Montreal’s annual Mural Street Art Festival is a free, eleven day, open-air event that attracts some of the best local and international mural artists to decorate the walls of the Plateau neighbourhood with massive and inspiring paintings. This year, the Mural Fest team built a stage in the heart of the action, adding live music to the urban art festival. Bucketlist sent me to cover the Sunday, June 14th edition ─ which was a welcome change from spending the day listening to techno and house music for my regular Piknic Electronik column.
I hit the site early to catch some of the breathtaking murals going up around the area. One of the most intriguing pieces dominated the music-stage venue ─ a huge, tropically-coloured piece by the Brazilian team of Bicicleta Sem Freio. This one was hard to miss, and it was an amazing backdrop to the cracking beats that were coming off the stage. Vibrant shades of blue, turquoise, and yellow assaulted my senses (in a good way) as soon as I arrived in the area, while random objects like Wayfarer sunglasses, a pair of false teeth with googly eyes, and, for a Brazilian touch, a toucan, added a wild and hallucinogenic look to the venue.
Below the mural, in an otherwise uninspiring Saint-Laurent parking lot, the block-party continually heated up all weekend, delivering a bass-heavy distraction to the impressive art going up on the walls around the neighbourhood. Saturday afternoon, the folks from Osheaga provided the music. On Sunday, the Fools Gold Homecoming brought several hours of hip hop, electro beats, and breaks from the likes of A-Trak, STWO, and a very special surprise performance by Montreal hip hop wonder Lunice.
The Fool’s Gold record label was established in 2007 by A-Trak. The Montreal-born DJ, now based in New York, reached legend status as a teenaged turntable prodigy, holding a record-breaking five DMC World Championship titles by the time he was 18. His set at the Mural Festival was heavily influenced by current electronic dance music. As the turntable wizard mentioned, he’s become interested in “building links between hip hop and electronic music while watching genre barriers crumble.” In other words, if you came to hear a DMC World Champ cutting and scratching hip hop breaks, you would probably be disappointed.
The whole festival had the vibe of a Brooklyn block party, complete with hip hop, MCs, and murals. Although the murals were the reason for the festival, this nonetheless felt like a celebration of hip hop culture. The concrete-jungle vibe of Saint Laurent Boulevard suited the urban atmosphere of the festival. The crowd ─ a mix of teenaged girls anticipating big-bass, commercial beats and underground hip hop heads ─ added a funky vibe to the day. Although the Mural Street Art Festival was free, spectators had to pay a cover charge to check out the block party venue. It was good idea to charge for the music, as the venue would have been completely overrun otherwise.
By far, the musical highlight of the day was local champion Lunice, who made a last-minute surprise appearance after the artist Rome was a no-show. Lunice’s passionate and high-energy performance totally rocked the Mural Fest crowd. This was the music I was hoping for: big bass, instrumental hip hop, paired with Lunice’s abstract and hilarious on-stage performance. The fans couldn’t help but wave their hands in the air for this full-throttle hip hop show. Cheers to the Mural Fest crew for a dope Sunday afternoon of music and murals!
Written Rob Coles