Oh man, this is gonna be good.

As I sat down at my computer this afternoon to begin “working on an essay,” I was, of course, immediately distracted by the shiny blue-glow of my Facebook newsfeed. For once, though, this unintentional procrastination session paid off large.

Yes– my wandering eyes were greeted with the official poster for this year’s edition of Montreal’s favourite summer music festival. This evening, the Internet is abuzz with excitement over this year’s acts, and for a very, very good reason.

Osheaga 2016 marks the first time that Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey and Radiohead will grace the stage down at Parc Jean Drapeau. In fact, both RHCP and Radiohead haven’t even played a show in Montreal since 2012, making their upcoming sets this summer a much-needed return.

On top of the major headlining acts, the 2016 lineup boasts the strongest, most well-rounded collection of artists that the festival has ever organized.

More than ever before, Osheaga 2016 has something for everyone– from the electro-stylings of Disclosure, M83, and Flume to the hip-hop presence of Future and legends Cypress Hill, to the alternative-pop charm of groups like The Lumineers, Bastille, and Passenger.

On top of that, Montreal’s thriving music scene is, once again, very well-represented. This year, Grimes, Half Moon Run, Kaytranada, as well as Busty and the Bass will all be performing over the course of the three-day festival. If you were thinking that Montreal could host a version of Osheaga with only local artists, you’d be absolutely right.

But what makes Osheaga even cooler is it’s ability to feature up-and-coming artists that are about to, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, “blow up.”

Take, for example, Toronto’s hip-hop phenom (some might even say the best thing to come from the 6ix since Drake), Jazz Cartier. There’s also London-based ‘grime’ act Skepta, who’s had tremendous success the past year in the UK and Australia. But if hip-hop isn’t really your scene, there’s Toronto’s grunge-influenced Dilly Dally, Vancouver’s punk-esque White Lung, and Australia’s ultra-innovative Hiatus Kaiyote– all of whom are set to have a massive 2016.

If last year’s edition (Osheaga’s 10th anniversary) was meant to celebrate a decade of growing the summer music festival scene here in Montreal, this year’s edition definitely looks ahead to the future– and no doubt, the future is looking extremely bright.

* For the complete lineup and to purchase passes, please visit osheaga.com

So you’ve scanned Montreal’s Osheaga lineup for the 9th year in a row, getting that feeling of desperate excitement, visualizing how you’re going to stake out the stage and trample the audience in your madness to get to the front… I’m doing the same, only I have a forum to air my arrogant, opinionated top picks and you all have to be subjected to it. I love it.

Anyway, this is my own personal list of who I wanna see at one of Montreal’s most explosive music festivals. Unlike Rolling Stone’s Best Guitar Players of All Time, this is not a popularity contest masquerading as a definitive collection. Nope, this is just me going through the list and saying yea or nay, in no particular order. Here we go:

Jack White

Naturally. Is that too obvious for you? Who the hell cares? He’s innovative as hell (check out his record-breaking record pressing!), and for our generation — a generation of fast food/shopping mall/computerized music/apathetic cellphone relationship crap — we should all be going down on our knees and thanking God that we’ve got Jack White. And that he’s coming to Montreal.

Half Moon Run 

These guys keep getting compared with Mumford & Sons. Honestly, fuck Mumford & Sons. Half Moon Run’s album has nothing to do with that country folk revivalist crap. They’re local to Montreal, and when artists like Half Moon Run do what they do, they’re keeping the standard of incredible Montreal musicianship high. You’ve probably heard their songs from debut album Dark Eyes being played every two seconds on the radio, but it’s about time the radio actually played something decent.

Temples

I want to see Temples for one reason, and one reason only: my band was going to be called Temples first, but these dorks beat us to the punch. Like every new band, they’ve branded themselves “psychedelic rock” and they’re coming all the way from England. They’re probably great too, the bastards.

Modest Mouse

Remember when Modest Mouse was relevant? (Good News for People Who Love Bad News changed me. But that was 7 years ago…) Anyway, are they still relevant? I’m going to Osheaga to find out.

Shlohmo

The first time I heard him, it was in the early morning and ‘Places’ was coming from someone’s bedroom, breaking my goddamned heart. That’s how you know it’s good. I’ve never heard anything quite like his album Bad Vibes, and I started using it as my sleep album when I suffer from insomnia because Shlohmo is about as close to dreaming as you’re going to get without having to close your eyes.

Mac DeMarco

He’s twenty four years old. He’s from fuckin’ Duncan. And his albums, 2 and Salad Days, my god. Photo shoots with cigarettes raining down from heaven and songs that are so beautiful they’ll rip holes in your very existence, DeMarco is COOL. His songs are dubbed “blue wave” (probably because that’s what it feels like when you dig his stuff) and “slacker rock” (which is just silly but makes me feel better about my life), I scanned that list and couldn’t help but smile and chuck on “My Kind of Woman.” Oh baby.

Honourable Mentions

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Like God, Nick Cave is just so grandiose, I don’t even have to mention him.

Reignwolf: Another fucking wolf band?! Are you serious? Get creative, you fucks. There are more animals out there besides wolves. Aids Wolf, Wolf Parade, Wolf Mother and Reignwolf, you should all just form one big pack and go howl at the goddamned moon together.

The Dismemberment Plan: Yes, that is an actual name of an actual band. No, it is not a band made up of three homely, scorned feminists. It’s actually a couple of tragic looking white males. Maybe they’re eunuchs.

So that concludes my top picks. See you at the stages.

The 9th edition of Osheaga Music and Arts Festival takes place August 1 to 3 at Parc Jean-Drapeau.

Photo by Chris Zacchia.

“There’s no place like a music festival to break out the raccoon hat,” was what some sarcastic fashion blogger said about me back in 2009, when I hit up Osheaga Music Festival wearing my Davy Crockett and not giving a shit.

Fast-forward five years and music festivals have become a vacuum of raccoon hats and fox tails, fanny packs and underwear-sized jean shorts; temporary small towns full of kids in huge sunglasses and flip flops, doing key bumps and screaming into cell-phones, drunk on self-importance as they clamour with their media passes, trash-talking the line up but still proud of the power their VIP pass wields…

Alright, alright, that’s just a surface glance: there are as many varying festivals as there are people in the world; the festival I’m specifically talking about right now is the North American Mega Music Festival: big, hip, slick, flashy, and heavily sponsored by huge corporations, offering the kids pretty much everything in the way of a fashionable expensive party full of over the top pop bands.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I ain’t hatin.’ I’ll be back at Osheaga this year (sans raccoon hat: I’m a leader, not a follower) and I’ve already scanned the list of bands; you know all about the thrill you get when you see the name of your favourite band crammed into the grocery list of musicians; there’s nothing like it.

rockfest 2013 crowd
The crowd at Rockfest 2013 (photo Robyn Smith)

Music festivals are just a bit of a curiosity, a phenomenon in anthropology, if you want. The Daily Trojan says “Music festivals…offer attendees both an escape from the struggles of everyday life and a sense of community that can feel almost magical. It is clear that the appeal of festivals is about more than just the music: successful festivals offer carefully crafted experiences that appeal directly to the basic human need for connection and community.”

And Montreal, specifically, is one of those rare, soulful cities that earns its summers; suddenly the streets are exploding with kids coming out of the woodwork and deciding they’ll never sleep again as long as they can still see the sun…

At music festivals, you’re given the illusion of being infinite (unless, of course, you’ve taken the bad acid) and everyone seems young and privileged and free.

If that’s what the music festivals are trying to sell me then, yeah, I’ll take some of that, because that’s the power of music; it sets you free.

Too cynical to believe that? Then go check out Santana’s performance of Soul Sacrifice at Woodstock when he’s like twenty years old: it’s his first time on LSD and he thinks his guitar has turned into a snake; he’s playing solos that are the stuff of melting faces. Tell me that’s not musical transcendence.

Everyone has an opinion or a critique of music festivals (usually just the kids who have never tried to organize, work at, or play a festival themselves) but a collective music experience does something for us: it gives us the chance to have a good fucking time.

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing Half Moon Run after a certain someone put on Dark Eyes for me at 4AM. It was just one of those times where the music and the experience matched perfectly…music is funny that way.

* Top image: Flaming Lips playing Osheaga in 2011, photo by Chris Zacchia

For our introduction to Half Moon Run read pt 1.

By the end of the set, as I sat silently on their jam space’s sunken couch, I was genuinely blown away. Anyone who’s experienced a Half Moon Run performance can attest to the fact that it’s never been a question of talent and definitely never a question of whether they deserved success. All the pieces are in place. But in a volatile climate like the music industry, nothing is a given. The silver lining and what the three of them look back on as the highlight of their career, came last December. After hitting rock bottom and entertaining serious discussions about breaking up, the phone rang. And the coveted call came from Indica Records.


From then on, they were officially a signed band. Minor achievements and milestones have occurred since, such as a Quebec tour opening for Phantogram, a slot at Ottawa Bluesfest 2011, and the completion of a 27-day-stint of recording with Nimbus Studios in Gibsons, BC (their first album is on track for a January release). But their current position is one of insecurity and impatience.
As I said my goodbyes until the 5:45 show the next day at OUMF, they made a point of letting me know the show was probably not going to be a good one.
“I doubt anyone will show up other than our friends.”
“A fifteen minute line check? I guarantee we’ll sound at best 60%.”

In the middle of OUMF Festival or what appeared to be a street fest on St. Denis, I stumbled on Half Moon Run’s stage, where a small crowd stood far from the band, observing in a skeptical manner. Sadly, the skepticism was valid. The free show in the middle of the street came across as barely one step up from street performers and the members of the band looked entirely disenfranchised. Through the anxiety and obvious concerns over sound quality, the trio hastily finished setting up and waited for their leader to start the set.

Devon let the opening atmospheric synth-effect of 21 Gun Salute ring out. Cue Conner’s keys. Cue Devon’s vocals. Cue Dylan’s syncopated beat. And by the time Devon crooned, “I keep fucking it up and it’s tough / maybe it’s just because I’m out of luck”, the audience members had undivided their attention and were officially captivated. Even if the music was only 60%, it sounded amazing.
With every song, the crowd grew and the support increased.
By Need It, a slowed down 3/4 ballad making its live debut, several hundred people had gathered around this random band on a small stage in the middle of St. Denis. Conner, out of elation, took to the microphone and informed them that it was the biggest crowd they’d ever played for. Then he pointed out their friend and mentioned the $5 CDs for sale (so what if they’re just old demos featuring mostly songs they’d long retired?).
I happened to be standing next to their friend and within moments, during Half Moon Run’s closing number, ironically titled Give Up, a swarm engulfed my formerly comfortable spot. Dozens and dozens of new fans waved cash until they had demos in hand. Then, the realization that every demo was sold out. At the conclusion of the set, Devon scampered backstage to bring out the last remaining demos in stock and within seconds, they were gone. All this amidst a thundering applause, an applause representing certainty. The skepticism from thirty minutes ago was now only a forgotten memory. A slew of girls caught sight of the band behind the outdoor stage and rushed over to demand signatures on the demos. Overcome with emotion and with frantically shaky hands, the band obliged.
This was a new high.

 

I remember once hearing Kurt Cobain speak about life in a rising band. He said that in his ideal world, every few months he would start an unknown band, rise to prominence, and then start over again.

Watching Devon, Dylan, and Conner’s expressions as they were mobbed by groupies, sold out of demos, and cheered for by hundreds of new fans, I finally had a picture to go along with Kurt’s quote. Someday, whether they make it big or not, Half Moon Run will look back on that performance as a highlight of their career, because forty hours a week, lost friends, no relationships, incomplete diplomas, and part-time jobs all culminated to this. And this, for the time being, was success.

 

Photography by Amelia Robitaille (meetuattheshow.com)

Begging for an autograph on the $5 demo she purchased a few seconds ago, the attractive concert attendee broke her revering gaze on the members of Half Moon Run for several precious seconds to ask me if I knew their names. I inquired which one, and in a sultry tone, she let me know that it didn’t matter because they were all sexy.
But thirty minutes ago, she, along with the dozens of other converted groupies, had no idea Half Moon Run existed. And one day earlier, neither did I, sort of…

The night before the show (at OUMF Festival), through guitarist/keyboardist/back up vocalist Conner Molander, I arranged an interview / rehearsal sit-in with the band at their jam space. The space is situated in a particularly sketchy neighborhood (an unsupervised naked child strolled by) and doubles as a venue / illegal party space whenever it’s not shut down by law enforcement, so I offered a precautionary farewell to my bike as I locked it to a post outside.

The three-piece met me on the sidewalk, answered an onslaught of questions, and then took me inside to digest all the biographical information while they ran through their set for the following day. All of them barefoot, Dylan (Phillips: drummer/keyboardist/back up vocalist) shirtless, and Devon (Dunn-Portielje: Lead singer/guitarist) slightly drunk off Tecate, the atmosphere leaned towards casual. But the intensity on their respective instruments was unwavering.

Originally a 5-piece, Half Moon Run lost two members and shuffled their entire sound around. Due to the lack of manpower, they went exclusively folk and have grown progressively more dimensional since, with each member performing two or three duties at once (especially Dylan who somehow manages to play synthesizer, drums, and back-up vocals all at once). Unfortunately, inviting a new member in to help is out of the question, because in Devon’s words, “We’re too deep down the rabbit hole.”

In the overheated practice room, the trio methodically played their brand of indie/folk/electronic (imagine a younger Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and Radiohead supergroup) and discussed possible alterations between already-perfected songs. Their obsessive nature and flawless precision were spot-on for clear reasons. Forty hours of practice a week, constant refinement on technique and music theory, and the sacrifice of any social life have made Half Moon Run the band they are now. They all work part-time jobs just to pay the rent and maintain the beer supply. None of the three have held an intimate relationship in years, all have lost friends, and two have dropped out of school.
This is dedication.

Their tiring efforts have taken a toll, especially on Devon, who is noticeably exhausted and ready for the future. Not to say that Half Moon Run concern themselves with success, rather, little emphasis is put on getting their name out. Instead, they allow their shows to speak and in most cases, that’s all it takes to win over new fans (though concert attendance is limited, as they recall their largest previous show topping off at 250, while most don’t surpass a few dozen). As Devon’s near-falsetto and entirely-agonized voice cries, “the needle in your skin brings you closer to God” on the closing-credits-worthy track Full Circle, I remember the uncertainty about Half Moon Run’s future Hafffhe exposed earlier. “I doubt it frequently. But at this point, there are no better options.” Those words kept running through my mind and even now, I don’t know if they’ve fully sink in.

Check out part 2 of Half Moon Run’s story.

Photo from: www.krdesignphoto.com