Ciel Noir: A Packed Night of Moody Darkness with Codeine, Duster, Pelada, Model/Actriz and Snow Strippers

Not much can convince me to go out on a Sunday night, let alone out of my immediate neighbourhood, and above that, after I spent the day moving all my belongings to a new apartment. However, this particular late March Sunday promised a truly jam-packed show of slowcore legends, exhilarating DJs, and up-and-coming rock bands. So, trying to ignore my lumbar pain, I headed out for the night to witness Ciel Noir, a one-day festival produced by Blue Skies Turn Black, featuring five acts you’ll likely never see on the same bill again.

Slowcore has been having quite a moment in the past few years. Ciel Noir headliner, Duster, specifically, has seen a massive rise in listenership thanks to their sudden virality on TikTok, where their dreamy and minimal tracks are used as backing for tens of thousands of videos of, well, just about anything. This online fame didn’t come completely out of nowhere, as Duster’s 1998 album Stratosphere has held cult status on Discogs, online music blogs, and ‘niche’ music meme accounts for a few years now. However, the meteoric rise of this over-two-decade-old indie album, which had very little success upon its release, cannot be overstated. The Duster renaissance dovetails with a more general new age of appreciation for dreamy 90s alternative, as shoegaze legends like My Bloody Valentine, and Slowdive are also finding new fans in today’s teenagers through TikTok, and popular current artists such as Slowpulp and Yves Tumor take heavy inspiration from the hazy sound. 

The Gen Z love of slowcore was on display at L’Olympia on March 31st. In the minutes leading up to the start of the show, there was a distinct line of separation between the teenagers up against the barricade, clad in their face glitter, platform Doc Martins, and subversive mullet haircuts and the older generation of beanie and funky glasses-wearing Millennials and Gen Xers clutching their overpriced beers. I was somewhere in the middle. 

Those who know, know that Codeine was the band to see on Sunday. Veritable pioneers of slowcore, the band tends not to get the recognition of many of their peers, such as Low, Mazzy Star, and, well, Duster. With a heavier and often more experimental sound compared to their slowcore contemporaries, often sharing more similarities with post-rock acts like Slint, Codeine’s music is dark, dreary, and unrelenting. 

Codeine’s Stephen Immerwahr (vocals and bass), Chris Brokaw (drums), and John Engle (guitar) entered the stage precisely at 8:00 PM and jumped into their song “D,” the first track off their seminal 1991 album Frigid Stars. Starting with a fan favourite proved successful, as it was evident this Canadian crowd was thankful to finally get their chance to see Codeine live, as Immerwahr mentioned the last time they placed up here was 30 years ago (almost exactly to the day) when they opened for Pavement

Codeine continued playing through the classics, including “Cigarette Machine” and later, “Loss Leader” from 1994’s The White Birch. Halfway into the set, the band moved into a vignette of songs from Dessau, “Tom,” “Sea,” and “Jr.” As Immerwahr alluded to on stage, Dessau was somewhat of a ‘lost album’ before Numero Group unearthed the recordings for a release in 2022. 

While Codeine offered minimal stage banter, Stephen Immerwahr expressed his gratitude to the audience and mentioned that it happened to be his birthday that night. Of course, the crowd erupted in “Happy Birthday” to celebrate the special night, to which Immerwahr thanked everyone, smiling and blushing. Ending off their short, festival-length set, drummer Chris Brokaw came to the front of the stage to take over bass duties from Immerwahr for a climactic rendition of Frigid Stars’ brooding, broken-hearted closer “Pea.”

After a twenty-minute intermission, Duster arrived on stage. A notable push forward occurred in the audience at this point, as crowds of the younger attendees made their way towards the stage, craving a good vantage point for the headliner. Starting with a slightly deeper Stratosphere cut, “The Twins / Romantica,” the audience was immediately exhilarated by Duster’s presence, as this marked the band’s first ever show in Montreal.

The band continued to play mostly from Stratosphere, but included others such as “The Breakup Suite” off of 2000’s Contemporary Movement. Tracks “Inside Out” and “Heading for the Door” appeared to be crowd favourites, as phones lifted into the air and the young audience members around me bobbed and swayed in time. 

After a quick “thank you,” the only words uttered by the band, Duster finished their forty-minute set with ‘Echo/Bravo,” one of their louder, heavier tunes. This song worked as a kind of catharsis for the droning, slow set, offering a moment of wild release for attendees, as the three high schoolers behind me started to lightly mosh along to the driving guitars.

L’Olympia cleared out decently after Duster’s set, as was to be expected on a Sunday around 11:00 PM. Yet, the next set picked up the pace with Pelada. This duo of Chris Vargas and Tobias Rochman got their start locally in Montreal’s after-hours rave scene. The act just recently announced their breakup, marking Ciel Noir as likely one of their last shows as a musical duo. Despite this fact looming in the background, Pelada’s high-energy set proved a much-needed change of pace from the start of the night. This experimental Spanish language act somehow both stood out starkly from the rest of the night’s lineup but also wove perfectly into the mood of the festival. 

As the night went on, and some concertgoers started shuffling out, likely with school or 9-5’s the next day, the energy of the performers stayed high. New York-based rock outfit Model/Actriz took the stage next with their sexy, dirty, and spooky post-punk sound. Fans of Protomartyr or HMLTD, would enjoy this act, with lead vocalist Cole Haden’s sleazy energy oozing from his every move. At a point in their set, Haden even ventured into the audience, a rare sight in a venue as big as L’Olympia. However, the sheer extravagance of his stage presence sold what may otherwise come off as a gimmick. Model/Actriz’ debut album Dogsbody made quite a splash last year, and it’s reassuring to see the band back up their production chops with a great live performance.  

Closing off the one-day festival was Detroit-based dance/hyperpop duo Snow Strippers. The duo played from their mixtapes, not quite singing, but more so dancing and posing over the tracks. As the camera following producer Graham Perez, and the duo’s Instagram presence make clear, this is a very aesthetically-focused musical act. Their 2000’s nostalgic hyperpop sound surely resonated with many of the younger attendees, even as the night was winding down. 

Ciel Noir was an ambitious and well-produced showcase. Despite the variety in genres, all the chosen artists flowed into one another, creating a cohesive vibe for the night. The long runtime of the event made me wish this was a weekend-long festival, as I imagine may have been the initial intention. However, simply having two bonafide legends like Duster and Codeine on the same bill is quite the feat, and cemented Ciel Noir as a name to watch for future local bookings. Here’s to the whispers of another installment next year.


Aviva Majerczyk is the magazine editor at CJLO 1690AM. She is also the host of The Alley, a folk-rock show airing Fridays at 11:00 AM.