A Breakdown Of Montreal’s Personal Brand


At the international level, Montreal (Quebec, Canada)’s brand is often condensed to its “music scene” (“thriving,” “a legit claim to fame,” “one of the defacto great indie places to live and visit”), citing acts such as Arcade Fire or Grimes as examples of local people catapulted to A-list internet celebrity status (also known as “God-like” or “highest of statuses.”) Though there’s a lot more to Montreal than its music output (this essay could have been titled “Local writers I feel kinship with” or “Local homeless people I feel kinship with” or “Local roommates I feel kinship with”), observing the city through the prism of its current music scene can be an effective way of deepening our understanding of its brand.
The first part of this essay focuses on deconstructing Montreal’s brand, the second part is an analysis and proposed revision of the city’s social media presence while the third part is a short q&a with a local musician I feel kinship with.


In 1535, French navigator Jacques Cartier, having discovered the St. Lawrence the year before, ascended the river to an island, where he is said to have “chilled” at the foot of a mountain he later christened, “Mont-Royal.” Champlain, the next European to see the mountain, visited the island in 1611, to trade furs with the natives. No attempt at colonization was made until a religious group, the Société de Notre Dame de Montréal, chose the island as a strategic point for mission work. The Canadian territory was ruled as a French colony until 1760, when it was surrendered to Great Britain after their victory in the Seven Years War. Montreal was officially incorporated as a city in 1832. Today, Montreal, a city in latitude 45° 30′, longitude 73° 35′, on the island of Montreal formed by the St. Lawrence river and branches of the Ottawa River, exists within a distinct (and, quite possibly, beautiful) geographic, historical and cultural matrix, giving the city unique properties among respectably-sized North American urban centers. As Montreal’s party brand expands, the city’s official motto, Concordia Salus (“well-being through harmony”), reads increasingly like ominous life advice, as if warning us that failing to balance our partying with some form of “real life” or “responsibilities” will inevitability catch up to us.

When asked about Montreal, David Ertel of Solar Year, in an interview with some website, replied the following:

Montreal is North America’s little utopia. I thank this city for giving us the time and space and confidence to pursue our artistic dreams. All our friends basically live in a five block area and there is this really strong sense of community where everyone is working together and supporting each other. It’s sort of an endless artist residency. […] We’ve been able to test out our material in super low pressure environments and really workshop our music.

A few things about Montreal:

Cultural mosh pit: Known for its dual French/English identity, like two heads grafted onto one body and, somehow, coexisting, Montreal is also multicultural in many other ways, tourist-friendly in nature (though, by no means, swarmed Zerg-style by tourists) and, more importantly, a popular moving destination for young, entry-level artists bored with their hometowns and eager to populate a slightly bigger elsewhere, in the same way the noble hermit crab can become too large for its shell and feel the need to move into a different, slightly bigger shell.

Not sure what a budget is and I can afford living here: Imagine being given control of some generic North American city. Now imagine that your number one priority, borderline obsession, regardless of the city’s economic situation or things like public approval or other problems, was to allow the local art community to thrive. Theoretically, an effective way to do so would be to (somehow) ensure access to an affordable education system and (even somehow-er) maintain non-exorbitant rent prices. Manageable tuition fees would attract out of province and possibly out of country students, a portion of which would be majoring in things like studio arts or electroacoustics or creative writing or etc. Presumably, low rent would also allow young, entry-level artists to spend less time at some job and more time producing Works of Art (or, in many cases, more time partying, though one could argue that the concrete experience of excessively partying might one day serve as the main influence behind a Great Work of Art produced by the young, entry-level artist.) Lastly, affordable rent might also allow DIY spaces, such as lofts, basements or refurbished apartments to proliferate, providing young, entry-level artists with a myriad of opportunities to perform in front of small, non-judgmental crowds, fine-tuning their material in the process.

This is vaguely what’s happening in Montreal, with the exception that the direct intent was never to specifically benefit the art community. In short, Montreal successfully lures young, entry-level artists away from their hometowns via an affordable education system and/or other perks, and can retain them long-term via reasonable cost of life and/or numerous opportunities to generate and share Art. As a result, if you have no one to financially support but yourself, if you are without loans/debts, if you like to live frugally and are able to maintain a healthy attitude in the face of owning only a single pair of pants and not caring, if you can speak or at least find the willpower to learn (some) French, likely making you more desirable to potential employers, if you enjoy sneaking in beer in both BYOB and non-BYOB venues, you can live “comfortably” on a limited income in Montreal and therefore have more time for your Art or more time for your partying.

This lifestyle is highly recommended by me and encouraged by various websites.

Relationships: Though any city can be perceived as, “the absolute worst place to date” (via not enough single people, not enough interesting people, too many ex-something, too many people who think of you as “sketchy,” etc), Montreal, as a dating environment, possesses unique challenges. The city receives a steady, year-long influx of beauty/youth (via young, entry-level artists moving to the city hoping to one day position themselves as A-list internet celebrities), which, as a side-effect, can make “dating” a game of Supply & Supply and cause acute cases of Emotional Attention Deficit Disorder (“E.A.A.D.”).

Weather is rarely stable over the course of a full year: Rain. Snow. Sun. Wind in your face. Leaves everywhere like some sort of passive-aggressive tree vengeance. Dry heat. Hiding from the sun. Desperate for sunlight. Conversations about the weather, conversations about the weather in the future, conversations about how much we talk about the weather. Over the course of a full year, Montreal’s weather goes through many different phases, as if “constantly wishing it was elsewhere,” a kind of “weather identity crisis.” This year, for example, winter, so far, has been all over the place. First it barely qualified as one, then there was a snowstorm, then it took, like, a week for the city to clear shit, then it was this strange spring-like period with warm-ish temperatures and an absence of snow, the only indication that this was still winter being the sparse light in the daytime, and now, at the time of writing this, it’s dire cold again, though for how long? (update: it got warm again.) The rollercoaster-like weather can have a subversive effect on a person’s mood, making it go up, down, sideways, spinning on itself, as if being fired out of a rotating cannon, like in those goddamn levels from Donkey Kong Country.

People are generally nice for a city this size: Montrealers can sometimes be observed passively forming a line waiting for the bus, like tiny school children, a behavioral trait often referred to, or simply mentally perceived as, “cute.” Though the city is by no means threat-free (some sketchier neighborhoods, rampant/epidemic bike thefts, etc), it’s possible to experience Montreal on a daily basis without feeling overly endangered and simply exist ghost-like “around” people.