Register Monday | December 9 | 2019

The Participatory City

When the Cyclone of Hype Passes, Don't Expect Montreal to Stop Breeding Cool-Here's Why

When talk of Montreal's status as an “It” city rolls into conversations in la belle ville, eyes tend to roll along with it. In a recent interview, electronic-pop composer Montag threw in his own ocular loop-the-loop when mentioning our new ranking. Lead singer Poney P of the post-punk band Les Georges Leningrad relaxed noticeably after I'd talked to her recently and said, off-tape, “I'm so glad you didn't ask about Montreal! Everyone always asks us, 'What's up here?' and that's so boring.”

Hip is witty, furious, novel, different. By definition, “hip” turns out what it once held dear. We can't stay on the crest of the wave for too much longer before it breaks. In our wake, outsiders will foam at the mouth for some new hot spot—just don't cry in your beer once the taste-makers have been drawn to some other bitch's scent.

In our wake, outsiders will foam at the mouth for some new hot spot—just don't cry in your beer once the taste-makers have been drawn to some other bitch's scent.

Montreal's continuing shower of hype is due in large part to two shots from the mainstream cannons of taste fired back in February: a long piece in Spin and an article in the New York Times extolling the virtues of Montreal's cache of bands. Did you know that, apparently, these groups had been spreading out over the continent, seemingly unconnected until this spotlight was cast upon their breeding ground? And no one but us Montrealers knew about it until this moment-imagine!
In the few months since our anointment, the hippest of hip have been named so many times, they are to Montreal what RSTLNE is to Wheel of Fortune: The Stills, Stars, Sam Roberts, The Dears, The Unicorns and, when feeling adventurous, maybe a mention of A-Trak or Amon Tobin. Then, of course, there's that vanguard posse, the embodiment of Montreal's new-found cool, they who graced the cover of Time Canada in early April-there's no need to mention the band's name: you, like most of North America's hipster set, have probably given them a whirl by now.

Meanwhile, our local observers like Hour music editor Jamie O'Meara and Gazette music journalist T'Cha Dunlevy spilled ink to promote a more balanced image of the city. What about the francophone bands? What about the older bands like Bionic? What about the fact that, as an article in the Winter 2003 of Maisonneuve pointed out, we've been here all along? Why hasn't the industry ever properly followed up on the gold that lies in wait? Our authors pointed to some in-scene groaners lamenting the new attention for fear it would sour the sheen of this undiscovered gem. And they pointed to others, grinning, plotting to fleece the hype for all it's worth before the battery fades on that fickle spotlight.

Hip is what hip is. Get used to it.

Hip is short-lived. Volcanic. Exclusive. An “It” ranking is a kiss of death for all fads incapable of presenting irony or flexible enough to morph into something new. Hip is done by people who take things out of context, who can pull it off, but know when to cut it out and move on. Yes (eye roll, please), like those beloved trucker hats. If they haven't made their way to the back of your closet yet, well, God help you.

So how do you explain the city's not-so-new popularity? It's a cycle thing. Sure, we're in the eye of the tiger of taste right now and some of us are lapping it up. Yes, a handful of our bands did the artistic equivalent of the mating dance that got the taste-makers pawing in our direction-way to take one for the team! Yet, when the outsiders stop coming round to sniff our booty doesn't mean we have plans to stop shaking it.

This is a participatory city, and you can't fake or buy participation.

Authors, painters, musicians, playwrights, dancers, graphic designers-and now even video-game makers-are known to bed down and draw inspiration here. This is a city of people who do things, who have intentions and who act on them. People form bands, write songs, organize art shows. They make clothes, paintings, stencils; they write, take photos, start dance studios and work on projects. Our government funds the arts (stop laughing, it's true). A large chunk of our population enjoys going out on a very regular basis, and there are always more happenings to choose from on any given Friday night than you could possibly attend.
This is a participatory city, and you can't fake or buy participation. Just look at the number of summer festivals and winter salons that fly through town year after year; just look at the bike paths, the number of clubs, the independent coffee shops, the clothing stores. Artists are here and they are acting on their impulses, making connections, conceiving and realizing ideas. Montreal has been an artists' city for ages and will continue to be one no matter how many accolades crash upon its rock. And really, when is the world not looking at an international city like this one? Before our city was dubbed the next big thing, we were doing our thing, and we will continue to do so.

This column will cover Montreal's raw stream of creativity: the folks who churn out their art, unfazed by the eyelashes batting oh so seductively this way. From visual art to music to performance to the business of art, The Corps will introduce you to the Montreal creators who slave to live and live to create. When necessary (i.e., when I feel like it), I'll delve into cultural theory and, from time to time, maybe even take a trip-checking in on locales of comparable interest. This is a space to document the usuals, like our many festivals, and the unusuals, all those oddball happenings that keep Montreal buzzing. It's a place to meet our creative corps, chokeholding mundanity, all the while fighting for their right to party.

Melissa Wheeler is a journalist and artist in la belle ville. The Corps appears every other Wednesday.