From May 10th through 14th strange sounds were heard rippling from under L’Eglise Saint-Enfant-Jesus in the Montreal Plateau. There, as well the nightlife hotspot l’Escogriffe served as the 2017 locations for DISTORSION psych fest. This year’s line-up included a barrage of varying indie, rock, psychedelic and punk acts as well as an art sale on Saturday afternoon. I had the privilege of attending, this being my first year down this particular rabbit hole in Montreal’s colorful culture. And boy, were there some wild colours.
I arrived on Thursday at the church, remarking at the distinct air surrounding it. Indeed the church was gorgeous, and it was a gorgeous night. However, the gathering crowd of worshippers were not the usual attendees, but rather worshippers of the psychedelic experience. Tattered jackets and dyed hair of all hues under the sun infiltrated my vision from all angles. On the swinging benches, young people were smoking and talking, preparing for the night at hand in whatever mind-altering ways they best saw fit. A giant cross-shaped fountain beautifully split the park in two, tonight graced with holy beer cans upon its ledges. There was a colourful sign next to this little dark entrance into the church basement, on which it was written “DISTORSION.” I went in.
I squiggled my way through the stone passageways of the church. Doors on the side of the hallways, perceivably leading to the church’s holy workings were blocked off from concertgoers. I followed some steps downward into the deepest reaches of the church underbelly and that’s where I entered DISTORSION.
After receiving my pass I surveyed the area. Pallets were stacked in the middle of the large room, on which people were sitting and conversing. Upon the walls were paintings of various styles. One particularly caught my eye with its messy colourfulness. The best way to describe it would possibly be as a drawing that a twisted grade-schooler would be sent to the therapist for creating. In the scene at hand, little stick characters were dying in various gruesome ways. One was getting run over by a car. One was bleeding to death in a pool. It was definitely creative.
My attention was then drawn to the corner of the room where, I shit you not, there was a bar set up. I pondered at what beverages a church bar could provide. Maybe I could grab myself a nice cabernet sauvignon? Alas, there was no wine available at the bar- However I was happy to partake in a nice cold beer. A friend of mine got a rum and coke and we cheers’ed to drinking in a church.
Sound arose from the other side of the room where a large stage was set up. Upon it, Paupiere emerged. Three members, two probably female and one possibly male, took stage and began rocking out. Their music had a real groove to it. They had a drum machine rumbling behind them while two members sang and one provided additional percussion. On the dance floor, people began shaking whatever they had going for themselves and the party had officially started. Throughout the night some other highlights included Divino Ninos, Wizaard and Acid House Ragas, who played his entire set (which was one long musical piece) upon a massive sitar-like instrument. As he played varying notes existing outside Western scales, he occasionally worked a drum machine with one hand, creating music that was definitely new to my ears.
In between performances, the crowd would flood outside, where the partying continued in the court grounds. Concertgoers were hanging with performers, and it was really an energetic atmosphere. Sporadically, cops would drive their cars through the courtyard along a little path. As they’d arrive, beer cans would enter paper bags and polite smiling would commence. Throughout my days at DISTORSION I saw no altercations with the fuzz and everything was quite merry in that regard.
I returned to the church throughout the next two days and enjoyed every second of my time there. The energy was electric and intoxicating. There was a display set up in the main room featuring tens of old TV monitors playing on different channels. I looked closely at one TV with a somewhat fuzzy signal to see what was being projected, and was surprised to see it was me. I looked around suspiciously for the camera.
The bands on Friday were louder and faster; it was somewhat of a punk night. PyPy, BARRE and Timmy’s Organism all had an energetic, no-frills garage-rock attitude. The singer from Timmy’s Organism was particularly wild, running out of the audience onto the stage with a weird alien mask. Throughout the night, confetti was being launched on the audience was well, and at some points, it felt like an attack on all fronts.
Saturday morning was the art sale. I came down into the main room as I had several times before but was astounded to see everything had changed. The room was now filled with little tables, akin to a psychedelic flea market. Some of the art that was being sold was incredibly wacky and creative and I felt superstimulated while passing through. I talked for a while with one seller, who made marionettes as well as clothes. She had hand-made some extraordinary bowties and spent nearly ten minutes attempting to find the proper one to suit my attire.
I stopped by and checked out a friend of mine at EriFish Art, who was selling twisted vinyl records, all coloured up with psychedelic paint designs. One record had been inserted with nails and had been added to into other ways, making it look like a little monster. At her table some really neat silkscreened shirts were being sold as well and I was astounded at the variety of wares in this place.
Possibly my favorite acts were Saturday night. It was the busiest then, and crowds were tightly flowing through the passageways of the church. I was excited to see the headlining band, We Are Wolves, who I had interviewed the week before. Before they took stage, it was a band by the name of Avec la Soleil Sortant de sa Bouche.
This band really impressed me. Their singer wailed in this way that reminded me of Ian MacKaye from Fugazi. Under his shouted vocals, the members of the band performed ultra-repetitious danceable melodies and grooves. Somehow their music came off to me as super aggressive and entrancing at the same time; They were so mechanical. None of the members ever missed a beat, and they were completely on-point. Nonetheless there was still something incredibly primal about their set. I really dug it.
After them, it was We Are Wolves. As soon as they were up there, everyone went crazy. It was as if they were celebrities. They began playing their set and like I hadn’t seen up to that point, everyone was moving. The sound production was great and I could hear every word crystal clear. Alex, the singer, was clearly enjoying himself, and laughing with the audience as well as rocking out with his band. Each song was exciting yet concise, and by the end of it I felt like my brain had exploded.
I truly had a great time at DISTORSION this year. If you’re looking for a festival that lacks some of the pretensions of bigger ones like Osheaga but still packs in all the energy, look into DISTORSION for next year. Just be prepared to go down the rabbit hole a little bit.
DISTORSION took place in May. Details HERE.