“Shitgaze: it’s the newest indie rock craze,” says Shaun Anderson, member of the Montreal community-based promotion group Pirates of the Lachine Canal. He’s paraphrasing a British magazine’s reaction to Columbus band Psychedelic Horseshit’s self-designated genre: “shitgaze.” The media latched onto the joke term, coined when the Ohio rockers made the drug-induced decision to cite it as their myspace genre.
This past June, Spin ran an article on shitgaze, using the term to categorize a plethora of bands garnering attention in Columbus’s lo-fi scene. Shitgazing aside, the point is that the authors of nomenclature are changing. “It’s putting the power of definition into the hands of bands and the people involved in the music scene, rather than in the hands of the journalists,” explains Chloe Lum, also a member of Pirates of the Lachine Canal and lead singer for local band AIDS Wolf.
The Pirates of the Lachine Canal are familiar with the power of words. From weekly Weird Punk DJ nights to the Weird Punk showcases organized every night of Pop Montreal, the Pirates are bringing attention to the term here in Montreal. Like shitgaze, weird punk traces its ancestry back to the Internet – Anderson remembers first hearing the expression on an online message board. And while in Canada the phrase “weird punk” has been gaining steam since the summer, overseas the genre is commonly known as “DJ Rick rock” – referring to the Californian DJ whose online radio station, artforspastics.blogspot.com, is notorious for playing the cornerstones of the musical style, whatever you want to call it.
So what is weird punk? Lum explains that although most punk today is mired in its own restrictive traditions and lacks renewal or experimentation, weird punk is going back to what early punk was all about: “different bands with different aesthetics playing different kinds of music.” It can’t be pinned down to a certain sound; instead, it is an umbrella term for stylistically diverse bands sharing the desire to experiment. “This music is all about confounding expectations,” she notes.
The inclusiveness of the term has created what Lum refers to as “cross-pollination” between sub-genres: “We’re getting garage fans into noise, and the indie rockers into weird lo-fi hardcore.” The more that the bands’ influences vary, the fresher the sounds they create. “It keeps [the music] as diverse as possible, reaching out to all these different [genres],” comments Walter Scott, another Pirate.
The Pirates of the Lachine Canal extend this inclusive spirit beyond music. In addition to their DJ residency at Black Jack’s (3814 Notre-Dame O.) every Thursday, the Pirates organize bike rides, barbecues, and bring-your-own-FM-radio-transmitter parties in an effort to bring the southwest Montreal neighbourhood together.
As of late, the Pirates have organized three gigs, and are hoping to start up a regular series at the St-Henri institution Bar de Courcelle (4685 Notre-Dame O.) – a longtime local fixture of country cover bands, where weird punk was a new but well-received addition to the line-up. The Pirates have also collaborated with other promoters to put on shows at Friendship Cove – a loft that kicked off the burgeoning southwest scene a few years ago – and at other venues around the city, always making it a priority to put a southwest band on the bill.
Anderson endorses the DIY punk approach to booking shows. “If nobody is going to book a band or if you are saying ‘my favourite band hasn’t come to Montreal,’ the only way you are going to get them to come here is getting in touch with the band and doing it yourself,” he says. And he follows his own advice: Anderson has taken the initiative to bring weird punk across the border, as well as from the rest of Canada. Importing weird punk, Lum explains, will help “foster a scene and hopefully grow the local bands outside of Montreal.”
Although Montreal does not yet have the thriving weird punk scene that, say, Vancouver has – spearheaded by the Mutators and Shearing Pinx – there are some promising local bands. AIDS Wolf leads the pack, but other names to keep your ears open for are Panopticon Eyelids, ttttttttttttttttttttt, Triceratreetops, Red Mass, and Many Mental Mistakes.
AIDS Wolf has been making noise in Montreal since early 2003; the four piece’s polarizing sound is ripe with shrill vocals, harsh guitars, and tumultuous drums. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you won’t be alone. However, Lum explains that by this point the band has internalized the negative reactions toward their music and sees it as liberating: “We are playing music as a way to do art. We are trying to do something creative that is challenging to us and that is interesting and the fact that our music seems to upset so many people is probably a good thing because we are probably never going to be in the position of having to cater to anybody.”
After touring heavily across North America, Europe, and Israel, releasing an LP in 2006, and numerous 7’’ and 12’’ splits since, AIDS Wolf is putting out their second full-length album, Cities of Glass. The band worked with their long-time icon Weasel Walter, a no-wave mainstay, on the new recording. “Whatever kind of music you want to call it, he is the expert,” says Lum.
Punk, no wave, shitgaze – it’s all just music, whatever you call it. “All terms become meaningless over time, but if you can take something and make it your own for a little while, at least it works as a signifier,” explains Lum. And that’s just what the Pirates of the Lachine Canal are doing, taking two words – weird punk – and fostering a community of their own.
AIDS Wolf’s album release is tomorrow, September 12 at 8:30 p.m. at Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent).