POP Montreal 2023 Brought Eclecticism and Excitement with Kate NV, Hot Garbage, Loraine James, Hand Habits and More

With Iguana Death Cult, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, LaFhomme, Fraud Perry, Backxwash, Hiroki Tanaka and Tangerine Dream

Photo: Tess Roby/POP Montreal

BY Tom PiekarskiPublished Oct 4, 2023

POP Montreal brought no shortage of excitement to the city this year. Celebrating its 22nd instalment, the festival has steadily expanded beyond its musical roots to include film screenings, art installations, a symposium, lectures and installations for children. 

However seamless the transition to a multi-media festival has been, this year's programming was as good a reminder that POP Montreal's music curation remains top notch and as eclectic as ever. Here are a few highlights from 5 days' worth of shows:

September 27

Hot Garbage

Montreal's Distortion Psych Fest showcase kicked off with Toronto stalwarts Hot Garbage. The four piece immediately brought an unsettling aura to the La Sala Rossa stage by drenching the familiar motorik rhythms of krautrock with a sleazier, biker-gang sense of melody. That unease was punctuated by the dual vocals of guitarist Alessandro Carlevaris and bassist Juliana Carlevaris. The former's woozy, slacker-esque delivery floats perfectly atop his dense guitar chords, while the latter's shouts cut through the sonic current to intermittently snap anyone who has zoned out right back into it. The title track from 2021's Ride was a highlight as its mechanical intro synthesizer riff hints at tonal and rhythmic directions Hot Garbage haven't yet fully leaned into. 

Iguana Death Cult

Iguana Death Cult clearly tasked themselves with getting the La Sala Rossa crowd moving. The Dutch crew were perfectly placed to execute as their particular brand of rock n' roll comes with a baked-in swagger. Frontman Jeroen Reek often let his guitar hang over his shoulder in order to better preside over the set like a master of ceremony, balancing his conviviality and theatrics with the bands' churning, piratical danger. While the most vigorous musical moments of their set could be confused as expressions of pure machismo, any hint of exaggerated toughness was dispelled when percussionist and keyboard player Jimmy de Kok jumped into the crowd with a tambourine to loosen the crowd up and urge one more round of hip shaking before it was all said and done.  

Frankie and the Witch Fingers

While no single member of Los Angeles' Frankie and the Witch Fingers commanded the audience on their own, the way all four members locked into each other's movements was enough to send the crowd into a frenzy. Other than the antics of drummer Nick Aguilar, who frequently stood up from his drum throne to goad the La Sala Rossa crowd into a reaction, the band stayed firmly zoned in on galloping through their break-neck psych rock jaunts. The use of funk rhythms sets Frankie and the Witch Fingers apart from some of their genre contemporaries, and the facility with which Aguiler and bassist Nickie Pickle flipped between chugging stoner grooves and Afro-Cuban patterns gave the crowd ample opportunity to get off their feet. The audience was also treated to brand new unreleased tune "T.V. Baby," which begins with an arpeggiated synth intro and a stop-and-start drum beat that brings a different flavour to a band whose sound is so often premised on unyielding rhythmic momentum. 

September 28


Montreal's LaFHomme opened the MUTEK and ShiftRadio co-presented night with a taut DJ set full of granular percussion, noisy interstitial blasts and enough crowd pleasing edits to balance out the headier moments. Flexing their crowd working prowess, LaFHomme gauged the initially timid crowd and went to work bringing everyone out of their shells. A brisk cut of Flying Lotus' "Computer Face//Pure Being"' kicked off a feel-good turn to the set with its celebratory synth melody. The one-two punch of DJ Rashad's "Feelin" and a track sampling The Time's "777-9311" got the kinetic energy flowing and got both LaFHomme and the crowd moving in sync. 

Kate NV

Kate NV's most recent full-length WOW took a wonderfully jubilant angle to the otherwise austere world of avant garde electronic music, and the childlike exuberance of that record was on full display with this performance. With Kate's equipment on a desk side stage at Piccolo Rialto, she was left with ample room to punctuate her off kilter rhythms with punches, kicks, twirls and even an inflatable air guitar solo. The physical prompts proved important cues for those in the crowd looking to move. Kate NV's song structures often privilege play instead of flow, which is a choice that can be alienating for an audience expecting to dance. There is, however, such a deeply compelling logic to being free-spirited with one's art, and that intention was not lost on those bouncing around with pure abandon. Between the unbridled enthusiasm on stage and synth tones approximating bird chirps and car horns, Kate NV brought the daylight into the dimly lit basement club. 

Loraine James

Fresh off of the release of Gentle Confrontation, Loraine James delivered perhaps the moodiest set of the festival. One of the strengths of James' latest LP is the ease with which she integrates elements of various strains of rock music into her glitched-out techno landscapes. Those strands of post-hardcore, emo and math rock lend a unique emotional character to the tunes that was especially palpable in the Piccolo Rialto basement. The waves of melancholic vocal lines were so arresting that an audience who had just spent the previous Kate NV set bouncing up and down was reduced to a quiet, contemplative standstill. If anyone in the crowd ever got too comfortable, seismic bursts of rolling kicks reminded the audience that James is a master of intensity when she wants to be. 

September 29

Fraud Perry

Fraud Perry's set promised excitement when her DJ came out and started hyping the crowd before Perry set foot onto the Piccolo Rialto stage. Perry soon delivered on the buzz, strutting out in sunglasses, a trench coat and a pink scarf draped around her head, surveying the front row from side to side as if to imply that the crowd was not prepared for what was to come. That level of melodrama was sustained throughout the set as Perry's infectious energy and rapid-fire flow drove the audience's feet into the floor with increasing pace. There was plenty of bombast in Perry's movements, none eliciting more excitement than when she brushed her trench coat off of her body and promised the crowd that we'd be "in for a sexy one." While those caught up in Perry's rhymes would have relished banger after banger, Perry insisted on treating the crowd to her dynamism by interspersing a couple of mid-tempo R&B cuts into the set, injecting the performance with an impressive range of emotions.  


Enthusiastic murmurs began to spread among POP Montreal crowds once it was announced that, due to the unfortunate cancellation of Junglepussy, local rapper/producer Backxwash would be filling in for a last minute performance. Taking to the Piccolo Rialto bathed in a maroon glow and with the floor already trembling from sub-bass frequencies, Backxwash proceeded to deliver one of the most visceral and rapturous sets of the festival. Half devoted disciples and half instantaneous converts, the crowd mostly cowered in place as slabs of grating guitars, decomposing noise blasts and massive backbeats enveloped them in their place. One man spent nearly the entire performance with his head in his hands, only occasionally lifting it out to open his eyes, peering in a state of wicked exultation. 

September 30

Hiroki Tanaka

Hiroki Tanaka's 2020 release Kaigo Kioku Kyoku mourns the loss of loved ones, ruminates on the fleeting moments of lives lived fully and finds solace in the balm of culture and community. Tanaka's Rialto Hall performance was no different as he graced the seated crowd with his understated but no less sophisticated take on experimental folk and rock. Starting the set off with a vocal-forward performance of a Japanese folk song, Tanaka was not shy about sharing the ways in which he has found inspiration from the traditions of his ancestors and the memories and reflections of loved ones now passed. Despite the sombre sonic palette of the finger-picked guitar around Tanaka's shoulder, the night felt celebratory as Tanaka expressed the importance that the birth of his child has had on his ability to reflect on his music with gratitude and understanding. That gratitude seemed to also extend to the way the music was presented. So much of the charm of Kaigo Kioku Kyoku is in the sophistication of the performances of various friends and musical companions of Tanaka's. Rather than find ways to recreate those elements live, Tanaka let them exist as they do on record, coming at the crowd via the PA system. That decision left Tanaka ample room to focus on presenting his voice, guitar playing and stories in their most authentic light. 

Hand Habits

Hand Habits mastermind Meg Duffy lasted one tune before imploring the audience to get out of the Rialto Hall seats and huddle together in front of the stage instead. At the tail end of an east coast tour with this iteration of the Hand Habits live band, Duffy was admittedly exhausted and looking for comfort — from their bandmates, from the audience and from the songs. With Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack of Wye Oak comprising the rhythm section for this run, Duffy could no doubt find solace in their firm rhythmic presence. Wasner was especially instrumental in turning fatigue into indelible calm, her bass playing graceful as always and her background vocals a warm salve. The crowd was equally game for some group therapy, listening intently to Duffy's meandering descriptions of the emotional valence of the songs and contributing their own sense of levity in the form of the occasional responses to the band's banter. The real source of catharsis was, of course, the music. Hand Habits presents as a muted affair, both live and in studio, but the heft with which the members laid into the concluding groove of "The Bust of Nefertiti" brought the crowd to a roar and broke through any remaining bit of malaise. 

October 1

Tangerine Dream

An A/V presentation of crashing waves, menacing lightning and relentless rain greeted an audience on edge for legendary synth troupe Tangerine Dream's first Montreal performance in over a decade. The occasion was marked by some introductory reflection from band leader Thorsten Quaeschning as the group took the stage, musing on fond memories of past Montreal appearances, the extensive catalogue of releases from which the imminent performance would pull from and the methods by which the band decided what key they'd be performing an encore jam in. Resting a finger on the A key of one of his many synthesizers, Quaeschning explained that some notes settle into the acoustics of a room with ease, while others make a room come alive. The proceeding switch to a D note created an acoustic rumble in the bones of both the L'Olympia theatre and the audience, causing a roar of approval. It's that understanding of what gets a crowd going that helps pull Tangerine Dream out of the legacy act bucket and into the legendary act one. Another is the way in which the group's live show actively mines their relationship with various eras of electronic music. Stage right, violinist Hoshiko Yamane's musical role was ostensibly to remind us how steeped in the western classical music tradition Tangerine Dream's catalogue is. Paul Frick, stage left, brought a kind of contemporary dance music lens to his playing, cueing frequencies in and out of the mix in much the same way a contemporary DJ would. Quaeschning stood centre stage, Tangerine Dream founder Edgar Froese's chosen successor and the torch bearer of the band's legacy. That combination of sensitivity to the past and curiosity for the future is what sustains Tangerine Dream's place as an unmissable live act. 

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