Punk is more than music. It’s an attitude, it’s rebellious, and it’s about fighting against complacency. This, according to the documentary Punk Attitude directed by legendary DJ and filmmaker Don Letts which screened during ’77, is the essence of punk. With this in mind, I checked out the second edition of Montreal’s one-day outdoor punk-rock extravaganza ‘77 to find out exactly what it means to be punk. After the event I wanted to quit my job, join a band, and give the world a giant middle finger.
Punk is also a fashion statement, and punks young and old at ’77 had more piercings and full body tattoos on display than I’ve ever seen in one place. Probably the most punk fashion statement of the day was a pair of socks, pulled up to the knees, with ‘Eat Shit’ written in big letters. Shout out to the guys wearing black jean jackets and pants in the blazing afternoon sun. Because it’s punk to wear whatever the fuck you want, regardless of the temperature.
And if you forgot to sew a D.R.I. patch on said jean jacket, or needed to replace your worn out Corrosion of Conformity shirt, no problem, the Marché aux Punx had you covered. This D.I.Y. vendor village eschewed the corporate merchandise industry by selling vintage and recycled band paraphernalia, rare vinyl, and posters. The people working here, themselves part of the scene, didn’t work for some faceless company in it only for the profits. The Marché also represented the punk aesthetic and way of life.
Punk is obviously most associated with a fast and aggressive style of music that’s been around since the 70s. The organizers curated a wide range of bands representing the genre, from old-school legends to some of the hottest acts on the circuit. After locals Les Fucking Raymonds, L.A.-based all female rockers L7 played a heavy set. They achieved some notoriety at the height of the 90s grunge era but were on hiatus until recently. Lead singer Donita Sparks said, “People ask me why the band reunited and I tell them I came back to bitch!” Conveniently, “I Came Back to Bitch” is also one of L7’s latest songs.
When local heroes The Planet Smashers came on, the mood picked up from the dreary grunge sound to Montreal ska punk. Planet Smashers shows are usually fun and cheerful, with bright horns and an upbeat sound on hits like “Tear It Up” and “Life of the Party.” Ska-punk is a fast, Jamaican-inspired style pioneered by bands like Fishbone and Operation Ivy. Another ska punk band, The Interrupters, played later in the afternoon. Known for infectiously catchy songs, positivity, and matching suits, the band looked and sounded like a well-oiled skanking machine. Before playing one of their biggest tracks “Take Back the Power,” lead singer Kevin Bivona called it a “protest song” and added, “Punk has no room for bigotry and racism.”
Political correctness and social justice were common themes with many of the bands. Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag, for one, made a point of mentioning that they “…firmly stand against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia,” at concerts and in general. I was taking notes while singer Justin Sane lectured the crowd on how to behave so, you know, I would remember to not be an asshole. Then suddenly, while my head was buried in my phone, I was showered by a direct hit from one of the water cannons spraying the crowd. I luckily saved my phone, but my clothes were soaked and I had to buy a t-shirt at the Marché aux Punx. Problem solved!
Feeling refreshed from the shower and new shirt, I was ready for more high energy rock and roll. With hardcore pioneers Sick Of It All on stage, the music and the pit were about to get really aggressive. S.O.I.A. have been at it since the late 80s and played at the legendary CBGB’s. Pete Koller still rocks a tightly-shaved bleached mohawk and runs around the stage with his guitar aimed at the crowd. And lead singer Lou Koller shouted possibly the most punk thing all day: “We are Sick Of It All. We don’t sing pretty, we play New York City hardcore and that means we do what the fuck we want!”
The most entertaining band of the day, though, was San Francisco’s Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. ‘The Gimmes’ concept, a punk ‘supergroup’ playing all cover tunes of artists like John Denver, Dolly Parton, and Elton John, is unusual. Something about their over-the-top style and sense of humour appeals to my guilty pleasures. Maybe it’s the Elvis-inspired white suites, or CJ Ramone on bass, but these guys know how to rock a crowd and had everyone singing along with memorable versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the Beatles’ “All My Loving.” Punk can be serious at times, but The Gimmes injected some fun back into the genre because they don’t give a fuck what you think of cover songs or lounge lizard suits. Now that’s punk!
My highlight of the festival was a thundering set by foundational thrash band Suicidal Tendencies. No one captures the classic skate punk sound better than S.T. The band’s only original member, Mike Muir, was joined by heavyweight musicians including former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and the guitarist from the Dillinger Escape Plan Ben Weinman. The music on “Possessed to Skate” and “War Inside My Head” was fast and tight, and Muir hasn’t lost any of his wild energy or characteristic insanity. Unfortunately, “Institutionalized” wasn’t on the set list, so we still don’t know if he got his Pepsi.
It’s impossible to mention all the talented bands at ’77 in a short review. From massive headliners Rise Against, to Canadian underground legends D.O.A. and No Policy, the stacked lineup rivaled even the mighty Heavy Montreal happening over the following two days. I was impressed at ‘77’s view of punk as a way of life and a complete subculture including artists, merchants, promoters, journalists, and, of course, musicians. As Don Letts said, “punk is about bringing people together and uniting them.” Find out for yourself when ’77 is back next July.
Written by Rob Coles
Photography by André Beaupré
*edited by Kate Erickson