Montreal, May 31 - June 2, 2002
~by Uncle Nemesis
(photos by Uncle Nemesis unless otherwise noted)
The best ideas are simple ideas, and the idea behind Convergence was, and remains, as brilliantly simple as they come.
First, the essential background. The major goth-phenomenon of the 1990s was the rise of the internet as the principal means of communication and networking for the scene. It had to happen: the mainstream media's brief flirtation with goth in the 1980s was long gone, and by the 90s goth was treated with a mixture of hostility and derision (that's if anyone noticed it at all). Goth, fragmented and shut out, urgently needed some sort of unrestricted channel of communication. The solution was the internet, which came along at just the right time. Goth stuck two fingers up at conventional media, and promptly went online.
Nobody knows who first suggested the idea of an event where the virtual goth scene of the net could download itself into real life, and online friends could meet offline. However, back in 1995 - which, with a bit of leeway, we can argue was the year when goth-stuff on the internet first reached a certain critical mass - the idea crystallised into the event we know as Convergence. A bunch of Chicago goths put together the first one, and in doing so started a ball rolling that has never stopped.
Eight years, eight cities, and eight Convergences
later, here we are in Montreal. Convergence VIII, 2002. Download complete.
The party starts now.
Montreal is a three-way culture collision. It looks like the USA, it sounds like France, and our own dear Queen, gawd bless 'er, is on the money. The newspapers say that the Canadian economy is doing well, but you'd never guess from the drive in to centre-ville from Dorval airport - a long drag of closed-down factories, empty warehouses, vacant lots and grey concrete bleakness. The humble A4 road from Heathrow airport to central London looks like an elegant, tree-lined Parisian boulevard by comparison. Given the fact that Montreal prides itself on its Frenchness, that's quite an irony. Just as I was starting to think we'd stumbled into some sort of post-apocalypse Mad Max-style urban wasteland, the city proper opens out before us and it all starts to make sense.
For anyone used to conventional European festivals, Convergence immediately throws up an anomaly. It's all based around one hotel, block-booked by the organisers, where more or less everyone stays. The hotel plays host to the daytime events: in this respect, Convergence can't even be regarded as a festival in any standard form. It's more like a convention, a networking and social event...with a whole lot of partying, in local clubs and venues, bolted on in the evenings. Well, that works for me! The C8 hotel is the alarmingly posh Delta (you can tell it's posh - the decor is all tasteful shades of beige) where immaculately-uniformed staff take the sudden influx of black-clad weirdos entirely in their stride. I'm impressed - and rather taken aback, I must admit, to find myself addressed politely as 'Mr Johnson' at reception. Nuff respect to the goth massive. We certainly don't get that every day!
C8 officially commences with a meet 'n' greet session in the hotel's conference room. We pick up tickets and T-shirts. There are goths everywhere - which, I'll grant you, is a no-brainer observation if ever I've made one, but this is the first time that 'Wow - I'm at *Convergence*!' feeling really kicks in. There's a definite feeling of anticipation in the air. Everyone's fired up and ready to have a good time, as laminates are scrutinized for net-names ("Oh - so it's *you!*") and online friends (and enemies) meet. I notice a man in the corner with a keyboard and some technology. Closer inspection reveals this to be Mara's Torment, a one-man electro-ethereal project who is playing live for us today. That's 'live' as in 'occasionally touch the keyboard', but it's not bad stuff in a background-music-with-intelligence kind of way.
There's a rather odd bar arrangement which
requires the purchase of a ticket from a separate desk, which is then exchanged
at the bar for the booze. Nobody seems sure if this is a manifestation
of some strange Canadian drinking law, or whether it's something the hotel
has thought up all by themselves. Still, even at $7.25 per beer (expensive
in any language) the bar seems to be doing good business, assisted in no
small measure by the arrival of the UK contingent and their horror stories
of missing luggage. There's also a large crew of people up from Boston
- at about six hours' driving-time from Montreal (a mere jaunt in American-distance
terms) C8 counts as almost a local event for Bostongoths.
Friday night's entertainment takes place a few blocks away in the Spectrum, a large live music venue which, I'd guess, is Montreal's equivalent to the Astoria in London. Certainly the interior is tricked out in traditional none-more-black decor which is entirely appropriate for a goth event. Beers are sold in amusing plastic picnic containers, and the barman very kindly takes time out to explain to visiting English people that, yes, we *do* tip the bar staff round here. Don't blame me, mate, the only other time I bought a beer in Canada I had to buy a ticket for it. I know naught of your esoteric customs!
Once suitably lubricated, it's time for the revels to commence. Holding down that all-important opening slot, we have (deep breath) Captain Matt's Armada Featuring Axel (where Trevor writes all the songs and does all the work) introducing Insatiabelle. They look like Benny Hill's idea of a gothabilly band, with a long-lost relative of Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. Their crazily convoluted band-history, related at extreme and confused length over the last few months on the internet, sounds suspiciously like a tall tale somebody made up in the pub...but hey, I read it on alt.gothic, so it must be true. Tonight, the legendary Axel appears before us riding a giant green rocket-penis, which makes for an, erm, 'interesting' visual experience. And yet, for all the larking about and general are-they-taking-the-piss-or-what stuff, the band actually cut it surprisingly well on stage. Once Axel has unstrapped his penis and strapped on a bass, Captain Matt Etc (as I shall call the band in an attempt to stave off RSI) immediately look less like a bunch of chancers trying to wing it on a 'wacky' ticket, and a lot more like a real band. The set's made up of hoary old covers such as The Cramps' 'Primitive' and The Who's 'Stepping Stone', interspersed with what I can only assume are Captain Matt originals - certainly, I've never heard such songs as ' Swirly Goth Stomp' and 'Caspar Vs. The Super Zombies' by anyone else. I'm able to tell you the song titles with such confidence, by the way, because I managed to aquire a set list by devious means, and unless I receive certain bribes and considerations from the band I shall reveal that Axel's call for beer just after 'Paint It Black' was *scripted*! (Except that, oops, I think I just did....)
The next item on tonight's programme is not a band - it's a fashion show, where the inventions of eight different designers are paraded before us to a suitably left-field soundtrack. Now, I don't Do Fashion, as anyone who's ever taken a despairing glance inside my wardrobe will readily attest, so detailed descriptions of the outfits on show are, I'm afraid, a little beyond me. In any case, no announcements are made, and therefore there's no way of telling exactly who designed what. The best way to enjoy the show is simply to treat it as sheer spectacle. On this level it works splendidly, as a non-stop parade of dressed-up models prance and stride across the stage. The show, however, is stolen by the PVC-clad figure who cavorts and twirls wildly while suspended above the stage on a couple of bungees. There's no topping that, so let's bring on the bands again....
The second band of C8 is This Ascension. With all due respect to Cap'n Matt and his merry crew, I think we may call This Ascension the first *proper* band of the event. They're a new name to me. I'm astonished to find that they've been going, in one form or another, since 1988, although the current line-up is essentially late-nineties vintage. I'm double-astonished to find that their latest album, ' Sever', was partly recorded in Leamington Spa, England, with the great John A. Rivers in the producer's chair. Does this mean the band came all the way to the UK for studio work (which is astounding in itself - they actually had a budget that stretched to international recording sessions?) - but they didn't think to play a *gig*? I thought only Lacrimosa did things like that!
This Ascension are billed in the C8 programme-fanzine as 'fierce ethereal', which is such a dead-accurate oxymoron that I wish I'd thought of it myself. The band brew up a noise that's dense, layered and precise, and crackles with energy. The guitar sound is a thing of towering glory, but the focal point, the eye of the sonic hurricane, is the singer, resplendent in no-shit red hair and an even more no-shit PVC dress. She's got a marvellous, powerful but controlled voice (which sounds even better once the sound engineer remembers to push up the vocal fader, four songs in) and great stage presence - although the bass player, in full-on rock-out mode, does his best to grab the limelight. I'm impressed by the percussionist, who physically fades sounds in and out by sweeping assorted percussion-stuff past his mics...and then backs up the drummer by walloping his bongos *exactly* on the beat. It's rare to see (and, indeed, hear) really good percussion, but this is *good*. The final song is a bass, drums, and percussion stampede - a great rhythmic rush of sound that has real physical force, marred only by the guitarist (who doesn't play on this number) casually strolling across the back of the stage, sitting down, and swigging a beer, while the rest of the band play their hearts out, oblivious to this extra spectator. If I were This Ascension's manager, the guitarist would get a rocket up his arse in the dressing room for doing that. You simply *don't* spoil the show in that way - especially if you're a member of the band!
Bella Morte are our headliners tonight - and many in the UK contingent find their top billing hard to fathom. The only Bella Morte stuff that we in the UK have ever heard is the band's early album, Remains. For some reason, round about 1997 a whole load of promo copies found their way over the Atlantic, and thus it is that the band are always thought of in terms of that album in the UK. That's all we know of 'em. Now, Remains isn't a bad album in its way, but its mannered 'goth-band' vocals, bom-chuck drum machine sound, and up-and-down-the-scale keyboards just sounded far too derivative and polite for the UK scene in 1997. We wanted fire and brimstone and energy and verve. We didn't want another bedroom-goth outfit - and, frankly, that's how Bella Morte came across at the time. The prospect of witnessing exactly that bedroom-goth outfit on stage at C8 has many of the UK-crew heaving sighs of resignation and making a strategic retreat to the bar. Me, I reckon I'll give 'em a chance. So, I venture to the front...and find myself right in the firing line when the band come out and go 'KAPOW!' three inches from my face.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell
you that Bella Morte are not the band they once were. Somewhere along the
line, that mannered bedroom-goth outfit of 1997 mutated into a roaring,
storming, freaked-out punk-rock monster. Bella Morte, 2002-style, comprise
a manic, mohawked singer, all leaps and bounds and grimaces and hollering,
plus a mohawked guitarist who looks like he should be in The Exploited:
mad eyes, grinding teeth and grinding riffs. There's a mohawked bass player
(can we discern a stylistic theme here?)
who hunches over his instrument like it's about to come alive in his hands,
and, right at the back, there lurks a keyboard player who favours the cut-off
strides and spiky-top of modern MTV-punk. This is a *goth* band? Well,
yes - the energy and style may be pure punk, but there are real lyrics
and real singing here, all delivered with bucketloads of adrenalin. Occasionally,
an older song is thrown in, and the faintest glimmer of the bedroom-goth
band Bella Morte once were shines through. But the band have given themselves
an impressive make-over since those days, and the crowd responds to their
sheer energy by going mosh-mad. Suddenly, the keyboard player makes a run
from the back of the stage and launches himself into the crowd - and starts
up his own slam-pit! Well, you can't beat that for enthusiasm. I'm left
wondering whether Bella Morte want to be Bauhaus or Black Flag. They seem
to have elected to be a bit of both - and, crazily enough, it works. I
suspect the UK scene would love 'em now. Bet you anything just one Whitby
appearance would be all it takes...
It's Saturday, far too early. It's time for the Bazaar and the Zine fair, down in the Delta hotel conference room. Along with fellow UK-goth Morph, I've been volunteered by Natasha, editor of meltdown magazine, to set up a stall giving away free promo copies of the mag. Because we're *giving* the magazines away, rather than trying to sell them, we don't actually have much work to do. We set out the mags in an attractive display, and then sit back and chat to nearby stallholders, among them Marcus Pan who's touting hard-copy versions of Legends magazine. Just to maintain a StarVox presence, I scatter stickers around. I'm taken aback to find that many people don't know what StarVox is. A bunch of net.goths who've never heard of a goth-oriented webzine? Tsk! Must surf harder!
Everybody likes a freebie, and sure enough the free promotional meltdowns melt away like snow in summer. Once they've gone, there's time to look around the Bazaar. Just about everything a goth could want is on sale here, from fine art to fancy frocks. The one thing that's missing is a CD stall - which is a strange omission. There are several stalls selling corsets of one variety or another, but no stall selling music! Can we therefore conclude that the transatlantic scene is dominated by fashion? Or is it simply the case that no music retailer had a free weekend to do Convergence? If that was so, they all missed a great opportunity to do business - and also to build up those intangible (but vital) things like goodwill and presence.
In addition to the Bazaar, there are workshops and discussions going on in the side rooms - on subjects ranging from horror novels to hair extensions. But the evening's entertainments are looming, so it's time to get ready.
Tonight, we're back to the Spectrum for a four-band extravaganza. We kick off with an outfit from Montreal itself, the rather wonderful Bordello. I'm always excited when a band I've never heard of before comes out and *convinces* me, and Bordello do exactly that. They've got a clangorous, early-Siouxsie-via-Sonic Youth sound, and one of their two guitarists looks like mid-seventies Elvis. When he sees me down the front with my camera, he gives me a special sneer. I hope he likes the resulting photo! Bordello's secret weapon is their singer, a deceptively demure-looking young lady who marches right up to the mic and lets rip with a voice that could strip paint at twenty paces. She can do the sardonic growl, the smouldering croon, and the death-or-glory caterwaul, and sometimes she combines all this within the space of one song. If Courtney Love could hear this, she'd be thinking of taking early retirement before the set's half over. The band are clearly revelling in their performance: the boys in the band hurl themselves around like rock'n'roll sex gods, keeping things *just* the right side of self-parody. It's a fine line but Bordello know how to walk it. They throw in a cover of Alice Cooper's 'I'm 18' which, I suspect, illustrates where they're coming from, where their hearts lie, and what's in their record collections. All of which sounds cool to me.
Speaking of record collections, after Bordello's showstopping performance I confess I was a little disappointed by their two-song CD (apparently the only thing they've recorded so far) which features 'Down in the Shades', a surreal blues, and 'Free Ride', a slice of mutant rockabilly. Both of these songs are very powerful live, but the recorded versions, alas, are weedy and under-produced, with the vocals way down in the mix. I swear the loudest thing on 'Free Ride' is the drummer's crash cymbal, which drowns out everything every time he hits it. It's a pity the band haven't got anything on record which matches their live impact. That's got to be the next thing to take care of. Frankly, I'd pay money for a from-the-desk recording of the C8 set!
Quite how an electronic-based band such as Swarf could follow Bordello's guitar-driven assault was always going to be a tricky one. Would the C8 crowd accept a sudden switch to electronica, especially from a band who are virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic? There's only one way to find out, and that's to get out there and do it. So, Chris and Andrew crank up their trademark Swarfbeats, and Liz rather nervously walks out and lets 'em have it. And....they're an instant hit. From my position right down at the stage, I turn and look over the crowd, and dammit but *everyone* is dancing, right the way to the back. The seating area at the rear of the venue is emptying as more people hurry down to the front, to experience this coolest of grooves. I confess I feel a little twinge of pride - I recall listening to Swarf's first ever demo, a ropey old home-made cassette which they were initially reluctant to let me hear, believing that the songs weren't good enough. But the songs *were* good enough, and I gave them a gig at the Underworld in London as soon as I could find an opportunity. Now, a couple of years and many more gigs on, they're taking Montreal by storm. It's a great feeling, watching a band that I championed at an early stage really getting somewhere. Oooh, it makes me feel all misty-eyed! But then, how could anyone fail to react to Swarf's insistent, catchy songs, those glorious soaring vocal lines, and Liz's good-humoured stage presence? When she confesses to feeling a little nervous because she lost her voice the previous week, and it's still not quite back to normal, you can almost feel the waves of goodwill coming off the crowd as everyone urges her on. Swarf's hits-in-the-making, 'Drown', 'Subtext' and 'Fall' get the entire place moving, one venue under a groove. A triumphant performance, and afterwards the band can't quite believe how well it went. If there was such a thing as a 'C8 <heart> Swarf' T-shirt, they would've sold by the truckload.
There's another distinct change of style now, as Cinema Strange emerge from the shadows and fire up their own bizarre soundtrack. There are three of them: a bassist and guitarist all dressed up in Batcave-era ripped fishnet and artfully sculpted hair, and a singer wrapped in a white sheet, his face hidden by a mask. Two polystyrene dummy heads dangle on strings from his arms. So this is 21st Century Californian Deathrock? Looks to me uncannily like early-80s London post-punk! Cinema Strange sound oddly familiar, too: they generate a slo-mo stomp-and-grind, the singer wailing through his mask like Andi Sex Gang with stomach ache. That's a reference point which I'm sure Cinema Strange would appreciate (er, I mean Andi Sex Gang, not the stomach ache) - I bet if I looked through their record collections I'd find plenty of Sex Gang Children and Virgin Prunes. Post-punk weirdstuff, rather than the more straightforward bands of the slightly later 'gothic' goth scene. It's a pleasure to find a band of today which takes its musical cue from that intensely creative, anything-goes, era which, alas, few people nowadays remember first hand, or even acknowledge as an influence. It's also a pleasure to discover that Cinema Strange's music has such an enthusiastic following - it's not 'easy' stuff, sprinked as it is with odd time-changes and almost Beefheart-style surreal interludes. There's a real crush down the front as everyone crowds forward to be as close as possible to the band. The boys ham it up like rogue troupers, the singer looming over the monitors like a lizard peering over a wall. His polystyrene heads dangle over the edge, and people in the front row reach out for them like cats playing with tempting toys. It's bizarre theatre, and the audience are as much a part of the show as the band.
The Chaos Engine have the unenviable task of headlining the night's entertainments. That might sound like a strange thing to say - why unenviable? Surely a headline slot on a big stage at a relatively major event with worldwide profile is every band's ultimate dream? Well, yes, but the down side of that is....you've got to *deliver*. And it has to be said, The Chaos Engine haven't got it easy here. By the time they're ready to take the stage, the crowd is thinning out as people leave for a session at Elektroshock, a goth/industrial/synthpop club elsewhere in Montreal that's offering free entry to C8 punters tonight, or for room parties back at the hotel, which are traditionally a big part of Convergence. It's particularly noticable that all the wild-haired deathrock fans, who were so much in evidence for Cinema Strange, vanish from the venue as soon as the band finished their set. Added to this, The Chaos Engine seem to have made a frankly rather misguided decision to deploy their four members around the large Spectrum stage like chess pieces on a virtually empty board. Everyone's at a set distance from everyone else, and apparently under orders to stay rooted to their officially-designated spot all night. Huw, whose implacable, glowering, presence usually makes a fine visual foil for Lee's crazed flailings, is stuck at the back behind his guitar monitor - entirely cut off from the rest of the band, barely visible to the audience, and so distant I can't even get a good photo of him.
it is that Lee finds himself more or less carrying the show by himself,
rushing about like a madman, whipping his dreadlocks to and fro, and wrenching
the vocals out of his throat as if his life depended upon making
it to the end of the song. Against the odds, it's an impressive performance.
Lee is in fine voice (he's one of a very few artists working in the industrial
field who can actually *sing*), and, notwithstanding the thinner crowd,
there's an enthusiastic bunch of dancers leaping about at the front. The
set is a quick-reference guide to The Chaos Engine's essential tunes -
older material like 'Employee Of The Year' rubs shoulders with new songs
from the latest album, 'Escape Ferocity'. It's all good stuff, but I find
myself wishing the band wasn't *quite* so static and distant on stage.
The encores rack up the entertainment factor, however, as the band launches
into Kim Wilde's ''Kids In America' with some severely embaressed members
of the C8 crew on backing vocals - and then, as a grand finale, they give
us Heaven 17's 'Temptation', sung as a rather ramshackle duet by Lee and
Liz from Swarf. A fine way to finish the night. We lurch back to the hotel
in good spirits. It was a close-run thing, and The Chaos Engine did rather
create a problem for themselves with their unhelpful stage-layout, but
in the end - they delivered.
Sunday dawns sunny but cold. Today, we're going on a tour of Old Montreal. I confess I was surprised to find that there was anything left of old Montreal - at first glance it seems like the entire city is a monument to the awesome majesty of 1970s concrete. Coming from the UK, where buildings that date back to the 1600s are relatively common, and anything 19th Century is considered dangerously modern, I've always found the transatlantic tendency to obliterate 99% of everything remotely old, and then make a big fuss over the 1% that's left quite odd. Still, Montreal has plenty of history if you know where to look, and at 2pm a posse of goths set off to find it. We hook up with one of Montreal's official tour guides, who proceeds to give us a Too Much Information tour of the old city (I didn't think we needed to go into the history of Montreal's banking sector in *quite* such detail!). Down by the river, there's one street corner that looks *exactly* like France, although much of the rest seems to have that generic 'old americana' look about it. Nice art deco skyscraper, mind. You know you're in a place which has a different take on history when something as recent as an art deco skyscraper is featured in a historical tour!
The tour winds up at the Notre Dame basilica, an imposing grey stone church which looks so squeaky-clean you'd think it was built yesterday. Now there's an irony. In Montreal, even the genuinely old stuff looks new. Here a slight logistical glitch manifests itself. Our pre-paid tickets should include entry to the church, but nobody on the pay desk seems to know about the arrangement. We either have to pay an extra two dollars, or duck out of the tour at that point. We decide to duck out. Two dollars isn't much (it's mere pennies in English quids) but there's something not quite right about having to *pay* to enter a church. What if you just want to *pray*? Has God been turned into a spiritual jukebox, two dollars a spin? Instead, we wander off on our own impromptu tour of Montreal's side streets, and stumble upon an interesting residential area with endearingly quirky-looking buildings that could've come straight out of a Jaques Tati film. I fully expected Monsieur Hulot to come put-putting round the corner on his velomoteur any minute.
Sunday night, and the grand finale of C8. We're off to a local club, Foufounes Electriques, which I'm advised translates as 'electric buttocks'. I strongly suspect this to be a Francophone Canadian joke on the rest of the world, but the club itself turns out to be rather cool. We arrive a little early (or the club is running a little late, I'm not sure which) and sit around in the downstairs bar drinking Jaegermeister and Coke while hair metal plays at noxious volume. Eventually, the staff open the door marked 'piste de danse' and we get to enter the club itself. Yes, it really is called the 'piste de danse', which is presumably an odd manifestation of Canadian French - surely 'plancher de danse' would be the more standard term? Still, 'piste' provides a splendid opportunity to make a bilingual pun about drunken goths - if only I could think of one...
The club turns out to be a warren of different
rooms and different levels, all carved out of a steel framed building
that must date back to the 1930s (I'm surprised it's not featured
on the historical tour). The place was obviously not designed to
accommodate loud music and stomping goths in heavy-duty Nice Boots - the
entire structure shakes alarmingly, like a bouncy castle. But the atmosphere
is great and the DJ selections are varied and inventive. Scary Lady Sarah
gets the dancefloor moving with a 'quality goth you've never heard before'
set, featuring everything from Mephisto Walz to Belisha. Sexbat doesn't
so much remix Apoptygma Bezerk as wrestle them into submission on the decks,
while Fross has spent the
weekend recording vox-pop quotes from C8 attendees, which he then blends
into the music of his set. It's like dancing to an instant Convergence
Nobody wants to leave on Monday. We'd do C8 all over again if it were possible. But real life beckons, and it's time to go. The consensus is that this was a classic Convergence. Old hands rate it as one of the outstandingly good ones. Because I've never been to a Convergence before, I can't judge C8 with that kind of perspective. All I know is that I've just had one of the best weekends ever. A truckload of thanks is due to the C8 crew - I know I'll be buzzing on this for months afterwards.
Now, is it too soon to make plans for C9...?
see all our photos from C8 here
The Convergence VIII website (contains full details of the weekend's events): http://altgothic.com/c8montreal
This index page will link you to more than
15 online C8 photo galleries:
The bands of Convergence VIII:
altgothic.com, the all-purpose Convergence resource site: http://www.altgothic.com
A brief history of Convergence: http://www.virulent.org/converg4/past.html
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to