July has brought about many exciting things for yours truly in the world of music and celebration (and the occasional disappointment) but in the midst of the supernova that is summer 2012, I had my first taste of something completely different – Vans Warped Tour.
Now, let me begin by saying that while I am a metalhead by profession, I am open to all sorts of music and excited at the possibility of discovering something new and awesome and I had never been to VWT and my hair was standing on end to experience something fresh. Unfortunately for me, and for the Warped Tour, I do not think I could have ever been prepared for what I experienced.
First of all, due to the insane heat we had been having, my companions and I began to suffer the first leg of our journey just walking into the area of Parc Jean-Drapeau dedicated to the event with bottled warm water and dizzy spells. After explaining several times to the high-profile, self-righteous security set up to patrol the perimeter that we had press access, they finally allowed us ahead of the line to commence with the fest.
Right away we were overwhelmed. There was hardly any room to walk amongst the sea of tweens desperately rushing to meet their dream bands in person and keep a safe distance between them and their parent chaperones, but we managed to get through and, after ignorantly looking for familiar signs, I discovered that we were in fact placed on the smallest corner of the island. Whoever had the task to plan the layout of the show decided to scatter some 30 different bands across roughly 10 stages on a piece of island just large enough to have a casual BBQ for the totality of Axl Rose's remaining friends. Other shows, such as Osheaga, place fewer, larger stages spread out further on the larger part of the island, which makes it easier for people to move around and experiences more than just the back of someone's head.
Merchandise, food and souvenirs at any show are overpriced, but only the people at VWT have the nerve to charge $2 for a double-sided sheet of white paper listing the bands on a grid with the times they will play and at what stage while side two has a series of expertly-drawn squares as a makeshift map of the place. The generous souls in charge of events such as Heavy MTL take the liberty of printing out laminated pamphlets in full colour with bands, band info, stages, times and advertisements for free! With the added bonus of scantily-clad ladies offering free swag, as well as tents and booths with all sorts of free stuff. But enough about the lucrative gains that can be made off parents with fat wallets, let us get to the main point of the article, shall we?
Punk is dead.
I don't mean that as the way Crass meant in their song, but I mean it honestly in that the days of The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Misfits and Dead Kennedys are all but forgotten. They have been replaced by hipster types. Back when the idea of punk was more about an attitude, giving a big 'fuck you' to the powers that be and living a rebellious life which suits you and your goals, the idea of punk has transformed into how many meaningless and identical tattoos you can cover your body with. As someone who could appreciate a good tattoo, I admit that there were a few genuinely nice pieces but they were quickly spoiled by every four out of five girls having an identical chest tattoo and just as many boys with similarly redundant neck tattoos.
After wandering almost aimlessly from stage to stage with the help of a recently purchased map from one of the booths, we managed to check out a few of the bands because we were there for the music, weren't we? A few bands were worth sticking around for, although their names weren't worth remembering as none of them stood out particularly, at least not positively. I was reminded what it was like to be a child again as, after huddling under a tent for relief from the sun, we saw the band Motionless in White set up a profitable little shop, selling autographs, photographs and trading hugs and high-fives to overzealous fans.
Two names that particularly stood out were the bands We the Kings and Breathe Carolina. The first being just awful but apparently big enough to have had the luxury of one of the larger stages as they pranced around playing music reminiscent of the Hansons. I remember the cries of the love-struck teens as the group made claims to sex as punk rock and, in an attempt to play tribute to old-fashioned punk rock, they played a Jimmy Eat World cover in the perfect timing of someone who couldn't count to four.
Following them was a band that apparently couldn't make up their minds as to what sound they wanted to play. The first four bars of their first song sounded as if they had a grasp of what music they were supposed to be playing, but all hopes quickly died as some mysterious DJ appeared to add dubstep to it all.
Needless to say, we left to pursue more stimulating experiences – the free Coke tent! We managed to snag a few cans, refresh ourselves and wander to examine the other sights that the festival had to offer. Unfortunately for me, the audio booths advertising and selling audio gear knew only enough about what they were selling to know that I knew more than they did. I did, however, find an audio-related booth which interested me. There was a Silent DJ booth which was run by Silent Events, a concept I had never thought of. Their premise was that they had DJs play across different frequencies and you couldn't hear them without wearing headphones, which could change channels between the frequencies. Perfect for people who live in areas with nosy neighbours or other people that don't like loud noises. These partiers would be able to enjoy their music and dance and have a good time all while the neighbourhood maintained a pleasantly peaceful environment.
Having said that, I actually enjoyed my experience. It was something new and it made me much more aware of how enjoyable an outdoor concert is when it's organized properly with a solid structure. VWT might not have what I look for in terms of a proper concert, but it gave me some excellent writing material and hopefully in a couple of years or so, we'll see a return to something that more resembles old-school punk rock.