Journey to the Katacombes: Review of Anachronik Festival, 2015

Skip Jensen Group. Anachronik Festival 2015. Photo Nadia Blostein. Skip Jensen Group. Anachronik Festival 2015. Photo Nadia Blostein.

“You were born in the right decade,” advertises Anachronik, playing on the fact that the new music fad is to complain about the 21st century. Since October 2012, the perfect solution has been found for all the people ranting about living in the wrong decade: the Anachronik Festival. Over the spam of four evenings (April 29 to May 2, the 2015 edition of this festival presented various rock bands proudly deemed as “vintage”. Throughout the lively Saint-Laurent Boulevard, various grungy venues, such as TRH Bar and the Katacombes Coop, hosted bands ranging from punk, to progressive rock, to rockabilly. Eclectic headliners including Strung Out, Red City Radio and Bloodshot Bill attracted their relatively solid fan base whilst the festival helped more underground groups such as Pheonix in Flames and Phvraon ascertain their name in the Montreal music scene.

Katacombes' Pillar of Skulls. Photo Nadia Blostein.

Katacombes’ Pillar of Skulls. Photo Nadia Blostein.

On Saturday, May 2nd, I ventured to the Katacombes to see what the bands Double Date With Death, Skip Jensen Group and Demon’s Claws have to offer. Overall, I was quite impressed with the experience – I am still new to the Katacombes, so the venue itself offered an interesting spectacle. Located near Saint-Laurent metro, the Katacombes really live up to their name: upon entering, the walls are smothered in three-dimensional lacquered skulls while a pillar of craniums centres the circular dance floor. The Katacombes’ stage room is pretty small but with its incredibly high ceiling, good ventilation and absence of corners, it feels both cosy and spacious. Thus, with the help of dim lighting and cheap booze, the Katacombes provide the perfect setting for a rock show.

The first band, Double Date With Death, went on exactly on time and ended up performing to an empty room. Moral of the story: punctuality backfires. The lead singer (Vincent) later complained to me about the sparse audience, since he was unable to crowd surf safely (fact: crowd surfing in the presence of only five people will most likely result in a compromising spinal injury). Fuelled by beer and a lot of distortion pedals, DDwD played an excellent set of lo-fi garage rock. The purposefully muddy sound was nicely complemented by blurred and faraway vocals. Naturally, the lyrics were indistinguishable but Vincent later explained that they weren’t that important anyway. This band really focuses on their sound, while the verses just give the vocalist an excuse to sing. The song themes randomly range from motorcycling to eating pizza (interesting trivia: DDwD’s pizza song is inspired by the movie Home Alone). The lead singer sounded pleasantly psychedelic, while the backup vocals stayed crisp and raw. Transitioning smoothly from garage to punk rock, some of the songs (i. e. Motorcycle) even involved surf rock influences. What I found particularly interesting were the bass lines, which felt more emphasized than the guitar itself. My later conversation with Vincent also revealed the mystery behind the band’s name: “Double Date With Death” derives from a tattoo design portraying two reapers with two women. All in all, DDwD, somewhat reminiscent of The Oh Sees and the Cramps, offered a strong opening for the night.

Next, the Skip Jensen Group came on to a drastically less empty venue. The fast instrumentals, melodically simple, gave audience members a steady dance beat. However, the most notable feature of the band – high, raw and aggressive vocals – was indistinguishable above the loud instrumentals. Despite the sound balance deserving some attention, the music created a lively and entrancing atmosphere. The facial expressions of the middle-aged lead singer particularly begged for attention – even more so when one noticed how his youthful, teenage voice contrasted with his appearance. Someone in the audience even went as far as questioning whether or not the whole band was a family enterprise, since the lead vocalist seemed so much older than the other musicians. Either way, age makes no difference: the musicians’ constant stage interactions with each other enhanced their band chemistry beautifully. Nonetheless, after a while, the set felt a little repetitive and the brief moments of silence between songs made me feel dizzy – the music was quite deafening. My eardrums therefore really needed the break I took on the outdoor terrace, indulging in the evening’s warmth before the last performance of the night: Demon’s Claws.

Demon’s Claws, headlining for the evening, gained my devoted fandom within three minutes of their set. Blending punk rock with rockabilly, these fellows got the whole venue dancing with their catchy beats and coarse humour. The lead singer incarnated nostalgia itself with his bluegrass voice and nonchalant demeanour. His tight white pants, dirty blonde bangs and casually impertinent comments brought Nigel Tufnel (from This Is Spinal Tap) back to life. On the other hand, the bassist and guitarist looked like goons straight out of a neo-Western movie. The enthusiastic crowd really breathed life to the set, reverting back to the ’50s with their groovy twists and agile swing moves (a side note of respect to the lady who expertly jammed in the aviator onesie). This set basically felt like a caricature of a Beatles show, taking on a Western twist. One song I vividly recall was Trip to the Clinic, introduced by the lead singer as the story of someone going to a clinic “to get anal warts burnt off his ass.” The vocalist finished the song by wishing the crowd a great year of 2015 “without any anal warts” thus revealing a lot about himself as a lyricist and probably as a person, too. Overall, Demon’s Claws had a unique style and stage personality to offer an incredibly receptive crowd.

Overall, my Anachronik experience at the Katacombes helped me discover three bands with very distinctive qualities: Double Date With Death, Skip Jensen Group and Demon’s Claws. I recommend any nostalgic rock’n’roll aficionado to look into the 2016 edition of Anachronik and to stop demonising 21st century music: every decade has its own artistic treasures to offer.

1 Comment on Journey to the Katacombes: Review of Anachronik Festival, 2015

  1. A brilliantn write up! I came to it after watching an hour of Buddhist instruction on positive groundlessness and have to say the author of this review must be a master of the technique to place these performances in such an uplifting context….

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