I would rather be ANYWHERE ELSE than stuck in a never-ending line-up with a bunch of rowdy Urban Outfitter “bohemians” who heard about The Black Keys last year and are eager to get their hands on some $60 merchandise in order to show off their purchased cred’ to their friends back home.
Thankfully, the question of “What to do during Osheaga weekend?” was answered by the first ever Punk-o-rama Fest— three glorious days of loud noises, skateboards, and a noticeable absence of “bros.” From July 31 through August 2, Punk-o-rama Fest assembled an eclectic variety of prime punk talent from Montreal and beyond that was the polar opposite of the Osheaga experience.
Starting things off on Friday night was a BBQ at TRH Bar featuring acoustic performances from Jenn Fiorentino, and Chris Cresswell from The Flatliners – both playing from within the super cool acoustics of the skate bowl on the second floor. I’ll admit that I am not always a huge fan of acoustic music in general and, never having heard any examples before, the words “acoustic” and “punk rock” seemed a little contradictory to me. The Punk-o-rama weekend was a great opportunity for me to get educated about this subgenre. Fans were particularly impressed with Chris Cresswell, who used the unplugged intimacy of the skate bowl to make connections with the crowd, telling stories between songs and generally making everyone feel like they were enjoying a private concert performed for them alone. Joking that he “quit his job to be there,” Cresswell was clearly a crowd favourite.
Post BBQ, the show started with a bang with Manipulated Outcome, a Montreal three-piece playing high-energy hardcore. Despite the fact that the room hadn’t quite filled up yet, they played fast and ferociously, with the vocalists, Tomy (Bass) and Ivan (guitar), alternately sharing the mic. By the third song, a pretty decent mosh pit had formed in front of the small stage, which was an interesting contrast to the dudes skateboarding in the half-pipe next to us. Every song they played was excellent – I didn’t manage to catch a look at their setlist, but after watching on Friday, I’m a fan. If you missed the show, check them out on their Bandcamp page and be sure to catch their next performance. These kids killed it.
Next up were Toronto’s Ruthless Ones, a trio of garage and ska punks who brought a ton of energy to the stage. Demonstrating an almost chaotic blend of influences, Ruthless Ones played a mix of originals and covers, including two of my favourite songs: Op Ivy’s “Bad Town” (which they nailed), and Misfits “Hybrid Moments,” featuring a guest singer from the audience (which, honestly, I found lacking a bit of precision – but hey, it’s a lifetime favourite of mine, so I’m bound to be a bit critical.) The crowd ate it up, dancing, skanking, and bobbing their heads along to the tunes, and sending them off stage with big cheers when Ruthless Ones wound up their last song.
The night continued with Walk of Shame rocking out in the purest punk rock tradition. Lead vocalist, Curt Stitch, took over the show with his fantastic stage presence and golden guitar while drummer, Sylva, threw down beats like a trained assassin throws ninja stars. This band is a great mix of rock ‘n’ roll and punk, managing to sound both classic and fresh at the same time. Playing favourites as well as newer songs off their recent album …And Begin, Walk of Shame had heads nodding with songs like “All Fall Down,” “That’s the One,” and “Landmine Valentine.” Make sure to check them out at Coop Katacombs in September, and watch for yourself as this group of seasoned punk pros kills it on stage.
Quebec hardcore band Bad Crow followed, and by this time the crowd was starting to pick up. The intense energy of this crustcore four-piece inspired the crowd to form a serious mosh pit in front of the stage, as vocalist, Jean Michel, screamed his way through the half-hour set, backed by powerful growls and screams from Jules (guitar) and Philip (bass). Bad Crow add a distinct Quebec style to their genre while not necessarily colouring outside the lines at all. A solid performance from a band to watch out for.
The sound ramped down a little for the next performance by Quebec City musician, Remi Cyr, aka Swiss Knife. Playing a solo acoustic set immediately after the frenetic energy of Bad Crow, I must admit that my first impression of Swiss Knife was along the lines of, “WTF?!?” At first, I felt almost as if I were at a bonfire and someone’s cousin had just grabbed a guitar, told everyone to “Shhhhh!”, and insisted on playing spirited versions of “Mr. Jones” despite the fact that no one was listening. Gradually, the rawness of Swiss Knife managed to get under my pre-conceived notions of what I like and dislike, especially his cover of Bad Religion’s “Sorrow.” The entire crowd sang along, and I was surprised as I started to understand partly this mysterious genre known as “acoustic-punk.” Acoustic stuff like this remains on the bottom of my list of preferred music, but thanks to that one cover, I am definitely more willing to give it a shot. The crowd didn’t share my reservations, and although Swiss Knife didn’t have as big an audience as some of the previous bands, those that stayed were clearly digging it.
For another change of pace, Toronto’s Kill Matilda was up next. Greeting the audience with, “Can you hear the bass, motherfuckers?“, the first thing that strikes you about Kill Matilda is the sheer power of singer, Dusty Exner’s voice. Whether speaking, singing alto vibrato, or screaming, her voice is like a punch to the ear at maximum velocity – and she’s got a stage presence to match. Dusty never let the energy level drop as she grinned, air-kicked, and otherwise cavorted around the stage; I’m impressed with her stamina. And that drummer! He was like a battering ram with two arms and two legs. Kill Matilda performed a great show that had the crowd moshing and singing along. Describing the band as “Sweaty, sexy dance punk” is pretty accurate, as they blend equal amounts of punk with stereotypical pop music elements reminiscent of singers like Gwen Stefani. Personally, I preferred their hardcore moments to their cute moments, but the crowd gave the show an enthusiastic response.
Closing out the first night was acoustic pop-punk duo The Matchup. Full disclosure: I do not really enjoy pop-punk, or acoustic/folk music. This didn’t bode well for my enjoyment of The Matchup…and I was not surprised when I did not respond well to their set. However, my feelings aside, it’s clear that the duo from Ste-Therese, Quebec have talent. Their set included live beatboxing, tons of vocal harmonies, and dueling guitars that captivated the small crowd gathered around the stage. Despite some technical difficulties about half way through, The Matchup simply played unplugged even louder! The crowd was enthralled, singing along, participating in the banter with the musicians, and otherwise having a great time, giving a quiet but successful end to the first night of the Punk-o-rama fest 2015.
Written by Kate Erickson
Photography by Thomas Aurele
*edited by Danielle Kenedy