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The Best of Pop Montreal 2012
Max Mertens on this year's festival highlights, from rising Canadian producers to R. Kelly covers

Montreal band TOPS. Image from thelinknewspaper.ca

Founded in 2002, Pop Montreal is an annual music festival in Montreal that usually takes place at the end of September or beginning of October, and features more than 400 acts, as well as art events, film screenings, panel talks, and more. The 2012 edition’s tagline was “Totally Curated, Dude”, which was completely apt, as this year’s lineup offered something for fans of rap, indie pop, and everything in-between. Here are six of the best new acts that I saw that you maybe haven’t heard of, and at least one that you probably have. 

Black Atlass

Despite being the first act on a stacked bill that included sets from ANGO and Jacques Greene, the most intriguing new voice on Saturday night was 18-year-old Alex Fleming (aka Black Atlass) from London, Ontario. Think dark R&B with electronic undertones, Fleming dropped his self-titled debut EP earlier this year, which consists of six songs that he recorded in his basement. He’s going to get a lot of comparisions to The Weeknd, but I think he might have a better voice. There were clearly some nerves on display, but that’s understandable seeing as it was only his second or third ever live show. Did I mention that he’s only eighteen? Just checking.

Evian Christ

Speaking of talented young acts, 22-year-old UK producer Evian Christ (whose real name is Joshua Leary) had the daunting task of getting the crowd warmed up before buzzed-about Canadian duo Purity Ring, but got bodies moving with a tight set of his ambient electronic music with distorted hip-hop vocal samples (Gucci Mane, Tyga, etc.). Compared to the headliners and their multi-coloured IKEA lanterns, he wasn’t flashy, instead preferring to let the music speak for itself.    


Too obvious a pick? Too bad. While everybody was buzzing over her male pole dancer-assisted Polaris Prize performance earlier this week, it was in front of  a (adopted) hometown crowd last Thursday that Claire Boucher really shone. Wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt, and backed by a bevy of dancers and Japanese anime projections, Boucher’s sold-out Club Soda show felt like the exclamation mark on an incredibly successful year (even though it’s only September). Even when she occasionally flubbed a cue or line, the audience roared their approval, as they danced on the balcony or crowd-surfed below. Nobody embraces their imperfections quite like her.

Jacob Lusk & The R. Kelly All-Stars

If you’re anything like me, or stopped watching American Idol after Simon Cowell left the show and took his red Pepsi cup with him, you probably aren’t familiar with the name Jacob Lusk. The Season 10 contestant wowed the judges with his rendition of R. Kelly’s motivational anthem “I Believe I Can Fly”, before going home. True to the festival’s “anything goes” spirit, the Compton native has the voice of an angel, and lead the crowd in singalongs to Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” and R. Kelly’s “Step In The Name Of Love”. It didn’t hurt that he was backed by a supporting cast of talented local musicians, including members of Islands and Pat Jordache. Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler was also spotted in the crowd, proving that everyone loves “Ignition (Remix)”.    


One of the busiest performers at this year’s festival, the former Montreal b-boy-turned-producer was everywhere, from opening for profilic rap oddball Lil B to DJing with trio Nouveau Palais to spinning solo at a loft afterparty. Even when he wasn’t in the room, it seemed like hip-hop instrumental tracks from his TNGHT project with U.K. producer Hudson Mohawke (like the glass-shattering “Bugg’n”) kept finding their way into others’ DJ sets. 

Mykki Blanco

While not even an official Pop Montreal show, New York drag superstar/rapper Mykki Blanco‘s twenty-minute set at a not-so-secret secret afterparty was one of the festival highlights. Sporting colourful dreads and no shirt, Blanco towered over the sweaty crowd, spitting furious and often hilarious rhymes over futuristic beats provided by DJ Physical Therapy. It was so good that the cops showed up immediately after to shut the party down. 


It’s no secret that Montreal’s indie music scene is enjoying a moment in the spotlight right now (see here and also here, thanks in no small part to the artistic community fostered by local label Arbutus Records. Besides Grimes, the next band that should be big is TOPS, a pop quartet who put out one of this year’s most underrated albums with Tender Opposites. Perfect music for lazy Sunday afternoons, check out their music video for “Diamond Look”, and try to catch them on their current North American tour.


Max Mertens is a regular contributor to the Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter at @Max_Mertens

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