House of TARG, a timeless venue that brings all sorts of people together through pinball, perogies, and concerts, held one deafeningly loud and soulful show on the night of November 9th. The lineup held a promise that the show would be one that the audience wouldn’t forget, unless they were drunk off their asses—and it delivered.
Opening with a roar was Black Oak Decline and they didn’t fail to capture the attention of the crowd and drive a new energy that I hadn’t seen in the atmosphere before. With precise and quick scales and solo work for the guitar. It’s quick and hard to follow but if you just let yourself listen, you get swept up in the emotions the music drives. It’s numbingly loud and sure to leave your ears ringing for the next two and a half days, which is something I can vouch for.
The bass is sludgy and grimy. There is nothing, absolutely nothing clean about the sound of this band. The bass is played almost like a guitar in the sense that there’s a lot of scales and jumping around within the basslines. But it’s deep, you can feel it rumble in your chest, and shake the floor. It over-driven and powerful and holds structure all while being the least structured seeming part.
The drums embody heaviness to them and they’re cold and distant. They resonate with you the longer you listen to them. While they do follow the rhythm, they also tend to veer off and create a unique space for themselves, straying from the conventional path. The make the songs sound full and create an atmosphere to get lost in. There are moments where it seems that the drums lead because of their sheer force.
The vocals are ragged, almost torn, they’re strained to the max but in such a way that it’s not unpleasant to listen to. They leave you in awe. I don’t typically enjoy intense screaming of lyrics throughout songs entireties but this band has showcased how to properly execute it without being overbearing and without overwhelming the audience. Whether it’s the stylings of the screaming itself or how it blends into the rest of the music, I can’t say. All I can say is that raw emotion is thrust into every single note played and sung. It’s something the band clearly enjoys doing and their presence is well known once they step on stage. It’s not overwhelming or in your face, but the band isn’t afraid to get up in it.
The second act was Pyrrhon who blew the crowd out of the water. The sheer energy presented found a way to take over the room completely. They find a way to take death metal and turn it into an artwork that entrances you and leaves you wanting more after they’ve finished up their set. The movement across the stage, seeming minimal on House of TARG’s stage, was very forward and the body language emits intense emotion.
The drumming is aggressive, almost confrontational. It leaves you in absolute awe and lets you feel the intense emotion that may course through the band. It’s almost in disorder and sounds rather distressed but it’s certainly not at a tempo that just everyone can keep up with. Perfect for head banging, the beat slows down and speeds up, keeping it interesting and allowing those listening to really get a feeling for the bands style. The beats come off in quick succession one after another most time and it’s common to hear rolls on the snare drum.
Dylan’s guitar playing is dissonant and angry. The distorted and overdriven sound was a staple for this band. With controlled feedback to add to the messy sound, it really grabbed your attention and ripped you right out of any preconceived notions on what the band would sound like live. With heavy power chords and added tremolo it brought the guitar parts to life and almost embodied them as something otherworldly. It breaks order and creates a balanced chaos with the drums and vocals.
Doug the vocalist pours every ounce of his being into what he’s screaming and it shows. With the way he moves around to how he controls his screaming, it fall absolutely nothing short of impressive. High and low notes interlace and destroy every preconceived notion of what harmonies should be. His vocals are not meant for the background, they deserve the fullest and uttermost attention due to the sheer heavy and weighted vibe it gives off.
The bass is a distorted, disorganised mess that somehow ends up being unified with everything else. It’s assertive and demanding but doesn’t let down in the least. This component, tied in with the drums are what rattle the core and entrance you, leaving you wanting to hear more. The scales played are not simple but they’re played with such an air that it’s made to look almost effortless.
Next up was a band by the name of Yautja who originate from Nashville, Tennessee. Their sound dissonant in terms of instruments however when it comes to vocals, prepare to be swayed by the cloudy heaviness that they possess.
The guitar providing intensive and strong power chords that are part of a masterpiece of its own. No sound goes without purpose. Pushing boundaries with the much lighter contrast that the guitar provides to the vocals while maintaining a heavy presence impressed me to no end and will continue to beckon attention. It keeps you on your toes and doesn’t let the stressed feeling go all while holding its own unconventional structure. The guitar vibes with a whole different frequency and it sticks out.
The vocals take a drastically different turn. Deep, in your face, and raspy. The lead singers aren’t afraid to strain any vocal cords, or to scream their hearts out to the crowd that’s more than willing to listen to the beautifully constructed chaos. The songs are held together, it seems, by a thread. In this case it would be the vocals, placed in just the right places. Any sense of convention is otherwise completely obliterated.
Tremolo effects rang through the bassline without hinting at any ounce of mercy. It hits you in the face forcefully without even laying a finger on you. A strong prominent bassline is a good bassline to me, and even better the sloppier and more pronounced it is. It’s nothing short of impressive and captivating. It’s hard to follow so you just let yourself embrace it and listen. It rattled the floor, and there wasn’t part of me that could deny it. I wholeheartedly believed that being so close to the bassist along with amps and speakers would give me arrhythmia. The bass folds into each song, crashing into the guitars like a wave during a brutal storm.
The literal crashing is brought by the drums and creates the effect of everything nearly falling apart. It’s everything that you want to hear from the drums when immersing yourself in metal. Heavy hits falling onto the snares and toms, relentless crashing of the cymbals, and pure energy radiating off the drummer, it’s hard to ignore. While the drums intertwining with the guitar and bass parts makes the whole thing sound as if it’s imploding on itself, it holds it’s backbone and creates something the bassline can lean on without overpowering it.
Inspiration ripped from Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden, Montreal’s own The Great Sabatini took the stage and created a loud and fitting end to the high energy night. They incorporate different genres and roll it into what can only be described as a sludgy doom metal. With aspects of what’s considered a musical canon and heavier gauge strings for the guitars and bass, energetic, aggressive but warm drumming, and the riotous screaming, the members create a sound that while containing sporadic elements, is so solidly unified that it’s impossible not to listen to.
The guitar parts which are played by Rob and Sean challenge and push boundaries, and with their new material, which is yet to be released, you hear the distinct tones overlapping in a confusion of sound that one tries to make sense of. It pushes your ear and begs you to deconstruct it because it’s so masterfully done. The soloing that Rob brings forth is some of the work I admire most. It’s skillful, distraught and slurred together, full of life and soulful aggression. Keeping up with him is a task but he puts every ounce of his being into it. He pours his heart into it and you can tell that with every note he plays is his pride and joy.
People always say that there’s a sparkle in someone’s eye when they’re doing something they love, and that passion was definitely behind Rob’s eyes.
Sean pours his soul into his screams and he gives it his all. It doesn’t go unnoticed, and besides his riffs and enraged power chords, this is what gets the crowd going. He jumps right to it—cut the bullshit, this is what it’s about. The progression of the higher notes keeps the crowd on their toes and the contrast provided by Rob brings them back down. Personally, and this comes as a great shock believe me, I would pick seeing The Great Sabatini over Metallica in a heartbeat. It’s progressive, gritty, and grimy.
The drumming Steve provides is one that that leaves you with very high expectations for other drummers. He’s outstanding with incredible control over the sound he wishes to produce. Sometimes warm, other times cold, loud or toned down, he has total control. His drumming has character, almost alive in its own way and everything you thought you knew be damned. It was deafening and powerful, enforcing the message behind every song. It will not only blow your mind but also your eardrums. It’s just the right amount of hysterical and yet its incomparable to any other drummer I’ve seen or heard.
Joey might as well have bumped the bass up to an 11 because it’s dominating and rips your attention towards it whether it’s isolated or incorporated into the self-imploding sludge. The fact that it’s frenzied in most songs is what sets the tone and it truly adds depth to the performance. Beautifully channeled and timed, the bassline could do no wrong. It pushed and it pulled creating an individual soundscape that would be thoughtfully incorporated into the overall experience the band created as a whole.
If you asked me to come see a legendary band with you on a night where the four bands I spoke of were performing, I’d have to object. Shocked? So am I but they fall absolutely nothing short of talented and driven with a sound that will leave your ears ringing for days to come. They’re all deeply underappreciated bands that created vivid soundscapes that you’ll find yourself immersed in once you give them a listen.
When you see the familiar name on a concert poster stapled or taped to a street sign, take note when and where these bands are performing because I guarantee that you’re not going to regret it in the least bit. Your ears might object to it the next morning (and in the long run), but in the moment you’ll be wanting to hear more. There will always be Bandcamp, but trust me, no justice will be done to these wonderful bands. Their shows are a must.
The twelfth edition of Montebello Rockfest had everything you’d expect—long lines to get in, circle pits, sunburns, and a lot of really loud music. Even more, the weather played games with attendees throughout. They were pelted with rain bullets, and also roasted by sweltering heat like one giant sweaty cookout. But the main attraction of the festival—the music, of course—was nothing short of spectacular. The lineup was all killer and no filler, delivering incredible, ear-busting performances from the likes of Alexisonfire, Wu-Tang Clan, Rammstein, Queens of the Stone Age, and induced some serious nostalgia trips with legends such as Iggy Pop, The Specials, and Bad Religion.
We had our Showbox delegation endure the blood, sweat, and tears (of joy) involved with attending Rockfest, and our photographers Els Durnford and Landon Entwistle went all-out, have a look at their shots below.
This past weekend Rockfest in Montebello, QC, turned 12 years old and I was there to take it all in.
After three hours of sitting in the car the car slowly making our way through small neighbouring villages and ultimately right down Main St. in Montebello Thursday night, we set up our tent just as the torrential downpour began. This being my second Rockfest, we knew to expect the crazy long delays getting in, but let me tell you—knowing it would happen only barely makes it better.
Once we were all set up, everything was on the up and up from there. The festival was an absolute blast other than the crapshoot to get in and the poor sound during Meshuggah. I’m not sure why it only affected them, it was a shame given the highly technical nature of their music and this being their 30th anniversary as a band.
Below are my highlights from two days of rock, metal, punk, beer, mud, sun and hundreds of thousands of people.
10 Highlights of Rockfest 2017
Random cheer “waves” in the camping area.
Anyone who has ever camped at a big music festival like this knows exactly what I’m talking about. For everyone else, it is the phenomenon where one person or a small group of people yell out a random sound or the name of the festival and other pockets of people join in as it moves across the campgrounds just like a wave at a sporting event.
Fanny pack fashion.
They are back, they are useful, they are better for your posture and tan lines than a purse and people have gotten very creative with them. I saw some of all sizes, multiple zippers or simple, gold, silver—heck, there was one even shaped like a pineapple. I don’t know what drove people to bring them back, but I am all for them.
I’m a sucker for a good cover, always have been. But I love them even more when they are done live, and then that is all amplified when done on the big stage of a major festival like Rockfest. Some covers can be the entire song like Pennywise doing Minor Threat or Goldfinger with their cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons.” Other times it can be a perfectly placed snippet of a classic during their own song like Wu Tang Clan throwing in some lines from “Come Together” by The Beatles, The Specials with “We are family,” or Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age throwing in a little Amy Winehouse “Rehab” during a song. These are not only great tributes, but also a lot of fun for the audience.
Hatred for Donald Trump.
The hatred for the current President of the United States was a constant theme over the two days. I first really noticed it when Pennywise mentioned it and then played their politically charge track “My Country.” But they were certainly not alone, Goldfinger started a fuck Donald Trump chant during their set, and Bad Religion’s “New Dark Ages” has never been more relevant… well, since President Bush at least. The Special dedicated their song “Message to Rudy,” (which most probably don’t associate with politics but it is a very political track) to Trump and complimented Prime Minister Trudeau. Other bands like Anti Flag, Dreadnaughts, Face to Face, and Down by Law also had their piece to say.
Less Than Jake.
One of the challenges of these festivals, is with five stages rolling, you sometimes have tough choices to make, but also some bands that usually play hour long sets get cut to 30 minutes. This is what happened to my beloved Less Than Jake, a ska band I have been into since grade school. They made the absolute most of their shortened time and it felt like they crafted a set list just for me, hitting on most of my favourites including “All My Best Friends are Metalheads,” “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” “Johnny Quest (Thinks We’re Sellouts)” and more I most likely forgot to write down while I danced up a storm. They capped off their set inviting the brass section from The Real Big Fish on stage to join them. This was one of many skank-tastic moments of the festival with great ska.
Yeah we all know “Du Hast” the German industrial metal band’s big hit that brought them fame in North America, but this band has been wowing fans since their inception in Berlin since 1994. The music is good, actually much better than I expected given I don’t really listen to them and don’t speak German, but the show is what truly blows you away. There are fireworks and pyrotechnics throughout the entire thing. I read somewhere that their tour features more than 20 trucks just to pull off this spectacle. And I mean when you see a guitarist wearing what looks like a WWII gas mask that shoots 10-foot flames from the mouth area, you start to understand. It was almost more like going to see a foreign musical horror film than a live show, and I mean that as a compliment. Fireworks, flame throwers, fire-shooting masks, fire from the stage, crazy light show, explosions, elaborate costumes and devilishly good metal, Rammstein showed us why they are one of a kind. I wonder how many people had nightmares while camping that night.
(please note this is not our video, but we felt it was important to share the spectacle with everyone)
The Specials are one of the innovators of the English 2-Tone and ska movement of the 1970s, forming in 1977. I have loved this band since childhood thanks in part to my parents introducing them and ska and reggae to me at a very young age. The problem was, they broke up in the 80s, got back in the 90s, but I didn’t see them until a couple of years ago. Finally seeing The Special at Bluesfest was something else, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by poor sound and the lead-singer getting pissed off and throwing stuff at the soundman and storming off near the end. This time was very different. This time not only was the sound great, the sun shining and the band in a great mood, but I got to share the moment with my little brother. We danced up a storm skanking all over the place with smiles painted from ear to ear. Their set list was great, and as mentioned they dedicated “A Message To You Rudy” to Donald Trump, but also featured favourites like “Monkey Man” and “Too Much Too Young.”
PUP are simply one of Canada’s best bands right now, if not one of North America’s best exports. Their live shows are full of energy from start to finish and this set was no exception. The cloud of dust filled the air at the side stage as the band got started and never really settled, even when the band slowed things down a little. One hilarious thing was that someone brought a long an inflatable poo emoji which could be seen floating around for most of the set. They ripped through tracks off both their album not stopping for long in between songs to ensure no time was wasted. This may have been the first time I see them play where lead singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock didn’t crowd surf, but he did stand on the barrier surrounded by fans… it might have been a festival rule? Just see this band. I have been saying it now for years, stop taking my word and go learn for yourself how awesome PUP are.
Photo by Els Durnford
So I know I keep using the term “one of my favourites,” but hell, the festival did a good job gathering bands I love and Alexisonfire is certainly one of them. I never thought I would see this band again, I was pretty sure they would reunite, but I figured I would always miss out somehow and that I was destined to never see the band again. Why does that matter so much? Well, Alexisonfire completely changed how I perceived music and opened the door to much heavier sounds and styles—they were a gateway band of sorts for me. I’m also a bigger guy but love to dance, so being able to find space a little further back to throw down and not hurt anyone or myself while respecting others’ space was a nice bonus. Seeing them again was very special, and it could be the last time or I could see them five more times, who knows but it was epic.
Photo by Els Durnford
At the Drive-In.
Another one of those bands from my younger years, recently reunited and I went to go see them in Toronto and they were great there. They played Rockfest with that same energy and stage presence. One of the moments that stole the show, beyond their amazing music of course, was when lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala went on an anti-Bill Cosby and Hollywood rant. He simply stopped after one song and said “Fuck Bill Cosby. Fuck the Hollywood rape sympathizers. Fuck all of them while you sit around and watch their sitcoms and movies.” It was completely out of the blue, and don’t get me wrong, I 100% agree with him. I was just surprised when most of the hatred had funneled towards Trump over the past days. The set was tight, full of great songs we all wanted to hear, and was a great way to cap off another fun year at Rockfest.
It is that wonderful time of year again when you know all that matters is going to the punk show with your friends. Yes, Ottawa Explosion is back for its 7th year and once again mostly situated at Club SAW.
On day 2 I took in eight bands and could not think of a much better way to spend the last day of my 20s, surrounded by great music and even better people.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s very own Crusades, which happens to feature Emmanuel Sayer, one of Ottawa Explosion’s organizers. Emanuel opened by saying “RIP JS, it is weird not being pelted by beach balls right now,” referring to last years show where JS had ordered black beach balls and decorated them with friends, just for the Crusades set. It certainly is weird not having our lovable JS around for those types of funny moments. If you see people sporting Hawaiian shirts, they are most likely doing so as a tribute to our good friend who left us too soon. Crusades put on a ripping set as always, I just can’t get enough of their style of heavy punk rock featuring three very distinct vocals. The band was celebrating seven years just like the festival, and as they prepared to play their final song, they were stricken with technical difficulties. Emmanuel simply said “We have been a band for seven years…” hilarious way to cap off the night.
Setting the stage for Crusades in the dimly lit Club SAW was Edmonton’s post-punk act Rhythm of Cruelty. This band is like no other I have ever heard. Their blend of ambient with post-punk and synth is pretty wild, but then when they add in a trumpet and loop it, it blew my mind. It might have a been a little too drone-like for the masses, but I was very impressed and would love to see them again.
Also playing inside was Sudbury Ontario’s greatest export, Strange Attractor. I believe the band has played every Explosion and always fast and hard, like everything they do. They barely have any songs over two minutes long and cram as many as they can into every set with ferociousness. One of the great things about a festival like Explosion is the bands generally stick around and watch other bands. And nothing is better than seeing a band you just watched (Lonely Parade) front and centre jumping, singing and all around losing it to another band.
Getting things started for the late-night indoor portion of the show was Black Tower. They brought us inside and delivered the metal as they summoned ghouls and ghastly creatures from Explosions past. Erin Ewing’s vocals sends shivers down your spine for all the right reasons when she unleashes the darkness within with a banshee-like flexing of her vocal cords. They are the perfect band for fans of punk, metal, and Tolkien-style fiction.
Partner from Sackville, New Brunswick (SAPPY FEST!) headlined the outdoor portion of the night. A lot of bands enjoy playing music live, but very few bands demonstrate that happiness and fun as clearly and openly as Partner. They are out there having at riot at every show and just loving life. It was raining pretty hard during their set but that did not deter them or the crowd, we simply huddle in tight under the tent, the band even giving up much of their space to make more people comfortable. They played a bunch of great new songs off their latest release Sounds of the Future, which is named so as the songs will eventually appear on the next full-length album. The highlight of the show for me was when they stopped during “Gross Secret” to ask the crowd if they had any secrets to share. The crowd was hesitant at first, but then Anthony Cardozo emerged from the side of the stage to happily admit he still picks his nose. The crowd cheered loudly and then more people started telling their secrets. Way to go Tony.
A post shared by Ottawa Explosion (@ottawaexplosion) on
Lonely Parade from Peterborough, Ontario also rocked the outdoor stage at Club SAW. They get better every single time I see them. It has been really awesome watching this band grow having seen them several times over the past few years. They played a lot of new songs, which they jokingly called “new song 1” then “new song 5.” These new tracks really show off the bands progression and evolution. Don’t get me wrong – I love their earlier songs, but the new ones are very tight, rocking and just have that little something extra.
Montreal’s Towanda also played. This sludgy three-piece from Montreal really rip it up. While many may focus on the guitarist, I was really impressed with their super solid drummer that really drives the music. That said, the lead singer and guitarist lives to shred and does it quite well. She also sports a scowl all set long making it just that much more intense. This band would pair perfectly with Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon.
The first band to play was one of Ottawa’s newest acts Ultralove. I was super impressed by the trio’s performance. I am always amazed when I see a drummer who has a very prominent vocal role. Some people struggle to walk and talk, so hammering the skins while singing just has that automatic wow factor. The band plays a melodic noisy punk rock with strong hardcore influences. One of their songs had one of my all time favourite song structures. A song with one verse that is repeated several times with the music and the vocals intensifying every time until it crescendos into an explosion of emotion. Local readers really need to checkout Ultralove next time they play live.
As soon as I walked down the steep black stairs and into the basement that is Ottawa’s very own House of TARG, I wasn’t only greeted by the lights and noises of the pinball machines but by the familiar faces of the members of The Great Sabatini. Before the event began, I was introduced to Jack (Jack Moves) and mainly stuck around either him or Rob (The Great Sabatini) and once the clock struck 8:40, so the show began.
Jack Moves opened, bringing a tremendous amount of talent to the table, and setting the standards high. With only a loop station at his disposal, I questioned what the performance would be like. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and Jack looping over his own voice was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Every song was built up from scratch and on the spot despite having already written and recorded them for his album. What was the most impressive was the capabilities that he possessed when creating specific sounds for the song he would perform, from the beat to the melody line, everything came from his voice. There were falsettos he later turned into harmonies and even layered certain lyrics over others. He was quick on his feet and certainly did not miss queues. Live looping is a make-or-break thing, and Jack has certainly made it.
His quick rhymes and whit payed off when it came to his lyrics and the sound effects created. With lots of small technical specs, it was important to stay on top of what was being done, and the sheer efficiency that I saw was beyond comprehension. The performance fell nothing short of jaw dropping and his creativity, when it came to producing specific sounds, certainly came in handy. If you listened to any of his music without knowing how it was being produced, it would have you fooled into believing it was created with synths.
After I had gotten all my photos and Jack had ventured to his merch table, I stopped to speak with him. Through the whole night, he was a very pleasant and modest person. You could throw a conversation at him about curling (which was discussed prior to the show) and he would engage in it. Unfortunately, conversation became a difficult task once The Great Sabatini ripped out some powerful chords and drumbeats for a quick sound check. With the very strange string of sounds and words uttered into the microphone, Steve made it known that something absolutely wild was about to go down.
I’m not typically the kind of person who throws myself into death metal shows and has the time of my life. I’m the kind of person who’s selective about their metal bands, and I certainly make sure they’re fantastic live and check their supporting acts but as soon as I saw The Great Sabatini were playing TARG, I shot a message to Matias about coverage. Maybe it was because they were inspired by some of the greatest metal bands that have existed and carried a very intense yet well-crafted sound, or maybe it was how friendly they were all in all the last time I showed up to one of their shows. To be frank, I’m still not sure which it is.
This time, I left my earplugs at home (although there is a small part of me that regrets that because I’m sure to lose my hearing by the age of twenty-five, I also don’t regret it all that much). I heard the solos much clearer this time around, and although the drumming was deafening (thank you Steve), it added many dimensions and really created that powerful and angry sound you find in death metal. The bassline stood out and there wasn’t a member of that band who didn’t become one with the instrument they were playing, and even though each one of the men screamed the lyrics into the microphones, they didn’t fail to keep up with their expertly crafted songs. Their setlist, handwritten but clearly well selected fell nothing short of impressive and made sure you got lost in the music no matter which band you meant to go see that night. Everything managed to meld together so well that you’d think it was done by someone who’s been known as a professional for the past twenty years. Both instances where I’ve seen them, they’ve blown me away (and this time my hearing).
The last performer of the night was a band called Swarm of Spheres. Truth be told, until a few nights ago, I hadn’t even heard of them but as a band that was described as something between sludge and stoner rock, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All the information I had about them was either about the genre they played or that Mark McGee was an incredible drummer – the best some had ever seen. These two facts certainly were made apparent when the time came for them to perform. The trio took the stage with such ferocity they might as well have blown the low ceiling off of TARG. Mark went at the drums like Dave Grohl did back in his Nirvana days but despite how loud he was, his technique was mastered. The bassline, thanks to Andrew Rashotte, was incredibly strong and prominent throughout each song which is probably one of the factors that really drew me into the sound this band was producing. That bassline, and everybody in the room, buzzed with energy despite the show drawing closer to midnight than anticipated. Jay Chapman shred on the guitar and his string bends were skilfully placed. He clearly had a knack for intense bends and he got right back into the songs he played after executing them without fault.
After much hard work, sweat, and good laughs in between, the night drew to a close. When I had the time to actually step back and look around I noticed that a good portion of the crowd was composed people from other local bands who came out to support their friends, some were fans, and some were just at TARG to enjoy the live music but sneak in a few games of air hockey during the sets. I found a few people, and spoke to them including Steve, earning a pat on the back from him and being told that he had yet to use the photos of them I took back in February. After this, I slowly made my way out but not before stopping to say goodbye to Rob. Despite the influences of the band and how metal they might look, I guarantee they’re the sweetest people. Rob made sure I stayed safe and in touch, ending the night with a pleasant note of “friends don’t say goodbye, they say see you later.”