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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Montreal Indie Punk Scene Rains Down From Canadian 'Skies'

Author: Ryan Abernathy Staff Writer

A friend once told me, "The better the economy, the worse the punk scene." Punk certainly flourished in the 1980s and early 1990s, but as the economy took off, the genre suffered. Perhaps the wealth and prosperity had finally placated America's once-angry youth. Maybe kids just thought it was easier to make music with computers than with guitars.

Current evidence seems to further support the proposition. Ever since last year's economic downturn, punk shows seem to be on the rise. Musically, punk sounds very different than it did 20 years ago. In fact most bands in today's punk scene play some variety of post-punk, hardcore, indie-rock or even techno. When I say punk is on the rise, I refer to the independent ethic and general angst that have long separated punk from the musical mainstream. In tough times, these traits are likely exaggerated.

Middlebury will get a much needed taste of punk rock this Friday in the Gamut Room. Kiss Me Deadly, from Montreal, Can., and Spengler, from Halifax, Can., will show off the unique sounds that are rapidly earning them acclaim both in Canada and the United States. Both bands are on the Montreal-based label "Blue Skies Turn Black" (BSTB).

As you have probably guessed, I know even less about economics than I do about punk. Luckily, Meyer Billurcu and Brian Neuman, the co-founders of BSTB, know a lot — at least about punk. Their record label has breathed new life into the Montreal punk scene, bringing popular out-of-town bands to local venues and encouraging new artists. In an e-mail interview, Billurcu and Neuman shed some light on the future of punk rock in Montreal.

Ryan Abernathey: How did you become interested in indie/punk etc.?

Brian Neuman: What made me turn towards punk, or rather indie music in general, was a camping trip I went on with a guy who would only listen to country music for hours and hours. When I got back I had to find something as far away from country as I could. A friend of mine had an old mix tape with Black Flag, Minor Threat, No Means No and all sorts of other rock bands.

Meyer Billurcu: My first exposure to real underground music was through a copy of Fugazi's Repeater album. I was never a big music fan before that, but when I heard that record, it changed my life. Their whole philosophy of how they run their business was so inspiring to me. They were my gateway to a whole bunch of other cool bands.

RA: How, why and when did you decide to start BSTB?

MB: BSTB was started in the summer of 1999 with the intent of putting a screening of the Fugazi documentary "Instrument." It became really serious in the fall of 2000, when we started to book bands here and we were offered the chance to put out the Blake LP. BSTB was started with the intent of promoting the music we love, which just happens to be indie-rock/punk stuff. Actually, we like a lot of different genres of music (hip-hop, punk, post-rock, etc.) and we'd do a hip-hop record if we both thought it was cool.

BN:Now it has developed into a record label with almost five releases and a promotion company which has done over 60 shows, including bands such as Unwound, Mecca Normal, Rainier Maria, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead, Sweep the Leg Johnny, North of America . . . and a bunch of others.

RA:What do you have planned for the future?

MB: Our next release will be the Kiss Me Deadly full-length record.

RA: What's the hardest part about owning a record label?

MB: Getting distributors and stores to listen to our records without really knowing who we are. Also, getting distributors to return our calls/e-mails, which they never do.

RA: What are the last five records you bought?

MB: Fugazi's The Argument; The Faint's Danse Macabre; Milemarker's Anaesthetic; The Red Scare's Strangers Die Every Day; and At the Drive In's Acrobatic Tenement.

BN: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists's The Tyranny of Distance; North of America's This is Dance Floor Numerology; Rockets Red Glare 7, self titled on Dievenom Records; The Frenetics's These Mistakes Took Years of Practice; and Lea-Tseu's Demo, which is as of yet unavailable.

RA: What is your opinion of the Montreal scene?

MB: Montreal's scene is kind of weird. It doesn't seem that many people out here are into this kind of music. Most of the people who come to our shows are students from either the States, Vancouver or Ontario. A few years ago it seemed there was more of an interest. It's starting to pick up again, so who knows, it might be better in a few months.

BN:Montreal has a strange dymanic because the city virtually dies in the summer. I mean the city itself is full of people having a good time, but like Meyer said, the people who come out to shows all go home. So when you go to a show in the summer it feels empty, but come Sept. 1, the shows are all sold out again. I guess it is like that in a lot of towns, but Montreal is a big city, and the indie scene should be self-sufficient. I think we should make that our personal goal: to try and rebuild the Montreal scene, by bringing in more bands and putting out more records.