As I sit here at the gate watching the airport crew spit polish the planes for takeoff, I am a humbled and jittery man for having made the trip to Pop Montreal.
Given all this Montreal music hype, I'd expected to see fellow major-label A&R everywhere. I'd expected to be launching contractual spears into bidding wars, banquets and bedrooms. I'd certainly expected women, bands, and women in bands to want to talk to me.
What I can't figure out about this bacchanalian little festival is: where's the money? Why Montreal would host a cocky five days of events just for the love of it is beyond this geezer. Half the bands don't give a turkey giblet whether they sell records, mp3s, lemonade or publishing rights - in fact, a bunch of them give this all away. It doesn't even seem to put the promoters' noses out of joint when their bands pull bass solos on half-empty rooms.
Cell-shocked from my night in the drunk tank, I headed to the mountain on Sunday morning for some fresh air, where I discovered a rock'n'roll market in the Canadian Grenadier Guards Armoury. Obviously you Canadians don't have a lot of military secrets, or you wouldn't have allowed this respectable hold to become absolutely squirming with indie rock scenesters. But the schwag*! How I love schwag! Hundreds of craftspeople hawking their homemade T-Shirts, posters and zines. And there were science experiments on display too, (yes, the Science Fair included the hard work of one young chap conducting "studies" on Marimo Balls and another on the quotient of cuteness. On the side, the young scientist responsible was also selling schwag.
The general madness reminded me of the time I modeled chaps for Vivienne Westwood's charity strip show for punk artists on smack.
I complimented one young woman on her wares: a jewelry collection, entirely fashioned from fuzzy little balls of wool. "It's not schwag;" she countered, "I shaved the sheep myself to make those earrings, asshole." She was a deadpan chick and like all the others in the room, a variation on the theme of Miranda July. I've been noticing this degree of homogeneity at Pop Montreal events, and am not alone. An industrious character had printed up manifestos begging originality of thought, and calling for an end to the childish behaviour plaguing indie rockers. This brings me to something I must, right now, get off my chest:
There is a pop culture symbol that has overstayed its welcome in the Western World and I am beginning to take it as an affront to my senses.
Be gone, THE ILLUSTRATED BIRD!
For the past five years, line-art bird illustrations have bloody well bloated the pop landscape on t-shirts, record covers, websites and screenprinted posters to the point of making me wretch. Let me tell you kids that I've got a towering stack of demos at my office, and whenever I get one sporting an emblem of any bird whatsoever, I toss it directly into the goodwill basket for suburban kids.
The bird was a successful icon between Woodstock and Watergate, and for six months back in 1999, for the following reasons - it represented a palpable, sociopolitical fragility in the wakes of Kent State and the WTO meetings in Seattle, and the ensuing dark ages of global fear and tension. We get it, already. A canary in a coalmine, we get. A comment on urbanism, by this blackened creature whose wings are covered in soot, who coughs and can hardly fly, we get. Imagination, flight from a sickened environment, and the simple beauty in that cute little solo it chirps, we get. We all have a wee bird nesting in our heads. We all want a little freedom. But for the love of god - I WANT FREEDOM from every band and his dog who appropriate this symbol for the packaging for their ideas. It may be a throwback to the seventies, but from somebody who was there, I can tell you kids that clinging to such a symbol is neither arty or original and only seems to signal that you were not held enough by your mothers.
I headed upstairs for some lentil soup, then ducked into a wee makeshift cinema across the balcony (grabbing a few swigs of the communal bottle of Jack Daniels tethered to the doorknob on my way) to see some gorgeous independent films by the local talent.
Afterwards, I went and lay on the grass outside the Armoury. I watched clouds form into animals and listened to hippies thunder away on their drums behind me. The lentil soup warm in my belly, girls all over the place, giggling and stroking their freshly-purchased crafts, and me soaking in the aire Montrealaise, feeling like a teenager again. Yeah, I felt the Spirit. That Pop Montreal Spirit.
Film Pop, Associacao Portuguesa
Later that evening, I brought this Spirit to see short 'experimental' films at the Film Pop closing night ceremonies. Five shorts, created by five Montreal directors collaborating with five Montreal bands. My sources tell me the most experimental aspect of the project was the budgetary frivolity with which the National Film Board embraced these novices.
But to their credit the results were entertaining little spurts of movie magic, especially the pieces about Dishwasher (dir. Sinbad Richardson) and SoCalled (dir. Ben Steiger Levine), the more technically demanding of the two. The six-camera live Bell Orchestre video (dir.Kaveh Nabatian) was a plum of a project, and the Besnard Lakes one was, well, a prune. The band redeemed itself by improvising a live score to a hilariously fearsome film, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome! (1954), from Hollywood gossip columnist/occult freak Kenneth Anger. The score was conducted from the venue's balcony and made my hair stand on end with the fear that the Besnard Lakes might fall right into the sparse crowd and multiply like Gremlins.
San Francisco 16mm projectionist trio Wet Gate were sublime, and created narratives and soundscapes from old industrial, educational and found filmstrips. The piece that marked their Canadian debut commenced with the very frustrating theme of fire in snow - a looped few seconds of hands trying to create a kindling fire in a prairie snowstorm. This elegantly moved into a story about the recent school shootings and then, with the use of home movies and educational and factory filmstrips, self-referenced the problem with education, and crescendoed into a collective purgatory where all of television holds its ears, self-implodes and it is finally revealed, the good part of an hour later, that the inner mass consciousness is violent in nature. Or at least that's what it said to me.
Constantines, Main Hall
Over to the VICE magazine party at the Main Hall where the Constantines, SS Cardiacs (Costello meets Wedding Present) and Favorite Sons scoundrelled the stage. I'd seen Pop Levi here the night before and the place still stank of polyester, poser stunts and moustache wax. And now, the joint was packed to its freshly-painted gills with old men enjoying the honest caterwauling of other old men. Touching, really.
Journalists and lawyers - who I've always been convinced are equipped with the same brain chemistry - rubbed shoulders as the bar staff fought a very good fight to keep everyone in good spirits. The gaps between the journo-lawyers and mathrock drummers were filled with Vice street teamsters, hot rod chicks and other rogues. One diminuitive Pop Montreal co-organizer straddled the doorway to ensure no one left the room. I had to turn her around and suggest it was more reasonable not to let anyone else in.
And that, dear reader, is my final report from Pop Montreal.
Jail, pneumonia and one impending psychotic break did little to prevent me from really shagging around with the Montreal music experience. But I've learned a lot. When I get back to the label office, we're going to put our heads down. We're restructuring big time, and if that means giving the artists what they want, let it be an experiment in suicide. We're going to cash in our stock options and let everybody go broke. It's the decent thing to do, and is guaranteed to wipe our Karma clean. Let the damn band sing for its own supper, and leave the tour bus garage franchise to me.
Until next time,
(*we are unfamiliar with this term, but David insists on using it. He writes,'it's a cross between "schwing" and "swag"' we'll indulge him this one as he is in a delicate state - Ed.)