Downtown Brantford was host to Blackout Fest this past weekend. In its 13th year, it featured 80+ bands, 3 venues, 5 stages, and a ton of punk, pop punk, post hardcore, and emo. Catching every band would’ve been impossible, but here’s a summary of the bands we were able to check out.
Day One : Friday, October 18th
First stop was Marvelous Lounge, where beers were cheap and a security guard was handing out candy in the spirit of Halloween. The Holdouts from St. Catharines kicked off the weekend in fine form. Their SoCal hardcore-infused style with high-octane vocals, punchy bass, and crunchy guitar manifested all the excitement for the weekend ahead.
The Advancing Low-Lives, with their purposely misspelled name, followed with a shredding, grungy set. Occasionally poppy vocals and leads were challenged by punk rock yells and bass fills. Their set featured some pretty sweet bluesy rock ‘n’ roll breakdowns. From Barrie they came, with their purposely misspelled name and interesting fashion choices.
Next was a quick jaunt to the main venue, Club NV, where Our Saving Republic was making a speech about making real change in the world by voting in the upcoming election: “We need more love in the world.” Their metal-inspired punk sound included well-distorted bass, finger tapping guitar solos, and melodic talk-singing with a healthy dose of yells and screams.
After a few Guinness Extra Stouts at NV it was time to grab a bite to eat, before catching Bad Buzz back at Marvelous. Amazingly, their drummer was a fill in who only had two weeks to learn the songs. Party vibes with lively guitar leads, their sound was reminiscent of modern LA pop punk. Bad Buzz gave us all a good buzz to go along with the cheap beers
Next up, M.A.V.I.S. from Etobicoke: A little rock, a little pop punk, a little folk, and a lot of fun. These guys fall into the category of that melodic alternative that’s emerged in the Canadian punk scene in the last handful of years. Flavours of the Weakerthans were apparent in both their vocals
and guitar leads, but with a healthy dash of punk boldness.
The Highdives from Barrie describe themselves as power pop, and sure they’re punk and a bit angst-pop… but that doesn’t really describe experiencing them live. Witty and inimitable, their dual vocalist styling’s could be best described as if Justin Sane and Brian Fallon had a baby. Yeah, this sounds like it wouldn’t work but it does, as The Highdives are heavier and more intricate than either Anti-Flag or Gaslight Anthem. Their worthy cover of Rancid’s “Tattoo” mingled into a set that was sing-along-able, and with some real punk banger’s.
Toronto’s The Anti-Queens brought the power with their set at NV. Rock ‘n’ roll with grungy instrumentation and a punk rock attitude, they had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. Bad-ass-ery ensued with a jaw-dropping drum solo, heaps of catchy lyrics, shreddin’ lead guitar, and a big dirty bass tone. With all that, and a guest guitarist for their new single,
“Worse Than Death,” they slayed us all.
The Penske File were not a band to be missed Friday night, with their distinctly Canadian punk anthem-style. Their set is a freaking treat to watch, with their high-energy performance and shared vocals – with the drummer just nailing super fast hi hat hits while singing. Jump splits
ensued, and to my personal delight, the harmonica was busted out for an older tune.
Back to the side stage, Welland Wasted was maybe the most welcome surprise of the weekend. The double-entendre name itself was intriguing, and they did not disappoint. A crusty five-piece from – you guessed it, Welland – they brought an intensity to the weekend that I hadn’t seen yet. Straight-up punk with that sacred genre, crossover thrash. Their singer was outrageously mobile, taking his mic across the bar and back throughout their set.
All the way from Milwaukee, Direct Hit closed the night at Club NV with pop punk good vibes and a hybrid lineup. The sweaty and enigmatic Nick Woods was joined by Maura Weaver of Mixtapes, The Homeless Gospel Choir, and Ogikobu Station on guitar.
Also present were bassist Josh Goldman from The Raging Nathans and The Dopamines, and long-time part-time drummer Logan Stang. A collective of awesome musicians. You could see the chemistry between them onstage. At one point there was an instrument switch where Nick played bass, and Josh took over vocals for a cover of “Rockaway Beach” by the Ramones.
Day Two : Saturday, October 19th
After nursing slightly tender heads at the Airbnb, it was time to head back into the dark, divey ambiance of Club NV and Marvelous Lounge – and tonight there was a new venue to behold! First stop was NV for Letdown’s set. There was a huge crowd at the side stage – even festival organizer Jamie Mittendorf was there shouting along with the words. Hailing from
Oshawa, Letdown played like it was much later in the night, as if they were headlining a show.
Their punk rock sound had distinct post-hardcore influences, and was incredibly full for a three-piece – and the crowd loved it. What was supposed to be a quick burger / poutine (Poutine? You weren’t even in Quebec! – Editor) break at Admiral Submarine turned into a five pound burger and an impossible-to-finish poutine.
Catching Boys Of Fall’s set at NV was a decent dessert with their sweet bass lines, supplementary backing tracks, and ample bass drops. This 4-piece from Detroit were melodic post-hardcore at its finest.
Still reeling a bit from too much food, a much-needed walk to the farther venue was in order. Two Doors Down turned out to be a hidden gem – small, and not overly well-attended, but the best kind of dive bar with craft beer, and some damn good bands. Stopping outside for a smoke before entering, an overly enthusiastic bassist waved us in from the street.
Minority 905 from Mississauga were mid-set and they didn’t disappoint. The bass player ripped a quick version of a Descendants song for us as we walked in, after asking if we liked punk music… is it that obvious? Their set featured an upbeat punk cover of A-Ha’s “Take On Me” – falsetto included!
Oshawa’s Poor Judgement followed. A self-proclaimed “movement for equality and a better self,” they integrated their statement well into their blend of post-hardcore and pop punk. A spoken word segment in their set was goosebump-inducing, and their cover of Underoath’s “Reinventing Your Exit” was great. They brought some real talk to their set, and they announced that 10% of their merchandise sales go to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Back at Club NV, Keep Flying won the award for the most fun band of those I caught at Blackout Fest. The group of artists from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were extremely entertaining, with an exceptionally enthusiastic saxophone player just throwing down onstage with his sax. The high energy antics of the band, in addition to the singer/guitarist’s expressiveness and charisma, made it one of the best sets at Blackout Fest.
Next was the much-awaited Fortune Cove (formerly Harbour), organizer Jamie Mittendorf’s band. On bass and vocals, he led his band through a ridiculously tight set. Power punk with melodic poppy vocals, and soaring guitar leads, these Brantford locals definitely know what they’re doing, and had the crowd captivated.
Toronto’s Like Pacific is a band I’ve never seen before, and apparently I’ve been missing out. People were screaming along with the words, moshing, and crowd surfing within the first few minutes of their solid-yet-sensitive pop punk set. The room was packed while the enigmatic singer inspired people to sing along and dance. The band even stopped mid-song to ensure
everyone in the pit was doing okay.
Pop punk/emo darlings Seaway closed the night. Everyone immediately started singing along with the lead vocalist encouraging them. From Oakville, they’ve returned to Blackout Fest expecting everyone to go nuts, and they did. Watching the headliners at NV was a special experience, as the bands obviously know that Brantford has a damn fine festival with a solid fan base, and they didn’t disappoint.
Until next year, Blackout Fest!