needing to show their vaccine passport and photo ID at the door, as well as only allowing people — including journalists like yours truly — to attend individual events rather than use a full-week POP pass. 

As such, there were multiple gigs I wanted to see but were either sold out or the sales had ended hours before showtime. Instead of having shows sprawled across the city, many of them took place either at the Rialto (theatre, clubhouse and rooftop) or l’Entrepôt77, an industrial outdoor space on Bernard that was once home to an abandoned warehouse that burned down.

So how did POP manage to bring their affinity for unique live shows and community-building back to a city that has needed it so much lately? Keep reading to find out.

NOBRO and Fanny

My first POP event of this year’s fest didn’t simply involve a show, but a whole-ass film screening as well. The documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock was played to the audience at l’Entrepôt77, showing how a trailblazing all-female rock band burst onto the scene in the late ‘60s — about a decade ahead of their time. Directed by Montreal filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart, the doc takes us from founding members June and Jean Millington’s upbringing in the Philippines, their move to Sacramento and then L.A., their musical breakthrough as Fanny (during which Jean briefly dated David Bowie), and their experiences with racism and misogyny while also jumping to today, where several of its members reunited to make another album. Fanny lead vocalist June Millington was even on hand to perform with local all-female punks NOBRO, who together ripped through Fanny songs like they’d been practising them for weeks. “NOBRO? YESBRO! That’s the stuff,” exclaimed Millington toward the set’s end. Yesbro, indeed.


Despite the occasional cool breeze knocking chairs over on more than one occasion, Montreal songstress/TikTok icicle queen Maryze took to the Rialto rooftop to perform a short but sweet set that began with ‘80s-style sad banger “Too Late” before launching into tunes sung in both official languages, with traces of soul, trip hop, and synthpop heard throughout—and a cover of Caroline Polachek’s “Ocean of Tears” for good measure. Though she didn’t play “Female Brad Pitt” (which admittedly would’ve looked a bit strange with just her and her backing musician playing an Octapad), she gave a strong performance in a minimalist setting, with stunning views of the city surrounding her. Better yet, she announced her debut LP is coming in March 2022.

Voices of Montreal Country (featuring Li’l Andy, the Firemen and El Coyote)

The marquee country music event of this year’s POP went down inside the Rialto Theatre, and it was a rapturously received one by all who attended. Hosted in collaboration with Guelph, Ontario’s Hillside Festival, this show featured plenty of cowboy hats, upright basses, mandolins and excellent musicianship — with traditional country, roots, bluegrass and Americana sounds on display. Local fixture Li’l Andy once again showcased his knack for incisive storytelling and rich musical output, while El Coyote combined several artists playing earlier in the evening to combine strong vocal harmonies with warm, fuzzy country melodies right before the Firemen’s headline set. All in all, a great night for fans of true blue country music, as evidenced by the loud stomping for an encore and subsequent chants of “One more hour!” from giddy fans.


Hailing from Ottawa, fanclubwallet (real name Hannah Judge) brought her ‘90s-inflected indie pop sound (think Liz Phair, Hop Along, Jay Som and Soccer Mommy) to the terrasse of NOMAD Life on Van Horne for a private media event. Though I would’ve liked to see her play much longer than 20 minutes, she did a solid job showing off her confessional, pleasantly simplistic tunes to a tiny audience in broad daylight. In other words, it definitely makes up for me not being able to secure a guest list spot to her show at Sala Rossa on Friday.

Janette King

POP Montreal 2021 photos
Janette King (POP Montreal 2021 reviews)

Performing right after fanclubwallet was Montreal-via-Vancouver alt-R&B singer Janette King, who delivered a breezy, relaxing mid-afternoon set. With lyrics touching on topics like heartbreak (complete with a Lauryn Hill interview sample about what love means) and police brutality against the Black community, King delivered a healthy dose of fierce social commentary alongside her smooth, lush voice over ‘90s-style beats. She capped it all off by closing with a sultry cover of Radiohead’s “Nude,” and one that does justice to the original quite nicely.

Suuns (rounds one and two)

POP Montreal 2021 photos Suuns reviews
SUUUNS (POP Montreal 2021 reviews)

This was a tale of two Suuns shows, literally and figuratively: while they played the night before indoors at the Rialto, they resurfaced at l’Entrepôt77 the following night as the surprise opening act for Backxwash. On night one, their more well-known post-punky/Krautrocky material was the focus, as were a heavy use of flashing lights, moody atmospheres and Ben Shemie’s vocal effects. Although a bigger visual display would’ve enhanced their set even more, they put on an excellent show at a festival where their first-ever gig as a band happened at O Patro Vys back in ’07. 

POP Montreal 2021 Suuns reviews
SUUNS (POP Montreal 2021 reviews)

Their Sunday set, meanwhile, directly contrasted the night before, with the Montreal outfit playing a decidedly more ambient and spooky show — one very fitting for the artist they opened for. If anything, their intro felt almost like the start of a Godspeed show. The show itself felt like it featured more saxophones than guitars, but it worked well for them despite the shift in energy from their Rialto set. You can’t say they played the same show twice!


Rocking a wicked dress with an even better singing voice, Baie d’Urfé’s Fernie uses his robust pipes as a perfect complement to the woozy, King Krule-esque bedroom pop instrumentals — complete with a violinist — acting as its bedrock. Though he also gets a turn on the guitar, his early afternoon set at the Rialto Clubhouse showed off his heart-on-sleeve lyrics and decadent R&B sound to captivating effect. Fresh off the release of his debut LP, Aurora, this served as a fantastic introduction to Fernie’s artistry and stage presence. He definitely succeeded in creating an intimate atmosphere in an equally intimate environment (about 30-odd people were present for the show), and I would’ve been thrilled to hear him continue for at least another hour. (To read Cult MTL’s interview with Fernie, please click here.)


There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the sheer awesomeness of Ashanti Mutinta’s artistry, both on wax and in concert. The face paint. The satanic imagery. The metal influences. Her ferocious delivery and biting lyricism. The wigs. The tattered, fake blood-stained dresses. The slamming, bassy beats (which made me wear earplugs). Her head-banging. Her playing “Devil in a Moshpit” twice, both of which incited actual moshpits. That guy with glasses who twice crowd-surfed as if his life depended on it. As if that were’t enough, she did all of this with just her and a mic — no bells, whistles, DJs or backing musicians required. Everything about Backxwash’s set was next-level, and right now, no local artist deserves international success more than her.

Menno Versteeg

Known initially for being the frontman of Ottawa indie darlings Hollerado (and by some as husband to Annie Murphy, aka Alexis from Schitt’s Creek), Menno Versteeg’s solo material is decidedly folk rock-based, and seemingly indebted to legendary singer-songwriters like Leonard Cohen and John Prine. Not only were his tunes occasionally quite humorous in tone (noting that he once played the song “Stop Having Kids” in a room full of children running around), he also had plenty of hilarious stage banter—especially when it came to Denny’s gift cards. Oh, and the former Montreal resident even showed off some of his rusty French skills (ones he admits have been “merde à la début”). Can’t fault him for his honesty!


POP Montreal 2021 Islands reviews
Islands (POP Montreal 2021 reviews)

If you want an ideal grand finale for a festival like POP, you might as well rope in one of the city’s best musical exports over the past two decades. Though Nick Diamonds and co don’t call Montreal home anymore (they’re now a quartet and based in sunny L.A.), they made their return at the Rialto for their first homecoming show in five years. Although the inability to be maskless whilst dancing in your seat or walking around was a bit of a bummer, it was still worth the sacrifice while they played the more upbeat songs in their repertoire. On top of that, both Nick and the rest of the group sounded as sharp as a tack. Their lighting effects were also more blinding than Backxwash’s, and her set came with a strobe light warning beforehand (Islands’ did not). Their music seems to have a noticeably more ‘80s sheen to it — as evidenced while performing “Rough Gem” during their encore — but Islands nonetheless helped POP end this pandemic-friendly edition of the festival in the most epic possible fashion. ■

See more POP Montreal 2021 photos here. For more about POP Montreal, please visit the festival’s website.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.