Nick Farkas has been booking and running live punk shows around Canada since the 80's. He seems to have hit his stride in more recent years running large scale music festivals like '77 Montreal and Heavy bringing in people from all over to visit the lovely city of Montreal, QC. This year’s '77 Montreal festival encompasses performances by big punk acts like Bad Religion, Pennywise, Streetlight Manifesto and more. Punknews resident photographer/writer Stephen McGill spoke with founder Nick Farkas about the festival, his hopes and wishes for the festival and punk music in Montreal.
Looking at the line ups, what goes into the decision making when you’re booking?
I mean, I think for us the original intent of the festival was to have all 40 years of punk represented. So we try to get some old, some new, some punk, some blue *laughs*. We try to really represent as much as we can from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, 2010’s, so it’s really a blend of everything and trying to get enough SoCal, 90’s you know Fat Wreck, Epitaph era which is really popular in Montreal. So this year we went a bit heavier on that with Bad Religion and Pennywise, but we really try to mix it up and really pay tribute to the bands who were there in the beginning, both Canadian, Montreal Legends, Canadian Legends and American, North American. Really try to make it as broad and inclusive as possible.
You’ve been booking for a long time, do you lean on your experience, and are there bands on there that you’re always angling to get on the Festival.
It’s a fairly new festival for us so you know, there’s a huge list of bands that I want to get on there. But I’ve been booking punk rock since the late 80’s so you know a lot of this is personal favourites, and of all the festivals we’ve booked, when we started doing this it was really a labour of love and working with my partners at Greenland who I started with it’s been really fun just bouncing ideas off each other and bringing up names of bands we haven’t thought of in 20 years and seeing if they still exist and seeing if they still want to tour. Like having Satanic Surfers last year, I remember those guys sleeping on my floor. That whole Swedish punk scene was really big in Montreal in the 90’s for some reason, bands like Millencolin, so it was fun. Seeing a bunch of old faces, and we’ve got friends now coming from, friends in the scene from when we started going to shows, coming from Chicago and Toronto and New York and Boston because they just want to see all their friends again.
So we’re hoping that eventually the goal of this festival is really to unite as many people as like the genre as possible around the world. We’ve been successful in the past with some of our other festivals like Osheaga and Heavy (Montreal), with getting people to travel because our site is fantastic. The real advantage to ’77 over any other punk rock festival in the world is that we’re using the same infrastructure as we use for our other festivals. When you’re putting on a festival, building it is what’s expensive, like obviously the bands and everything else that goes into it is expensive as well. But once you’ve built it and once the stages are up, once you have the best production in the world, best lighting, best food, best everything. We aim to put something on the table for $77 that nobody can touch, because literally we’re using the same site as 3 other festivals that we do and we can advertise it over 3 weekends. It allows us to focus on making it the best experience possible.
I went to a lot of Warped Tours at Parc Jean Drapeau
So did I So this is the third year of the festival, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned from previous years and how going forward do you want to keep improving on the experience?
The lessons we’ve learned so far, it’s an older crowd and we’ve tried to experiment with how to get the younger fans, younger kids, to come out. The first year we made it children under 10 free and to my surprise there was a ton of kids, and a ton of parents which was awesome, what we wanted. But we also wanted 18-21 year olds, so we’ve been trying to tweak the lineup so we still get the people my age and their kids still coming out but that we can get a more cross generational experience. You learn the problem with festivals is you get one try a year to do it, and you find what works and what doesn’t work. So you’re sitting there going, should have done that, or we shouldn’t have done that. In terms of the line up we’re just starting to get the hang of it.
If you look at what Kevin (Lyman) is doing with the Warped Tour, there’s a couple of 25th anniversary shows, and then Riot Fest in Chicago, Punk Rock Bowling in Vegas. There’s a few smaller things, we want to try and be the Canadian. When people think punk rock Canadian Festival we want to be the festival they think about, we want to put out a line up that’s going to be comparable to everything else that’s out there. We also want to extend it into the city for a couple of days on either side, really make it more like they do in Vegas, try and make it more than just a one day thing. Last year we had Don Letts DJing on Thursday night we had Damian (Abraham) doing his podcast. That’s what punk rock is to me, the culture, the art, everything that’s about it, trying to wrap that all up into one festival is fun, for me it’s a labour of love, and it’s really an enjoyable experience.
What people liked about last year, we had a bunch of vintage pinball machines and people loved that and it was great so we’ll bring that back and build on that. Looking at what people enjoy, the line ups for the craft beer last year were crazy so we have to get more craft beer. A bunch of little stupid things like that where we just look at what was successful, what didn’t people like. We had a stage in the woods last year that I was thinking would be more like a club stage like Foufonnes Electric kind of vibe and that worked super well, because if there was 100 people in front of it it looked great and if it was 1,000 it looked phenomenal. Coming up with new ways to showcase the bands, we have a contest we started last year for local bands which was hugely successful. So trying to get the community involved.
We have a couple Toronto bands this year, really hoping we can get more Toronto people to come because when I grew up- One of the first shows I ever booked was Scream, Sudden Impact and Sacrifice and that was like 100 years ago, and it snowed and it was horrible, and we lost more money than we could conceive of at the time but it was amazing, and bonded, created relationships. The idea is to really focus on getting another cities scene to come and check it out, and with Osheaga we have a ton of people coming from Ontario and we’d love to see some more Toronto representation this year and from the rest of Canada. We’re going to stick with it, these things take time and we’re in it for the long haul and we really believe that this is the sort of thing that Canadians are looking for.
I mean, I miss the Warped Tour that we grew up on. We did 20 years of Warped Tour it was a tradition. We didn’t do punk rock festivals because we didn’t want to mess with the Warped Tour what Kevin built, was phenomenal. So it’s so much fun to be able to get back into the world.
It’s especially hard these days to keep festivals afloat, especially in Ontario we’ve lost almost all of ours, I know the Quebec Government funds the arts a lot-
I mean, not like the OMF (Ontario Music Fund) the Ontario Music Fund is very strong. I think the cultural aspect has always been there in Quebec, there’s always been funding for the arts and especially trying to push local artists and local musicians. You have to be around three years before you get access to it, so we’re there and once you survive three years you start getting involved in that. For us though it’s more about selling tickets and sponsorship and selling beers on site that’s how we really make it work. But there is definitely support for the Quebec government and they’ve always been very supportive of festivals.
What are some of your favourite memories from the first two years?
Oh my goodness, I think I’ve told this story a bunch of times, it isn’t even a musical memory. I saw this kid with a mohawk, he must have been about five, no shoes and no shirt walking around. I’m like what the… I look up and his brother’s next to him, and his brother is maybe eight. Then I look at the kid and he has it written on his arm “If found” and the Dad’s cell phone number and I was like that is the coolest, most punk thing ever. So that was one of my highlights.
Then Dropkick (Murphys) and Rancid playing together when they got on stage and did three songs - they played their sets and then at the end they got up together and did a massive three song way to end the festival. You know X. I’m old so I like, like Rezillos last year. You know seeing some of the Montreal bands from back in the day like Genetic Control those are the bands I started booking when I was a kid. The singer for Gen Con was a promoter as well so my partner at the time and I would be trying to find places to do shows in church basements and whatever it was. It’s great to see those kind of faces performing again. X was just like, for me, seeing them up on stage. It was kind of like seeing Blondie last year at Osheaga seeing a band that I grew up loving and watching able to perform 30 or 40 years later is just a thrill. I think those highlights, just all around the biggest highlight for me has been that’s it a family thing. The kids zone, trying to rip my kid out of the kids zone to go see bands and he’s like “No” he’s on the bouncy castle and going to do what he’s going to do. That kind of environment is what I’m really happy we’ve created, and then continuing that and getting more and more people to come out and experience it.
I’ve seen the ’77 Presents branding in Montreal, is that giving you more opportunities or is that just an extension of what you were doing already?
It’s more an extension of what we’ve always been doing, but it gives us a brand. If people see that brand they know and trust it, and they know the show’s going to run on time, and the band’s going to show up and they know it’ll be in a good venue. All the things we pride ourselves in and we feel that the brand is going to gain that kind of notoriety where it’s going to help build the festival and build it all year long, and it keeps the name alive too.
One of the things we’re working on, which is still in logistics stage and part of what I’ve always loved about the scene. You know when you go to someone’s house they’ve still got their records, still got their flyers and their posters. It’s like pictures from back in the day or pictures from two weeks ago, and we’ve created this site called You Are The Scene it’s on the website. You Are The Scene was an album by one of my favourite Montreal punk rock bands called Fair Warning and it’s about, I want to create an online scene where you can go and say “Oh my god Lagwagon is coming do you remember that show in 2006, or 1997” or whatever it is and try to create an online place for people to go. Like “Dear Diary” remember that time at the Rising Sun when we saw Henry Rollins. We want to really grow that and we’re just working with our web company to really do it, people are posting photos and flyers. We need to get it more organic so it can just live all year long and really be place where if you want to relive your past punk rock glory, or for a lot of the stuff I can’t remember, it’s fun to look back and remember.
Everything has come full circle, Bad Religion has just put out a new record and they’ve always been relevant in terms of what they’re singing about. When you look back at the 90’s and the 80’s when everyone was singing about Reagan and Thatcher there’s another wave of very politically charged, you know Anti-Flag, it’s great the voice of the older generation and the younger generation uniting with one message.
Going into this you’ve done a lot of research, and what would be your dream bookings for this festival?
I don’t know I guess, I think continuing to get older bands that are difficult to get across the pond or reform that would be a huge goal. It would be great to get the bigger punk bands, you know like a Green Day, or a band like that which would really cross over. When we were doing Osheaga the first year we sold out was when we had Eminem, and that opened it up to a much broader audience. I think a band like Green Day or Blink (182) would open it up to a much broader audience that would come and see what we’re trying to do. So I think on that, it would be nice, but we’re not in any hurry, we’re very pleased with Bad Religion and Pennywise and we’ll continue to grow organically and if we get to the point where it all works out. Getting bands to come back and perform records is something we want to do, getting bands to play together. I’ll never forget seeing one of the Warped Tour’s early on at Blue Bonnets, Pennywise was finishing and Millencolin was about to go on, and as Pennywise was finishing with ‘Bro Hymn’ and Millencolin started playing it from the other stage, that kind of moment is what we’re trying to recreate.
As an extension of that, where do you see the festival in 5 years?
Like I said, I think I’d like to see it grow, I’d like to see it be representative of the Canadian punk scene. Try and do stuff with Toronto, there was a book out this year about Toronto punk, there’ve been a couple of documentaries about the punk scene in Montreal in the 70’s. We want it to be a living archive of what we all still love, that we never grew out of. They’ve always said you’ll grow out of punk rock but I’ve never grown out of it. I’d love to see it grow, I’d love to have it be a world renowned festival at some point. But really it’s about bringing people together, get more and more together, the more people we have the more artists we can bring and more stages. I want to keep it organic and I want to keep it fun, but maybe let it get a bit bigger and a little more popular.