Last month, I reviewed a really cool show from the curators of Calgary punk. Bands had competitive ideas informing their music. The people were there for the show and nobody was drinking outside. Despite a display of extremely aggressive behaviour, attendees all understood the dance and no one took anything the wrong way. The touring bands had crossed a continent, successfully, as their art is widely appreciated and generally accepted as nifty. Everyone had fun. Everything was very cool.
Now, imagine a show exactly the opposite in every way. This month, we venture to that other half of all ages Alberta hardcore, the rural side. Shows still happen out beyond the city limits, albeit far less frequently, and almost nobody anywhere, likely not even the people attending them, would consider these events “cool” in anyway whatsoever. It wasn’t always this way, but this is what hardcore has become where I grew up: the Town of Okotoks.
I don’t know a single person who is going to this show. I’ve never seen any of the bands perform. I don’t have a car, so I need to catch a lift. An eighteen year old girl with a name I’ve never heard before responds to my plea post on the Facebook event page, saying that she can get me a lift with some people that are meeting her at Somerset station. For old time’s sake, I eat at Wendy’s and smoke a cigarette so as to feel nauseated and inept before returning to my shit-hole of an origin. Then, I wait for an hour passed the agreed upon meeting time. Finally, they show up in a rusty red Toyota. The driver’s name rhymes with my own. He wants sixty dollars each from me and the girl for the twelve minute ride. She pays up and I talk him down to ten bucks and we’re off, blaring abhorrently sexist rap music and gawky guitar solos down Highway 2A at an obscenely unnecessary, uncomfortable volume.
We roll up to a standard store front on the partially vacant Elizabeth (Main) Street, the centre of town. The venue is sort of an office/reception area, except that it’s a church. We are in rural Alberta here. What isn’t a fucking church? The first band is called Against Them All: melodic HC like HH/Horizons and they cover Fat Lip, inciting some of the most timid movements I have ever witnessed. Ma, Pa, Aunty and the kids watch concertedly from the corner, glancing around apprehensively at all these unsupervised minors. Pa definitely notices me, tossing over a couple of Papa Bear glares. Most Okollocs divide unidentified males into two groups: “hetero-normal” and “criminal.” I’m clearly in the second category.
With one of the worst names I’ve ever heard, next is Those Are Them from Edmonton. They’re jocks who listen to Misery Signals and that whole synth-laden, auto-tuned mosh metal thing that the swoop-hairs were getting into a few years ago. There are four more bands to go and I need a break already, so I duck out after the first song and head for a soda at what used to be the Willy, the first pub in which I ever set foot. It’s refurbished into yet another slick suburban sports bar, complete with busted up waitresses, cellulite laden buttocks hanging out of their skirts, televisions visible from every vantage point and a menu full of Bridge Brand microwave meals. I pretend to read while eavesdropping on a senile citizen commenting positively on the quality of the mass produced piss water and indecipherable from store-bought ice cream for which they probably just charged him a day’s wage.
One of my younger sisters meets me at the Duke. She has never been to a “show” before and this won’t be a good introduction to hardcore, but we decide to pal around nonetheless. When we return, Autopsy Of An Icon is about to begin. They’re a three-piece from Drayton Valley with a lead “singer” and no bass player. The girl I rode in with is talking about how drunk her friends are (“seeew wastedzz, u guiz!”). AOIA’s drummer has really fast feet and just lays into that china pretty well through every song. It sounds like a micronic cheese grater is running through my tympanic cavities. The guitarist is “crabbing” — that is, to squat and bob rhythmically while chugging out open chords, as in the manner of a crab. The vocalist and percussionist harmonize their screeching while a young boy in an oversized NOFX shirt runs in a circle spraying “silly string” aimlessly into the air.
I’m standing outside between bands as a single law enforcement official shows up in a pick-up truck, creating a bit of a stir from those in and about the parking lot. “Wouldn’t it be cool if the cop just started moshing?” one guy a few feet from me says to his friend. I wonder if the Po is here to shut things down. It’s just glass and then the sidewalk behind the bands so you can hear the racket across the street and down the block — not that anyone is around this ghost town on a Saturday evening.
When I head inside, the bacon is standing at the back, just chillin’ as he chats up a few of the clean cut high school boys who seem as befuddled as to the origin of this event as he is. Up next is the one Calgary group performing, a high school band called Abstract Asylum. The songs are precise, well executed and fairly thorough. There are actual hooks and coordinated guitar rhythms organized intently throughout the well paced set. The band is dressed in skateboard apparel aside from one This Is Hell shirt and they cover August Burns Red. When a breakdown is imminent, kids line up and take turns bumping into each other politely. Duddly looks flustered. His arms are crossed as he stand gruffly against the back wall with a stern smirk, but he keeps shifting his weight from one leg to the other. Him and I are probably the only adults in the room. But piggy sees only junior high kids dancing timidly in a pseudo-church and promptly pisses off after a couple of songs. Almost immediately, the bottles of fruit juice are back out. Abstract Asylum is clearly my highlight for the night, but the Bring Me The Horizon cover is just too much, so I’m off to purchase pizza at the Chicago deep dish down the street where the oriental family behind the counter is ominously eating noodles.
There is a clear divide between the youth group kids and everyone else, namely in that the latter is flushed and stumbly, squawking pop songs in the parking lot while the former group is tacitly furtive. The next act is also from Drayton Valley and tops TAT for the worst named band of the night. Marry Me, Murder is a six-piece outfit with two lead vocalists who do the whole Dallas-Green-cleans-over-Pterodactyl-yelping-and-Southern-rock-riffs thing. They had a disc sent in to CJSW, but I couldn’t bear it. Their performance is energetic and people dance, but it’s just too vapidly docile to keep me off Twitter. I can’t handle this anymore. I’ve been here getting gawked at for hours and my sister, who is giving me a lift back to the city, wants to head ‘er ASAP, so we skip the last band, A Deceased Legacy, who organized the show (sorry, guys!).
I’ve never seen so many people look so awkward at a music-centric gathering. It seems that, usually, if some attendees are overtly uncomfortable at a show, it’s because the others they’re not familiar with are completely at home, so the uninitiated are, in a way, impeding upon an established social space and hence make themselves or are made to feel unwelcome.
But, this is the first hardcore show in Okotoks in years. There is no in-crowd. Everybody is a newcomer. Yet, kids in this town are screwy. Somehow, I’ve offended the girl who got me the ride to the show. We had been getting along fine earlier as she told me about how even though she wasn’t particularly interested in the bands, that she liked going to shows to mosh and hit kids and stuff, and I said that was great. But, as I’m leaving and I find her to say, “Hey, thanks for sourcing me a lift. It was nice to meet you and all,” she is crouched on the curb with some friends and doesn’t look up or respond to my farewell. The comrade to her right eyes me cruelly and simply says, “Okay.” I don’t know if she got shittered or thought we were on a date or what. I thought I’d made a new friend, but apparently not.
As we leave I overhear some boys who couldn’t be older than fourteen slurring about “finding some pussy to fuck.” It’s impossible to say, but I’d guess about half the attendees are intoxicated. The ones that aren’t drunk can hardly speak, they’re so shy. This is not what healthy, promising children look like.
Maybe now I’m just older and looking in, but maybe not. It wasn’t always like this. When I was growing up here, we had shows nearly every month. Sometimes, Calgary bands would come down and play. Other times it was just rural bands, but there was usually a wide variety of bands, at least outside of the metal shows, which would always get great turnouts. Most of the local music was terrible, of course, but there was growth, a marked progression such that eventually, after years of development, a couple of Okotoks-based metal and hardcore bands from different scenes went on to play across Western Canada a couple of times and were fairly well received. One signed to a small Saskatchewan-based label and other’s went off to various music schools. They weren’t much of a cultural export, but Okotoks isn’t much of a town. There was a time when 200+ kids from all over the province packed into the Elks Hall every month to see local and touring bands.
Those scenes have completely disbanded and this is something totally new. It is, currently, embarrassingly infantile. Yet, the simple fact that it is something rather than nothing is cause for celebration, in my mind at least. It’s only a small sliver of space, one tiny glimmer of hope leaking through an unnoticed crack in the insane, phobia-wrought and subtly fascistic conservatism that wholly dominates social life in Okotoks. These kids are not cool, at all. But they are there. They are real. They are asserting themselves into their cultural environment as best as they can. They are weak and sparse, but they are trying to grow. They are dumb and drunk, but they are fighting back. As their obese, semi-retarded suburbanite parents age, as their particle board claptraps crumble, Okotoks will change, somehow, someday. I hope these kids continue to build on what they’ve started. It only takes time and practice.
By Jayden Haader
Photos: Clarke Kinaschuk