’77 Montreal brought punk grime to PJD

The lowdown on the inaugural edition of the city’s punk rock festival.


The ’77 Montreal crowd. Photo by Cindy Lopez (see her full gallery here)

“Punk ain’t no religious cult,” a certain reedy-voiced, gelatine-dessert-name-inspired San Fran rabble-rouser once proclaimed.

Greenland Productions co-owner and ’77 Montreal co-founder Nancy Ross, who brought her and her friends’ fantasy of celebrating 40 years of punk to life last Friday with the inaugural version of the festival last Friday, doesn’t go so far as to call the sound, style or ethos of punk a spiritual movement, but asked if the bands she has been booking since her start in the production game — many of whom performed Friday — still mean it, she doesn’t hesitate to answer affirmatively.

“Absolutely. You don’t choose this for a life!” she laughs.

Legendary bands on Friday’s bill, like the Vandals and Bouncing Souls, still have members with day jobs, albeit probably not squeegeeing car windows or pumping gas. “A lot of them are teachers and only tour during summer.”

“It’s a community and you work together, and it hasn’t really changed,” Ross continues, mentioning that it’s uncanny the number of punk bands still working with the same management and tour personnel she dealt with when booking bands like Bouncing Souls and Lagwagon 20 years ago.

“You don’t see (that happen) for as long as it does it punk. (’77 Montreal headliner) Rancid’s got the same tour manager!

Ross comes from another proud but less talked about punk tradition: strong women taking care of business behind the scenes for guys that are good at making a ruckus but maybe not so great at collecting the bills or getting from city to city.

No one is complaining that there was a lack of women on the bill, and the fact is the festival was inspired partly by the fact that L.A. punk originals X, helmed by legendary front-lady Exene Cervenka, were on tour to celebrate 40 years. Full circle, Ross was giddy to go see them a few minutes after we spoke.

“Warped Tour doesn’t translate anymore in Montreal,” Ross says of the original travelling mohawk roadshow.

“Punk rock has a bit of an age gap now. In 10 years it will even itself out. We might do Warped again one day, who knows? But there is room for this. And hopefully we can do this for years to come.”

Not being a punk, per se, I have a day job and could only attend the second half of the day’s events, and was particularly disdained to miss an early day set from Montreal rudies the Kingpins, who I haven’t seen in probably 20 years and would have broke my neck skanking to the beat with first thing in the afternoon, had I made it. So there’s that.

I also wanted to see Madball, who apparently crushed it, but it was not to be. Also pissed I missed Stiff Little Fingers singer Jake Burns, bless my Irish heart.

My arrival, however, coincided perfectly with Cali’s Bouncing Souls taking the stage. Having never seen them, but been a fan since Rhymesayers/Doomtree rapper POS recorded a song with BC singer Greg Keelor, I was soon…bouncing?…nah….standing bobbing my head fast with the tattooed, t-shirted, tall-can-hoisting punks and punkettes singing along to their favourite jams. Loud, vital and entertaining, this was my set of the day, granted I only really heard a few.

The elephant in the room here, if you’re a regular Cult MTL reader, is that I am, by reputation, a hip hop reporter. While that’s true, I grew up with the ubiquitous Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols in my home blasting in my brother’s room whenever my dad wasn’t around. (I remember him once coming home in the middle of “Bodies”, just in time for “Fuck this and fuck that” etc. I was maybe eight, didn’t even put the album on myself, and still got yelled at for listening to smut.) When I would discover rap music very shortly after, I learned wisely to mask the tapes and hide them. (He found them anyways. Thank God for dubbing machines.) And for the couple of years in my earliest teens, when I lost interest in most rap for a couple of years, L.A. alt-rock, classic punk and 2Tone ska were my go-tos, before grunge made it commercially cool to be angsty. I used to go see Montreal’s Grim Skunk and Me, Mom & Morgentaler whenever I could. And when Montreal’s ska scene surged in the mid/late ’90s, I was sweating and skanking at the Jailhouse and Woodstock regularly. While the lion’s share of bands at ’77 Montreal were either not on my radar as a kid or came after my time, I love the idea of punk, and this festival caught it: loud, drunk, rowdy and fun. And a little smelly.

My favourite part was honestly the little punk village created to house record vendors like BBAM! Gallery’s Ralph Alfonso, a Canadian punk mover-shaker in his own right. Indica records was out with the whole catalogue, as Grim Skunk’s Peter Edward’s adorable kids worked the table doing the lord’s work in the name of rawk. And I copped some wicked t-shirts from Broke & Stoked, a Montreal-based clothing company.

But the highlight was a collection of vintage gig posters from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s in Montreal. Some of the smallest openers on the hand-drawn, one of a kind labours of love became icons in their own right. There was a Suicidal Tendencies poster with the second “n” missing and then scribbled in. Someone was probably pissed back then, but today it holds its own as Montreal music memorabilia. Some of those posters seemed like they were on the streets yesterday, which means yes I’m old AF.

My personal day-defining moment came when co-headliners the Dropkick Murphy’s exploded into “Shipping Up to Boston.” The Celtic-punk, gold standard song is as big a smash hit as you’re going to hear at a festival geared toward bands without many Billboard hits between them, despite cult-inspiring classic records.
It used to be that at a punk show, you wanted to hear songs no one knew, not the one everyone knows. Not so last Friday. ’77 Montreal momentarily turned into a scaled-down arena rock show, and people ate it up. No diss — it was nice.

So nice, in fact, I decided to call it a day and skip Rancid. They’re okay but it was getting loud, dark, and maybe one toke — or toot, or huff — over the line for a few people there ready to lose their shit for the headliner. As for me, I know that even if I had stayed and loved it, I can’t look at Tim Armstrong without thinking of him as the guy that produced a Pink record. No, that’s not a typo. But if ’77 Montreal proved one thing…nah fuck it, I’m not ending with a “punk’s not dead” joke.

Wishlist for future ’77 Montreal (that name will not change with the year)

– Mike Watt’s return to Montreal, vowed never to happen when the bass he played his entire career was stolen from the Stooges van during Osheaga one year. Offer him a corndog.

– Rapper POS, who is more hardcore than any of you fuckers and did punk before becoming a bone-crushingly good MC who performs aggressive, fast, loud hip hop music like he was a one-man  Fugazi. My first ever Mirror column was titled XhiphopX and announced his show. So this is selfish.  And if people throw mud at a rapper, we will fucking find you after.

– Fishbone. Just…look, Fishbone, please? And as HR increasingly gains stability (well, as stable as HR will ever be) after a neurosurgical process on his beautiful broken mind, maybe Bad Brains? Fishbone have been teasing an OG line-up reunion — and its long-departed founder Phil “Fish” Fisher making a lot of that noise so I tend to think it’s goin’ down. But whoever is in Fishbone this time next year, let’s get them!

– No Bad Religion, ever.

– No fucking Sublime With Rome and No Sublime.

– Some shade?

– Even more good times