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Montreal’s eighth annual Ska Festival

by Emily Vidal October 4, 2016
Montreal’s eighth annual Ska Festival

Local and International Ska bands reunite under one roof to perform at Katacombes and Petit Campus

Montreal’s Ska Festival celebrated its 8th birthday on Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, with bands from around the world. Valerie Desnoyer, the founder of the event and president of the Montreal Ska Society, said more people have bought pre-sale tickets this year than ever before.

Desnoyer began the event in Montreal eight years ago after volunteering at Victoria’s Ska Festival in British Columbia. She immediately fell in love with the style of music, which blends elements of Caribbean and reggae rhythms along with upbeat American jazz and blues. Coming back to Montreal, she was shocked to discover that ska music wasn’t being promoted on a local level. She felt that she needed to do something about it. “The Planet Smashers and all of these new [ska] bands were coming out and I was like, “We need a platform. We need something to show outside Montreal what we have,” she said.

Desnoyer decided to put together Ska festival soon afterwards, and then partnered with Stomp Records, a record label based in Montreal. The label has helped to keep the festival running every year, since according to Desnoyer, all of the funding comes from ticket sales and private sponsors. Singer and guitarist Matt Collyer from the ska punk band The Planet Smashers and bassist Jordan Swift from the ska band The Kingpins created Stomp Records in 1995 .Lorraine Muller, the Spokesperson for the festival, was the alto saxophone player and singer for The Kingpins. She said that the bands started the record label because they both wanted to put their music out, but no local label was interested in ska. “Things developed from there due to the success those bands had in the mid-nineties,” she said.

The Planet Smashers were the headliners of the Ska Music Festival in Montreal this weekend and performed to a packed crowd at Petit Campus on Saturday. According to Desnoyer, the Planet Smashers are considered to be at the top of the Montreal Ska scene. “They made ska what it is here. So many bands got influenced by their type of music,” she said, “Everyone’s kind of trying to copy them, or at least try to make their songs as catchy as they did.”

Collyer said that it would take years of hard work for them to get to where they are now. “We’ve been through it all, and it’s been interesting to say the least,” he said, “But we’re still here and we get to play shows and we’re lucky for that.” The band, who has been together for over 21 years, has developed a unique style of ska music that people can’t help to be drawn to. “We stick to four on the floor which is basically a straight up dance beat. It’s in almost a lot of pop metal,” said Collyer, “It’s a really good formula in terms of like making people have a good time.” Collyer said that they’re successful because they are passionate about what they do. “It’s honestly about how much fun we have,” he said, “I mean, it’s inevitable. The band has a good time. We’re on stage, we’re having a good time. The music is fun.”

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Drummer Nathan Fitzsimmons playing for Los Kung Fu Monkeys. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

With so many young artists touring now, Collyer notes that it is so much harder to make it in the music-business today than ever before. That’s something that The Planet Smashers don’t have to worry about, since they’ve already established themselves musically. “Now we’re just having a good time. We don’t have to worry about trying to make it, trying to break it, trying to figure out how to break it, trying to figure out how not to break it but still be cool, and all of these things, which is something that all of the young bands have to deal with, which is tough,” he said. This year, Collyer brought international ska punk bands to the festival, including The Resignators, from Melbourne, Australia, and Los Kung-Fu Monkeys, from Tijuana, Mexico. “They are great bands,” Desnoyer said. “I was never able to get them to come play [before], so it’s exciting.”

Both of the bands expressed how grateful they are for the opportunity to come and tour Canada. Nathan Fitzsimmons, who is a regular member of the bands Nevertime High and Caught Off Guard in Calgary, Alberta, was especially excited to jam with Los Kung-Fu Monkeys. He and his friend Adam Ostick fill in for the band whenever they come up North, since not all of the members are able to get Visas to come into Canada. Fitzsimmons said that he first met the band in 2014 when they were doing a short tour in Canada. The band’s producer, Steve Loree, contacted him when their drummer, Hecky, was unable to cross the border into Canada. “They gave me a shot and asked me if I could do it, and I said yes,” said Fitzsimmons. “I got three days’ notice and 20 songs, and I went on tour with them.” Fitzsimmons said that the band has had big impact on who he is as a musician.“These guys take [their work] very seriously, and they made me a better player,” Fitzsimmons said. “Bernie [Leos] the frontman, is just captivating … He has that charisma, that leadership. People just follow him.”He also hopes that everyone will be enjoying their music as much as he does. “You can’t help but dance to it—it’s just summertime party music,” he said. “I always get the image in my head of like, hanging out in a boat on the beach in the summer.”

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Francis Harrison from The Resignators performing at Katacombes. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Australian singer Francis Harrison of The Resignators is grateful to play the band’s music, especially in Montreal. Although he has been here a total of eight times, he said that each time has been great for them. “Montreal is just a party city. Everyone wants to have a beer. Everyone wants to dance. Everyone wants a poutine. And everyone just wants to have fun,” he said. “Yeah, we really like Montreal.”

After playing at the Ska Festival in Montreal, the Resignators and Los Kung-Fu Monkeys will be playing in Shawinigan, and then in St-Hyacinthe. “People should just expect the unexpected. Chaos. Whatever happens happens” said Harrison about the tour. Muller is hoping that the festival will continue to go on for a long time. “I will always be there to do whatever I can to ensure smooth sailing for Val who puts in months of coordinating all aspects of the festival,” she said.

The festival is something that she is very passionate about. “It’s such a fulfilling weekend that leaves us all exhausted but feeling very positive,” she said, “The atmosphere at all the shows is so good, and the audience loves every second of it.” Desnoyer is already looking forward to the 10-year anniversary of the Ska Festival, she plans to hold the  anniversary on a boat in the old port.

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