The most inspiring thing about a punk festival in 2019 is that it means that punk continues to be relevant. It’s pretty depressing that a lot hasn’t changed in the forty years since it hit the zeitgeist, but it is reassuring to know that it can still be an outlet for disillusioned people. Let’s face it, we have a lot to be pissed off about and a large portion of us feel utterly fucked in this dark old world of ours. It’s not as if we can turn to popular music for guidance either. The radio is too busy blasting the same old melodies and lyrics about dance clubs, and all the other shallow bullshit. Punk at its best is a call to action and as this year’s ‘77 Montreal proved there are still some rebels out there fighting to get us off our complacent asses. The fact that people came out on a Friday in the blistering heat to get angry and feel something is nothing short of heart-warming.
I’ve never believed that to be true a punk you have to dress like one. Punk is an attitude; a way of approaching life and art. That said, at this point punk is also an institution so it wouldn’t be a punk festival without an exhilarating mélange of body piercings, tattoos, and mohawks of every colour imaginable. Nearly everyone dressed up for the occasion and half the fun was getting drowned in a sea of punks at any given moment. There were a lot of FUCK Donald Trump t-shirts to match the general mood of anti-establishment in the air. Seriously, you could play a drinking game taking a shot every-time a front-man referenced the evil Cheeto from hell. I think the most “Punk” costume I saw was a dude dressed up as a giant hot-dog. Anyone willing to go that anti-conformity and risk themselves dying of dehydration automatically earns a sewn-on badge of honour in my opinion.
Overall, I was incredibly impressed with how well organized the event was. It was nice to be able to walk back and forth to the more mainstream acts and the hungry up-and-comers, without feeling claustrophobic and pressed for time. There was always access to water, which was crucial and from what I saw prevented any medical emergencies. One of the best additions were hoses to every stage that went off in different directions every few minutes. Not only was this designed for comfort, but it was also aesthetically pleasing. It was a thrill to run around in a muddy circle pit as Bigwig raged and be repeatedly sprayed in the face. Not everyone loved the hoses though. During Sudden Impact’s set, one went rogue and sprayed across the stage hitting some of the band’s gear and nearly electrocuting frontman Johnny Borodenko. He looked visibly shaken and couldn’t hide his contempt for the nearly fatal error.
The lineup was incredibly diverse and did its best to appease punks from every walk of life. The fact that you could have the pure hardcore of The Exploited and the life-affirming ska of Streetlight Manifesto on the same bill is a testament to how far punk’s reach has gotten in its forty years of existence. Speaking of The Exploited, leave it to the oldest act to be also the most badass. Their explicit filled set climaxed when vocalist Wattie Buchan invited 100 random (and wasted) audience members on stage to sing “Sex and Violence” despite security’s best wishes. Not to be outdone Pennywise invited all their VIP members directly onstage during the majority of their set. I loved the camaraderie and chaos that it inspired. Pennywise’s performance pretty much entirely consisted of moments like these. There were still furious renditions of fan favourites like “Fuck Authority” and “Society” but most of the time it was shenanigans like guitarist Fletcher Dragge leading everyone in a sloppy rendition of “Happy Birthday” for singer Jim Lindberg before accidentally chucking his birthday cake onto the ground instead of at the audience.
Not every band, quite fit in though. Slightly too poppy Charly Bliss were especially out of place and sadly had the most meagre turnout despite being a talented band. They would have probably fared much better at Osheaga. No harm no foul, however, as Cro-Mags picked up the slack by inciting what had to be the festivals most vicious mosh pit despite being on the smaller Garden Stage. Up and comers like The Dirty Nil and The Anti-Queens also blustered through passionate and spirited performances that I hope cement them in future punk festival rosters. Of course, the biggest draw was the legendary Bad Religion and they did not disappoint! As one rowdy, mohawk-sporting guy next to me put it: “Man, they are so FUCKING OLD… but, man, they still got it!” I really couldn’t put it better myself. There was a certain weariness to the band that only comes with a lengthy career and YET that only made them cooler. Guitarist Brett Gurewitz showed up guitarists three decades younger than him and Greg Graffin’s intelligent and thought out vocal delivery still makes him one of the most unique poets in Punk history.
Despite the looming presence of Heavy MTL, ‘77 Montreal more than held its own. No, it didn’t have the same crowd numbers, a large part of that due to it taking place on a Friday, but I found it to be just as enjoyable nonetheless. Those who took the day off like true punks (some even bringing their kids) were treated to a full day completely devoted to the true spirit of the music. The most exciting aspect of it all was that a lot of the newer bands were just as good if not better than the legends, meaning as long as there is shit to rally against there will always be a bunch of angst-ridden guys and girls ready to blow out your eardrums. See you all next year!
Written by Shawn Thicke
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*edited by Danielle Kenedy