Perhaps one of Montreal’s best kept secrets is the Contemporary Art Museum’s Nocturnes—a program that aims to combine three Montreal pastimes: music, art, and socializing. The part-gallery exhibit, part-concert series is a cultural hybrid where those interested in both mediums can comingle on the first Friday of each month.
The concept was born out of the desire to offer people more access to the museum as well as a unique experience that could take place at night.
“We started in June 2007, and the idea for us was to open at night,” says Multimedia Director Louise Simard. “We are already open on Wednesday nights, and it’s very popular. We wanted to open more often but cannot afford to offer it [for free], so we decided to do [the] first Friday of [each] month, but with a different concept.
“[It was] a way not only to attract a new public but also to offer a new experience with the museum, to be in the museum but in another state of mind, and to meet friends and maybe be more in a kind of party mood and a bit more relaxed.”
The atmosphere does seem more conducive to a party mood. With extended hours as well as music, lights, and a bar service added to the front entrance, Nocturnes has the museum transformed from a gallery into a hip and friendly happy-hour locale. Where else can you grab a drink, see some art, and listen to a band all before 9 p.m.?
Simard admits she was a little unsure as to what the public response would be to the program, but she was lucky enough to have the support of Quebec megastar DJ Champion, who played the first installment of the Nocturnes series a week before he headlined the Bell Centre. It didn’t take long for the concept to catch on after that.
“We had a lineup going to St. Catherine Street,” says Simard of the We Are Wolves concert, the fourth Nocturnes event. “It was so beautiful to see a kind of new crowd: young, quiet, and happy to line up to come to the museum. Then slowly the public got to understand the concept.”
Since those first shows, Nocturnes has hosted a veritable “who’s who” of Montreal’s independent music community, including acts as diverse as Duchess Says, Think About Life, and Coeur de Pirate.
Simard also acts as the booking agent, choosing bands based listening to CDs and going to shows. Not only has this helped her discover great music, but it has allowed her to gain a greater appreciation for Montreal and the unique people in it.
“Sometimes I go to really underground places,” laughs Simard. “At the beginning it was strange to me because I was not only discovering a new part of the city, but I was also discovering a new generation of the city, and I really liked it.”
A lot of people may see the series as simply a concert in a different environment, but Simard insists the program is symbiotic.
“The concept is not just to present a band in the museum,” she says. “It’s really to welcome a new way to be in the museum and also to present the good musicians of Montreal.”
Playing in the museum also gives the bands the opportunity to add a distictive flair to their live shows, taking advantage of the screens and video equipment found in the museum.
“[The bands] will have projections, they will have performance, they will have a sort of concept show,” Simard says, “It’s very interesting to open the door to them.”
Last Friday’s installment featured local self-proclaimed “sloppy pop” group Parlovr (pronounced “parlour.”) Beginning their set by sacrificially punching through canvases (“We love art!” they proclaimed), the group played an energetic set of songs both old and new, while a series of projections curated by the band ran behind them. Those projections—featuring everything from cats, to an elderly couple, to scenes from Degrassi: The Next Generation—brought a whole new artistic element to the performance. They complemented the songs and turned the concert into a spectacle. The whole thing ended with a giant stage invasion where close to a third of the audience danced—some more awkwardly than others—alongside the band.
Simard’s vision reminds us of the strong and inclusive nature of the Montreal artistic community.
“There is a community within musicians. They’re very generous and easy to talk to, and I am pleased to be able to present them.”
Nocturnes runs the first Friday of every month from 5 p.m.-9 p.m at the Montreal Contemporary Art Museum. Koudlam performs at the next Nocturns on October 1, with Le Husky following on November 5 and Courtney Wing on December 3.