Montréal, Canada

POP Montréal’s 22nd edition exemplified how a city of this size could host an event with such an extended programme, yet somehow have an intimacy that, come the end, felt like it was an extension of your cultural persona. Everyone was taking a slice of POP for themselves this year.

The thought of not finding your bearings can be intimidating for those not versed in the geographical intricacies of the 15 or so venues that make up the festival’s anointed selection. The reality is that most venues are within a 10-minute walk of each other, and herein lies the fun. Mile End, where most of the action takes place, was ranked the fifth ‘coolest’ neighbourhood in the world by Time Out in 2022, and these lofty credentials were put through their paces by one of the friendliest, congenial crowds we’ve experienced at a festival. Beer bars, wine bars, delis, boutique restaurants and record stores all lapped up the kind of custom that arrives when 200 artists perform in your immediate vicinity. Mile End popped for all five days, and crossing paths on the Saturday and Sunday of the festival with now familiar faces provided a beautiful backdrop to the action.

The aesthetic variation of the different venues distinctly adds to the feeling that this would only be possible in a few different cities in the world. The Piccolo Rialto complex houses several acts over the week, its centrepiece being the majestic ​​Théâtre Rialto, an ornate auditorium fitting of any quality act. Musical highlights here come from the compelling Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul, who kick off proceedings on Wednesday night. Their performance is an ode to all things playful in music. Danceable, sarcastic, sultry, stylish and polished – it’s a joyous exorcism to bigotry with a refined musical engine pitched firmly at the floor. The beguiling synth-pop of Kate NV and the late-night headiness of Loraine James put the basement of the Rialto through its paces on Thursday, and find of the weekend comes from LA’s singer-songwriter Annahstasia on the Friday, whose beautiful voice mirrored the indulgent setting before the timeless Candi Staton closed things in the Théâtre.

Rooftop shows upstairs in the Rialto are a prominent feature of a week dominated by unseasonably pristine weather. Canadian singer-songwriters Charlotte Cornfield and Helena Deland provide the requisite lilting sounds, the latter especially mesmerising, playing an exclusive playback of her new record.

@popmontreal Soon you won’t be staring at names on a poster, but your favorite artists on STAGE! #festivaldump #festivalcountdown #cestdemain #billboards ♬ dopamine – madelline

The inescapable comparison between POP and the Great Escape in the UK is evident, with unsigned bands and first-timers making up a large portion of the line-up. However, two established names made the most significant impact on Friday, with Shabazz Palaces and Bahamadia headlining the hip-hop showcase at Entrepot77. This make-shift outdoor venue was a focal point of the excellent weather and exemplified the Montréal gig experience – DIY, engaged and supported. Every street corner seemed alive, and the backing the festival receives in the use of its public space should be applauded.

La Sécurité, Py Py and Water from Your Eyes provided the off-kilter musical ending to Saturday. The latter especially gave a gritty, caustic ride inside the basement club setting of L’Esco, which was heaving. An American band for whom this must have seemed like an underplay, theirs is stock on the rise with a new album on Matador that is as beguiling as it is intense.

Moving into Sunday, headliners Tangerine Dream’s mesmeric synth world felt like the classic ease down needed after five days of music and mirrored the pace of POP. Never has such musical richness felt so manageable.