I try to have a lie in, but I feel like a little boy on Christmas Eve, so I get dressed and take a walk through Chinatown down to the Old Port.
All the hipsters have disappeared and it’s wall-to-wall with tourists.
There’s a whole street of souvenir shops.
If you only visited here, you’d be buying a souvenir of a souvenir…Or something.
My brain hurts.
Fact: There is no such thing as a shy American. Just a less loud one.
I overhear the end of a chunky American tourist’s joke:
“…and I said, “That’s easy, that’s Pontius Pilate!””
His chunky American friends find it hilarious.
I’m wearing a pork pie hat and my POP Montreal lanyard.
I probably look like a twat, but I decide to walk up to people and see if I can make them do stuff.
A pretty Chinese girl is my first victim.
“Hey!” I say, making her jump, “I’m a journalist from the UK.”
I flash my laminated card like I’m fucking FBI. “I’m taking photos of cool looking people, can I take yours?”
“Oh,” she says, squinting at my card, “yeah…I guess so.”
Before she can change her mind, I pull out my iPhone 5 in its crappy £5 cover.
When I check out the photo later, she has the look of someone who’s just realised they’ve been conned.
My body count is rising and I’m starting to feel pretty fly (for a white guy) when a hobo spots me on Rue Saint-Urbain and laughs his head off.
“Bobo!” He yells over and over, getting louder each time. “BOBO!”
As I get closer, he changes tack:
“Jim Pawsey! Jim Pawsey! HAHAHAHAHAHA.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“You don’t wanna know!”
“I’ll look it up,” I promise. I’m not sure I want to.
Google says Jim Pawsey is either a dead British Conservative MP or a dead baseball player. Who just happens to be from Montreal.
“Jim was born in London, England, on November 18, 1944, to an English war bride and a Canadian soldier. The family moved to Canada when he was a young child and settled in Montreal, Quebec. In his youth, Jim excelled in many sports, and for several years he was the star pitcher of a fastball league. He had a sharp mind and a quick humorous wit.”
Great, so I either look like a jock or a Tory. Either way, I’m dead. Must be the jetlag.
As night falls, I head back to the Batcave (AKA Eglise POP).
First up is Dresden Dresses, who sings torch songs in a first-growth tash, white tee and black jeans, cut off way too short. He’s got 2 dancers: a skater Beetlejuice boy who looks like he’s giving himself CPR and ‘Vogue Girl’ who casts nuclear missile shadows on the walls with her pointy boob bustier.
Headliner SSION has at least two clones in the house tonight. It turns out one of them is a birthday boy, and SSION gets him onstage to twirl his naked chest in joy.
I dance next to a Grimes lookalike in Cleopatra makeup twice as black as her Doc Martens. SSION invites everyone else up on stage, triggering a messy free-for-all as half the room rushes forward. SSION tries to sit on the stage and sing, but another Grimes lookalike thinks he’s trying to climb back up and drags him up against his will.
Everyone on stage seems to be dancing to a different tune. It’s a hell of a show.
Then it’s time for my regular trek back to the hotel. It’s so damn easy to get uptown. Where are all the buses going the other way?
I think 4am might be too late to text Hugo.
I’m joined by my classy compatriots Lucy (from my dream zine Dazed & Confused) and Elisa (The Independent). Among a distressing amount of other things, Lucy ran her own music magazine (Juke) and Elisa is one of the Mercury Music Prize judges.
These some serious peeps.
Lucy used to live in Cape Town. She can’t believe I’m obsessed with Die Antwoord.
“Ninja’s kind of a tool,” she says in her ace half-cockney, half-Afrikaans accent, “He gave my best friend Herpes.”
We’re driven around Montreal by Ruby Roy, glamourpuss tour guide/professional dancer who knows everything about everywhere.
She takes us to a market overrun with pumpkins, like the trophy cabinet of a really successful headhunter tribe. We all missed breakfast in the hotel and all the food looks so good I want to cry.
Instead, we gobble up the panoramic views from Mont Royale, where everyone sees a chipmunk apart from Elisa and me gabbing at the back. I don’t care if they’re as rare as pigeons round here, I’m still gutted.
The big gig of the festival is the first ever Montreal show by The-Dream, the genius who wrote Umbrella, the world’s sexiest earworm.
When we get to the venue, there’s panic as a rumour spreads that he requires 8 girls for his limo trip to the venue (what would that be, an octosome?).
Sarah is trying to get a groupie posse together, including Elisa and Lucy.
“But I like indie,” says Elisa, “he’ll kick me out of the car!”
Just as I start to feel the sting of sexism, or shout “put me in a dress, I’m coming too!” it gets called off- we’re all already at the limo’s destination.
The venue is full of over-accessoried boys in Triple-XL clothes, nodding their heads and if feeling daring, swaying slightly. This is r’n’b for lovers, lipsynced by bromancing boys.
There’s 2 friends with identical slogan caps; one says “ILLEGAL” and the other “SILENCE.”
The Hiphop Wayne and Garth.
The-Dream’s bassist and drummer look like identical twins- same braids, body shape and big smile. “I’ve looked at the band’s passports,” a Pop staffer tells me, “but they really aren’t related.”
“Did you see The-Dream’s hands?” Elisa asks later. “They were MASSIVE!”
I wonder how may groupies he can fit on one hand?
I leave the girls and take the Metro up to Beaubien to see Pop. 1280. This is a Berlin-style underground with enough space to breathe (fuck you, London). Best of all, each station announcement sounds like the start of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
The venue’s called CFC, like the reason no-one used deodorant in the 90s. It’s crammed with youths in black, milling under brick arches. Pop. 1820 slope on stage, the singer screeching and writhing like Iggy Pop. He disrobes from his floppy Morrissey shirt and the keyboard player follows suit. He does painful yoga moves on the floor and hollers while she pounds the keys in her leopardprint sports bra. It’s demonic and exciting
I find myself at Eglise POP again (obvs), watching Pierre Perpall. I hate funk normally, but I’m enjoying it now. I suddenly get it – it’s, like, FUN.
Sarah’s here, in a different trucker cap.
“The magic words in Montreal are “Where’s the afterparty?”” she tells me, “Said in a loud voice to the nearest person.”
“What’s on tonight?” I ask.
“The band with the supermodel is playing. Oh no, wait, that’s tomorrow.”
“Irina Lazareanu. She’s singing in Beaver’s band.”
“He’s the best chef in Montreal. He was in Country, the best band that ever existed. All that’s left of them is a YouTube video.”
The fame whore in me is clamouring to see them already.
I want to go to bed so bad, but before I know it, Sarah has called a friend over and is telling him, “This is Vienna, he wants to go to an afterparty. Look after him.”
A big guy is shaking my hand. It’s a done deal.
Oh well, I’ll sleep when I’m in a coma.
I get into his car with a couple who are so drunk they pass out instantly in the back.
I remember my miserable empty wallet.
“I need to get some cash out,” I say, and we screech up to a bank.
The machine won’t accept my puny English card, but I’m so tired I’m actually glad. The afterparty is calling, but my bed is calling even louder.
“I’m sorry guys, but I can’t get any money out. Have a good night.”
They drive off for unmissable fun and I walk back.
I’m starting to recognize every single shop.
The same guy is working in the hotel lobby when I get back, the ponytail guy who seems to be permanently working the graveyard shift.
“Allo, Sir,” he says with a wink, “how are we feeling tonight?”
“Fantastique.” I say. “See you the same time tomorrow.”
I still haven’t bought any deodorant or toothpaste. What kind of animal am I?
In a convenience store, I get chatting to two locals who first think I’m Australian.
“I was in England once,” A burly old man says.
“Did you like it?”
“No. Hated it. I was sat in a bar in my Navy uniform, and an old lady came over. “How are things in the colonies?” She asked. Luckily I don’t hit women.””
I don’t know what to say to that.
We’re all going on the Kid Koala bike ride this afternoon.
“We actually have to ride a bike around the city?” asks Lucy, who’s impressively dressed like Beavis today. “Oh God I can’t do it!”
Elisa is terrified too. Turns out that all three of us Brits suck big time at bikes. I’m so glad it’s not just me.
The best thing about this bike tour is that we spend more time stuffing our faces than wobbling on bikes. We eat all kinds of delicious nosh: blue cheese ice cream, the tastiest sushi I’ve ever had, Aussie pies, and an IQ test masquerading as a bottle of cream soda that it took me 5 minutes to open.
Kid Koala makes me feel like I’m 21 again, when the airwaves were filled with scratching and samples from forgotten movies. He’s now the father of Maple, a cuter than cute little girl who’s given special jobs today like handing out her drawings, and being taught to scratch.
The trip ends with an impromptu staring contest between two guys fighting over Kid Koala’s freebies, one of whom is KK’s biggest fan and has almost wrestled a tee off a little girl already.
I’ve got shaky legs and a bloated stomach by the time we hand the bikes back.
“I really want to go to a dive bar,” says Lucy, “let’s get pissed and play pool.”
Elisa heads off to do an interview and we walk up my old friend Boulevard Saint Laurent till we find a grungey drinking den blaring out 60s classics. After a game of pool that showcases all kinds of crapness, we find Elisa at the Miracle Fortress gig and head to see Chevalier Avant Garde, Lucy’s tip for the festival.
As soon as I enter the building, I feel the most tired I’ve ever felt. The trancey, gloopy electronica and glitchy live VJing of female figure skaters are like a drug and I can’t keep my eyes open.
Fetch me my frickin’ slippers.
I lean against the wall and pass out till the gig ends, then I remember it’s the supermodel night and I drag Lucy up and down streets trying to find it. I’m losing all kind of battles here and know I should give up but the fame ho in me is gritting its teeth and punching the back of my eyelids.
Every 5 minutes, I whine, “I wanna see the band with the supermodel.”
“I want a McDonalds,” Lucy moans back, or her catchphrase, “Shitstorms!”
We’re like broken robots.
Eventually we’ve walked so many miles in the wrong direction we don’t even know if we’re still in Montreal.
We give in and cab it back downtown to the only open takeaway on our block to order Montreal’s finest slop: Poutine.
It’s chips & gravy with a helping of milk curd, which wobbles in your mouth like it’s from the bins round the back of a liposuction clinic.
It reminds me of tofu.
There’s a reason I was only vegan for a month.
I’ve discovered that there are 2 possible outcomes to speaking in half-remembered GCSE French.
1. I accidentally pronounce one of the 10 words I know properly and the person I’m talking to replies in fluent, fast gibberish (French). Then I have to keep saying “Oui, oui” like a guineapig, looking for a way out of the conversation before they realise I’m an imposter.
2. They look pityingly at me and reply in better English than my own.
I really don’t know which is worse.
It’s the final night.
The girls have gone to the airport to catch their flights.
End of an era. I feel kind of sad.
But there’s still some party in me yet and Eglise is calling.
A little bit of party left.
I’m ok for a while but then I start to lose the battle with my body.
“I need to stay awake,” I say, “can anyone help?”
“I’ve got some Ritalin,” a girl says, “it’ll only last 4 hours.”
She gives me a small white caplet. I swallow half.
20 minutes later, I’m gurning hard.
Christ, I thought this stuff was mellow!
Somehow it gets to 5am and I’m miles from the hotel.
“Keep going down there and there should be a Metro about 5 minutes away,” a cute POP staffer tells me, “I promise!”
I start to walk.
My heart is a techno beat and I try to march in time to it. I’m speedwalking and the light is turning from black to grey.
I can’t find a Metro anywhere.
I walk and walk and walk, my legs keeping pace with my heart, which is keeping pace with my jaw.
When I next look at my watch, it’s somehow gotten to 7am. I see a Metro sign and run for it, making it on the next train. I get off at what I think is my stop and run up onto the street. Morning commuters stride past me in every direction and a grey light illuminates my sweaty face.
“Ou…est…Rene…Levesque?” I croak at a prim businesswoman.
She looks at me in horror and visibly shudders before forming her shoulders into a protective shrug and marching on past this sickening wreck of a tourist.
It seems there were 3 responses to my French:
3. Utter disgust.
The one positive effect of the Ritalin is that I’m no longer constipated. In fact, a festival’s-worth of dung wants to leave my body. Right here, right now.
I run and run until I recognize the road next to the hotel.
There’s a different bloke on reception and he looks me up and then down quickly, confirming the state I look.
Everything is suiciding off the wreck of my body: sweat, dignity, poo.
I scrabble with my card in the door and it fails again and again. I’m bent over double, trying to keep it in.
Finally, it works and I fall in, barely making it to the toilet.
I hope they haven’t got CCTV in my room.
Crawling into bed, I set my alarm for 2 hours from now.
“Help me!” I text Lucy, skipping about 6 months of friendship. “My heart is techno.”
“Don’t worry dude, have a pancake when you wake up and you’ll be fine (I think),” she replies.
I’ve just closed my eyes when the alarm goes off.
In a daze, I shower, pack my bags, stash them behind reception and set off out into the city.
I feel like I’m homeless.
Everything turns dark. I get a can of pop and it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted, I’ve only had one sip, so it seems like a waste to throw it away on such a hot day. So when I see a homeless guy sat on some steps I don’t hesitate.
I offer it to him.
He stares at me with the most terrifying look I’ve ever seem.
He has gone as still as a statue. It fees like all the pleasure is draining from the world. There are feathers in his hair and his eyes haven’t blinked since I came over.
I don’t know how long we stand there; me holding the can towards him, him glaring back.
Eventually, I come to my senses and back away, trying not to turn my back or run.
As I get further away, I start to jog onto the next road and almost shriek when I run into this monster:
Somehow, I’ve got to stay out till 5pm when I can order my taxi to the airport.
I take Lucy’s advice and go for crepes at some unpronounceable cafe.
There’s a long haired anorexic guy here I’m convinced is Devendra Banhart until he opens his mouth. He’s got the whiniest most annoying American accent I’ve ever heard and black teeth like a witch.
“Hey maan, can we like sit heeere, duuude?” he says to the owner like a half squashed fly.
I text Matthew, Sarah’s writer mate from London.
“Stop! Don’t eat in there!” he texts back almost instantly. “Are you getting a burger? Put it in your pocket and leave. Throw it away when you get round the corner.”
“But I’ve got crepes,” I reply.
“Ok, maybe that won’t be as bad. Come over when you’ve finished and I’ll show you the best croissants in Montreal.”
Matthew writes for Lonely Planet and can reel off a hundred years of Montreal history in five minutes. He’s also an unashamed food Nazi, and knows all the best and worst places in Montreal.
He takes me to the fabled bakery, but gets chatting to a man in the queue who shakes his whole world.
“These are good croissants, but they aren’t the best,” the man says. “There’s another place round the corner that does those.”
“Where!” Matthew almost shouts.
The man doesn’t say and I’m worried Matthew is going to shake him by the neck until he confesses, but he gets served and leaves.
We get the plane together, making plans to meet up halfway over the Atlantic when they let us out of the seats.
I pass out for the whole 7 hours.
Then I sleep the whole train journey back to Sheffield, and get straight in bed to sleep all day and all night and most of the next day.
POP Montreal nearly broke me.
I’ll be back next year for round 2.