5 Must-See Documentaries on Montreal’s Music Scene

With Mac DeMarco, Suuns, Patrick Watson, Duchess Says, Grimes and our Fixture Records favorites (Moss Lime, The Submissives, Jef Barbara, etc.) on the list, Montreal continues to cement its status as a top producer of great musicians long after Arcade Fire first exploded onto the scene. Dive into Montreal’s music scene with these five documentaries. Good news, most of them are available online for free!

A City Is An Island (2014)

« Montreal is the second-largest Francophone city in the world. In the 1990s a DIY artistic community emerged in the warehouses left empty by deindustrialization. Anglophones from across North America gravitated to this scene, forming a discrete cultural community that rarely overlapped with Francophone Montreal. This film is about some of them. » From local star Beaver Sheppard to the now famous Mac DeMarco, by way of Pat Jordache, Patrick Watson, Gambletron, Colin Stetson, Sean Nicholas Savage, Mozart’s Sister, AIDS Wolf, and more, director Timothy George Kelly portrays some of the best bands of the local scene. Through interviews and improvised mini-concerts in the street, on rooftops, in the snow or in full-on nature, A City Is An Island paints intimate portraits of English-speaking musicians, and features the venues where they play, such as the DIY Lofts of Friendship Cove (RIP), La Brique (RIP) and Silver Door (RIP), and La Casa del Popolo, all while exploring the gradual displacement of musicians from Mild End toward the north of Parc-Ex due to gentrification. The film is a faithful snapshot of Montreal’s vibrant English-speaking scene!

From Montréal (2012)

There exists not one, but two music scenes in Montreal: one speaks English, and the other, French. This duality is the subject of the documentary From Montréal. Some French-speaking artists can sell more records in Quebec province alone than English-speakers can sell in the entirety of Canada. The French speakers benefit from a well-organized music industry, while the English speakers cultivate more of an indie scene. But this doesn’t prevent them from making a name for themselves internationally! Bands like Arcade Fire and Godspeed! You Black Emperor have put Montreal on the map of leading creative cities, and they’ve paved the way for a whole new generation of musicians: Karkwa and Malajube on the French side of things, and Besnard Lakes, Braids and Moon Face on the English side.

Montreal Underground (2013)

With bands like Parlovr, Red Mass, Crabe, Les Breastfeeders, Le monde dans le feu, Jesuslesfilles, and Duchess Says: Montreal Underground dives deep into the city’s underground music scene, far removed from the glittery headliners. The Montreal in Montreal Underground is a city of small concert bars and police raids on loft parties. It’s a story of poorly paid gigs and difficult-to-fund recordings. The documentary goes against the grain of the prevailing chatter around Montreal’s music scene. While the international press lauds Montreal as the “new Brooklyn,” the bands interviewed provide a more critical perspective. The daily life of an independent artist is difficult and full of disappointment. It’s not hard to be convinced after listening to some of the things duo Crabe has experienced. For example, after being invited to open for punk icon Jello Biafra at a sold-out performance, the band earned only 100 dollars. Produced independently on a shoestring budget, Montreal Underground suffers from some occasional awkward editing, but with its live footage and interviews, it certainly sheds light on artists who are too often overlooked.

Come Worry With Us (2013)

Will Montreal’s famous post-rock group Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra succeed in touring with a young child in tow? The documentary Come Worry With Us provides an intimate view of the daily life, doubts, and difficulties of two of the band’s musicians. Violinist Jessica Moss and singer/guitarist Efrim Menuck became young parents right before the band is to go on tour, so they decide to bring young Ezra with them. Far from just focusing on the tour itself, director Helene Klodawsky follows Jessica and Efrim’s daily lives for several months. From Jessica’s doubts about her ability to be both a musician and a mother to Efrim’s questioning his role as a father, Come Worry With Us takes a thoughtful approach to sensitive issues and offers a unique view of an internationally acclaimed band.

Montréal New Wave (2016)

At the end of the 1970s, Quebec emerged from a folk period defined by bands like Harmonium and Beau Dommage. Its musical style, driven by a need to affirm a uniquely Quebecois identity and the temptation of nationalism, was stopped in its tracks by the “No” victory of the 1980 referendum. An intense period of exploration followed, fueled by the emergence of local new wave. From 1979 to 1986, bands and musicians like Men Without Hats, Champamg, Monty Cantsin, Heaven Seventeen, Rational Youth, The American Devises, and La La La Human Steps brought a breath of fresh air to Montreal’s scene. Taking after international icons like Talking Heads and the B52s, Montreal artists approached new wave with a mix of irony and a pinch of salt. They blended visual arts with music, presented themselves as performers and invested in art galleries. More than thirty years later, their distinct fashion and music remain as exhilarating as they are unique. Another must-see if you want to explore the musical history of Montreal: Mtl Punk, directed by Erik Cimon, the same documentarian who made Montréal New Wave, explores the origins of the punk phenomenon in Montreal at the end of the 1970s.

Discover alternative and cultural spots in Montreal with our free city guide Indie Guides Montreal.

Enjoyed this article? Subscribe to our newsletter below: