Last weekend, extreme music festival Obscene Extreme came to Montreal. Started in the Czech Republic in 1999, OEF has travelled all over the world, tapping into unknown and underrated music communities in Mexico, Indonesia and this year, Canada. The festival features a buffet of death metal, hardcore, crust and grindcore. For the readers who don’t know what grindcore is, take the speed and raw power of punk and mix in the heaviness and gory imagery of death metal, and then play it as fast and loud as possible. To the general population, it might sound like vulgar noise, but to fans, it’s a way of life.
I showed up early Friday morning to the Telus Theatre to catch one of my favourite local acts, Talk Sick, who were scheduled to go on first. The venue was fairly empty at the beginning, but slowly filled up with long-haired punks wearing black t-shirts with illegible band logos. The energy in the room rose when Homolka took to the stage, whose vocalist jumped down to the floor to scream in everyone’s face, while almost tripping people behind him with his long extension cable.
Female-fronted bands like RetardNation and Fuck the Facts proved that women can perform with just as much ferocity and power (maybe even more) in a majorly male-dominated scene. Their low guttural growls shocked anyone seeing them for the first time. Some bands took a minimalist approach, like guitarist/drummer duos Powercup and P.L.F, who played the pre-party at TRH Bar the night before. Also making a second appearance was Putrid Pile, who turned out to be just one guy on guitar and growling over backing drum tracks. Despite his lack of band members, audience members enthusiastically showed support by screaming along and dancing on stage.
Bands played songs ranging from slow, sludgy epics to fast, energetic jingles, often clocking in at under a minute. Sometimes, songs would even consist of a single beat and syllable. Because of this, the festival was running early and bands were told to take their time setting up between slots. Anybody who took too long smoking their cigarettes outside were in danger of missing the majority of the next band’s set.
One band I was excited to see was Total Fucking Destruction from Philadelphia. Known for their unorthodox, speedy style, their songlist was five pages long, though their set only lasted 20 minutes. I talked to their bassist later on, who told me that they had to drive 14 hours to get to Montreal and showed me pictures of a freak accident on the highway to account for the delay.
Samples were heavily used between songs. Some used B-movie sound bites, while others just used noise and static. Full of Hell in particular played with their feedback using a table complete with distortion pedals, only to launch into a bombardment of shrieking madness. Providence’s Dropdead, on the other hand, took the time between their songs to make political statements, taking stands against animal cruelty, police brutality and the tobacco industry.
Blood was shed on stage twice; first by Inhumate’s singer, who repeatedly hit his forehead with the microphone until it drew blood. The singer from Trap Them was also covered with blood, though it was hard to tell where on his body he was cut. These injuries didn’t seem to faze either of the frontmen. If anything, it added to their performance.
In honour of the “freak-friendly” tradition of OEF, audience members showed up in comical costumes brought from home. New York’s Malignancy caught a sense of the festival’s spirit by providing fans with bulky gorilla and sumo wrestler costumes, and throwing inflatable guitars into the pit below. The overall vibe on the floor was very playful; beach balls were constantly flying in every direction, with the occasional roll of toilet paper thrown into the mix. Stage diving was encouraged, however there weren’t enough people at the front to catch anyone jumping off stage.
I wanted to find somebody who had been to the festival before to tell me how Montreal compared to previous editions. I was approached by someone who attended OEF in Mexico in 2013, which took place in the middle of a forest a few miles away from Mexico City. According to him, the turnout in Mexico was massive in contrast to Montreal, partially because of unguarded gaps in the gates and counterfeit tickets and armbands. This year, organizers had to take precautions to make sure nobody could sneak in, in order to break even. This was bad news for the gutter punks in the area. Although the lineup catered to their musical taste, the price of a ticket was too much for them. Festivals in general are expensive; to add to the tickets, there’s the extra expense of beer, food and merch for those who want to support the bands. I saw many panhandling outside the venue in hope of gathering enough funds, including one punk frantically busking for his entry, by drumming blast beats on cardboard boxes and a liquor bottle. I overheard a few people say that if tickets had been ten bucks cheaper, the venue would have been a lot more packed. Because the turnout was less than expected, it’s unlikely that OEF will return to Montreal.
The backstage area at most festivals are usually for reclusive musicians to do as much drugs as possible away from the eyes of the public. However, the VIP section at the Telus Theatre was virtually deserted, save for a few musicians sleeping on couches, preparing for the long drive back home. The rest of the bands were hanging out in the alleyway behind the venue, socializing with dozens of fans and street punks who couldn’t afford to get in. It was quite the scene to behold.
My one regret this past weekend was not pacing myself. I drank too much and danced too hard. At the ten hour mark on the first day, I could barely stand and had to miss the last few bands so I could recover for the next day. The next day, same thing. I got on the metro with my ears ringing, my body aching and the constant sound of blast beats playing in my head. I awoke Sunday afternoon in so much pain, I decided against going to the after-party at Katacombes. To whoever was able to endure the entire festival from Thursday to Sunday and didn’t miss a single band, you are inhuman and I salute you.