CKUT’s Jeremy Singer recaps several evenings of hopping between venues at Pop Montreal. Read on for his account of some festival highlights:
One of the great parts about having a Pop Hopper wristband is that you can see a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of, and such was my experience with Empress Of at Sala Rossa on Wednesday night. Hailing from New York City, Lorely Rodriguez performs as Empress Of, accompanied by a synthesizer player and a live drummer. Rodriguez sings and uses a synth pad – to call forth a variety of samples that lay the foundation for the band’s music, and to self-harmonize with microphone effects.
Rodriguez’s choreography heightened the experience. Always shuffling energetically on her heels, Rodriguez slid on a spectrum between subdued and theatrical. During songs with a real electro-1980s feel, she fell comfortably into subdued disco-pointing; in songs with a thumping down-beat, she crossed the line between dancing and flash-posing. (The overall coolness that Empress Of exuded on stage is pretty well encapsulated on her website.)
As a drummer, I found that the band’s live drummer set them apart from similar synth-heavy, dance-pop acts: the playful samples and vocal melodies fluttered above a driving drum groove and powerful synth lines that sent vibrations through my chest. The band created a simultaneously cheerful step and ambient gloominess, playing in various time signatures and allowing the vocal and synthesizer melodies and harmonies bleed into one another. The set left me feeling serene, and warmed up for the next show.
Jack Deming/Ollie North
My next stop was at Brasserie Beaubien, for the Kinnta Records showcase. I managed to catch the second half of the Haiduks, a grooving indie-pop group featuring Kinnta’s founder. Standing in on bass was Jack Deming of Ollie North, the band I had come to see. Deming writes and records his own material, and performs as Ollie North with bass and synthesizer players. Their opening song rolled along in 3/4, with indiscernable lyrics, passionately pronounced over the rolling guitar riff, flowing synth, and playful bass.
Like Empress Of, Deming also regularly evoked microphone effects to modulate his voice and self-harmonize. He often switched between an effected and unaffected microphone, adding a dramatic contrast from one vocal line to the next.
The drummer in me occasionally insisted that a live drummer would pick up the energy in a really good way. (I later learned that Deming had, for a time, played with a live drummer). But untethered by drums, his music was mesmerizing and melancholy; a soundtrack that would suit a dimly lit bubble bath as well as it would a quiet autumn stroll through the woods. Deming’s tunes rang in my head for the rest of the night, and lulled me to sleep after a cold bike ride home.
One of the downsides to having a wristband is that unless you’re insanely early, you won’t get into shows for the festival’s headliners. So after being turned away from Portugal. The Man on Thursday evening, I did what any god Pop Hopper would do – I jumped back and forth between Casa del Popolo and Sala Rossa. I got to Casa just in time to groove out to indie rockers Honey Wild and caught the beginning of the German synth-pop duo Sold Out, before hopping across the street to watch half of the Dodos’ set. I hopped back over to Casa in time for my favorite Montreal trio, VLVBVMV (pronounced Alabama).
I would compare VLVBVMV’s “twisted Southern” music most readily with The XX, but the comparison is limited. Max Williams’ guitar ramblings float beautifully alongside Kate Markle’s lofty, enchanting vocals. Stokely Diamantis anchors the group with stoic bass lines and creative electronic drums. I’ve seen VLVBVMV play around the city a handful of times in the past year, and their live show is always fresh and captivating.
Thursday night was no different. While pre-programmed drum parts pose the threat of limiting a band’s organic groove, Diamantis’ careful orchestration provided an open structure, on top of which the band could ebb and flow naturally. Williams’ unique style, delicate chords with tasteful pluckings and a dash of dissonance added emotionality to the openness, and Markle’s pensive and compelling vocals pushed the music forward. Markle introduced a synthesizer to the group for the first time, and sprinkled in light chord progressions in various songs, giving Williams the freedom to explore even more on guitar.
Overall, my pop hopping experience was a great one. The flexibility and excitement of moving between shows adds to the already strong youthful enthusiasm of the festival. Most of all, seeing such a random sampling of bands made me realize that Pop really loves bands with 3 or less people, melancholy vibes, and synthesizers.