music

U.S. success, from both sides now

Francophone bands from Montreal are following in their Anglo brethren's footsteps

MARTIN PATRIQUIN May 14 2007
music

U.S. success, from both sides now

Francophone bands from Montreal are following in their Anglo brethren's footsteps

MARTIN PATRIQUIN May 14 2007

U.S. success, from both sides now

Francophone bands from Montreal are following in their Anglo brethren's footsteps

music

BY MARTIN PATRIQUIN • On a recent Friday night in the bowels of hipster-infused Brooklyn, Malajube manoeuvred through a typically whimsical set of its happy, hard-edged pop tunes, delighting an easily delightable crowd. The band is from Montreal, after all, a city that continues to wow the trucker-capand-wallet-chain gang with the weight and breadth of its rock and roll. Appropriately enough, the quintet played Montréal -40° C, an ode to the oft-frigid city on the St. Lawrence. “I love you so much I hallucinate,” sang lead singer Julien Mineau in French, over and over again. The audience lapped it up—though the vast majority didn’t have a clue what he was saying.

Rock stars thrive on credibility and buzz, and there remain few area codes that ensure a suitably volatile mix of the two than Montreal’s. Beyond its bridges, though, the city that birthed the likes of Arcade Fire, the Dears, Sam Roberts, the Stills and Wolf Parade was known almost exclusively for its English bands, whose French brethren could only dream about playing venues in Vancouver, let alone New York City. But something happened along the way. The current wave of FrenchCanadian bands has effectively prolonged Montreal’s “it” status past the usual allotted 15 minutes. It might be fate, chance, or further indication that the city has turned its back on old language feuds. It may be as much a testament to Montreal’s allure as it is to the music itself, where attitude counts for far more than mere words. Whatever it is, bands like Malajube are enjoying the fledging success of their English counterparts, something even they have trouble believing.

“Before, if you were a big band, the goal was to go and play in France,” says Sunny Duval, guitarist for the garage rock outfit Les Breastfeeders. “That was the old mentality. But now there are a lot of venues in the U.S. and English Canada. The language doesn’t matter anymore.” Hampered neither by language or name, Les Breastfeeders have charted at MIT’s WMBR and Berkeley’s KALX, as well as several other key college radio stations. The band garnered relentless, largely gaga media coverage throughout its recent U.S. tour, their native tongue (and earnest attempts at English) as much a selling point as their big, catchy guitar hooks.

“There’s an openness now,” says Gourmet Delice of Montreal-based promoter Bonsound, which represents Les Breastfeeders and the Juno-nominated Malajube, as well as such other francophone acts as Call Me Poupée, Le Nombre and the DJ Champion (who was also nominated for a Juno, and uses both French and English in his mash-ups). “They could sing in Swahili and people wouldn’t care.” Maybe so. But even Swahilis have to start somewhere, and French bands don’t have the same ready-made appeal to English listeners. Thankfully, according to Champion (real name: Maxime Morin), in Montreal French acts have the benefit of a dozen or so radio stations, five daily and weekly newspapers, four TV stations, a province-wide

competition for fledging CEGEP bands, as well as established promoters like Bonsound and Greenland.

In Montreal, “You have the chance to experiment, to f-k up and get better,” Morin says. “We have a star-making system. That, and people are willing to let go, to party, to dance.” When America cast a critical eye on the city’s English scene, Morin adds, the other side was bound to be discovered sooner or later—particularly since many of the city’s most successful English acts have band members with French surnames.

“They’ve opened up to the outside,” said New York promoter Bob Weyersberg of Montreal’s French bands—a sentiment that rings true for French Montrealers in general. (Weyersberg’s company, Triage Music, has promoted Les Breastfeeders, Le Nombre and Les Séquelles in New York and beyond.) “It’s a product of being more confident. They rule their own destiny, and aren’t scared of having Anglo culture ‘take over.’ ”

Then there’s the matter of cash. Up-andcoming Canadian bands, regardless of language, can benefit from a raft of provincial and federal government grants, allowing them to tour without the backing of a major label. This government largesse is partially responsible for the “M For Montreal” promotional initiative, which aims to “launch export-ready bands into the international marketplace.” It seems the noisy and nebulous thing known as Montreal rock is now a bona fide trade-

mark—in both official languages. M