Hidden punks of Waterloo

Hidden Punks of Waterloo: Journeying into the City's Loudest Scene


I’ve never been into “heavy” music.

The devilish chug of distorted guitar and the aching screamed vocals meld into a trope that seems to repeat itself throughout catalogues and between bands. That’s not to say this type of music is bad; I’m just not accustomed to metal, hardcore, punk and the sub-genres in between.

In the same way mom tells you to turn down Kendrick Lamar, dad tells you to shut off the EDM — or in my case “that hipster bullshit” — an individual’s concept of “good music” is contingent on their intuition, external environment and birth cohort. Music must be contextualized to be fully appreciated.

So I went to a punk show.

Event poster for March 12 house show

The event poster

Location: “Ask a punk.”

Luckily, it was easy enough to reach the organizer, Kyle O’Meara, a second-year psychology student at Wilfrid Laurier University. O’Meara is also the lead vocalist of local hardcore band Bricker and the co-founder of Solace Music TV, a Brampton-based media organization devoted to spotlighting Canadian bands.

Rather than Starlight or Maxwell’s, O’Meara sent me an address deep within the student ghettos of Waterloo — the practice space for Bricker and the leased house of his bandmates.

“It’s very limited capacity, so show up before seven,” he said.


The show

Anxiety and exhilaration charged my approach to the burgundy bricked home. In anticipation of a drug-fueled rager, I was surprised by a setting not too dissimilar from the generic university house party. Having established a firm stance as an “outsider” from this music scene, my subconscious anticipated an excessively sensationalized and punk-like atmosphere. But entering through the garage, I was met with cozy vinyl couches and a beer pong table — the familiarity was disarming.

Greeted by O’Meara at the entrance, he noted the show would start in an hour.

“Respect the house, have fun and bring earplugs,” O’Meara advised to anyone attending their first house show.

Bricker would open the set, followed by Hamilton-based pop-punk band, Fighting Season, and then the night would cap-off with a pair of Waterloo-based hardcore outfits, The Hollow Sea and Life In Vacuum.


 

Kyle O’Meara (left) looks on as the rest of Bricker brings their living room to a rumble. • Photo by Kishan Mistry

Bricker

Bricker’s performance was loud, abrasive and enthralling. At first strum of the static-dredged, Drop D tuned guitar, O’Meara commanded the modest living room-turned stage. Sadly, the reverberation of the heavy set began to take its toll — I really should have brought the ear plugs. A subtle ache developed in my ear, but hell, it was all part of the experience.

“A range of heavy music is what I describe our sound as,” said O’Meara.

“We take so much influence from metalcore and like anywhere from death metal to black metal.”

At one point during the set, the bass player’s instrument came unplugged, but thankfully Lukas Foote of Fighting Season leapt into action quickly, plugging and securing the patch cord into the bass to reinstate the low-end for a strong finish. Foote’s actions were commendable, but also wholly representative of the strong sense of camaraderie within the scene.

Bricker

Bricker • Photo by Kishan Mistry

“It’s much easier with a tight-knit community, everyone in hardcore and punk is always together. We’re basically like a family in hardcore, we all have groups of friends that introduce us to more friends,” said O’Meara.

“I love checking out my friend’s bands … spread the word online, wear their merch, it’s pretty easy. Just pay 10 bucks to go to a show.”

To lighten the mood, Fighting Season took the stage next.


 

Fighting Season

Fighting Season

“Sing along if you know the words,” said Matt O’Connor, lead singer of Fighting Season.

Ironically, O’Connor’s vocals remained nearly inaudible beneath the thick backing instrumentation of stuttered power chords and a beat-riding snare drum. Fighting Season’s pop appeal induced a fun, party-like atmosphere. The crowd moshed, swayed and the bong made its rounds. The room’s tobacco-musk strengthened.

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As the keg and set neared its end, Foote ventured back into the crowd. Suspended into a crowd surf as he continued to play guitar, he was lowered in a hasty panic with enough time to refocus and finish the set.

Lukas Foote of Fighting Season keeps pace while suspended in a crowd surf.

Lukas Foote of Fighting Season keeps pace while suspended in a crowd surf. • Photo by Kishan Mistry

“It takes so much guts to throw a house show, because you don’t want your house getting wrecked,” said Foote, commending O’Meara and Bricker.

The installation of angst established by Fighting Season quickly turned to aggression as The Hollow Sea took the stage.


 

The Hollow Sea

In the throes of their gut-wrenching set, vocalist Nick Couture’s t-shirt tore and mangled into an industrial, extra-deep-v-neck — a belly-button bib. In conversation with Couture and his brother Daniel, guitarist for the band, they noted the ambiguity of genre within the music scene.

The genre of “post-hardcore” dominated in the early millennium, followed by a surge in “metalcore” in the late 2000s. Now in 2016, many bands fall into a middle-of-the-road sound that takes influence from various genres.

“[Now], there’s a stigma associated with calling yourself metalcore or post-hardcore, especially if you don’t fit into traditional hardcore,” said Daniel Couture.

Nick Couture of The Hollow Sea sports his mangled t-shirt.

Nick Couture of The Hollow Sea sports his mangled t-shirt. • Photo by Kishan Mistry

While from an outsider perspective, this necessity of “tradition” to earn a genre label may seem detrimental. But Nick Couture insisted it works in their favour.

“We prefer living in the ambiguity because we just write what we want … in that case, we can hop on a metal show, or a hardcore show or a punk show and we still sort of fit in and we may be a little bit of an oddball, but still aren’t completely outcast,” said Nick Couture.

Despite the modest performance space size, The Hollow Sea still brought their five-foot tall amps, bringing the night to a rumbling peak. Easily the most engaging performance of the night, the band left the crowd in a dizzying exhaustion.

Life In Vacuum

Life In Vacuum • Photo by Kishan Mistry

Life In Vacuum

Ending off the night, Life in Vacuum took the stage for the tightest and — in my opinion — the best sounding set of the night.

Although sweepingly labeled as “hardcore,” their frenetic vocals and dynamic bass and drum combo placed them somewhere between hardcore and post-punk. Drummer, Ross Chornyy was outfitted in METZ merchandise, a Toronto-based band which shares a similar sound aesthetic.

“We’re off to South America in a few days,” declared bassist Dylan Bravener. “So let’s just have some fun.”

Charged with raw enthusiasm and near-perfect timing, Life in Vacuum’s talent distracted from my deafening ear, raising the hairs on my neck and displacing me from the safety of the outlying crowd. The dark, gloomy and apocalyptic set brought the night to a resounding close, demolishing any preconceived notion that this isn’t a scene worth watching.

“We’re off to South America in a few days”

“We’re off to South America in a few days” • Photo by Kishan Mistry


Reflection

Coming away from the show, I wouldn’t consider myself a complete convert, but I certainly hold a much deeper respect for this scene and music communities in general. They’ve built a small economy by going to each other’s shows and buying each other’s merchandise. A call of duty emerged in times of panic and disdain appeared non-existent in the face of their cohorts’ success. They’re all trying to make it, but they don’t have to tear each other down in the process.

Although this was his first house show in Waterloo, O’Meara declared if this show was a success, he’d be eager to organize more.

“We’d do another right before their lease expires,” said O’Meara.

“More people, more chaos, we don’t give a fuck.”

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