I crept into Mile Ex End Festival a little sheepishly on Saturday afternoon, having missed all the action on Friday night. An even larger bummer given the fact that I was most excited for Feist’s performance and she closed out the night Friday; my compatriot/photographer Michael filled me in on its loveliness and his photos speak volumes on their own. Mile Ex End Festival is by far my favourite event of the year in terms of scene/vibe/atmosphere. I mean where else do you get to take in an outdoor show with a stage directly under an overpass? Or another stage where a cargo train will whistle by not fifteen feet from where you’re standing watching a performance. Last year was magical, with some beautiful performances to go along with the scenery and I made a ton of new artist discoveries. This year… different story, the musical performances/line up was sadly underwhelming, to put it nicely, to the point where I think Mile Ex End Festival are suffering from a bit of an identity crisis.
Let’s start with the Francophone music. Last year to my memory it was very close to fifty-fifty split on the presentation of Francophone and Anglophone music and I feel like they did an excellent job appealing to all crowds. There were several local Francophone bands that I enjoyed immensely last year, peep my review from last years fest. This year was probably closer to an 80/20 split favouring Francophone music, and while I think the 50/50 dynamic works better, I would welcome a festival that presents more French speaking artists, if the performances were in fact enjoyable. I’m not about to start calling out artists for being shit, I’ll say this rather, as I hinted in my intro, I think the festival is struggling to find its place in the echelon of summer festivals in Montreal. This year’s instalment just felt like a bit of a step backward.
Okay, let’s have some positive takeaways from the long weekend, shall we? It’s never all bad. Aside from the beautiful site, which gives this festival an incredible advantage at becoming one of the coolest music attractions of the summer there were some solid performances. Daniel Lanois had an inspiring performance with some soulful and uplifting vocal harmonies, same for Elisapie, whose voice took command of the entire crowd beneath the overpass. There were very few high energy acts this year that resonated with me, save for Les Cowboys Fringants, who since breaking out locally in the nineties have maintained their raucous, fierce political attitude and party mentality. Chromeo was also a pleasant little bump of energy late Sunday afternoon. Just as the sun was beginning to set the electro-funk duo of Dave One and Pee Thug took over the scene with laser lights, samplers, and feel-good energy.
The two acts that salvaged the weekend for me were Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Macsis and Helado Negro, whom I had just seen earlier in the year opening for Beirut. The former, captivated the crowd, unleashing on his acoustic guitar and creating tones I was certain could only come from an electric guitar setup. Macsis hit us with a few classic Dinosaur Jr. songs and an incredible rendition of Mazzy Stars “Fade Into You.” Such a cool sight to see so many people still digging those nineties sounds. Helado Negro brought some serious chill factor to the festival. Playing their album This Is How You Smile in its entirety on a beautiful Sunday afternoon had me in a state of bliss. Helado Negro impressed me back in February but absolutely blew me away on this weekend.
So it was a down year overall… not just here but I’d say for festivals in general. I’m still going to attend Mile Ex End Festival next year! The setup and vibe are just too nice to pass up and I’m confident that they’ll find their groove again. The overpass traditionally serves as a beautiful backdrop to the festival, but too many times this year seemed better served as a jumping-off point to escape the music.
Written by Lee Ferguson
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*edited by Danielle Kenedy