This year, Pop Montreal comes on the heels of the Jewish holiday of sukkot. Sukkot is the week when your Hasidic neighbours build little open-roofed huts on their patios and balconies in which they eat all their meals, giggle, argue and sing. On a warm autumn evening you can walk along the alleys of Mile-End and Outremont, like I did under a full moon last week, and hear good-natured family bickering pause for arcs of traditional melody, half a dozen reserved and pious men singing their heart out to the sky.
Pop Montreal is not programmed or played by particularly reserved or pious people; it is reliably debaucherous, and its events will offer audiences their fill of drink, noise and general sexiness from noon until dawn. It is, however, a festival made up of communal experiences. The audience at the 2005 closing show at Théâtre National, leaning forward in their chairs to hear the piano of Irving Fields – at ninety years old, only ten years younger than the theater itself – understood the marvel of moving and feeling together in a divided and jealous age.
Mass culture hasn’t broken down, it has sprouted a thousand ugly limbs, each more unavoidable than the last. We aren’t directed to form a line and suckle at the same teat; instead we are spoon-fed by a more personal and customized kind of hegemony. In the thinning newspapers each of our demographics gets its own crabby loudmouth to talk us out of thinking and speaking and acting together. Behind the headphones, we can ignore each other’s presence. Pieces of broken music litter the world, and we can hear anything from anywhere, more or less for free. So why don’t we ask each other what to listen to anymore?
In Montreal, people haven’t yet lost the mutual habits, arts and graces that come from close proximity. To flee the Other means opting for the brisk travail of Toronto or the jutting provincialism of Quebec City. So we stay, and over the past two decades those who were born in Montreal or pulled here by what it promises have built some wonders for each other. Pop Montreal is a chance to get together and remember how lucky we are in all of this, how the hard work of being together pays off in the sheer joy of being together. And yes, to show it off to all the artists and audiences coming here over impossible distances.
This year, those people will include an eighty-year-old confidant of JFK, born in Montreal but raised in Los Angeles; a New York woman who built palaces of sound out of a love for French romantic poetry; a Texan who rapped his way out of an oil town; Brooklynites with enormous beards; and a throat singer from the Arctic Circle. Every day during the festival I’ll tell you what happened the previous night—parties and disasters included—offer some suggestions of which among this motley assemblage might be of interest, and maybe share some conversations with the people around the festival. There will be links to MP3 blogs, videos and band sites to give you an idea of what you're in for. And there’s a comments function down there for good reasons—to get each other excited about what’s coming up, to tell me I’m full of it, to talk back.
Come out and have fun. Do it. Let’s go.