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M for Montreal Dishes Out a Silver Platter of Superstars in the Making

Our 2023 festival highlights, including HAWA B, Choses Sauvages, Sasha Cay, Niall Mutter, and Willa Owen.

by Maggie McPhee

Photos by Camille Gladu-Drouin and Charles-Antoine Marcotte

M for Montreal is like a mullet: business in the front, party in the back. The festival/conference hybrid’s official purpose is to invite delegates from around the world to discover the greatest musicians rising out of Quebec. But they also open their doors to the public, meaning every Scorpio season for four days and three nights, Montreal music lovers can revel in a panoply of over 100 up-and-coming artists lighting up the city’s many venues like a constellation. 

For their 18th edition, the festival has partnered up with record labels, music publications, and event planners to put on a marathon program of the best undiscovered artists and hottest acts the province has to offer. They’ve even expanded their horizons to welcome musicians from France, Wales, Egypt, England, and the Ivory Coast. It’s an unparalleled celebration of music at its roots, hosted right at home. 

Over the course of four whirlwind days, RANGE zipped from show to show. Here are our favourite acts from the festival, artists who are now permanently fixed to our radar. 


HAWA B took the stage at Club Soda and never gave it back — it belonged to her that opening Thursday night. Though she just released her first EP “Sad in a Good Way” last year, HAWA B aka Nadia Hawa Baldé exudes star power. In a black leotard dangling with thin chains, the singer-songwriter-producer-performer crawled on all fours, whipping her waist-length hair around in perfect circles. Her saxophonist-keyboardist, like a mad scientist employed by a femme fatale, laboured over his instruments with laser focus. Her vocals dipped and soared through an obstacle course of soul, alternative rock, and jazz, occasionally broiling to a full-lunged scream. Rooted with gravelly electric guitar and punctuated with high-hats, her catchy beats droned, drilled and dripped. Things culminated to an ecstatic high with the remixed version of her song ‘END,’ but this is just the beginning for HAWA B. 

Choses Sauvages

RANGE’s October digital cover stars started performing 10 years ago before they could play their instruments, when drummer Gauthier-Boudreau used a little baseball bat and a kitchen spoon as drumsticks. Even as they’ve perfected their playing, that raw DIY energy still defines their live shows. The quintet revived punk for a night, with a block-long queue of hopefuls vying to get into their sold-out show at Foufounes Electriques — their music is closer to a bastard child of rock and funk, the punk is more of feeling-state than sound. Lead singer Félix Bélisle forewent his guitar to focus on theatrics and it pays off. Late into the set he cut his hand on a tambourine and smeared the blood over his face. He told RANGE he saw a fan pick up some blood with their finger and put it in their mouth. It was that kind of a show. 

Sasha Cay

(Photo Yael Ezerzer)

Kicking off the Lighter Than Air marathon at Café Del Popolo, Sasha Cay delivered effortless indie-rock. The quartet, headed by Cay with her acoustic guitar, shuffled through the softer side of their debut LP “Spin”, paying homage to Cay’s early bedroom recordings. They played their instruments like classically trained maestros who had just woken up, basking the audience in the comfort and warmth of the early morning. Cay filtered in her fair share of dad jokes between songs, at one point suggesting that she shouldn’t be allowed to talk at these things. They showcased the camaraderie and command of a band destined for great things, floating into listener’s lives on a cloud. 

Niall Mutter

Next on the docket at the Lighter Than Air marathon, another underground Montreal artist of equal merit, but with a totally different sound. Niall Mutter brought the best of many worlds to Café Del Popolo’s intimate back-room space: Beach Boys harmonies, Homeshake guitar tones, boot-stomping country, groovy bass licks. It would be a lot if not for Mutter’s deft compositions. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist brought Southern hospitality for the ears, the sonic equivalent of undoing the top button of your shirt. For a moment, the audience forgot it was below freezing outside. 

Willa Owen

Willa Owen has made waves with only two songs, testifying to her strength as an artist. Her notes sparkle and her breathy voice washes it all in a haze, like lights made three-dimensional by smoke. Owen performed at Le Ministére, a venue converted from a bank, with a handful of bandmates from Niall Mutter’s project, including drummer Jeremy Ramos-Foley, guitarist Charlie Zucchero, and bassist Jeremy Lachance, who also plays in Grand Eugène, proving just how tight-knit Montréal’s music community is. She played a handful of unreleased material, as well as her hit, “Looking at Me.”  Whether working with classical piano or analog synthesizers, Owen crafts a sound all her own.