The Famines Discuss Their Own DIY-Minded Label Pentagon Black
Artwork by Lisa Czech
The Famines are a Montreal-based noise garage music duo made up of Raymond Biesinger (who also happens to be an incredible illustrator) and Drew Demers. But they are not just a band, the duo is also a “DIY-minded experimental record label thing” called Pentagon Black.
In early 2016 Pentagon Black released it’s first compilation containing 23 unreleased songs from bands from across the country as a 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with download code. They had 17 compilation release shows including 30 bands at various locations across the country for it. In April 2017, they did it again with compilation number 2, once again on 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with a download code.
Pentagon Black are back with another compilation, and while they stayed true to their other compilations, they changed it up a little. Pentagon Black Compilation No. 3 is a “phone comp.” It is named as such as 16 diverse bands between Edmonton and Saint John recorded original unreleased tracks live via phone (no multi tracking allowed). This time they went with a smaller format of a 6X6″ postcard with download code.
Eric took some time to discuss with drummer Drew Demers about being a band and being a record label, as well as the story behind the compilation and the inclusion of bands from Ottawa.
The Famines will be in Ottawa June 16th playing Ottawa Explosion as part of the Pentagon Black Showcase at Avant-Garde bar.
What inspired/motivated the two of you to not only be a band but be a label?
Drew Demers: After releasing music on vinyl for the better part of a decade, we realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage/produce. Turn-around times don’t work in anyone’s favor. We were sitting on a recorded full length and didn’t want to have to wait an additional 4 or 5 months just to get a test pressing back. On top of that, the cost was just too great for us to be enthused about it anymore, so we decided that we would just produce things as cheaply and quickly as we could on our own.
Subsequently what pushed you to put out these trans-Canadian compilations?
Drew Demers: We had already released a single and a record on the newsprint poster format, the latter as Pentagon Black and the former in partnership with Psychic Handshake in Montreal. We were discussing what to do next, and the idea started as a split record with The Famines on one side, and then another band on the other. The problem was, we were at odds over whether it was going to be Century Palm or Kappa Chow. We played a show with a ton of pals at this crazy fest called Strangewaves outside of Hamilton.
The lineup included a ton of bands that ended up on the first compilation, and it was beautiful because there was hardly anybody at the show outside of band members. We all just got up and played for each other and there was this sense of communal spirit behind everything. It took us maybe one day to realize that we needed to make something bigger and connect more scenes together, and the first compilation was born out of that notion. BTW, the lineup for that show: Strange Attractor, The Famines, TV Freaks, Mick Futures, Century Palm, Kappa Chow, Lizzie Boredom, and Flesh Rag.
How did you select the bands and decide how you wanted the first two to sound?
Drew Demers: The first compilation was an amalgamation of friends we’d made on tour. There really weren’t that many artists we didn’t personally know on the thing. The second time around, we wanted to focus on hitting specific zones we hadn’t traveled to in a while, and so we enlisted some close friends to give us suggestions on who we should talk to that might be interested in a project such as ours. There are a small handful of people involved in the second compilation we’ve actually never met.
In terms of the sound that we were going for, we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists. There is an obvious tonal undercurrent that runs through all three of the compilations, but there are significant departures happening on each of them as well.
What makes this third compilation special?
Drew Demers: This third compilation is all about spirit. The songs are rough, in many cases unfinished, and in all cases under-produced. It’s exciting to think that sonically it’s an even playing-ground for each of the tracks. For the most part, it sounds like all the bands recorded in basically the same room with the same gear. It’s also special because it’s the first time we’ve outsourced the art side of things. Historically Raymond has taken care of the art side of Pentagon Black/The Famines, but this time we placed the project in the esteemed hands of Lisa Czech. We explained the project to her and she absolutely nailed the chaos with her cover art.
This has been our most inexpensive and rapid turnover for a compilation. The postcards cost basically nothing to print, and all of the bands recorded their tracks in a three week time frame. Also of note – this one was released not too long after our second compilation, and it came out as a surprise. We were originally planning on dropping it the day of our showcase at Ottawa Explosion, but instead we just decided to jump the gun because we felt like it this week, and a project like this allows us the freedom to do that.
I am excited to see Ottawa bands on all three comps, what drew you to the Ottawa bands you selected ?
Drew Demers: We have a ton of respect and admiration for The Yips, and knew that we couldn’t release our first comp without them involved. Bonnie Doon are officially Pentagon Black royalty. They were on the first two comps, and played both the compilation releases with us in Montreal. Deathsticks are actually fairly new acquaintances of ours, but we feel connected by the sisterhood of two piece bands. They were suggested to us via our pal Karol aka garbageface in Peterborough. We can’t wait to play with them and hang out with them in Ottawa next weekend!
How does one get their hands on this compilation?
Drew Demers: If you like to get things from the internet, you can direct yourself to www.thefamines.ca, or you can visit https://thefamines.bandcamp.com/ and head to the merch section.
If you are searching for Compilation No. 3, we will actually be handing out physical copies to everyone in attendance at our Ottawa Explosion Showcase next Friday, June 16th at Avant-Garde bar.
If you track Raymond or myself down in person, we can become pen pals and send you a postcard.
If you’re a little more adventurous, you can head to a show in your town featuring any of the 48 bands we’ve worked with and ask them very kindly to dig one out for you.
What do The Famines and Pentagon Black have planned next?
Drew Demers: Famines have a couple things up our sleeves, including but not limited to writing material for a full length album to come out under Pentagon Black sometime in the next decade. Ottawa Explosion is actually the only show we have booked right now, and it’s exciting facing a blank canvas. As for Pentagon Black, we intend to keep things fast and easy. After releasing the PRIORS record, we realized that we’re open to the idea of putting out music for other bands and want to move forward with that in the future, however that will work.
Ottawa Explosion: Day 5 – June 21
Watermarked photos by Stephen McGill Photography
The final day of OXW is always kind of bittersweet. On the one hand, there are usually some great bands scheduled to play in the afternoon and, in this case, it was a gorgeous day out with no clouds in the sky. On the other hand, a lot of us were pretty burnt out from all the drinking, excessive punk rock consumption, and sweltering heat that comes along with no clouds in the sky. But let’s be honest, those of us who remained were excited for what Sunday had in store, putting any complaints aside.
The day started off strangely. A few of us were hanging outside at the SAW courtyard when all of a sudden we heard a massive crashing sound. The sound of metal hitting metal at a considerable speed is unmistakable, and it sounded bad. We ran out to check what had happened, and as it turns out a brand new cherry red Ford Mustang had been sideswiped by an SUV. Everyone was OK, but we all felt bad for the Mustang’s driver as he had to wait hours before being towed (his wheel well was damaged and he couldn’t drive).
Things started a bit late since Chloroform canceled their OXW appearance, and Ottawa’s own Baberaham Lincoln kicked off the final day’s festivities. The cleverly-named three-piece group played some dissonant noise rock that threw me back a few decades. Armed with Jenna Spencer’s Fender Strat, Cory Lefebvre’s hollowbody, and Hillary Lawson’s drums, the band eased us into the day with atmospheric, over-driven songs that served as a welcome balance to the high number of punk bands we had all heard for the last four days. The tone on Cory’s guitar was hypnotic, and the simple layering of the band’s instrumentals drew the crowd in and put us all back into the zone. Jenna’s soft, and at times eerie vocals contrasted well with the fuzzy tones coming out of the PA. Baberaham Lincoln didn’t throw any curve balls at us, but their mesmerizing sound and powerful builds kept the crowd wrapped around their fingers throughout the set.
Baberaham Lincoln at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Next up was Gaycation, a band from Ottawa that I hadn’t seen yet but that I was really excited about. They just released a split demo tape with Weed Mom through Bruised Tongue a week or two ago which I highly recommend, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on that hardware right before they played. Gaycation is a queercore power-pop outfit, and all of us who witnessed their set got see how high energy this group really is. Faelan Sadboy took centre stage on vocals, looking more than comfortable on stage with a big smile on his face and producing powerful and emotive vocals. Above him also hung a Hello Kitty piñata, the destiny of which we could only guess was moments away. In the meantime the band played some fun tunes including “NBD” and “No Bros”, songs which correlated with the huge hand-made sign behind the drummer LP that said “KILL THE BRO IN YR HEAD” — a motto that many of us surely support. One of the band members thanked her mom for coming out to see the band play, after which Alanna jokingly proclaimed, “My mom didn’t come to see me play. She said that she’s already seen me before.” There were a few points throughout the set that Gaycation had some trouble keeping time with one another, and I’m sure with a little more practice they will make their live set really tight. The band closed their set with the fun, dancy song “Gaycation”, and yes, Faelan kicked the shit out of that piñata and candy rained down upon us.
Gaycation at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Blue Angel is a group that I always look forward to seeing live. This three-piece grungy noise rock band consists of Caylie of Boyhood on drums, Sam Pippa of Organ Eyes/Pipahauntas on bass, and Lidija Rositis of Bondar on guitar — and all of them sing. Their lyrics are intentionally repetitive yet poignant, as clearly demonstrated in songs like “You/Me”. The three of them normally wear outrageous outfits or masks, this time opting for a simple face mask due to the heat during the day. Their heavily distorted guitar and bass take me back to the days of Sonic Youth, music that isn’t meant to be consumed comfortably but meant to evoke raw emotion or visceral sentiments. After a few intense songs, drummer Caylie Runciman stopped and joked that she accidentally swallowed one of her long hairs during the last song. Blue Angel ended with the song “Sweaty Belly” that is featured on their three-track EP released in 2014, and made it a memorable one as usual.
In between sets was Drone Zone, a series including drone artists presented by Debaser. It was definitely an interesting addition to the festival, one that had not been included in previous years. Drone Zone was an informal extension of Weird Canada‘s National Drone Day, celebrating experimental, ambient, and drone music. I caught some of Everett’s set, a group that included Willow, Elsa, Tyrin (of Weed Mom) and Fraser. I had never experienced a drone set before, and I made sure to go in with an open mind ready for anything. What I really enjoy about many artists featured on Weird Canada, and in turn drone music, is the off-the-cuff experimentation that can lead to beautiful abstract pieces of music. I was very impressed with Everett as they played their first performance ever, a relatively quick 15-minute drone set that included ambient noise coming from countless knobs and buttons controlled by Fraser and Tyrin. Willow and Elsa stood closer to the audience, and although it was hard to discern their lyrics at times over the drone, their short performance was authoritative and resounding. I look forward to hearing more from Everett as they produce more pieces in the future.
Everett at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
Bonnie Doon came on shortly after, having just come off an Eastern Canada tour a few weeks ago. A few fans were wearing the DIY tie dye band shirts they had made for the tour, while lead singer and co-bassist Lesley Demon wore a particularly ’80s looking business suit. Bonnie Doon dove into their wacky and wild set of noisy surf rock, enchanting us with two layered basses played by Lesley and Gina Vinelli, crunchy guitar parts by Madison Watson, and kept the beat going with Keltie Duncan on drums. Watching old people walk by and looking completely and utterly confused by what was happening was a highlight for me. At one point I heard two people walk to the front gate and ask what was going on in the courtyard. They asked, “Is this part of Fringe Festival? Because that’s where we’re headed.” To their content, Ottawa Explosion was not part of Fringe Festival around the corner, and the sense of relief was obvious. Bonnie Doon played some great songs such as “B Hole”, “Pizza Shark”, “Moon Tan”, and even treated us to a trip down memory lane by covering “Lump” by The Presidents of the United States of America. I was secretly hoping they’d break out into Weird Al’s version of “Gump”, but that was just me.
Bonnie Doon at Ottawa Explosion 2015. Photo by Stephen McGill.
My final Explosion set of the festival was Montreal’s The Famines, only because I probably would have passed out by the time Catholic Girls came on stage. The two-piece garage punk band played an intense set, with singer/guitarist Raymond Biesinger playing heavy and distorted basslines, and Drew Demers on drums shredding on the kit even though he appeared to be on the brink of heat stroke. I’d seen them open up for Big Dick at their album release party back in February, and I really enjoy their aggressive and raw brand of garage rock. Several times Biesinger went out into the crowd and played right beside us, and at one point turned to Demers and asked, “How are you doing buddy?” Demers replied very frankly by saying, “I’m fucking dying.” Everyone laughed, but the band was clearly uncomfortably hot, particularly Demers on drums since he was playing so fast and intensely. He powered through most of the set with no issues that we could hear, and Famines kept the party going almost all the way until the end when they had to stop for their own personal well-being. It was at that point that I fantasized about jumping into a nice fresh pool and decided to call it a day. What a festival.
A huge thanks to Luke, Emmanuel, and all the helpers and volunteers for everything they do. Explosion is getting better every year and it’s always what we look forward to most. Until next year folks!
Ottawa Implosion Vol. II: BIG DICK Album Release Party + The Famines
The second instalment of Ottawa Implosion Weekend hit Ottawa hard on Friday, Feb. 13, putting Valentine’s Day to shame by stacking two huge shows at different venues on one of the coldest weekends of the year.
Ottawa Implosion is the sister fest of Ottawa Explosion, featuring “the best contemporary underground post-punk, psych, and dark disco from North America and Europe.” It’s a pretty rad addition to the music scene, as last year the organizers brought in bands such as Iceage, Merchandise, Lower, and Father Murphy from all corners of the earth. This time around, Implosion celebrates Ottawa label Bruised Tongue‘s anniversary by presenting acts like Boyhood, Big Dick, Ultrathin, as well as the final Pregnancy Scares show ever on Sunday.
I tried to make it out to the Boyhood show at Gabba Hey earlier in the night, but it sold out really quickly because it was an all-ages event. Given the time constraints and the real danger of hypothermia, I decided to head directly to House of Targ where Big Dick was setting the stage to release their second full-length LP Disappointment. Being on Dirt Cult Recs, they had a hefty supply of vinyl available and even pressed some really good-looking limited blue LPs. I pretty much snatched one of those up as soon as I walked in.
The Famines opening the night (Photo: Eric Scharf)
Opening the night was garage/noise rock duo The Famines out of Montreal. Their website says that they were once described as “berzerker barrage,” and although that might seem pretty cryptic, I think it accurately portrays their style and sound. They opened with their relatively restrained track “TWA Flight 553” which in a way built up the anticipation for the rest of the set.
Most of their songs ran about two minutes long, so they fit in quite a few. I am always astonished by two-piece acts that exude so much energy and emotion from the stage. The chaotic nature of their music came through loud and clear, with lo-fi guitar riffs by Raymond E. Biesinger and intricate, booming, and at times obscure percussion by Drew Demers. The crowd seemed entranced and focused, but at times confused and unsure about how to actually respond to the music.
This didn’t stop The Famines from tearing through their set with ferocity, playing a lot of newer songs that have been written since the release of their 2008-2011 Collected Singles. This included a songs such as “Stay Home Club”, which they had never played before the TARG show and will appear on the A-side of the Psychic Handshake single coming out this April, and “Too Cool”, which will be released on vinyl LP through Mammoth Cave later this fall. They ended their impressive set with the track “Who Wants Disarmament?”, which apparently they have only played three times and will also appear on Psychic Handshake. Word is that they have been confirmed to play Ottawa Explosion this year, so be sure to check these guys out when they’re back in town (and when it’s not deathly cold out and we can party outside).
Next up was the Ottawa-based bass n’ drum punk band Big Dick. The much-anticipated release of their sophomore LP was delayed because of some vinyl pressing issues with shortages, but they had the records ready to go on this night. I have to say, hearing Disappointment on vinyl for the first time today made me appreciate what these two guys are doing even more. It’s in your face, and hardly lets you come up for a breath of fresh air throughout. I should also mention that the LP was recorded at the Meat Locker by the one and only Paul ‘Yogi’ Granger, co-owner of House of TARG and all-around legend.
Johnny O and Dave Secretary immediately dove into their set with the new tracks “Sick” and “Up a Step,” Dave blasting away at the drums and Johnny ripping on his bass. It wasn’t long before they played the leading single “Let Down” from the new album, drawing the attention of the crowd and showing us all how solid a two-piece band with chemistry can be. The sound wasn’t the best unfortunately, as Dave’s kick drum was being drowned out by Johnny’s bass – particularly in songs with really heavy and over-driven bass parts. It’s a tough room to play for this reason sometimes, and for a band like Big Dick one really needs to hear all the parts in order to feel the full force of their music. I’m not a sound engineer so that’s about all I can say on that, and it was no fault of the band. Hell, I might have just been standing in the wrong spot.
Big Dick LP release (Photo: Eric Scharf)
Big Dick impressed nonetheless, and kept the onslaught coming throughout the set. They played a few older songs too, including “Medic” and “Colours” off their 2013 self-titled release. The crowd loved hearing these well-known tracks, and were jumping around in front of the stage and getting into it. The only disappointment for me was that they didn’t play my favourite song off the new album, “God’s Teeth.” But they had plenty of others that really stood out, including one of my other favourites from Disappointment called “Mariner.” There’s no doubt that this record will be a strong contender for our top albums of 2015.
Their set was executed with precision and contained enough force to blow almost anyone’s eardrums. That’s what makes Big Dick such a good band – their songs don’t just rely on the loudness to drown out any mistakes. They nail every beat, every riff, and their skills are on full display at every show they play. You can’t fake it with just two people on stage, and Johnny and Dave made sure we all knew why they are Ottawa music veterans by the end of the set.
Show poster (by Mike Laderoute)
Ottawa Implosion, Vol. 2 (poster by Julia Dickens)
Big Dick (illustration by Ainslie Coghill and Mike Laderoute)
Big Dick “Disappointment” vinyl LP, in black and lim. ed. blue.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend Day Three: The White Wires, The Creeps, Robots!Everywhere!!, Jon Creeden and more
Day three of Ottawa Explosion Weekend was absolutely insane! Got started at 6 pm with acoustic punk, later included an amazing The White Wires set and The Creeps stirred the place into a frenzy inside.
One of the best acoustic acts going, period, is Jon Creeden. He writes great tunes that just urge you to sing a long the entire set. And what is even better is he was still all smiles and upbeat despite getting a $90 parking ticket while loading. He played a bunch of songs we all knew like “Swept Away” and a sweet combination of “Dominos” and “The Captain.” But the highlight for me was the three new songs he wrote about Ottawa that he played in the middle of his set. One was about Jean-Sebastien, one about Robot!House!! and another for SCUM House on Gladstone (RIP). Looking forward to getting my hands on those recordings whenever they are pressed.
Up next was the one-man party explosion Robots!Everywhere!! One thing I truly love from Robots! sets is how he gives a little story or teaches you dance moves before every song… both are always hilarious. He rocked us with great tracks like “$400,” “Best Friends,” “Taco Party,” “Sports Off,” and a new song. He taught us awesome choreography for “Drunk at Work” and got into some aerobics by convincing everyone to run on the spot during the chorus of “Building Materials.” He then showed everyone what Ottawa Explosion is all about by moving his mic in the crowd having all of us surround him as he played the Ottawa Explosion theme song. We then all had a massive sweaty group hug.
Outtacontroler from Halifax got things kicked off once we all moved outside back to the front of Club SAW. They played some pretty darn sweet garage rock. I was really digging it but my stomach was yelling at me to eat, so I had to duck out. This hunger also caused me to miss The Famines…but that almost feels appropriate.
I did return just in time to catch Vancouver’s Tough Age. They kept the kind of garage punk vibe going, and I was not complaining. I freaking loved the lead singer’s voice, it just had that perfect ring to it. “We’re Both to Blame” and “Heart of Juliet Jones” (the first two songs off their most excellent album) were my favourites from their set.
Next up was Protomartyr, such a cool band name I may add. The lead singer looked like a drunk business man after a hard week of work with his suit on and stumbling, but they were great. I truly enjoyed their set, most notably the second song the boys from Detroit played called “Scum.”
It was now time for local favourites The White Wires. The band pretty much plays two shows a year as their members are all doing different things, including Allie rocking out of California now as Peach Kelly Pop. Ian and Allie were ready to go, but bass player Luke was nowhere to be found… so Emmanuel jumped on the bass for the first song. It will probably go down as one of the coolest moments in Ottawa’s punk folklore. Their set was unreal and jam packed with all the hits. “Let’s Go to the Beach,” “All Night Long,” and “Roxanne” stuck out for me from the set and so did every song they played, actually. The crowd was going nuts charging the mic to sing along, moshing, crowd surfing and just having a riot.
It was time to move inside, and after the amazing The White Wires set, the bar was placed pretty high for the next few acts. They did not disappoint. Dig It Up from Montreal are simply put, awesome. They blasted through their set at warp speed. The singer spent almost as much time in the crowd as he did on stage and he was hands down the most energetic and entertaining frontman of the festival so far. I am so glad I caught their set as I missed it at Pouzza Fest.
Another Ottawa band that just doesn’t play enough are The Creeps. The crowd inside agreed as they screamed along and crowd surfing non-stop. Their music is upbeat and fun, while their lyrics are creepy and stalker-ish, a wonderful combination. They played many great songs and I was happy to hear one of my favourites “Follow You Home.” Emmanuel was up front as always and got up on stage to sing some, it is so great to see the organizers having a blast at their own festival.
With so many great acts done there was still one question… who was the secret band closing out the night? The answer, The Marked Men side project Radioactivity. At this point I was feeling rather exhausted so checked out four or five songs and had to pack it in. The band was great and set the stage for Saturday.