With venues such as Death Church, Cabaret Underworld, 1180 (Sainte-Antoine O) and Crobar gone within the spam of six months, it’s been pretty rough in the Montreal punk scene. Therefore, on the weekend of July 31st to August 2nd, a certain Marc Misfits heroically interceded in this issue and – sacrificing a lot of his time, energy and wallet – organized the 2015 edition of Punk-O-Rama festival. Unfortunately drained by such an ambitious (and sadly, not too financially viable) endeavor, Marc deserves a lot of credit for accomplishing the feat of encouraging so many incredibly talented artists while reinforcing an intimate sense of community that can only be found when people are united through good music.
The first two days of the event unraveled at the TRH Bar “Sauna” – home to adamant skateboarders, overpriced booze and lots of graffiti, the venue can become quite stifling when crammed with dozens of sweaty punk rockers. The charmingly named Bloodfuckers bailed last minute, so Swissknife came down all the way from Quebec City, thanks to Marc’s excellent replacement scouting skills.
With his disheveled hair-do and casual look, Swissknife cracked some cute jokes, introducing his folksy Dusty Roads as a hit by Black Sabbath, and Brothers and Sisters as an underground song by Panthera. He sounded pretty nice live, with his acoustic guitar, wistful harmonica and coarse vocals. The only thing that kind of bothered me was the fact that you could tell that Swissknife, despite his English lyrics, was 100% francophone. Between each song, he would interact with the crowd in incredibly Québécois-accented French, which really made me wonder why he was singing in English in the first place. The language he chose felt a little out of place with his persona – I guess I have a personal preference for people singing in their native tongue, instead of choosing English to appeal to a wider audience. However, Swissknife is part of a francophone rock band called Les Trimpes, so musical bilingualism for the win.
Kill Matilda, a female-fronted band defining themselves as “zombie hunters by day and sweaty dance punkers by night,” brought a heavier sound to the show, resulting in moshers whose high levels of energy compensated for their lack in numbers. Dusty Exner, sporting her fiery hair in a cute poneytail, felt very approachable in her casual attire – none-too-punk glasses accompanied by a Sailor Moon tank top. However, as soon as Dusty opened her mouth, she set the whole crowd on edge. Combining melodic modulations to operetta singing and screamo-vocals, this powerhouse would go from sexy, to raw, to innocent, to dangerous… And the whole band just radiated enthusiasm. Kill Matilda’s only true weakness lies in their very simplistic, somewhat corny lyrics – which are thankfully none too distinguishable live. When Dusty ecstatically asked the crowd “Are you drunk yet?” the intercession of “How can we be drunk on 6$ beers?” was quite amusing (I hope whoever sets the TRH Bar prices took the hint). And I bet that her following comment really got the band’s merch selling: “We have new t-shirts, and they are quite fancy. You are at least 20% more likely to have sex tonight with them. Those are good odds so come see us after the show.” Lucky for the band, Kill Matilda will soon be gracing Europe with their crude humor and high intensity.
When I asked Dusty about the origins of the band name, she elaborated on quite an imaginative reply: “You’re familiar with the basic concept of zombie movies, right? So you know how very often, in zombie movies, the zombie apocalypse is caused by the military testing some new thing, and they get screwed over? Okay, well that actually happened here in Canada a few years ago, and a lot of people don’t know about it. A virus was actually released, and the virus was called Codename Matilda – it actually caused a plague of zombification across our nation. So we had a bit of a zombie plague going on and at that time CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) was hiring zombie management people – so that’s actually how we all met. So we were kind of like going from place to place anyway because our job was to go from town to town to clear out any wandering undead while we were there. And so we thought, why not start a band and have a little fun while we’re doing it? And so Kill Matilda is a bit of a tongue-and-cheek reference to what brought us together.” So here’s a word of advice to all zombie movie aficionados: keep tabs on Dusty Exner, because she will come out with some great films one day.
The overall TRH Bar experience was quite pleasant, with some classic Descendents playing between each band’s set and a great overall balance and quality to the live sound. Next venue to host the festival was Foufounes électriques, the flamboyant dungeon saturated in steam punk sculptures and wicked paintings. Naturally, the Sunday show ran at least an hour late. Street Meat kicked things off with some lively folk often combining gypsy punk with a hillbilly edge. This three-man band of talented multi-instrumentalists got the crowd of drunken bohemians merrily swinging away. Our vigorous stand-up bass player smoothly perched his hat on his instrument, giving it quite the suave look, while he occasionally balanced his own body weight on it as well. The jazz guitar playing was almost worthy of Django Reindhart, and I particularly liked it when one of the guys actually started playing the saw. Most unusual aspect of the band is the fact that they are completely lyrically bilingual… Street Meat brought Foufs quite the vibrant craze!
Another great performance was lead by Tintamare. Although this 10-piece group – accordion, trumpet, bass-clarinet, stand-up bass, drums, violin, guitar, vocals, two saxophones, two trombones – has a little trouble with sound balance (in fact, they resonated quite chaotically in the small venue), they did a very interesting mix of styles, with their ska backgrounds, some gypsy folk melodies and occasional tango rhythms. Furthermore, this group had a whole lot of positive energy; viewers could tell right away that Tintamare is just a group of friends jamming together, having the time of their lives. The wind musicians would dance as they played, often singing along when they had a few seconds to rest their tired choppers. The mosh-pits were friendly and fervent, adapting beautifully to the band in the spotlight. Tintamare included the two only female musicians of the night (a trombone and an alto sax), two really down-to-earth-looking and enthusiastic girls (I often find that music scenes with few female artists try to hyper-sexualize women’s performances instead of highlighting their musical talent). The female sax player had a particularly magnetizing stage presence – tiny but incredibly energetic, she even added some powerful operetta screeches into the mike during one of the songs. All the instruments got their solos, and the controlled chaos produced by the violinists was entrancing. Welcome to the never-ending tzigane ball full of demonic dancing, enthralling red lighting and an atmosphere oozing in human warmth.
Overall, Punk-O-Rama offered quite the local bonding experience, while giving lesser known bands the time to shine. Stay tuned for my interview with Erik Petersen, the lead singer of Mischief Brew (festival’s headliners).