Industrial Isolation and Cultural Self-Exile: the Formation of an Independent Music Scene in Montreal


Abstract / About the project


This paper examines Montreal’s contemporary independent and experimental music scenes in light of the perceived sense of cultural and industrial isolation that characterized independent music making in the city between the 1980’s and the early 2000’s. Prior to being portrayed as one of North America’s prominent hotbeds for independent and underground music in popular articles published in the the New York Times, Spin or Rolling Stone in the mid-2000’s, Montreal’s independent music scene was seen as atrophied and divided along Francophone and Anglophone lines, the city’s two dominant linguistic communities. On both sides of this divide, the scene was undermined by a lack of local artist-friendly recording and performance infrastructures, and suffered from a disconnection from the broader North-American indie rock touring circuit. Using critical analysis of interviews with the founders of local record companies Constellation Records and DAME and with owners of small-scale concert venues, this paper argues that this sense of cultural isolation stemming out of an industrial and institutional void generated economic privation that influenced local scene workers to nurture the activities of their own artistic communities while creating connections and bridges with similar scenes in North America and Europe. These efforts contributed to foster greater dialogue and collaborations between the Francophone and Anglophone factions of the scene during the 2000’s, as well as to help establish the aesthetic and logistical elements – a strong emphasis on localism, DIY principles, artistic experimentation – that became associated with the contemporary Montreal independent music scenes.

This article will be published in the forthcoming publication "Geographically Isolated and Peripheral Music Scenes" by Palgrave MacMillan in 2021.