Interviews

A Chat With M For Montreal’s Program Director Mikey B Rishwain

Rishwain goes into depth about what went into this year’s edition and the challenges faced this year.

By: Sun Noor

Despite all of the COVID-related challenges faced by the music industry, especially for festival organizers, Montreal has still managed to put almost all of their events by adapting to the current circumstances. This “show must go on,” energy has allowed for local artists to continue to release music and still flourish through playing these make-shift shows, which always end up being well-executed. This also shows how this city has no plan on halting events for the most part, keeping that optimistic viewpoint. M For Montreal is one of those festivals that have successfully managed to still put on their festival and music conference, setting up a reinvented, digital edition like no other. Prior to the event, I caught up with Mikey B Rishwain to discuss what went into festival.


First off, how are you doing Mikey?

“I just put on some Beethoven if that gives you an idea, I just need to relax. Historically, the week of the festival I detach myself and pretend it’s not there because if I do I’ll get overly stressed. I’m not absent minded, I just pretend it’s not a big deal on the week of, which is just the way I deal with it.”

M For Montreal turns 15 this year, aside from having live shows and the events in person, was there anything in particular that could not have been properly executed?

“As you know, most festivals were advised to shut down and we had a lot going on behind the scenes. We’ve always focussed more on the industry and networking side, in order to build bridges between Montreal and the rest of the world, which is our main goal. We help support and bring out a lot of professionals from all kinds of fields who are the best of the best. They come to Montreal for this event and walk out of here signing bands, meeting people, coming back creating relationships. It’s amazing what happens! In this day and age it’s obvious that will not happen this year. After speaking to a lot of our international partners, they all put pressure on us and were like ‘You guys better not just give up for this year,’ M for them is a highlight, it’s like going to South By Southwest and coming to Montreal not only to eat poutine and have fun in our culture but it’s also a way for them to keep in touch with what’s happening.”

“As you know, Montreal has always been on the forefront of new music. I think people wanted us to keep going. We organized an online virtual conference though a platform we’ve never used before and it’s our first time doing. What we decided to do this year is not only to network but to add showcases, we added a show around it. We’ll also have Mac DeMarco as a closer. He first played in 2012 at Sala Rossa and I remember NME Magazine was there. He had already has a buzz going on but after he hit the stage, everything snowballed for him and he’s never had a day off since. That’s what M is about, showcasing bands. Now Mac is back and is giving us a bone on this one. We took him on for a lot of our satellite events such as Iceland Airwaves, CMW, SXSW, NXNE and more. He was always cognizant of what we’ve done for him, so him coming back to do his first show in 9 months, just speaks loudly and melts my heart because we love the guy to death.”

As the programming director, what was the most challenging part of putting this edition together? 

“Well, M went on from being a showcasing event to a television show. We’ve never done that but we were able to use our common sense skills from the music world and execute that. The project manager, Isabelle Ouimet had a lot to do with producing this show with Éric Morin who was the director. It was really about putting our bets on the right people. Éric is one of those big players and so is Pestacle. We put our faith in their hands, in order to execute this showcase. It was hard for us to make these decisions, calls and it wasn’t cheap but we had this to stay afloat. It is our 15th anniversary but we’re not going to put a spotlight on that, we’ll wait until we’re back in person to really put an anniversary vibe to it. I guess this year is more like M for meanwhile.”

“Of course having the professionals attend was not that hard because when we invite delegates they take a lot of time off from their work and families to come here. In this situation, people were more open and it was easier to get people to participate over Zoom. Producing the TV show was new to us and thanks to our partners we are good.”

I’m excited to see how that’s going to play out, as I have never seen any other festival take on the TV show format.

“What’s sad is that a lot of artists couldn’t get with their bands this year because of COVID-19, so we have a few playing solo like Edwin Raphael, Alex Nicol and Shay Lia are all playing solo. We could not have just put them aside since they still have records and a voice and we still wanted to showcase them.”

How early in the year does the planning for the event take place?

“It starts in January, there’s a festival called Eurosonic in the Netherlands that happens and that’s where all the important industry people meet up. From there it’s SXSW, CMW and few other festivals where we set up showcases, recruit delegates, get to know people and book bands. It’s a lot more complicated that just music and fun. There’s a lot of energy and work that goes into it but we have a solid team. It was not easy with the virus this year and a lot of industry people got laid off but our team is small and we did not have to go all over the world this year. Now that the vaccine will be available soon, we’re expecting a boom in festivals as soon as things get back to normal. There’s nothing really stopping us, we just have to keep up with the pace, which is what everyone involved in M wants. They want to stay in the loop in music, professionally and that is what we’re offering professionally and for our bands.”

For sure, that’s also a good attitude to keep during this time.

“There has been so much magic that comes out of the festival and in Montreal, there’s a lot happening here and it has not stopped. In Seattle, there was a huge 5-7 year grunge rock phase but that’s over, Montreal is pretty solid though. I think people really want to keep up with Montreal because it’s a part of the music world and it’s such a hotbed for not only for music but all kinds of creative companies and agencies. There’s so much happening here and M For Montreal is just one of those little things helping showcase the people and artists from Montreal.”

This years edition is quite unique in many ways but mostly consists of local artists, what was the decision behind that?

“M for Montreal has always been a Montreal-centric company and then it became a Canadian showcase. We do this for Canadian talent which is our main focus. During the regular festival we’ll have international artists if it makes sense but we don’t go after that. We’re strictly trying to stay as local as possible. With time it’s hard to find good bands in Montreal, so we have a lot of support from our export offices who really believe in our project and support us and send some bands here. This year there’s Jo Passed, Patient Hands and The Garrys, all of those bands outside of Quebec are supported from our partners in other provinces. M For Montreal has been so good at helping artists and their management here and now we’re trying to put Canada on the spotlight as well.”

Looking back, what would you say is your most memorable moment of the festival? 

“There’s three. Grimes played here 10 year anniversary at Metropolis sold-out back in 2015, having her give me an acknowledgment for always being there for her made my heart melt.The day that Half Moon Run played, where no one really knew them and something happened when everyone walked out of that room. It overcame every local and international person who was there. There was a lot of magic in that room. That’s what we love. The third one is Mac DeMarco’s show with Majical Cloudz in 2013 at Club Soda. That was a show that started a midnight and it was completely insane, there were lots of naked people. It was the most fubar moment I’ve ever experienced. We realized that day Mac was a fucking star!So Grimes, Half Moon Run and Mac Demarco shows to me were magical, seeing them sprout and see where they are today makes me feel better about what we do at M and validates our mission of exporting talent.”

Which artist on the lineup are you the most excited about? 

“I love so many of them but I’m going to go straight to Flore Laurentienne, which is a classical outfit. It evokes that Godspeed You! Black Emperor spirit but in a more classical spirit. it’s one of those records that came out this year that really soothed my soul and I think everyone should hear it from kindergarten kids taking naps to your grandmother. Everyone can find themselves in this record. There’s something good for the soul in there, which is important. As well, Jo Passed from Vancouver who is opening for Mac DeMarco. This kid is INSANE! Every song I hear is perfect. He’s signed to Sub Pop so it’s an honour to have him play in Mac and in the regular showcase with Music BC who are our partners in BC. So Jo Passed who is un-fucking-believable and Flore Laurentienne. If I had to give someone else more love it would be Paul Jacobs because his album is coming out.”

Lastly, what are some of your current favourite records?

“Currently, I’ve been listening to so many playlists of 90s music. If I put the 90s on shuffle, I feel like I’m on a playground as a kid and everything is very toned down. It’s important to have melancholic music to really excite you. I’m listening to Beethoven right no so I’m all over the place. A lot of old of old music and Jimi Hendrix mixes from Spotify and Loma, I love their new record. I also recommend Jo Passed. Anything to calm my nerves because M is coming around the corner.”

M For Montreal kicks off today with Le Montréal Magique Musique Show, which you can access here. There is still time to RSVP before the show starts at 9pm tonight.

For more information about the festival, click here.

Photos included are courtesy of M For Montreal’s website.

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