What CMJ Could Learn from POP Montreal
POP Montreal headquarters photo by Rebecca Smeyne
All in all, the five-day music festival POP Montreal was a triumphant week, and one that got us asking a simple question: WHY IS POP MONTREAL SO MUCH FUN, WHILE OUR OWN CMJ IS MORE LIKE A PAINFUL, SWEATY RITE OF PASSAGE THAT WE KEEP ENDURING, DESPITE SWEARING NEVER AGAIN AFTER, FOR EXAMPLE, HAVING TO FIGHT A CIVIL WAR JUST TO SEE JAY REATARD, FOR CHRISSAKES?
It’s an unfair question in some ways—New York is huge, Montreal is not, so of course there’s not much point in lamenting CMJ’s lack of that tight-knit, friends-and-family feeling. Perhaps the better way to approach the issue is to figure out what POP does right, and what CMJ’s organizers could learn from their competition up north.
First and foremost, there’s POP’s simple/genius RSVP system, which lets press and festival pass holders pick the seven concerts for which they wanted guaranteed admission. (Nick Cave was the only show that was ineligible from the start for media-pass holders; you had to sell a kidney on Craigslist to score a balcony seat). With a bit of planning and foresite, this means that POPsters can bounce around from venue to venue without worrying about getting locked out of an anticipated show; anyone who’s tried to do the same at CMJ knows that it’s a futile affair. (Last year I was blocked from a show at Union Pool, of all places; evidently the organizers had decided to accept 3.9 CMJ passes at the door that year.)
$50-for-the-week bicycle rentals were also a boon, though probably not the best idea to import into New York, for the sake of keeping casualties down. But in Montreal, the concept was genius—this is a city in which the bike lanes are occasionally wider than the ones for cars. Considering that most of the venues were spread out in an area no larger than Williamsburg and Greenpoint, it proved an indispensable transportation option (and a hell of a lot cheaper than being shuttled around in taxis).
CMJ supporters will likely counter at this point that POP Montreal suffers from a certain reliance on Caucasian indie rock staples—and they’d be right. With the exception of Irma Thomas, there were very few African-American performers; when hip-hop was represented at all, it was probably by a French-speaking hipster. And it’s true that Boldfaced Names were a bit lacking—with the exception of Cave, Hot Chip, and Black Kids—but that’s all a matter of momentum. Here’s to hoping that POP Montreal garners enough attention to attract the heavy hitters without turning into the tawdry A&R orgy that CMJ is often accused of being. — Scott Indrisek