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The 6 best moments from Montreal’s Passovah Fest

September 2, 2015

The under-the-radar festival featured some of Montreal's best independent music.

Photo: Nancy Pants

Passovah Fest focuses on the tight-knit nature of the Montreal music scene (as well as the luscious local flavours). The fourth year came and went like a whirlwind of cheap beer, not-so-late nights, and an overwhelming amount of some of the best independent music the city has to offer. Passovah head honcho Noah Bick has brought it up from a tiny, DIY festival featuring mainly local acts to a sprawling five day affair that spans a multitude of bars, neighborhoods, and genres.

This year was the biggest and wildest yet, and the festival managed to not only combine the most savagely beautiful, blissfully inspiring local bands on some absolutely terrific bills, but also rope in heavy hitters like Moonface and Wintersleep. So if you didn’t happen to make it to Montreal this year to catch all of the craziness, or if you just got too toasted to remember, here’s a re-cap of the six best moments of Passovah Fest this year.

Launch Party at Théâtre Fairmount

Not only is the new Théâtre Fairmount – formerly Cabaret du Mile-End – miles above its predecessor in terms of decor and atmosphere, but it also hosted one of the best, and most deliciously catered launch parties of any festival I’ve ever been to. Delicious doughnuts and free whiskey drinks, a cotton candy stand, and a whole bunch of dancing were just some of the perks of the Passovah launch party. It helped prime us for a four-day deluge of music and mirth.

Tamara Sandor at Cafe Resonance

In a few short years, Tamara Sandor has gone from playing tiny, intimate, whisper-quiet concerts at Le Dépanneur Café to absolutely shattering minds with a haunting web of intricately arranged songs with a deadly band. Her set at Cafe Resonance was nothing short of awe-inspiring, as she flitted from eerie and uneasy quiet to a thunderclap of raw, wiry energy in the span of seconds.

The range of dynamics that Sandor employed was jaw-dropping. She posses an immense power to captivate and transport you; she makes you feel in one moment like you’re concealed in a quiet meadow, and the next transfixed on an exploding, thunderous sky. Her deft and silky guitar playing and lilting vocals became intertwined with lead guitarist Ian Jarvis’ sleek, winding melodies – all at once honey-sweet and coyly poisonous.

Saxsyndrum at La Vitrola

A tsunami of groove and growling electronics, Saxsyndrum were at their most unhinged and cro magnon at La Vitrola on Thursday night. With the addition of Justin Wright’s gut-rumbling cello and AP Bergeron’s melodic and hysteric vocal presence, the electronic duo took their latest compositions down through all nine circles of hell.

A convulsing Bergeron wailed over Nick Schofield’s manic, flickering beats, and Dave Switchenko’s squawking sax that was slowly transfigured from a braying shout to a warm pool of ambience in a sea of pedals, with Wright’s cello hopping from earth-shattering drones to angelic pitter-patter at hyper speed.

The foursome ended their set with a diabolic rendition of “Transients” by Bergeron’s project Year of Glad. By the end, the stage had melted into a pool of dense noise that played them out like a funeral dirge.

Broken Body at Cafe Resonance

A fully improvised fusion of two of Montreal’s most interesting electronic entities – Holobody and Broken Obeslisk – dubbed Broken Body, was a vortex of hyper-spatial spirituality. With no preparation or plan, just a meditative state of calm, and a willingness to walk into the unknown, the two disparate entities fused together and for a split second, we saw through the void.

A meandering and sonically evolving walk through the mind and soul, the 30-minute set glided through a plethora of musical landscapes: floating effortlessly through sweeping mists, surfing over gulfs of frequencies, and plunging head first into cavernous terror, with an accompanying tapestry of evolving visual experimentation as a backdrop. A journey of self-reflection and universal questioning, it was perhaps the most transfixing and transformative part of the festival.

Nancy Pants at Casa del Popolo

Nancy Pants are a tightly coiled ball of boundless energy and beautiful, scrappy chaos. Singer Ohara Hale ferociously darts around the stage, whipping her infinitely long, infinitely incredible hair around in a fervor. Alternately screaming and shouting sugar-sweet melodies as it suits her, the trio captivated an absolutely packed Casa del Popolo on Saturday night.

Their intensity and conviction left the room in a humid swirl of chaos. Nancy Pants are equal parts mirth, joy, and reckless abandon, and drummer Jeremy MacCuish is an absolute madman, with the driest cymbals you’ve ever heard. Nancy Pants are a gorgeous and meticulously organized car crash of breakneck drumming and an intricate duality of guitar and bass that you have no hope of ever being able to look away from.

Moonface at Theatre Fairmount

If there were ever someone that could emanate calmness and inviting warmth and dark anxiety and hesitancy at the same time, it would be Spencer Krug. The ex-Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown frontman delivered a captivating solo set as his Moonface alter-ego at Theatre Fairmount at the launch party on Tuesday night, and it was clear from the first note of his drugged-out, drone-heavy intro that the crowd never wanted him to leave.

To say that Krug wears his heart on his sleeve would be a gross understatement – he bared his soul for about 45 minutes while we looked on, teary-eyed. Krug not only pulled tracks from his recent City Wrecker EP – performing the wistful and somber “The Fog,” as well as the title track, a cripplingly sad ode to Montreal and romance. He also delivered a particularly heartfelt and stripped down rendition of “Heartbreaking Bravery”, the title track from his collaborative LP with Finnish band Siinai. These songs cut deep in the humid night.

However, it was Krug’s new material that was the most engrossing. He fluttered around the four keyboards on stage, using long droning tones, quick punctuated, staccato stabs, and howling, wounded vocals all in a vicious tornado. “And it makes me feel like dying would be like waking from a dream,” he sang fervently and rushed. As we stood there in the deathly quiet, with the smoke and blurring lights surrounding us, we all wished that we’d never have to wake up from this one.

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