Montreal’s Music Scene

Montreal is famous for its music scene, and not just because of exports like Arcade Fire, Halfmoon Run, Grimes, Stars and, yes, Celine Dion. There is an inordinate number of bands here, and enough people interested in seeing live music to fill bars, clubs and concert halls literally every day of the week. The scene is vibrant and enthusiastic, running the gamut from world-class electronic music (this is the birthplace of the Mutek festival) to renowned classical music, and everything in between.

This sleek, LEED-certified beech-wood concert hall at Place des Arts is the performance space that Montreal’s award-winning symphony orchestra has deserved for years. Designed expressly for impeccable unamplified acoustics, the shoebox space can transform depending in the needs of the performance, accommodating up to 120 musicians and 200 voices onstage at once. Its flawless sound quality was achieved by building the structure like a box inside a box, protecting the inner sanctum of the hall from all and any exterior noise pollution. Sitting in one of the many balconies, you’ll forget anyone else exists, despite the 2,100-seat capacity – the concentration this space inspires is remarkable.
175 Rue Sainte-Catherine O, Montréal, QC H2X 3X5, Canada
When it isn’t occupied by the Grands Ballets Canadiens or Opéra de Montréal, this largest concert hall in Montreal’s Place des Arts cultural complex has been known to host big musical names, including Maria Callas, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Luciano Pavarotti and Ella Fitzgerald. The sound system is the utmost in refinement, and, combined with the cushy seats and hushed atmosphere, it makes for a sophisticated listening experience indeed. Half the fun is the opportunity to wander through the impressive 1960s building, punctuated by salons and bars for that ubiquitous intermission gin & tonic. Go ahead of time and reserve a table at one of the famous glassed-in restaurants on the Quartier des Spectacles, Brasserie T! or F Bar.
1201 Boul St-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2X 2S6, Canada
The name makes it sound like the driest place in Christendom, but the SAT, as it’s known by locals, is at the forefront of coolth. This giant building on Boulevard Saint-Laurent near Rue Sainte-Catherine is dedicated to electronic culture and entertainment, which means it hosts some of the best art events, dance parties and music performances in town. The top level of its four storeys includes the famous Satosphere, a dome structure that allows for mind-blowing, immersive 360-degree visual projections. Events include presentations and master classes in addition to dance nights by the likes of Borgore, Brodinski and MYD. Don’t forget to stop by the in-house restaurant, the FoodLab, which is constantly pushing the gastronomical envelope. Photo: Sébastien Roy
2490 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montréal, QC H3J 1N5, Canada
Almost unchanged since 1912, the Théâtre Corona (Corona Theatre) in Little Burgundy was built to host showings of silent films accompanied by live music and comedy shows by local troupes. You can still find an orchestra pit and the original dressing rooms under the stage, but since the late 1990s—after coming close to demolition—it has served mainly to host live music, by acts like Buck65, La Roux, and Arcade Fire. The heritage décor, with painted ceiling, gilded columns and heavy jacquard brocade curtains, and the relatively small capacity for 700 spectators, make this a singularly intimate place to see a show. The best sightlines are from the balcony, but there’s nothing like the feel of a smooth wooden dance floor beneath your soles.
179 Rue Jean-Talon Ouest, Montreal, QC H2R 2Y9, Canada
On Jean-Talon near Parc Avenue in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood between Mile End and Park Ex known as Mile Ex, Bar Le Ritz PDB is a large open space with a few tables by the big front windows (always open in summer afternoons so that the fun spills out into the street) and a warm, relaxed atmosphere. It’s better known as a show-bar than a hangout bar, though that is slowly changing with expanded opening hours and a wider range of drink options. Like most Montreal music clubs, anyone can reserve a spot to play here; but the average night tends to lean towards indie rock, post-punk, alternative pop sounds.
32 Rue Beaubien E, Montréal, QC H2S 1P8, Canada
Regulars at this Little Italy joint (and there are lots of regulars) flock here more for the friendly atmosphere and the cheap drinks than for the two bowling lanes that gave it its name (“quilles” is “bowling” in French). Games do happen though, usually more as the night goes on, unless it’s one of the nights when a band uses the lanes as a stage. The drinks are nothing special except that most moments in this down-home haven end up being special, and they go wonderfully with the vegetarian burritos made on the spot. Take a spot at the bar to keep the pints coming, or find a nook in the back or in the turquoise-painted side room to wile away the hours.
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