Ottawa’s largest music showcase winds down this weekend, and audiophiles are already turning their ears eastward as Montreal’s Osheaga festival is just around the corner. Now in its eighth year, the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival blankets Parc Jean-Drapeau with dozens of artists spanning every conceivable genre. This year Montreal will host several acts with queer appeal, from Diamond Rings to MNDR, so expect Île Sainte-Hélène to be painted pink Aug 2 to 4.
When Lady Gaga burst into the mainstream a few years back, queer people heralded her as the second coming of Madonna. But my choice for pop’s latest and greatest princess would be Amanda Warner. Performing as MNDR, which is technically a duo comprising the bouncy blonde and Peter Wade, Warner prioritizes substance over style; although her personal fashion choices are indeed eye-catching. MNDR first caught the attention of the masses with a guest appearance on Mark Ronson’s 2010 album Record Collection. Warner’s partially French chorus on “Bang Bang Bang” is smooth and infectious and managed to overshadow fellow collaborator Q-Tip. The duo’s debut, 2012’s Feed Me Diamonds, shines with electronic-tinged, edgy pop tracks, like "#1 In Heaven" and "Cut Me Out," which sparkle like sapphires. Increasing MNDR’s carat is a recent collaboration with LA DJ Tokimonsta, who Xtra interviewed pre-Bluesfest last year, for the breezy track “Go With It.” There’s no indication that Warner herself is queer, but she is clearly a proud ally as evidenced in the video for Feed Me Diamond’s title track, which features Raven, from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 2, transforming into a drag version of the energetic chanteuse.
For someone who admitted he had a same-sex attraction to one specific man several years ago, Frank Ocean stirred up an awful lot of controversy. The Grammy winner’s admission resulted in Target refusing to sell his breakthrough album, 2012’s Channel Orange, and attacks from bigoted Twitter users. But Ocean doesn’t regret his decision, telling GQ that “I hadn't been happy in so long. I've been sad again since, but it's a totally different take on sad. There's just some magic in truth and honesty and openness.” Don’t expect Ocean to be waving a rainbow flag when he graces the Molson Canadian Mountain Stage at Osheaga, but do expect solid renditions of his hip-hop/R&B fusion hits.
Tegan and Sara
Canada’s queer sweethearts may have turned off a few fans with their latest album, Heartthrob, but this shift into more commercial, straightforward pop was a conscious decision and not entirely unexpected when you consider the Calgary natives’ lengthy discography. Tegan and Sara’s sound has morphed from shades of alt-country and folk (If It Was You and its predecessors), to near-rock (So Jealous), to smidges of synth-pop (The Con).
“We’ve been making music for over half our life,” Tegan told Xtra earlier this year. “And just like music has changed and what’s popular has changed, we’ve grown and evolved and explored a lot of different things . . . from punk music and indie music and more folk-based stuff, and our last couple records were maybe a little more indie-rock. But definitely with each record the one thing that’s remained consistent is that we try to change it up. I think that we were just embracing our love of pop music currently and also our pop-music love from the ‘80s. So Heartthrob is sort of a product of all of that. But I think at its core it’s still a Tegan and Sara record.”
Regardless of their chameleonic output, the lesbian twins remain critically acclaimed — Heartthrob is long-listed for the 2013 Polaris Prize — and they always captivate audiences with their live performances.
Oshawa-born John O’Regan is a true original. Completely queer with jock undertones, the six-foot-five wearer of Technicolor eye makeup broke into Toronto’s indie music scene with upbeat singles like “Wait and See” and “All Yr Songs.” His full-length debut, 2010’s bedroom-recorded Special Affections, garnered critical praise and led to an gig opening for gay-boy favourite Robyn. His sophomore effort, Free Dimensional, continued to display his ability to modernize the new-wave genre. He's lively and engaging onstage, and queers all over Canada are wondering what Diamond Rings’ next move will be. Whatever flamboyant direction he chooses, it is safe to say it won’t be singing with a major label for monetary purposes.
“It should never be the kind of thing where sales or the number of people you’re pulling in to the bar becomes the goal,” he told Xtra in 2010. “That’s when the music and the art start to suffer,” he says. “At the same time, you want to strive to grow and develop. I don’t want it to be, five years from now or even two years from now, just me up onstage by myself.”
To say 2013 was an interesting year for Breeders leader Kim Deal would be a gross understatement. The founding Pixies member chose artistry over the almighty dollar when she decided not to join the band on a massive world tour. The Pixies replaced Deal with another Kim, Shattuck of The Muffs, who I equally adore. Deal is content to release solo material and tour with the circa-1993 Breeders lineup, exclusively performing their breakthrough album Last Splash. The tour, dubbed LSXX, has stopped all over the US and will culminate in Australia on Halloween night. Besides the fact that she named her band after a derogatory term for straights, Deal fascinates queers, even though she’s not one of us. With her tomboyish appearance, ability to hold her own in the testosterone-soaked Pixies and the fact that she wrote perhaps the most famous song ever about a gigantic penis, you can bet a lot of gay and lesbian fans will be at the Sennheiser Stage when Deal strikes the first chord of “New Year.”
Utterly massive in their French homeland, Phoenix’s fire lit up this continent with 2009’s alt-pop opus Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. That album garnered the foursome a Grammy and cemented the group as champions of feel-good, alternative music. Phoenix’s compositions balance between cheerfulness and rock, and this unique amalgamation appeals to not only queers, but music lovers in search of a unique sound that burns the eardrums and tickles the mind. Singles like “Armistice,” “Lasso” and “Entertainment,” off their recent offering, Bankrupt!, which was not as well received as their 2009 blockbuster, can pick up any listener who's down or augment an already optimistic mood.