Fun fact: Arcade Fire, despite all the attention they’ve brought the Montreal scene, aren’t originally from Quebec. Then again, as I learned during M For Montreal, a festival celebrating the city’s varied musical output, many artists specifically move to the city to pursue their craft, making the creative scene something of a musical melting pot.
“Not only is there so much support for artists from the Canadian government, but it’s also so easy to get by that musicians don’t have the same kind of financial stresses,” reasons Brigitte Naggar, who performs folk under the name Common Holly. “I think the artistry can remain and flourish. Montreal’s musical economy and lifestyle, it helps the positive outlook. It’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself to just pursue music. If there’s a way to do it and not be scared of whether or not you’re going to eat tomorrow, it’s a pretty amazing lifestyle.”
It’s true. The city has a deep pool of talent. Enough that, after four days of shows, it became clear this list could have been written a half dozen times over. But never the less, we persist. From broken-hearted balladeers to electronic masterminds and the band that the Bee Gees wish they could have been (fun fact: disco isn’t dead), here are our five picks for Montreal’s next big musical export.
Tess Roby is being coy. Which she immediately apologizes for. It’s just that in a time of overexposure, the 23-year-old musician-photographer is obsessed with her debut album, due out next spring, being experienced properly. Small hints slide through our conversation. The album has the same name as a street on Catalina Island, where they shot an upcoming video. Coincidently, she also found a golf range in the California desert with the name of one of her songs stamped on them. (Roby believes we receive signs we’re on the right path—so this was a big one.) But ultimately, her initial foray into hazy electro-pop owes less to the cosmos and more to boredom.
“I was in a band called She Divides as the frontwoman for two or three years,” Roby says. “I was writing the songs. Guitar-based with drums. While I was in that band, I was feeling a bit stunted. I just felt that in order to break through that, I needed to work as a solo artist. I had always written songs on my own. So, I thought, Why not try?”
To date, Roby has two tracks online. The melancholy “Ballad 5” and sparse, vocal-free B-side “Glimpse.” Both have a darkly lit, neon quality to them—think: halfway between the film Drive and every late-night excursion you’ve ever taken. The vibe was enough to impress tastemaking electro-pop label Italians Do It Better, home to like-minded acts Chromatics and Glass Candy.
“Johnny Jewel found one of my songs on SoundCloud, actually,” Roby reveals. “What else was happening in the universe that day? It’s crazy that could happen.”