77 Montreal: An Hommage to 40 Years of Punk

77 showcased old-school punk posters for Montreal venues in the 70s including Foufounes Electrique

’77 is the first major punk festival to bring together the whole local scene

I think Montrealers are used to seeing certain crowds at Parc Jean Drapeau for Evenko’s summer festivals: dazed kids with sparkles and flowery hair at Osheaga, an army of Metallica attire at Heavy, and tie-dye shirts bouncing around on Molly for Ile Soniq… This time the crowd was quite different, although just as enthusiastic.

So it was that this past July 28th, 77 Montreal, a festival celebrating the last 40 years of punk, brought all the faces of punk together at the new Parc Jean Drapeau set-up (while they’re renovating the main site). I’m sure, however, that there are many more who didn’t attend or maybe didn’t even hear of it. I honestly didn’t see much promotion for the festival. I’m not even sure how this was marketed–litterally, I saw a 7 year-old there–, but I look forward to its success in the future!

In a way, this was a festival for non-festival goers and those who did experience it were privileged to be there year one. The vibe was much more pleasurable than most festival experiences: there was room to walk around, to sit on grassy spots, and even to enjoy a refreshment without waiting an hour– although, they definitely could’ve had more efficient food services. But who needs food when you’ve got beer, right? Aside from the minimal crowd, the audience was refreshingly diverse: ranging from young 20-25 year-olds who share a passion for old-school punk, to 50-60 year-olds reminiscing over the heyday of 1970s Punk.

As a year, 1977 was a turning point for music: you had Iggy and the Stooges breaking all the rules of stage performance, Blondie and the stylish Debbie Harry paving the path for female-fronted bands, The Damned and The Ramones reaching the public eye, just to name a few… Yeah, punk may have started a few years before but in 1977, it blew up. It was no longer just garage music but a worldwide style, attitude, and mentality. On the ’77 Montreal website, they describe their goal as “hoping to create not just a festival but a living archive of the Montréal Punk scene uniting all the eras of the music we love into one glorious celebration of the genre.” And the organizers from Evenko and Greenland are far from impostors when it comes to the punk culture of Montreal, having been booking punk shows for the past 25 years, from basements to clubs.

’77 reminded us that punk may be dead in the mainstream but its spirit continues to thrive. Particularly, LA punk icons “X” killed it on stage. The 60-something year-olds channelled first wave punk for an hour with the fabulous Exene Cervenka, leading the ass-kicking with her unforgiving stage presence, crisp vocals, and punk rock attitude. She stood with such nonchalant confidence, beer in hand and bright pink scruffy hair shimmering in the sun. At the end she just snarled “Thanks” into the microphone and walked off. Does it get more punk rock than that? As much as she rocked, she did not steal the stage with guitarist Billy Zoom transitioning from rockabilly/surf solos to ripping sax sequences. The bassist and vocalist John Doe seemed to have re-ignited his inner teenage punk, flailing and screaming throughout the set. Last but not at all least, their drummer DJ Bonebreak killed it with a jazzy solo. Let’s just say, their youth does not seem to have dissipated with age. They were clearly having the time of their lives and that energy resonated with the crowd, young and old.

LA Band X, from left to right: John Doe, DJ Bonebreak, Exene Cervenka, and Billy Zoom

Other highlights include: Belfast-native Jake Burns performing emotional folk renditions of his band Stiff Little Finger’s classics, such as “Alternative Ulster”; pioneers of the New York hardcore scene Madball, and of course Rancid who ended the night with a killer, energetic performance of all their classics. All the performers seemed humble and excited to be playing a festival surrounded by true lovers of punk rock. To top things off, ’77 held a competition for local bands to earn a chance to play at the event. Locally famous band The Barrelheads ended up winning, lighting up the tiny stage with energetic Rock’n’Roll, blues and punk rock. Local supporters and newfound fans moshed harder than ever for the 45-minute set. Even when Rancid started playing on the main stage, most people stuck around to support and enjoy, really encompassing the essence of punk rock: local music and community. I overheard someone who’d never seem them before call out to his friend “This is the best show so far, I don’t know why there weren’t bands here all day!”

For the first time, Montreal punk-lovers of all stripes got to share an experience of both the most famous punk bands such as Rancid and Dropkick Murphys to local talent like The Barrelheads. The spirit of ’77 original punk was surely in the air, shared by both the musicians and the crowd. ’77 reflected on the rich music culture present in Montreal, and will again for the years to come.

-words by Devan KM
-photos by Chris Atkins