Written by Melody Lau and Robert Rowat.
Back in 2005, the New York Times crowned Montreal's music scene the "explosive" new capital of up-and-coming talent. Arcade Fire served as the city's cultural ambassador and Montreal was suddenly getting comparisons to other historical scenes such as Seattle and Texas. Fast-forward more than a decade, and the city is still producing buzz-worthy acts of a wide range of genres and styles: Grimes, Kaytranada, Charles Richard-Hamelin, Chromeo, Nikki Yanofsky and Coeur de pirate among them.
There's something for everyone in La Belle Province: every night of the week, there's a ridiculous selection of shows to see in concert venues ranging from intimate (Casa del Popolo, Upstairs) to mid-size (L'Astral, Le National, Pollack Hall) to big (Metropolis, L'Olympia). And when the weather warms up, Montrealers head outdoors for a vibrant summer festival scene that caters to every taste.
From this ever-evolving scene, here are 10 new Montreal acts — pop, rock, soul, jazz, classical and more — that have caught our attention.
Earlier in May, French-born, Montreal-based singer-songwriter Monsieur Raph (full name Raphaël Delahaye) released NU, his debut EP with four new tracks that put his diaphanous vocals and haunting compositions on fine display. With a keen ear for instrumental colour, he enhances his own guitar and percussion stylings with strings, accordion, even euphonium. His music lives at the intersection of French chanson, alt-folk and blues, and sticks with you due to Delahaye’s distinctive singing: he belts it out when required (“Au gré du silence”), stops you in your tracks with his pliable falsetto (“Sayonara”) and even raps a bit on the EP’s title track.
To support NU, Monsieur Raph has dates planned in Les Escoumins (June 2), Tadoussac (June 3), Montreal (June 16) and Trois-Rivières (June 17). The full EP is streaming until June 2 over at ICI Musique. — RR
When Meryem Saci first moved to Montreal in 2000 with her mother as refugees from Algeria — which was in the midst of civil war — she learned English through hip-hop. “It spoke to me, and it educated me,” she told Zir Zameen. Soon, Saci combined her newfound love of the genre with her other passions — soul, jazz and blues — to create an eclectic sound of her own. On her solo project, outside of her group Nomadic Massive, Saci can be heard soulfully belting out melodies (“Float”) or spitting politically fuelled bars over Afrobeat-inspired beats (“Concrete Jungle”). Saci’s music is a place to bridge her many identities, and her ultimate goal, as she explains, is to “be the voice of the voiceless.” Saci’s new mixtape, On My Way, drops on June 1. — ML
Lydia Képinski has been on a competitive winning streak over the past couple of years. In 2016, the francophone singer-songwriter took home several prizes at the Granby International Song Festival and just recently, she took home $10,000 at Les Francouvertes music competition. One listen to her self-titled EP, released last year, and it’s clear why she’s such a favourite: her airy vocals run circles around lush orchestral arrangements, creating something that is incredibly well composed and primed for the spotlight. — ML
Gentiane MG Trio
If Montreal is known as a jazz city, it’s due as much to enterprising local musicians like pianist/composer Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon as the big annual festival. Since establishing the Gentiane MG Trio in 2014, Michaud-Gagnon has been a year-round presence in Montreal’s principal jazz clubs — Upstairs, Dièse Onze, Resonance Café — working on her compositions and evolving the group’s cohesiveness.
“The smaller the band is, the more open the musical dialogue can be, and the more risks I can take,” she told the Ottawa Citizen. The result is a debut album, Eternal Cycle, due out June 2, a collection of eight original compositions ranging from wistful (“Green Ashes”) to mercurial (“Dissociation”) to impressionistic (“Impossible Beauty”). They’ll launch the album at Upstairs on June 8. — RR
Lesley Ann Foster is a nomadic spirit, but she has invested a lot of time in the Montreal music scene. Last year, she released her debut EP, Saudade, which was produced by Young Galaxy’s Stephen Ramsay on the basis of their shared love of “sad dance music,” as she tells Cult MTL. Her expansive synth-pop sound is marked by her soaring, soulful voice and is very much comparable to Mozart’s Sister, with whom she used to perform. Since then, Foster hit the road for a brief hiatus but, in a message posted on Instagram last week, the musician hints at some exciting new music coming soon. — ML
Milton String Quartet
A string quartet is classical music’s closest thing to a rock band, and Montreal’s Milton String Quartet is banging these days. Earlier this month, they won the grand prize and string division gold medal at the 44th annual Fischoff Chamber Music Competition in South Bend, Ind. “We focused on staying true to ourselves and our vision of the music, which, looking back, was the best thing to do in this fast-paced competition,” reflects Milton SQ violinist Maïthéna Girault via email. In June, they’ll be the fellowship string quartet at Encore Chamber Music, a summer training program in Cleveland, Ohio, where they’ll work with the Cavani and Jupiter string quartets, Kim Kashkashian and Clive Greensmith.
The quartet’s members — violinists Roman Fraser and Girault, violist Evan Robinson and cellist Joshua Morris — are based at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, where they’re coached by André Roy. — RR
It’s hard to pin down Kae Sun’s sound, but that’s what makes him such an exciting artist to follow. His influences range from Outkast to Bob Dylan to Little Dragon to Dennis Brown, and all of those can be found on various songs he’s released over the past few years. His latest EP, Canary, is just as wide-ranging: “Fix Up” is an electronic anthem featuring Ariane Moffatt, “Flip the Rules” is an infectious pop track clouded in harmonies and the title track is a piano-laden R&B number. Kae Sun has said that these songs are a mere preview of what’s to come on his upcoming album, so perhaps we’ll get more music from him before the end of the year. — ML
Debut EPs can be a very stressful project, but pop/rock trio Caveboy was in good hands at Montreal’s famed Breakglass studio. Working with the Besnard Lakes’ Jace Lasek, Patrick Krief and Joseph Donovan, the band’s 2015 six-song release polished up its raw edges, giving Caveboy's synth-driven pop anthems a moody depth that has since connected with many. In fact, the band's songs have played a cinematic role on shows like Orange is the New Black, Awkward and Killjoys. Caveboy is slated to play this year’s North by Northeast music festival and appears to be working on a highly anticipated followup to its EP. — ML
Fredy V and the Foundation
“We decided to do this project as curators of the funk culture,” says Fredy V, a.k.a. Montreal’s “king of funk.” His new band’s debut album, It Takes a Village, pays tribute to the genre’s great practitioners — the Family Stone, the P-Funk All Stars, the Revolution — while adding “a lot of global awareness, inclusivity and family values to the traditions of funk.” They’ve got the cohesive sound of bandmates who’ve spent time in basements and garages slowly building the skills to make something special. We’re feeling it!
Fredy V and the Foundation are doing a Prince birthday tribute at Le Bleury in Montreal on June 7, and will play the Seaway Food Festival in Cornwall, Ont., on June 24. — RR
Rapper Brandon Buissereth, a.k.a. KGoon, got a big boost last year when he opened for N.O.R.E. at a show at Le Belmont. "Yo, I heard this cat from Montreal named KGoon, killing the city, buzzing,” N.O.R.E. told the crowd. “I want you to come back onstage with me and show me what you got."
Since that endorsement, KGoon and his PaperBoyz squad have been holding up the Montreal end of rap’s new wave (post-rap, if you prefer), styling addictive trap anthems in the vein of Lil Yachty. Judging by his lyrics, authenticity is one of KGoon’s preoccupations, which may explain why he has so far limited his collaborations to his cousin, Seven LC. “It’s just me and myself,” he says. “I don’t know, I don’t f--ks with anybody.” Watch for KGoon's debut EP, Tables Turn, at the end of June. — RR
Editor’s note: strong language warning.