Montreal has always had to push harder than other cities in North America to have their presence known in the music industry. We always had amazing bands by the truckload, but the shows outside of Quebec were never quite there.
Bands had to start taking matters into their own hands. One of those bands was The Sainte Catherines, who continually toured and amassed a schedule that saw an excess 200 shows per year, enough to get the attention of punk record label giants Fat Wreck Chords. So as it were, The Sainte Catherines became the first band out of Quebec to be signed onto Fat’s elite roster.
Despite the new found backing of the American label, The Sainte Catherines frontman Hugo Mudie still knew that the talent of the Quebec punk scene festered under the cover of sight like a bad case of scabies.
After indulging himself in various festivals across America such as “The Fest,” “Rad Fest” and “Monster Fest,” in Florida, North Carolina and Vermont, respectively, Mudie pulled up his pants and asked, “Why not Montreal?”
Mudie named his festival after a late-night Pabst-fuelled invention of topping off pizza with poutine, and thus, the Pouzza Fest was born. He set out to do what no chaos-oriented punk should ever attempt: organizing a three-day festival of music and events with over 100 bands at four different venues across downtown Montreal.
I sauntered off to the fest back in May with low expectations. I had always wanted to go to a punk-rock festival but assumed it would just be one of Montreal’s failed attempts at a colossal organizational effort. Thankfully, I was wrong; it was like a busted old car, full of rust and holes, but when the engine started the whole thing purred like a lion.
The most difficult thing about Pouzza Fest was figuring out which locale you were going to go to. Each club had an awesome lineup and slightly different style being represented.
Mudie said he “listened to everything growing up, every style of punk. It didn’t matter. Crust punk, pop punk, hardcore, oldschool, I liked it all.” He wanted to make sure that every genre Â was represented. It was a curse and a blessing because every club I was at, I knew someone of equal panache was only a block away, killing it.
Mudie’s years of firsthand knowledge of the touring game helped him decide the headliners. He knew that out-of-towners might not be so inclined to come to a festival that showcased nothing but Montreal talent, so he took the opportunity of the festival to bring in bands that haven’t played the city in a long time, or ever for that matter. Short-lived but influential ska/punk legends Rollerstarter hit Pouzza Fest for a one-time reunion show.
They smothered the soldout Foufounes Electriques crowd with a blast of nostalgia.
Equally full of fond memories was one of Saturday’s headliners, Lifetime, who came to play at Pouzza after a 15-year hiatus from our fair city.
“I know that a lot of bands don’t play Montreal because they don’t have to,” said Mudie. “They have huge followings in the states and a less than average following here. A festival is the perfect excuse to get bands like Rollerstarter and Lifetime to come to Montreal.”
The headlining acts were great at what they do, but my experience rested on the shoulders of the up-and-comers. Bands that went above and beyond to show that they are not only contenders, but could one day become the champions of world where punk rock is at its truest form; a place that heralds fun, excitement and anticipation of the unknown.
On Saturday night I met up with Chris Snelgrove, guitarist and singer for Montreal outfit Prevenge. Snelgrove has been playing with bands in Montreal for well over 15 years and knows the vast majority of groups that were playing because he probably shared a stage with them at some point.
Walking around with Snelgrove, I remembered why the punk-rock scene was always so special to me. It’s a big family, spanning racial divides, state lines and international boundaries. It’s a family of black sheep. Whether it was a handshake, a knowing nod, or a high-five, once you met someone at the fest, every time you saw them you would act like you had known them forever.
By the time Sunday rolled around, everyone had partied for about 48 straight hours. Stinking of two-day-old PBR and sweat, the festivities commenced. Today, however, I was mostly staying in one spot â€” Bar L’Absynthe on Saint-Denis Street. The place was packed; and a handful of great bands like Edmonton natives The City Streets took the stage. Snelgrove and I took a quick break to head over to Underworld and watch Windsor, Ont. band Shared Arms, a group with so much energy that you can’t do anything but smile the whole way through the blistering set.
Pouzza Fest ended for me the way I wished it would. Back at L’Absynthe, the room felt like there was a generator in the centre. Due to the cancellation of the headlining band, three bands decided to fill the spot and do a superset, but before they did, Prevenge took to the stage.
Prevenge is a band that I can truly say I respect. They play to have fun, there is no monetary gain in their music, they print their own music, give it away for free through www.juiceboxdotcom.com and are always trying to introduce people to other great Canadian bands. They are the epitome of what punk-rock music is all about. The crowd agreed.
It seems like all the best up and coming bands were tightly packed into that venue, to the point where Shared Arms climbed into the rafters above the stage and Prevenge delivered with an unmatched passion and enthusiasm.
The Pouzza Fest ended that night at L’Absynthe when Montrealers Dig It Up! hit the stage with Ontario’s Junior Battles and !Attention! and continued to pummel the crown into a state of reverie. It was a room full of strangers that were now your best friends.
It was the first annual Pouzza Fest, and I can’t wait to see what 2012 has to offer.
If you want to meet the man behind Pouzza, Mudie runs a talent showcase every Thursday at Panda Bar, 2021 Saint-Denis St.
For more information go to www.pouzzafest.com