Members of the music community are positing Montreal as the next Seattle or Greenwich Village. While Toronto is well known for its festivals lined with big-name artists, such as the Virgin Music Festival, which hosted both Gnarles Barkley and The Strokes this year, the sounds that are challenging and changing the face of North America’s oversaturated music industry are being produced in our own backyard.
Osheaga, for example, was a hugely successful two-day concert event that took place in Parc Jean Drapeau earlier this month and attracted a flood of international artists such as Ben Harper, The Flaming Lips and K-Os. Perhaps even more significant, though, is the POP Montreal festival that happens in October. This event has come to be a central forum for upcoming artists, and some are even considering it comparable to Coachella and South by Southwest in its power to predict which bands will dominate the Indie scene in the upcoming year.
It may be surprising to some that many of Canada’s new, Montreal-bred artists are actually McGill alumni. This month’s McGill alumni magazine, though, did not shy away from boasting the fact. In a brief article, it attached McGill degrees to members of popular bands such as The Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Sam Roberts and DJ Eight-Trak. What is interesting is that a bare minimum of these musicians received musical training at McGill.
In fact, many up-and-coming McGill-based musicians are not affiliated with the Schulich music school at all. “I feel like most musicians that are out there and playing in Montreal are not part of the music faculty,” explains Jordan Safer, U2 Political Science and member of the McGill-based rock band Moksa. “We know several big-name bands at McGill that are not.” Many students, like Safer and his band-mates, are critical of the lack of facilities available to independent musicians who want to play their instruments while maintaining a separate degree. “Practice space is also a problem,” Safer adds.
“Ideally, it would be great if the faculty of music would do a better job at helping to facilitate independent bands like us, but, I guess you can kind of understand why they wouldn’t be so accommodating,” says Adam Jesin, the band’s lead vocalist and a U3 History major, who suggests that the band’s music style – far from classical or jazz oriented – would not be taken seriously by students of the faculty. “But, we would really love [McGill’s] support and help,” Jesin admits.
While it is arguable whether or not McGill has a strong enough support network for their independent musicians, OAP and SnoAP have certainly become valuable forums from which McGill bands can showcase their music.
“I came in the 12th grade to get a tour of McGill campus and I saw the OAP setup, a live performance on stage, and people having a good time relaxing and listening to the music. That was the second I thought: ‘this is the place where I need to go.'” Jesin recounts.
“We are all about the live performance. An outdoor performance between classes in the first week of school is a great thing, we get such positive feedback from it,” Zeke Caplan, Moksa’s lead guitarist and principal songwriter says with a smile.
Unfortunately, Moksa’s performance in last week’s OAP lineup was cancelled due to rain, but, being veterans of both OAP and SnoAP, the band did not appear too discouraged.
While OAP and SnoAP provide great opportunities for McGill-based bands to practice performing, a lot of students believe that more could still be done to help foster a community among the currently scattered group of independent musicians at McGill. If not, it would at least help to promote existing, but sometimes little-known campus talent, like Moksa. As the currently famous McGill Alumni bands have proven, it is not unrealistic to assume that the current campus bands could eventually become major players in the Canadian music industry. It would be nice for McGill to be able to claim having played a real part in their success.