Playing an antique pop-a-shot game - featuring a metal rim, a metal net, and three deflated basketballs - is generally considered a bad move, but at 7:30am, it's up there with farting in public in terms of loud, shameful acts. But even as the ground around started to swallow me whole, I kept shooting. I just couldn't stop shooting. I felt bad, I honestly did, but I couldn't stop shooting.

Just 10 seconds to go, you can do it.

Then the spiky blue hedgehog from hell looked at me from his plastic throne and said the following two words that still haunt me to this day: "ROUND, TWO."

I'd somehow forgotten that the Sonic range of pop-a-shots were based on a progressive point system - hit a certain threshold and you keep moving up the ranks until you get put on the No Fly List.

I died a bit that morning.

Once I'd finished terrorising the two other people sat in the motorway service station style section of Cardiff Airport, I boarded the plane for the first of that week's many journeys: a quick hop to Amsterdam for an expensive meal at McDonald's (which is the worst kind of McDonald's meal, if you were wondering), and a five-minute ride on a futuristic-looking massage chair, which was actually pretty fantastic and totally worth the price tag.

"A burger, fries and a drink for £11? Are you kidding me? Should I go back? I feel like someone just robbed me."

Time for Montréal!

***

Early last year, I went to New York, which was a dumb move given that the Eastern seaboard in February is mostly a game of survival, but it's got nothing on the weather I was subjected to when I arrived in Montréal (minus 10). If I can be vulgar for a second, the snot literally freezes to your face.

Once I checked into the hotel, I made my way down Sherbrooke Street to the beautiful Uqàm Pavillon for the delegate dinner, which was quickly followed by a splitting of mindstates: the insane people jumping on the shuttle to the opening night's showcases, and the people that spent their day travelling across various time zones, heading back for an early night.

I woke up refreshed.

pink house

****

There's nothing quite like a good breakfast buffet, especially when you have a busy day ahead of you, and let me tell you, Hotel 10's breakfast buffet was a top five for me. They put maple syrup on stuff I assumed you weren't allowed to put maple syrup on.

Beans? Sure, have some maple syrup. Bread? Of course!

If I take one thing back from this trip, it'll be the concept of maple syrup as a base ingredient.

***

To shmooze or not shmooze, that is the question I often ask myself when attending industry gatherings. I typically lean towards the latter of the two, mainly because I'm the Editor of a mostly unknown website. But from the small amount of networking that I've been subjected to thus far, I'll say this: everyone is very friendly. Maybe it's crisp, fresh Canadian air?

However, the morning was reserved for city exploration, not the exchanging of business cards.

museum

Gloves are pretty straightforward, in the sense that they have one job to do: keep your hands warms. At least that's what I thought.

I've never felt so let down by a pair of gloves than I did during my three-hour long exploration of what many people call the art district of Montréal. The gloves, which have served me well in places like Reykjavík and New York, feel about as useful as strapping two slices of ham to each hand, without the added upside of always having four slices of meat at my disposal.

What I'm trying to say is this: it's cold.

Words - Historic

****

The first thing you'll notice is that everyone speaks French, but they also speak English too. So for anyone lazy like me, or used to Parisian hospitality, it's not as intimidating as actually being in France.

I was expecting it to be more Welsh in its setup (a country proud of its language, despite playing second fiddle to a more dominant force) but that's just not the case here. They'll assume you can speak French, wait for you to say 'Bonjour' like a neanderthal and then quickly transition to English.

Have I mentioned Canadians are super nice?

colourful houses

Following a rather filling Syrian meal at the delegate dinner, I headed out into the night in search of my new favourite band, because that's sort of the point of being a journalist at a music conference. Rather than describing every single band that I saw each night - because let's face it, not all of them are going to be worthy of praise, and it's counter-productive to be too cynical at this stage in an artist's career - I'm going to designate a few 'winners' from each night. So here goes:

Socalled

Have you ever entered a room and felt like something wasn't quite right? That's what happened at Gesù on Thursday. On arrival at the venue, I found a bunch of industry folk circling a room that I figured was the spot for the showcase.

10 minutes go by...

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a few people coming in and out of another room, but we've already established I don't deal well under public pressure, so I waited. Then I waited. Then I finally made a break for it.

"Shit... where am I? Why is there a dude in a suit and trainers discussing his favourite Jewish composers, while sat next to a string quartet? I can't leave now, the room is full, and the door to the auditorium was super loud. Fuck. Ok, just go with it."

The show was part history lesson, part stand-up, part incredible. I had a great time.

I left the auditorium to find the other room was still locked. I quickly jumped on my phone and Googled, 'Show me a picture of Socalled', only to find out I was 100% in the right room, and I'd just given up a pretty comfortable chair. I felt pretty low at that point.

Les Louanges

Being a music journalist means that when someone asks you "what did [insert band] sound like?", your response probably shouldn't be "mmmmmm; they were kinda hard to describe." Yet that's exactly what I had to say about the Montréal-based band. If I was pushed, I'd say sexy lounge music, but not the kind you'd find in a hotel lobby? I suppose the biggest compliment I could pay them was that they were definitely unique (unique good, not unique bad).

Zach Zoya

It's nice to tip an artist ahead of the festival only to find out they're actually better than your initial assessment. That was certainly the case with Zach Zoya - who had the audience in the palm of his hands for the entirety of the joy-filled set. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which he doesn't become a massive breakout star.

WORDS Snow Day - mikeys

****

Following yet another maple syrup-infused buffet breakfast - I made my way out for a quick walk before embarking on one of my highlights from the trip: Mikey's City Tour.

Every good music scene in the world has a Mikey. He's the glue guy that gives a damn about the music he's repping, and the sort of person that will go out of their way to actually support people, whether that's the delegates invited out to the festival, or the artists he's helped book. If I didn't know that before I boarded the bus, I certainly knew it once I departed.

bus and m for montreal

Having woken up to an avalanche of snow, in my mind, the tour was 100% gonna be called off, but this is Canada, not the UK. Snow means nothing to these folks - they just strap on their spikey boots and get on with the damn thing. So, with 48 music industry people crammed onto a school bus - though, probably more like 54 - we headed down Saint Laurent Boulevard for a quick stop at Schwartz's Deli (part-owned by Celine Dion) to pick up two boxes of meat sandwiches, before heading to the top of Mont-Royal. Now, this was all very beautiful. Seeing the city from that high up - despite the low visibility - is the sort imagery that gets burnt into your memory for the rest of time - but the real charm of the trip was... yep, Mikey.

Mikey's take on a city tour is less about made-up information for the sake of a gag, and more about providing you with information that you 100% didn't need to know: "That's where I currently live," and "they shoot porn in that building over there," and "don't go to that restaurant, it sucks" (though that's actually very useful).

It was refreshing. Thank you, Mikey.

But I needed warmth. We all needed warmth.

We made our way back into town for a couple of talks from some very smart people that would be pointless recounting in an article like this, but rest assured, I learned a lot (and had a comfortable chair).

Words - Poutinne

Following that, I made the long trek back to the hotel for work-related reasons, before heading to a burger place called Burger Royal.

Firtsly, the burger I had was perfect. I don't know how places across the ocean seem to have that locked down, but they do. Secondly, as you can tell from the picture above, I tried some poutine.

It's a scam, right? Chips and gravy is about as British as it comes, so adding cheese curds sounds like a step too far. Nah, it was delicious. Given their climate, I totally understand why it became the Canadian Doner Kebab.

While my stomach and brain had a conversation about the meal I just devoured, my legs went into auto-pilot mode as I made my to that night's many showcases (thankfully most of the venues were in close proximity to each other).

And the winners are:

Shelmi

The Paris-based electro/r&b hybrid group did what you'd want from a band you'd never heard of before: play a tight, condensed set that left you wanting more, rather than leaving you looking over at the bar to see what the queue time is. If there were any criticisms to make, is that they should hire a translator for dumbasses like me that didn't take French classes seriously at school.

Holy Two

If I was to create a separate category for 'most compelling front person of this year's M for Montréal', it would definitely go to Elodie from Holy Two. She was captivating in a way most singers never quite reach. If music doesn't work out for her, then a career in acting would probably be a good call. In terms of music, think dark electro-pop but with French expertise.

Jodie Regan and Kristin Genovese

I suppose this is a wildcard choice given that they both work behind the scenes, rather than create music, but during the Keeping up with the Managers and Synch 2020: The Future of Synchro discussions, I created a tally system for each speaker, giving them a tick every time they said something I thought was insightful, or charming, or smart. My very scientific scoring system has Jodie and Kristin as clear winners.

WORDS Art

***

Following yet another breakfast buffet, I made my way Downtown in the hopes of picking up a few gifts to take home, as well as ticking off a few places from my Montréal To-Do list. So I'm walking along, minding my own business, and I see a bunch of kids in snowsuits lining the street having the time of their life. I think, well maybe it's a school trip or something, but as I get further down the street, I notice people are setting up camp along the streets, grabbing as much real estate as they could acquire.

"What the hell is happening?"

grafiti

I quickly whipped my phone out and jumped on the free Wi-Fi the city so kindly provide, and stumbled across the news I was hoping for: THE SANTA PARADE TAKES PLACE AT 11AM.

Sure, it's the middle of November, and as far as I'm concerned, leaning into Christmas this early should be a crime, no matter how much it's snowing. However, during city tour the previous day, Mikey played a track from the Home Alone soundtrack over the tannoy, which sure as hell put me in a Christmas mood.

I only managed to catch the first five minutes of the parade before I had to dash, but it was a glorious five minutes. Shout out to Santa.

grafti cars

Next up was the PEI Hangover Brunch, which isn't something I necessarily needed as I'm too much of a coward to drink myself into oblivion, but I'm also not the kind of person that passes up free bagels, something Montréal is apparently known for doing well (the bagels themselves, not the giving away of free bagels). Time to add 'honesty' to the list of Canadian character traits, as the bagels were perfect.

Once I managed to find a chair to slump in, the bands started to play - with a brief Prince Edward Island showcase, followed by a back-to-back venue hop for the M for Mimosa showcases. In the space of about six hours, we saw a lot of bands. Here are the winners:

Sorrey

Sorrey are another band that managed to exceed my lofty expectations. They're the sort of band you can imagine having a rabid fanbase in about a year's time when they drop some heartbreaking indie classic, but until then I'm happy to keep them all for myself.

Loic April

I was never massively into grunge, and I'm not even sure Loic April were massively grunge anyway (apart from their setup, and choice of guitars), but they displayed enough of the genre to make me think they probably have at least one Nirvana album stashed away in their back pockets, so I'm gonna run with it. Playing in the middle of the afternoon in a venue which seemed to pump in artificial smoke, is hardly the setting you'd expect to find a band with their sort of intensity - or maybe it is? - but I had a magnificent time all the same.

Editor's Notes: On further investigation, their sound is 50% classic American indie, 50% grunge.

Mally Swayzz

The City of Toronto Indie Week takeover brought with it the confident Mally Swayzz. Some people get swallowed up by the stage, despite the lyrical prowess, but Mally dominated from the outset. The only downer was the length of his set, which was largely out of his control. I'm keeping my eye on this guy.

Laf

If we're handing out awards for 'most fun set of the week', then Montréal-based LaF would be up there competing for the top spot. Three rappers, a DJ, and the kind of flow only the French language accommodates, LaF utterly floored me. The language barrier means nothing when the music and delivery is this smooth. If you get a chance to see them live, do it.

flying lotus graf

****

The final day was all about being a tourist, as I had a bunch of time to kill before my flight.

So, I had one final massive breakfast and headed out to Jean-Talon Market and Little Italy, which is about an hour's walk away from the hotel. As far as markets go, it was the best smelling one I'd ever experienced. I felt super healthy just walking through it. It's almost as if those breakfast buffets had been erased. That's how it works, right?

Following that, I walked the hour back towards the hotel, but via a different route because I'm not a psychopath. I ended up walking through a picturesque park covered in snow, the colourful gay village, and Old Montréal to the Vieux-Port de Montréal, which was all very beautiful. After hitting up some gift shops - I picked up a Moose teddy, and a t-shirt with a Canadian flag on it - I made my way back to the hotel to recharge before heading out again. It turns out I was supposed to check out at 12pm, not 4pm, and it was already 2pm. That was embarrassing. The hotel lobby was fine, I guess.

By the time I'd reached the airport, I'd clocked 27k steps.

old town

Has anyone ever slept on a flight? No. If you see anyone asleep, trust me they're not. They have their eyes closed for sure, but that's all they're doing.

When I went to take my seat - some old man downed a full cup of coffee, so I knew he was gonna be getting up at least five times during the flight, which he met like some sort of pissing quota. The worst thing about it was that I bought something called 'dream water' from the airport, which knocked me out enough to put me into a zombie-like state, but not enough to get some actual shut-eye. Sleep purgatory, if you will.

Another fun wrinkle in my slumber hell was watching a Sandra Bullock movie via someone else's headrest TV, but feeling so rough that I couldn't remember her name. Bullock purgatory, if you will.

I landed in Amsterdam to catch my connecting flight feeling like I was on the edge of passing out. It's honestly surprising to me that I managed to make it home.

cohen graf

Grand Thoughts from Montreal

I started this feature with a basketball reference, so I'm gonna end it with one too.

In the NBA, the season is split into two parts: the regular season and the playoffs. You can be terrible in the regular season, and still win the ultimate prize of a championship ring (assuming you're good enough to make the playoffs). However, some teams do it the wrong way around - like the Toronto Raptors.

For the past five years, their season ended in one of two ways: either their two best players vanished into thin air, or they were destroyed by one of the best basketball players of all time, LeBron James. This season, a bunch of things changed (a new GM, a few trades, LeBron going west) - but more importantly, they released a video which essentially said: 'WHY THE HELL DO WE HAVE AN INFERIORITY COMPLEX? WE'RE GREAT! STOP QUESTIONING WHETHER OR NOT PEOPLE TAKE US SERIOUSLY' - and it was powerful.

l

Now look, Montréal doesn't have an NBA team, but if they did, I can't imagine they'd ever reach the point where they'd need to release a motivational video to promote how great they are. No, the people of Montréal are already aware of how wonderful they are, all while lacking arrogance. They have a culture that takes influences from various places, yet feels one of a kind. It also happens to be one of the most creative places I've ever visited. During my hour-long trip down Saint Laurent Boulevard to Jean-Talon Market, I passed mural after mural, as well as many countless independent shops and restaurants. The only comp I have for it is maybe the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, but with fewer hippies.

As for the conference, M for Montréal is as much a showcase for the city as it for the music on the schedule - which is probably why it's lasted 13 years, and why it'll continue to grow far into the future. I for one look forward to going back - I'll just pack a better pair of gloves next time.

Sidenote: does anyone know what the average house price in Montréal is?