The Music in Montréal’s Soul

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Thursday Sep 22, 2011

This article is from the September 2011 issue of the EDGE Digital Magazine.
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Back before the bubble burst, when we were fantasizing about a tertiary residence in Montréal, we found ourselves in a residential sales office, talking to a fellow New Yorker, a classical violinist, who was moving permanently to Montréal because "this city has music in its soul."

That sentiment echoed in our ears throughout this year’s edition of Divers/Cité, Montréal’s annual weeklong summer music festival. Founded as Montréal’s LGBT Pride celebration in 1993 on the principles of diversity, solidarity, and openness, Divers/Cité has subsequently evolved into an urban Burning Man festival that brings together tens of thousands of celebrants and music lovers from around the globe.

With nearly fifty hours of free outdoor parties and performances, Divers/Cité rivals the intensity of Winter Music Conference while channeling the love-fueled atmosphere of Woodstock - and the 19th anniversary of Divers/Cité proved yet again that it’s all about the music: the music in Montreal’s collective heart and soul.

For the past few summers, Sainte Catherine Street East has been closed to vehicular traffic from May through September. With the cars and cabs replaced with pedestrians, the backbone of Montreal’s gayborhood becomes a kind of Canadian piazza lined with terraces, pergolas, gazebos, and cafés. Restaurateurs up and down the street build out their eateries, outfitting the al fresco spaces with white picket fences or Italian furniture, Philippe Starck chairs, ambient lighting, lush flora, and hanging planters - and the convivial atmosphere is a perfect complement to the thousands of Divers/Cite patrons who wander up and down the street all day and night.

This year, in what was termed an "artistic happening," Sainte Catherine Street East was festooned with 170,000 pink resin balls dangling above the street and forming a pink pearl canopy from Berri Street to Papineau. Produced by landscape architect Claude Cormier, the installation was titled "Les Boules Roses" (or "Pink Balls") and the roseate glow made the street even more gay than the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City.

Aptly named, Divers/Cité is one of the most beloved of Montreal’s forty annual festivals with programming that includes a range of music as diverse as Montreal’s population, including dance, blues, jazz, electronica, trance, techno, deep house - and, of course, vocals. By the time we hit Saturday’s Sunset Party at Parc Emilie-Gamelin, DJ Paulo (aka LA’s Lord of the Drums) was tag-teaming with Montreal heartthrob, DJ Alain Jackinsky, and their turbo-charged, tribal-injected set perfectly paved the way for Brazilian bombshell DJ Ana Paula (returning to Divers/Cite for her fifth consecutive appearance) and DJ Isaac Escalante, the two of whom turned out a multi-layered, euphoric performance that was as inspirational as it was vibrant.

Without question, one of the most popular events during Divers/Cite’s weeklong reign over the city is Mascara, the annual three-hour, gender-bending tour de force, hosted by Montreal’s resident drag diva extraordinaire, Mado. Thousands of people gather for this event, whole families in tow, along with lounge chairs and video cameras - and rarely have you witnessed so many people so happy to laugh and cheer and sing along with a man in a dress. And those dresses! Mado and his costumers combed the closets of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and raided the recent Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition to create ensembles that were as surreal as the lovechild of Tim Burton and Salvador Dali.

Inspired by "Glee" and "So You Think You Can Dance," this year’s 14th edition of Mascara was almost immediately legendary, thanks to nearly thirty musical numbers (performed by more than two hundred dancers) that were as brilliantly executed as a Broadway production. These kids can move - and shake and bump and grind - and choreographer Scott Fordham, a terpsichorean dynamo, is another one of those immensely talented Montreal artists who makes you realize the point of long Montreal winters (practice, practice, practice). While Fordham has performed with and choreographed for Deborah Cox, Katy Perry, LL Cool J, among others, his home is Montreal and there was no question that he and his incredibly tight corps of dancers were as loved as they are talented. Bring these kids to New York!

Few cities in North America are more civil than Montreal - and particularly to LGBT people. 

During the past decade, Montreal has earned a reputation as one of the world’s best LGBT destinations - and after spending time in Canada’s second-largest city, it’s easy to understand why (and it’s not only because Montreal’s original name was Ville-Marie or "City of Mary").

In 2005, Canada was one of the first countries to offer full legal rights of marriage to LGBT people - while way back in 1967, it was Pierre Trudeau, the Minister of Justice, who astutely remarked, "There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." (Contrast that statement with the 1986 US Supreme Court decision in Bowers vs. Hardwick, which was not overturned until 2003 - and you have a better understanding of why Canada, and Montreal, have a history of social progress that puts the US to shame.)


(Feature article continues on next pages...)


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