Last Thursday night, I went to Le Belmont to check out three up-and-coming American acts who were respectively each making their Montreal Debut.

For most of us who live in Montreal, a trip to the 514 doesn’t really seem like a big deal. However, as a Canadian who has spent extensive time living south of the border, Montreal holds a compelling cultural position in the collective mind’s eye of the American populace (I refer specifically to Americans who give somewhat-of-a-shit about Canada).

Indeed, for our friends to the south, Montreal is practically Europe. While some of the stereotypes hold up– the dominant language is French, the culture is eclectic, there are (some) cobblestone streets– the vision of Montreal that captures the attention of both American tourists and artists alike exists almost entirely in the minds of those who visit.

Mac Demarco, who has his indie rock roots in Montreal, even commented on this relative cultural phenomenon on his 2012 track European Vegas, in which he croons, “Nothing’s quite the same as European Vegas.” Just two years later, Demarco traded in his Mile End apartment for real estate in New York City– evidently for Canadian artists like Mac, Montreal had lost its lustre.

Though artists leave Canada every year for fiscally greener pastures in the States, Montreal continues to draw talent in from all corners of the continent. As an undisputed musical hub, our city is a crucial tour stop for rising artists trying to push their sound to a wider audience.
Thursday night at Le Belmont, then, was yet another example of a collection of American artists making their musical pilgrimage north.

Sofi TukkerThe first opener, Sofi Tukker, is a New York-based electronic duo, whose relatively brief musical career (they’ve officially been playing together for less than a year) gained some serious traction after their song Drinkee was featured in a recent Apple Watch advertisement. On Thursday night, the duo indeed played Drinkee as well as a setlist full of equally danceable electronic tracks. Next up, were Los-Angeles locals Cardiknox— an upbeat electro-pop quintet that sounded like a musical cross between Chvrches and Charlie XCX.

The headliners of the evening, another New York-based electronic pop act, were The Knocks. The duo, which consists of Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “J-Patt” Patterson, are probably best known for electro-pop delights like Classic and Comfortable. These tracks, polished and radio-ready as they were when I streamed them online, didn’t quite do sonic justice to the duo’s capabilities of putting on an extremely high-energy, and surprisingly soulful, live performance.

And it’s in this live environment where The Knocks seem to feel the most comfortable and also the most excited about their craft. After the first couple of opening songs to (quite literally) get the crowd moving, lead vocalist Patterson quipped, “If you’re in the back, come to the front. If you’re in the front, you better go insane.” Not only did Patterson’s sentiment increase audience participation, it also highlighted the band’s personal valuation of the importance of putting on a good live show.

Without a doubt, The Knocks will be well-received the next time they return to Montreal. Although they probably won’t be uprooting from their home base in New York anytime soon, the sense of artistic community in Montreal is palpable even for those who are visiting and performing for the first time.

The Knocks 3

Some local acts might simply claim that Montreal’s allure for so many artists is a direct result of the cheap rent and the low cost of living. But I’d like to think that Montreal’s cultural draw is the result of more nuanced aspects than, as one Cardinox fan put it, “a great food scene.”

Indeed, Montreal’s musical and artistic networks run vast and deep– oftentimes across national boundaries. While it’s difficult to map out why Montreal is consistently viewed as a cultural hotbed for so many up-and-coming artists, it is safe to say that we’ll continue to be greeted by many talented, young artists seeking a certain “je ne sais quoi” for the foreseeable future.

* Photos by Ford Donovan