M for Montreal Mikey Rishwain Bernard M for Mikey interview 2022

All about M for Montreal 2022 with the festival’s program director Mikey Rishwain Bernard

We spoke to the man known colloquially as M for Mikey about making M bigger than ever this year to help emerging artists make up for lost time.

For those involved in Montreal’s music community, Mikey Rishwain Bernard needs no introduction. Known colloquially as M for Mikey, Rishwain Bernard serves as program director at M for Montreal since 2007 — and he’s helped give a whole lot of local  artists (and ones from abroad) a crucial platform within that decade and a half. The charismatic, hilarious man-about-town has moved back to his native California near his hometown of Stockton (his dad is a Quebecer), but thanks to the power of social media and the nature of his job, his connection to Montreal music has never wavered. With this year’s M for Montreal getting underway, it’s only fair we got him in for another chat.

Ahead of this year’s edition of the festival, which starts tonight, we caught up with Mikey to get his take on this year’s festival, how everything came together after last year’s edition was impacted by rapidly changing COVID regulations, and who his personal favourite acts are this year, whether homegrown or imported.

Dave MacIntyre: How are you feeling leading up to M this year?

Mikey Rishwain Bernard: I feel good, because I feel the actual excitement from the industry like I’ve never felt it before. I felt that at CMW (Canadian Music Week in Toronto). I don’t know why, but at CMW, everyone there was waiting for M for Montreal. I’m not saying people were having a bad time at CMW, but there was something lacking there that I think people are looking for at M. It’s a one-of-a-kind conference event. Everybody feels like they’re at a fucking summer camp, or in one of the coolest fucking party towns in the world. The energy that comes out of here is amazing. But this year, I feel the energy of people so excited to come. A lot of people are asking to come! Usually, we invite people, like, “Hey, please attend M for Montreal.” Now, people are like, “We HAVE to be there.” People are investing not only their money, but their time and their future business into it. They’re doing a lot of projects here. A lot of companies are moving in to present their bands. We’ve got a lot of export offices, like usual, from Canada. 

What I’m getting at is, if you look at the delegate list of people coming, you’ll see there that TikTok Canada’s coming, the U.S. TikTok people are coming. The CEO of Sub Pop Records is coming. You look at those two names and everything in between, there’s a lot of exciting people coming to M. That’s what we’re always looking forward to. There’s just so many festivals in town, so it’s hard to get excited because there’s too many of them, or too many of the same bands are playing. But here at M, we’re more excited about the potential results that could come from playing M from Montreal. Again, people have to know that we’re designed like a festival, but there’s a lot of shit happening behind the scenes. That’s what’s exciting about M. We can’t wait to see what bands get that opportunity to go to SXSW (in Austin, TX) or the U.K. We have the head of music at SXSW coming, as well. Having those people here doesn’t happen every day — it happens once a year, and it’s called M for Montreal. 

We really need the public to be part of this, because these bands wouldn’t look as good in front of these delegates if it weren’t for the local audience. Let’s say these bands from Montreal that go play SXSW, they’ll go (there) and they might play a show in front of 30 people. No one will know who the fuck they are. It’s so gratifying to see these bands play in front of their audience for these delegates, because you really get that bigger picture.

DM: When you were planning this year’s festival, what was the number one thing you wanted to focus on?

MRB: We want to focus on how we’re going to simplify the networking (component). Anybody can showcase, but how do we put these people in situations where they can network and feel good, and not feel like they’re at some suit-and-tie conference? We want to make sure that we give a lot of opportunities to artists. If you look at Artist Lab that we’re presenting this year, it has a lot of opportunity for some artists to learn how to manage themselves. We’re not telling people to not trust the industry, but we want artists to know that it’s okay to self-manage your career. Anybody can do it if you put your mind to it. It’s not meant for everybody, but we want to put ideas, tools and options out there for artists to take over their career and kickstart themselves. 

So many people wait for a manager, or an agent, or a publisher. But there’s ways that artists can develop themselves by doing it themselves, just like how artists are recording their own music on their computer now instead of going to a recording studio. We want to give opportunities to these artists to find ways to help themselves, and also meet other people that can help them on different territories and continents all over the world… I think a lot of artists missed a lot of opportunities the last couple years because of COVID. We really want to make up for lost time. We’re really putting ahead the younger, emerging artists and talent — a lot of no-names, but that’s what we’re here to do. We really want to make sure that these people get heard. We’re focusing a lot on fresh, young blood. We’re always looking five years ahead — what does the industry look for? What’s going to be interesting for them in a couple of years?

DM: Last year was the first M held during COVID. What are the biggest differences between this year and last year as far as what’s allowed to actually go ahead?

MRB: Last year was a big M for Mess, man. There were so many changes in capacity and restrictions and all that. We were putting on events at 1,000 capacity venues, but only selling 150 tickets. (Then) two weeks before the event, “Hey, we’re back to full capacity!” That was a challenge. It’s like, “Well, we’ve got to fill these rooms now.” That was really, really complicated. Two weeks before the event, we’re being told, “Oh, you can go do whatever you want now.” We already worked all year to be by the book, and we wanted to be safe. Now we’re being told that you can open your doors to everybody… But that was a great year, because everybody wanted to kind of let loose for the first time. M was kind of like that meeting point last year. That was challenging because next thing you know, the tickets were selling, but it’s hard to market an event when you think you can barely fit anybody in there. It was a big 180 in the middle of our year… It was dark, because you don’t know what the fuck’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen. 

This year, I think we already knew starting the year fresh that it’s going to happen, so let’s go full force. We threw everything we could at it, and we’ve got way too many things happening this year. Compared to last year, we went harder at work. We realized we’ve got to make up for lost time. We’ve got to bring out people, we’ve got to have a lot of panels and discussions, and a bunch of events for artists so they can help develop themselves the next couple years, because they’ve had a hard time.

Our production guy called the other day. He’s worked with us forever. He’s like, “You guys are doing more than ever. What’s going on?” It’s hard to believe that we’re doing it, but again, we really want to put as much out there as we can, and give people some opportunities to mess with and people to meet. We threw everything at the wall, and so much shit stuck to it. Let’s just say I didn’t get a lot of sleep this year. I’ve been working 10-hour days, versus last year which wasn’t even half of that, because there wasn’t much to do. Now, it’s just nonstop and it’s too much — but hey, it’s for a good cause, so let’s go!

DM: How did this year’s lineup all come together? And which artists are you personally most excited for at this year’s M for Montreal?

MRB: It’s an interesting process. We have a call for submissions, and we put forward a lot of new, upcoming acts who haven’t really played much. It’s important to to stay true to the emerging side of the festival, as we always have. It’s a mixture of submissions, partners and — of course — we have to keep it Montreal. We know what people like here, and we try to stay true to our groups a little bit. This year, you might see Kiwi Jr. and Ducks Ltd. Kiwi Jr. are pretty much like Alvvays, and they’re signed to Sub Pop Records. Ducks Ltd. is the best shit I’ve heard since that whole Mac DeMarco scene that came out of here. They’re from Toronto, they’re on Royal Mountain Records. It’s like pop punk and surf rock (with the) Mac DeMarco production style. It’s really cool, man. I love those two bands. They really represent what M for Montreal has always been known for: that indie, slacker rock kind of music. 

We really try to work with people here to bring a taste of Montreal. There’s a lot of focus on new shit. There’s the whole TikTok explosion, and a lot of Gen Z pop out there that we’re really catering to. (Montrealer) dee holt is a young artist on our programming who’s really unknown in Quebec. She just signed to Nettwerk International, which is a big deal. I think she’s going to be the next Charlotte Cardin of Quebec. It’s her first show ever, and she’s playing it at M. She collaborates with this young dude from Montreal named Pelch. He’s like the fucking Dermot Kennedy of Quebec. He’s fucking amazing. I can’t believe he’s out of this fucking province. He sounds like the next big thing. To me, him and her are the future of Montreal. I’m really happy to have them involved at M. That’s what we like to focus on. 

We’ve always been known to book some people’s first shows. We booked Milk and Bone’s first show. We booked Charlotte Cardin’s first show. We booked Red Mass’s first show. There’s something about putting a stamp on a band when you have a feeling they’re going to be special. This year, I really feel like dee holt is one of them. Pelch has been playing a couple shows, but he’s still a newbie. Those are the local artists I really feel are on their way to take torch to the next generation.

I have a lot of love for Lary Kidd. I look up to him a lot. He’s headlining Club Soda. I also like No Waves. Ev Bird is a Montreal act signed also to Royal Mountain. I discovered this kid back in the Mac DeMarco days. He was hanging out with their crowd, and I’ve keeping my eye on him. He just released two tracks, and they are fucking amazing. They’re already buzzing in L.A. It’s crazy. I fucking love it. I really like Fernie, as well as Cedric Noel. Zack Zoya’s going to be playing with Clay and Friends on Thursday at Club Soda. There’s this guy named Albert Dalton. He’s coming out here from Newfoundland. I’m watching him, and I’m like, “This kid’s fucking sick, dude.” It’s his first time coming to Montreal, this fresh new kid. There’s something there. Gus Englehorn’s going to be appearing at M, too. He’s doing a show at Café Cleopatre on Thursday night. Big shout-out to Gus!

DM: You now have a component to the festival called M for Marathon. Tell us a bit more about that.

MRB: Yeah, this is basically because a lot of our events are intended for pros in the industry. We want to make sure that we open a component for the public. A lot of people already think we’re a festival, so we have to keep up those appearances. The delegates are welcome to come to those as well, but it’s our stamp for the public. It’s like the festival side of M for Montreal; the difference between showcase events and a festival. That’s why we created M for Marathon to make it more like the “fun” festival, versus the the showcase/industry component.

DM: There’s also an event called Show Frette happening under the Van Horne overpass, starting Friday afternoon. How did this idea come about?

MRB: We wanted to bring in Montreal charm to our delegates. They all like going to the Mile End. We like to bring them out there and spend an hour or a couple of hours to go and shop. So we figured, why not give them the full Montreal experience? Have them do an outdoor thing in the Mile End, have a cocktail. 

We feel like, after this event, there’s no way in hell people are going to go outside for a show. The timing is kind of weird. But at the same time, let’s do a last call before the end of the year. We want to do it at M. We want people to come out to the skatepark and put a vibe out there. These people are stuck indoors all day at these conferences, and we just want them to have a little bit of fresh air. By having this event outdoors, it’s going to make us stand out. It’s the first time we’ve tried. We’ve been told for years that we should do something outside. But it’s almost impossible — who wants to go outdoors and see a show at that time of year? 

With this concept, Show Frette, I think if we get an audience with a lot of layers, and a lot of balls, we can make it happen. It’s like a happy hour. Let’s warm each other up with some drinks, and from there, we’ll go see other shows in some venues. It’s the last event of the professional side of it. It’s a closing to the professional stuff, going into the Marathon more. It’s a beautiful skatepark. Let’s just make something original! People are just always going indoors for shows. Let’s do something different in November — why not? ■

To see our M for Montreal 2022 program highlights, please click here.

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