20 years of POP Montreal – Interview with creative director Daniel Seligman

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POP Montreal is soon upon us, September 22-26, 2021. If there was ever a festival that we can truly call our own, that represents the vibe of the city, it’s POP Montreal.

This edition represents 20 years of the festival so we caught up with the festival’s creative director Dan Seligman to talk about the history of POP Montreal and what to expect at this year’s event.

Yes, it’s still a pandemic so POP has to remain safe and careful but we can celebrate and be thankful that we can still go to shows and see amazing live music. What a gift! POP Montreal 2021 has an incredible line-up to celebrate the 20th with many artists who have performed at POP over the years.

Highlights include 2020 Polaris Prize winner and heavy core rap genius Backxwash; The Dears who played the first edition of POP, hometown psych-rock heroes SUUNS, one of the fiercest rappers in the game and Rhythm and Flow alumnus Cakes da Killa, the debut performance by the newest Montreal super group ALL HANDS/ MAKE LIGHT formed by Efrim Manuel Menuck from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Ariel Engle from La Force, Montreal’s latest dream-pop starlette Vanille; Aiza who you may know as a superhero on the Netflix series Jupiter’s Legacy and also as Canada’s next R&B sensation; Laura Niquay who’s stunning 2021 album sung in Atikamekw and French was long-listed for this years Polaris Prize; And there will be a parade in the Mile End on the Sunday of POP Montreal.

When Dan was coming of age, as a young teen, music took on a new meaning for him.

“Hip-Hop music in the early 90s really spoke to me, that golden era of Rap.”  

Bands like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy are indelibly marked in his memory.

“I went from a casual fan to someone who really started digging deep into the significance of what music meant to people.  Through Hip-Hop, I started collecting vinyl and getting into samples.”

Being a hard-core fan of music in some ways influenced how he was as a promoter, manager and his role in the music industry.

You might get the glory, during an event, but it’s the gruelling behind-the-scenes work that is needed to pull off a festival that is often unnoticed, and only a die-hard fan of music is willing to go to those lengths to make it happen.  Dan is that man.

“I don’t think many people, these days, are going into the music business to simply make money.  You really have to, now more than ever, love what you are doing.” 

For Dan, “there is a lot you can get out of it”, especially with live performances, putting on shows, a tour or an album.  “It’s a rewarding experience.”

The first Festival Dan attended, when he was around 15 or 16 years old is one we share:  Lollapalooza ’92 with Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Ice Cube, etc.

“That was wild.  Lollapalooza was definitely a blueprint for alternative culture in the 90s.”

It really was a new breed of festival with music discovery as its core.  

All those years working closely with bands were just stepping-stones to working the intricacies of pulling off a festival.

Not only does POP Montreal bring in a variety of musicians, but they are spread across the city in both small, large venues, private lofts, secret shows and a whole lot more.

POP Montreal may have more similarities to South by Southwest, a festival that takes over a city, which Dan went to a year or so before POP Montreal

Dan started POP Montreal in reaction to such festivals to give the fans and the bands a different experience.  

At the time, he was working for his brother’s band, Stars, who were just starting out.  They had been to CMW, CMJ, South by Southwest and North by Northeast.

“There was something about those events that felt disconnected from the artist/fan experience.  It felt more like a jaded event for industry veterans who would stand at the back and the artists were like cattle, escorted out.  It didn’t feel like the most natural way for musicians and artists to come together.”

While he admits being naïve to the industry, he brought a fresh perspective to the festival circuit.

Montreal was not like the big cities of Toronto, New York or L.A..

“Montreal, even now, feels like an art-centric city.  Art over commerce.”

While still appreciating the industry’s participation, the event has more focus “on music first and the relationship between the musicians and the fans.”

POP music, by definition, relates to popular music, but POP Montreal will focus on un-popular artists now… that could become popular tomorrow.

Just think back to the 2011 free Arcade Fire show at Place des Spectacles in honour of the 10th Anniversary of POP Montreal with 101,000 in attendance, including my daughter and I.  

There were fewer in attendance at their 2003 POP Montreal appearance, but don’t you wish you were there now?

“One of the meanings behind popular music is music made by people outside a traditional classical institutional realm.  There are many genres of popular music, anything from Heavy Metal to Punk to Electronic.  POP is an overall encompassing umbrella term for the different styles of music.”

Mixing It Up

POP Montreal will also take an established icon like Laurie Anderson and pair her with saxophonist Colin Stetson and cellist Rebecca Foon to give an artist a different musical experience.

She’s the kind of artist, that at the stage of her career, is interested in that sort of collaborative process with younger musicians.  We did something similar with Patti Smith.”

“We are looking for new, interesting music.  We are looking for the next sound.” 

2021 Must See Shows

Dan recommends:

Cakes Da Killa + DijahSB + Shades Lawrence + DJ Killa-Jewel + Milla Thyme at L’Entrepot77 Sept 23, 2021.  Buy Tickets

The Firemen + El Coyote + Li’l Andy + Katie Moore + Sin & Swoon at Rialto Theatre Sept 24, 2021.  Buy Tickets

Le Ren at Rialto Rooftop Sept 24, 2021.  Buy Tickets

Suuns + Dishwasher at Rialto Theatre Sept 25, 2021.   Buy Tickets

Backxwash at L’Entrepot77 Sept 26, 2021.  Buy Tickets

Tickets are between $5 to $20


Dan can’t pick one memorable moment among so many.

“The best part is I’ve been able to work together with so many people to create this event, keep it going and contribute to the culture in Montreal.”

This is your chance to not only support local and emerging artists, but you might just be in the audience of the next big thing.  

See you there!

Watch the full interview with POP Montreal’s Daniel Seligman below:

POP Montreal 2021 will be a hybrid festival, in-person and virtual. For in-person concerts, the current Covid-19 protocols will be applied and a health pass will be required at the entrance of the concerts. If you are planning to attend a performance, you MUST purchase your tickets online in advance. There will be no tickets available at the door.

All show listings and tickets available on www.popmontreal.com

Writer: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their day jobs with out-of-the-box advice from Ted Talk Speakers, Best Selling Authors and other interesting Entrepreneurs and Creatives. He created the Rock Star Today MasterMind Experience for musicians. Randal also is a collector of signed vinyl.

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