This Thanksgiving, get ready to skank it up at the annual Montréal Ska Festival, now in its … first year? Is that right? Bizarre but true … Montréal, “the Ska Capital of Canada,” has never had its own ska fest. Now, The Montréal Ska Society has taken the initiative, building the festival from the ground up with a DIY ethic, and bringing in major names such as the Slackers, Westbound Train, local heroes The Planet Smashers, and a host of others.
The Montréal Ska Society was officially formed less than a year ago by Catherine Marchand, Valerie Desnoyers and Aaron Lakoff. Marchand and Desnoyers (or Cath and Val, as they are known to friends) have been booking shows with punkmeup.com, a webzine-cum-independent promotions agency, since 2005, and Lakoff has been hosting CKUT’s Roots Rock Rebel since 2003. Still, putting on a festival is a daunting task for anyone, let alone three ska fans in their twenties. “As enormous as it seems, sometimes you’ve got to just go ahead and do it yourself,” Marchand says.
Lack of funding be damned, the MSS has spent the past year booking festival benefit shows with local acts. These events have also begun to foster growth in the ska scene as a community. “The changes we’ve seen have been incredible,” Desnoyers says. There is now a team of volunteers for the festival, local acts are helping out with promotion, and even mainstays of the scene are lending a hand.
“Lorraine Muller (of the Kingpins, Lo & The Magnetics and Les Handclaps) has been a huge help, an important council for us right from the beginning.” (She will be performing Sunday night at Club Soda as The Fabulous LoLo.) Stomp Records also agreed to lend their name to the event. “It’s good to know we have so many friends. This type of scene needs to be a community, and we haven’t really had that for ten years now.”
It’s almost impossible to talk about ska in Montréal without harkening back to the late ’90s, when Montréal was the Canadian hotbed for the third wave explosion. The kids were dressed in two-tone everything; the shows were packed; and a little independent label called Stomp Records, formed by Matt Collyer of the Planet Smashers, had become a brand name across the country. But the explosion was too anomalistic to last; the scene changed, as scenes do.
(It’s actually interesting to note how much overlap there is between the Montréal ska explosion and our current wave of indie rock darlings – Patrick Watson and his guitarist Simon Angell played in the much loved ska-jazz outfit Gangster Politics, The New Cities used to be a hard hitting ska-punk band called The Gamblers, and The Stills in their teenage years released an adorably terrible third-wave album under the name The Undercovers.)
Of course, there are still a lot of ska fans who are nostalgic for the old days. And while there may be an aspect of nostalgia to the festival as well (Saturday night will be headlined by The Planet Smashers, who haven’t released an album in four years), Cath and Val insist that the festival has a focus on up-and-coming bands, as all three nights feature newer Canadian bands alongside more established acts. “Right now is a really good time to do it,” says Desnoyers. “There are so many great bands in Montréal, in Québec, in Canada, that just need a little kickstart.”
The Montréal Ska Fest takes place tomorrow and Sunday at Club Soda, with after parties at L’Absynthe both nights and a kick-off party at Petit Campus tonight. For a complete schedule visit their website.