M for Montreal does it for the bands and for the fans

We spoke with Mikey Rishwain Bernard, the music festival’s program director, about its 2023 offering for industry scouts (the showcases) and for local concertgoers (the Marathon).

The chill of November is upon us, and that means M for Montreal is just around the corner. The festival attracts not only a host of great local, national and international talent every year, but also brings out music industry delegates from across the globe. This year’s edition will see representatives from Spotify and labels like Sub Pop and Secretly Canadian, as well as radio stations like KCRW, agents like Tom Windish (who represents Billie Eilish and Lorde, among others) and Stranger Things music supervisor Nora Felder.

Last year’s edition was the first where M got back into full swing post-pandemic, and seeing people start flocking to shows at trademark M venues like the upstairs floor of Café Cléopâtre (away from the actual strippers, of course) was an incredible feeling — a happy family reunion, if you will.

Catering to local fans of live-music and music discovery, many M shows fall under the Marathon umbrella, meaning they’re open to the public, while others are classified as ‘Official Selection’ and are reserved for industry attendees with PRO badges.

Ahead of M 2023, which runs from Nov. 15 to 18, we spoke with Mikey Rishwain Bernard, aka M4Mikey, one of our local scene’s biggest characters — even when he’s all the way in his home state of California. Keep reading to find out his thoughts on this year’s festival, as well as who he’s most excited to see.

M for Montreal Mikey Rishwain Bernard M for Mikey interview 2022

Dave MacIntyre: How are you feeling leading up to this year’s edition of M?

Mikey Rishwain Bernard: We’re stepping into the heaviest season of the year for us. We’re definitely on nerves, but that’s natural. At the same time, this is my 16th edition with M, or something like that, and I know that the end result will be satisfying and complete. Once I’m at the shows and surrounded by music and new talent, I become a kid again. That’s what M does to you. It really puts you in a position to discover new things, and that’s what these events are made for. They’re not going to be the biggest names you know in the country or in the world, but they’re little gems to pick up along the way. 

I think M does a good job at presenting them on an international scale, too. We’re really focused on getting results from these showcases. We love the public, don’t get me wrong, but our eyes are always on the prize — what can we do with these artists in the future, with these international delegates attending M for Montreal? M for Montreal’s fun, but what’s going to come of it? 

I can’t describe to you the feeling I get when I get a DM from an artist who’s like, “Dude, the guy from Sub Pop just hit me up on Instagram!” Those are the moments you live for. That’s why I’m in this business. I’ve been in bands and I’ve seen people struggle. I’m so grateful that Canada has this ecosystem that supports these artists in the industry, and giving back to these emerging artists is why I do this, and why I love my job.

DM: How would you summarize how things went during last year’s edition?

M4Mikey: Last year was our first full year back at M since COVID. After a pandemic and coming back to M full time, full-on, it was really a “welcome back home” — we’re finally getting back to normal. It was great, and especially noting that there were so many results from playing M last year. So many people got deals and travelled the world because of interesting things that happened (at the festival). It was great.

M’s getting older, and seeing it grow before my eyes has been really a trip. Last year, it felt like your child just turned 18, and is going to college. Even though I’ve never been through that, that’s where I see M: growing in a mature way, going on its own and having its own identity. I see a huge turning point happening, and I’m happy to be a part of it.

DM: What was your biggest focus while planning this year’s edition?

M4Mikey: Diversity, always. This is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can, to really involve diversity in not only music, but cultures within Montreal and Canada, to really reflect who we are as a country. We’re really proud to have a lot of people represent their cultures at M. That’s always been a focus of ours. It’s all about diversity, in music and culture.


DM: Who are you excited to see this year?

M4Mikey: My list is long. More than ever now, I discover bands on my own, because we book bands that I’ve never seen before, so I go there really curious myself. You’ll see me in front of the stage most of the time at M just because I want to enjoy the moment.

There’s a brilliant singer-songwriter from Toronto named Billianne. Folky, and she probably has some of the biggest hits on Spotify out of all the bands we have. Please check her out — she’s someone I’ve been waiting for. I know she’s not from Montreal, but she’s working with some Montreal people at Lighter Than Air. 

She’s playing Saturday at Quai des Brumes with Alice, a former member of Canailles. There’s also Bells Larsen. I saw him play at SXSW. He made the place feel like his living room. I felt like I stepped into his diary. It was really special, and I’m really happy to bring him back to M for Montreal. There’s also an artist named AVIV, she’s on Dine Alone Records. Super nice lo-fi pop — Sunday afternoon vibes that I guess we all need during the week.

There’s dee holt, she played her first show at M last year. She’s great, she has a bright future. She’ll be playing a showcase with Consequence (formerly Consequence of Sound) this year at la Sala Rossa on Saturday. Cartel Madras is on there, and Milk & Bone. The last artist on that lineup is Virginie B. That’ll be special. Frais Dispo are members of Choses Sauvages and Foreign Diplomats. I saw them at Santa Teresa, it was really good. It had more summer vibes — let’s see how it goes in colder November. Les Shirley are playing, they’re coming off their (opening for) Foo Fighters high. There’s Winona Forever — you know my history with slacker rock and Pavement and working with Mac DeMarco. When you hear Winona Forever, you know I’m going to love this shit, so I’m all about it. 

There’s a rapper from Wales coming called Mace the Great. That doesn’t happen every day where we’re going to see an up-and-coming rapper play a small room in Montreal, so I’m really excited about that. On Friday, Mothland hosts (their) annual showcase. If no one knows the bands’ names, don’t be afraid to just go. Everyone who goes to a Mothland show will be walking out like they got hit by a freight train. And you’ll go to bed with that feeling all night. Right across the street from that, at Casa Del Popolo, Lighter Than Air are presenting Sasha Cay, Grand Eugene and Niall Mutter. On Saturday, Heaven for Real’s playing with Poolblood, (both are) from Ontario. Poolblood are like Mazzy Star vibes. I love it. Also, on Saturday, we’re hosting Marie Davidson, Ouri and Nada El Shazly.

And of course, you’ve got to mention all our (Café) Clêopatre shows. There’s a vibe you can’t beat. Everywhere I travel to, people always talk about the showcase at the strip club, at Clêopatre. It sticks in everyone’s minds, and it’s become a staple at M. I used to think it was kind of sleazy, but the reaction and vibe speak for themselves every year. We have a hard time letting that one go. ■

The M for Montreal Marathon runs from Nov. 15 to 18 at various locations. For more, please visit their website.

This article was originally published in the November issue of Cult MTL.

For our latest in music, please visit the Music section.