In Canada’s francophone capital, a pocket of underground musicians are resisting the norm – just don’t call it a scene
It might possess the decade’s most fervently mythologised music scene, but since carving out a cushy niche in smooth neo-electropop, Montreal has started feeling the friction. While Arbutus fever arrested the populace, city room rates were skyrocketing. Coupled with the legal crackdown on loft parties, rising rent threatened to wipe out free music venues citywide. Luckily pockets of resistance emerged, and now, among friends ennobled by the 2012 student strike, one such cluster has produced a tiny musical ecosystem that seems opposed to everything we’ve come to associate with the city.
It revolves around Brasserie Beaubien, a dive bar those musicians colonised. The venue sits just outside the Mile End district, an artistic pen that’s bred key MTL labels like Arbutus and Constellation. It’s here, away from traditional punk hubs in Saint-Henri and the East End, that you’ll find bands like postpunks Ought and the now-defunct Femmaggots, a politi-punk octet whose cult has galvanised a clutch of Mile Enders and spawned innumerable offshoots.
Pivotal to their survival are tape label Misery Loves Co. and Loose-Fit, the volunteer-run booking collective that originally scouted Brasserie Beaubien. Still, though the community is staunchly anti-capitalist and not-for-profit, it’s treated as its own kind of livelihood. So much so that they don’t really want us writing about it. “To say it’s even a scene – especially a ‘Montreal scene’ – would be a colossal, negligent overstatement,” Ought drummer Tim Keen warns us in a 1500-word email. “I think the best and fairest way to speak about these bands in press would be ‘bands who are close personal friends with Ought.’”
Below, then, is an overview of blog breakouts Ought, the loosely affiliated Mozart’s Sister, and three bands who are close personal friends with Ought. It definitely isn’t a scene.
Bridging the divide between electropop-loving Arbutus and bands who are close personal friends with Ought is Mozart’s Sister, aka Caila Thompson-Hannant. Although based outside Mile End, the singer-producer has Ought’s blend of detachment and naked euphoria (they’re mutual fans) and shares a part-time café job with their singer Tim Beeler. “Everybody’s changing all the time,” she says of Montreal’s music circuit. “It’s like, ‘Aw, cute little Tim, he’s in a band too...and six months later, oh shit! They’re this cool, honest, Fugazi-esque band that’s getting tons of attention!”
When sudden rapture greeted Ought’s debut LP More Than Any Other Day, released this year on Constellation, it seemed the perfect reception for a band formed during the en masse exultation of Quebec’s 2012 student strikes. It’s the gospel music of supermarket aisles, a witty hymnbook that glamourises the absurdity of the everyday but pulses with fuck-it-all love.
Of all the tongue-in-cheek neogenres wafting around these groups’ Bandcamps – amateur jazz, avant-punk, grincore – it’s Lungbutter's ‘twee-metal’ that best captures their ingenuity. The trio, who transfigure self-doubt and shame into targeted agitprop with a body-jolting force, are Femmaggots’ most prominent offshoot, with Kaity Zozula and Grace Brooks waving the band’s self-empowerment flag like a lasso.
“Bands shouldn't get a pass for making vaguely ‘punk-sounding’ music, and shouldn't get written off as not-punk just because they make ethereal synthpop.” – Tim Keen
Impressively, Ought sticksman Tim Keen – who’s recorded and mixed several EPs for Misery Loves Co. - also keeps time in post-hardcore trio Mands. The quote above shows solidarity with Ought’s MTL predecessors, proving these groups are post-Arbutus only insofar as they adopt the ‘post-internet’ sincerity that Grimes & co popularised and apply it to harsh, mangled noise. At their least unhinged, Mands evoke the notion of Claire Boucher’s soul being rent forth from Kim Gordon’s body.
With a song titles as inspired as “Insecure Bro”, Fakes were never likely to screw up. The dance punk five-piece, characterised by the taunting yelp-raps of Hilary King, have released on Misery Loves Co. and toured with Lungbutter. Check their split cassette with Harsh Reality, another group featuring Femmaggots expats, for a black hole entryway to their twisted universe.