Words by Rob Hughes and Kyle Harcott; Photos by Ted Reckoning
Hughes: As depressing as the 2011 Stanley Cup riot was, it’s been heartening to see how Vancouver’s music community responded to that black spot on our civic history. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the city, media, and small businesses rolled out the red carpet for mindlessly rampaging hockey “fans,” whereas underground music promoters have to bend over backwards while jumping through hoops to secure space where creative people can gather, make music and have a bit of fun.
It’ll be a long time, if ever, until things are put right, but July 13th’s Riffs Not Riots gig helped heal some wounds and showcase this city at its best. Put together by the newly formed Underground Hardcore Collective (including Chris Dyck from Ancients, scene kingpin Wendy 13, Mayo from The Invisible Orange, Cherchez La Femme, and Apocalypse Sunrise Productions) “to honour the heroic citizens that stood up for our city,” the charity event featured eight amazing bands playing short sets and raising money for the Canucks for Kids Fund.
I arrived at the Fortune Sound Club just before Anion went on. I needed a minute to adjust to the darkness, haze and lights laser-beaming everywhere inside. I’m not used to seeing shows in such a “nightclub” atmosphere, but the Fortune Sound Club is a great space and I hope to see more shows there soon.
Harcott: Within days of the heartbreaking riot that No Fun City suffered at the hands of a small pack of wilding shitheads, there were rumblings among local metalheads of how our ‘community’ should do something to help out; make some gesture to try and put right (in our small way) this blight on our fair city. Local scene documentarian Gerald Leong’s suggestion of a benefit show came together with the help of a lot of local legends, as Rob mentioned above. Securing Chinatown’s Fortune Sound Club (with its fantastic sound system) for the gig was a coup, and a whole lot of metalheads came out to show their support on a Wednesday night, to see a whole lot of local bands kick ass for the forces of good, with all proceeds going to a worthy charity.
Hughes: My first encounter with Anion made a strong impression. The band delivers a heavy brand of noise punk with a strong sense of identity and impact. Their focal point is vocalist Johnny Matter, who throws his whole being into every line he bellows, leaving the stage and stalking the floor in front of the standoffish crowd. Despite the early slot, Anion took control. I imagine under the right conditions they could inspire a room to go nuts.
Harcott: I walked in the door in time to catch Anion already a song or two in onstage. Turns out they opened the show when Depressing couldn’t – there were rumblings of a ‘skateboard fumble’ kyboshing Depressing’s set. I was stoked to finally see Anion in the live setting, only knowing them from their recordings so far. Their noisy brand of hardcore just gets better and better, and newer material tends to lean a little more toward mid-‘90s AmRep as a jumping-off point. Lead singer Johnny Matter is a compelling show unto himself, holding court all over the Fortune’s dance floor, pacing like an about-to-rage bull as he winds up entangled in his mic wire. As the warm-up act, it seemed like Anion were playing to a bit of a lukewarm, still-arriving crowd, but I could totally see them in a headline position and whipping up a frenzy on the floor – gnarly, noisy stuff.
Hughes: Abriosis was another band I knew by name only, but holy crap, were they up my alley. My ears pricked up right away when I heard some Gorguts chords and I was rapt for the rest of their unbelievable set. They’re an ace tech death band (with a slight emphasis on tech) complete with gut-busting musicianship and material that twisted itself into bewildering shapes. They had much fretboard tapping, at least one six-string bass solo, and a killer drummer who could push his glasses back up his nose without missing a blastbeat. Struggling to process what was happening on stage, I began to suspect that these guys were actually from Quebec, but then again, why would a Quebec metal band want to move to this coastal outpost? Abriosis, to be sure, are an amazing homegrown product.
Harcott: As I’ve never seen them before, Abriosis were a compelling watch. When they weren’t precision-hammering everything in sight with harrowingly-technical progressive death, I swear I heard hints of Mr Bungle buried within their sound. Mostly though, they were all over the frets, spastically stop-starting like prog-metal madmen. New, all-over-the-map song ‘Pathogen’ was a definite highlight, incorporating rampaging death with near-jazz-worthy breakdowns.
Hughes: Three-piece stoner/doom outfit Weirding were up next. They were unnecessarily apologetic about not being able to play as well as the other bands. The contrast they offered with their Sleep-style rock was more than welcome. I dug that some of their songs are based around drum patterns; the approach taps into something primal and helps the music stick with you. This was only my second time seeing Weirding, and I recognized a lot of material from before.
Harcott: After the blistered noisecore of Anion, and the tech-necksnap of Abriosis, I found Weirding, with their groaning stone grooves (shades of Blue-Cheer-by-way-of-Sleep), a welcome juxtaposition to the previous bands. Bearing loping, green-tinged riffola, the trio lurched their way across a set heavy on repetition, almost as if they were trying to invoke some sort of collective mantra state with their music. Their heavy-retro vibe totally sucked me in and I look forward to seeing them again at Doom Menace in August.
Hughes: Galgamex ramped up the velocity with a set of vicious death/grind. The four piece—no bass!—were out to kill. Where do all these drummers come from? Galgamex have a blasting, grinding monster behind the kit. Although Vancouver’s had a stupidly cold summer so far, the guy was more than justified having a fan trained on him—I imagine he’d spontaneously combust otherwise. With a manic vocalist at the helm, Galgamex were an intense experience.
Harcott: Last year, I caught the last two songs of Galgamex’s set when they opened for Watain, but that was nowhere near enough to get a decent read on them. This night, though, I got to see their full set and was completely blown away by the band. Wielding some stunning blackened deathgrind in their arsenal, Galgamex totally schooled my ass. Sporting no visible bass player (this night anyway), and one of those drummers that causes jaws to drop, the four-piece snarled through a ripping headache of a set, singer Chris Mathis stalking the Fortune’s stage like his band owned it. The highlight of their set for me was definitely ‘Lightspeed Sarcophagus’ with its blackmetal breakdowns. Definitely the local band to watch.
Hughes: I’m still trying to figure out what to make of Ancients. They had so much going on at all times. Following Galgamex, they sounded pretty rock ‘n’ roll, but when I really focused on what they were doing it seemed just as crazy. How do you peg such a band? On one hand they had a tech-sludge Soilent Green thing happening; on their other hand they were quite melodic, as if they’d chopped up and reassembled the NWOBHM – ‘79 Revisited album and played it back at twice the speed! Epic stuff. I’m looking forward to catching the band again when they play the Doom Menace Festival at the Biltmore Cabaret in August.
Harcott: This was my first time seeing Ancients and I was immediately impressed, these guys are top-notch and it showed from their first note. Occasionally veering into serious Mastodon waters, at other times in their set I caught a whiff of Torche in what they do, especially vocally (check out ‘Built To Die’). I even got a bit of a Red Fang vibe from them at times, when they weren’t busy being all epic (see end of ‘Humanist’). Ancients are completely professional and personally, the band of the night for me (though Galgamex were a ridiculously-close second).
Harcott: Ancients’ set ended around midnight. Being the crotchety-old-bastard-out-on-a-worknight that I am, I had to tap out and take my leave at this point. Someday I will see Black Wizard, and having seen Titan’s Eve lay down their thunder across a stage, hope to get the chance to see them again soon too.
Hughes: The show was running a bit behind schedule by this time, and I started watching the clock. I stuck around for a lamentably small dose of Black Wizard—I had to leg it after two songs. But hell, those two songs had some of the biggest riffs I’d heard all night. Black Wizard’s combination of riffs and groove has helped make them a mainstay of the scene. Their music goes down a treat live.
Hughes: Finally I have to mention the evening’s final band, Titans Eve. I missed them entirely, much to my chagrin. They’d played so well in their opening slot with Woods of Ypres in May and I was looking forward to seeing them after their monster tour last month. No doubt they were in fine form.
Hughes: Out of the worst of Vancouver—the entitlement, narcissism, and stupidity—came the best of Vancouver—the talent, community, and hard work—in the form of this show. Riffs Not Riots honoured some heroes who stood up on that infamous night, and in turn gave us a whole new batch of hometown heroes to follow. Final score by my tally: RIFFS—12,532, RIOTS—1.
Harcott: While the Stanley Cup Riot of 2011 will be neither forgiven nor forgotten any time soon, it was heartening to see Vancouver’s metal scene step up and do their part to help soothe some of the sting the city’s been feeling since that night. I also got my eyes opened – there are a lot of incredible bands in this city, many of them I’ve been ignorant of. A fringe benefit of the show – I came away from it with the impetus to see a lot more local shows going forward. Support your local live scene!