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Osheaga 2023 Lives Up To The Hype With Optimum Star Power

With headliners Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, and, Fred again.., Montreal’s most epic music gathering did not disappoint. 

by Sun Noor

Photos by Sun Noor

August 4 to 6, 2023

Montreal, QC

Parc Jean-Drapeau

Thousands of music lovers made their annual trek to Parc Jean-Drapeau this weekend for the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival in Montreal. Despite the severe thunderstorms on the forecast for the first few days of the event, Montreal saw nothing but clear skies and tons of sun. Osheaga saw a record-breaking edition with a whopping 155,000 attendees this year. With three-day passes and tickets for Saturday and Sunday quickly selling out before the kickoff, the festival lived up to its hype amid all of the discourse regarding its lineup not being as stellar as previous years. Nevertheless, Osheaga brought a handful of the city’s favourite artists to the island for an amusing party. 

The three-day event kicked off on a high note on Friday as indie darlings Soccer Mommy and Alex G played cuts from their latest projects for the early afternoon and late crowd migrating from stage to stage, waiting for the next act. Rina Sawayama rocked the Coors Light Mountain stage with a nu-metal infused set and multiple outfit changes. The UK-based singer delivered an illuminating performance fit for a headlining slot to a crowd of day ones and many new fans. One thing to highlight about this year’s lineup is the fantastic selection of pop acts that took over the festival. 


Over the past decade, Osheaga has built a reputation of mostly leaning towards alternative rock acts. The past few editions have been more reflective of their audience, which is mostly younger music fans and the festival goers who’ve made it a tradition to attend the festival each year to discover new music while enjoying sets from legendary bands. Speaking of timeless acts, Flaming Lips made a stop during their ongoing tour, commemorating the belated  20th anniversary of their tenth studio album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Wayne Coyne — who appeared on stage in a giant bubble — and friends delivered a career-spanning set with the help of gargantuan inflatable pink robots and tons of confetti. 


Even though French afrobeat artist Aya Nakamura had to pull out of the festival 48 hours before her long-awaited performance due to illness, hometown hero Charlotte Cardin closed out the Mountain stage and did not disappoint. Meanwhile, other stages saw final sets from JPEGMAFIA who performed a handful of new tracks from his Scaring the Hoes LP. He even brought out emerging rapper redveil to perform “Kingdom Heart Key,” which was a highlight for many. Joey Bada$$ had quite the colourful set, and a… kiss cam? This year also saw a strong presence from current rap artists, which served as an unintentional nod to hip-hop’s 50th anniversary celebrations taking place all month long. 


Saturday was filled with surprises. JPEGMAFIA made an appearance at redveil’s early afternoon set to debut their high-energy track,“black enuff.” The indie outfit Cults transported the crowd to 2010 with their nostalgic set, playing tunes from their early records. Lido Pimienta’s artful set featured an appearance from Nelly Furtado, who sang “Nada.” Pimienta kept repeating that her show was meant for a closing set, which I have to agree with, along with her messaging about the importance of community.


Lil Yachty’s performance was mostly focussed on his latest psych-rock project, Let’s Start Here, which made for a stunning live performance with the addition of a full band. He even threw in his rendition of Tame Impala’s “Breathe Deeper,” as the crowd continued to fill up. Evening sets from The National, Canadian icon Carly Rae Jepsen, and Baby Keem could have all taken the headlining slot that night, as they each saw huge crowds of fans yelling each verse back at the artist. 


Billie Eilish closed out the festival on Saturday with the loudest crowd of the weekend. After a few minutes of anticipation, the pop star appeared from under the stage and wasted no time getting right into it with “bury a friend.” In between thanking the crowd and asking if they’re enjoying themselves, Eilish shared an anecdote about her last Osheaga performance that took place during 2018. “I was 16 and had a broken leg,” she exclaimed. Halfway through her set, she asked the crowd “You know that guy who sings the song that goes ‘…glock tucked, big t-shirt Billie Eilish?,’” before bringing out Armani White to perform his hit song, “BILLIE EILISH.” She added a few acoustic tracks accompanied by her brother Finneas, creating a nice contrast alongside the pop bangers before culminating her show with “Happier than Ever” under fireworks. 


Although Osheaga had a well-balanced lineup this year as a whole, Sunday undoubtedly had the perfect selection of artists. The LA-based brotherly duo The Driver Era made their Montreal debut followed by beabadoobee, who perfectly encapsulates that nostalgic, 90s alt-rock sound live. Montreal-based duo Pelada took over the Sirius XM backyard sessions stage, immediately capturing the attention of the bar crowd with their energetic performance. Chris Vargas and Tobias Rochman also teased details from their upcoming album, which is due next month. 


Julia Jacklin finally made her way to Montreal after canceling her last performance during her tour supporting her latest album, Pre Pleasure, which she recorded in the city. Foals saw a huge crowd, who welcomed them back to Montreal after skipping the city on various album cycles over the years. Speaking of bands who haven’t played a show in the city in years was Japanese Breakfast, who delivered such an amusing set. 


Frontwoman Michelle Zauner took to the stage with a persimmon bass drum, which fit Jubilee’s aesthetic, kicking things off with “Paprika.” The addition of the gong and explosive background visuals truly elevated the live rendition. The group even performed a few cuts from their stellar debut, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, taking us back to the late 2010s. Over on the Mountain stage, Fred again.. had quite a minimalistic set with clips of different collaborators such as The Blessed Madonna appearing on the big screens, instead of bringing out surprise guests this time around. 


Kendrick Lamar made his well-awaited comeback with a masterful set, merging minimalist aesthetics with his visionary art direction. The rapper took to the stage with an excerpt of “The Heart Part 5” playing under a painting which served as the backdrop for the first couple of songs. The crowd was met with various background dancers performing intricately along to the music. The addition of smoke and pyro added a cinematic quality to K-Dot’s performance. There was even a bit of skateboard action during “Money Trees,”which was quite epic. The set was heavily geared towards tracks from Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, including “N95,” “Worldwide Steppers,” “Count Me Out,” with a few cuts from his previous material. Towards the end of “Savior,” Kendrick began grabbing the set lists and handing them over to fans who he considered to have “represented the city very well,” feeling touched by those who brought the energy, singing each song bar for bar. His performance definitely met the crowd’s expectations but somehow, the hour-long, 21-track set did not feel satisfying enough as many were expecting a few guests, perhaps an appearance from his cousin and collaborator, Baby Keem.

Nevertheless, Kendrick Lamar closed out Osheaga with a bang.