Montreal's I Can't Believe It's Not Paris Festival Is Helping Shape a New Wave of Inclusive Punk

The brand new DIY fest is one of many prioritizing diversity in punk programming
Montreal's I Can't Believe It's Not Paris Festival Is Helping Shape a New Wave of Inclusive Punk
Spacers at Not Your Babe Fest III, photo by Marie-Eve Painchaud
Despite deep ties to underground and activist subcultures, punk has, historically, been predominantly populated by white, heterosexual men.

To say that is not to erase the histories of women, people of colour and queer punk within the genre, but rather to emphasize the difficulties that people already marginalized by a larger community have historically found even in the counter-culture.

As punk has grown and changed to become more palatable and mainstream (resulting in everyone and their dads sporting the Clash merchandise or whatever), it has become more difficult to trace the history back to a community that radically defended individuality, human rights and ideologies opposed to societal norms.

But women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ people in punk have always existed, and have been tirelessly carving their history alongside their heteronormative, white or male counterparts. Taking space for themselves, and relying on strong community-building to support one another are methods that have been instrumental in ensuring that punk communities remain diverse, open and inclusive.

This weekend, from July 11 to 14, I Can't Believe It's Not Paris will keep that spirit alive with a massive, challenging lineup that brings people together and celebrates diversity within the genre.

I Can't Believe It's Not Paris was started by four Montreal punks whose goal was to create a decentralized festival lineup whose programming involved many different members of the community.

When asked what was special about their festival, two of the collective members — Sash Pozzie, vocalist from Cell, and Connor MacKinnon, guitarist and vocalist from Beep Test — told Exclaim! of their aspirations to bring new acts they were excited about to Montreal — and not just bands that could draw crowds.

I Can't Believe It's Not Paris is scattered across DIY venues in the city, and will bring in acts from as far as Calgary and the Midwest. The goal is to blend established acts with newer bands, giving local bands the opportunity to play with musicians from across the continent. MacKinnon explained that one of the aspirations of ICBINP is to bring together out of town talent and pair them with Montreal bands that the four collective members love — not to mention how important that is to build on the community.

"I personally am most excited at festivals when I find a new band that I love and hadn't listened to before," Pozzie explains. "[We're bringing out] American bands that have never played in Canada, and a new band with young kids from Hamilton. A bunch of people had to apply for passports to come to the fest and I am so hyped that they were excited to do that."

Pozzie speaks of growing up in a punk community surrounded by other queer folks and people of colour to the point that all-white or straight-male show bills and bands have come to be inexcusable within the punk community.

The growth of the independent punk festival circuit has become more visible over the past few years, too, with the inaugural hardcore fest A Cool Move taking place in Montreal in May, and Montreal's Not Your Babe Fest in March and Ottawa's Sitting on the Outside in June both completing their third year of operations. These fests' mandates for similar programming of women and LGBTQ+ hardcore have contributed to a supportive atmosphere for members of the community who may have felt unwelcome in punk's historically male-dominated landscape.
Piss Face at Sitting on the Outside Festival, photo by Andie Bee

As many of the lineups for independent punk festivals in Montreal bring together LGBTQ+ punk bands from across Canada, the ties between bands and bookers for DIY fests in each city have grown. This cross-pollination from smaller, local festivals has given hardcore the space to expand, bringing punk to new audiences and forging connections.

Although the hardcore and punk communities in Montreal and across North America represent an inclusive environment for punk today, Meghan Minior, the vocalist of Western Massachusetts's Corrode, spoke of her experiences in a very different punk scene when she began playing in a touring band in 2002.

"I'm about to turn 41, and I think back to when I used to play 20 shows in a row and would be the only [person playing who wasn't a] cis[gender] white dude," Minior told Exclaim! after their set at the closing show for A Cool Move in May. "Coming [to Montreal] for this festival has shown me how different it is now, in a good way. You walked in and you could just feel the sense of community — it seems like a really great scene here [in Montreal], and it felt so nice to be a part of it."

The programming of A Cool Move's lineup to include women, trans and non-binary punk acts was deeply intentional for festival organizer and GAZM bassist Sienna West. When asked about her curation for the independent festival in early May, West responded that she is always on the lookout for hardcore bands that aren't entirely comprised of cisgender, straight, white men; if a band is comprised entirely of all of the above, they have to demonstrate what else the project is doing for the community "musically, personally and politically," she explained.

Misery, the vocalist of Spacers, a Montreal hardcore band who formed last year, spoke about her experience playing in this recent crop of DIY punk fests. After all, Spacers played Not Your Babe Fest, Sitting on the Outside Fest and A Cool Move, and will be playing the third night of I Can't Believe It's Not Paris.

"As a transwoman who certainly doesn't fit into cultural norms of femininity, sometimes I feel like I stick out even in the punk crowd," Misery told Exclaim!. "However, the organizers of these fests have always put LGBTQ+ acts to the front… and having that visibility at fests hopefully leads to [these] folks attending shows feeling welcome, represented and comfortable."

After I Can't Believe It's Not Paris, independent screamo and emotive hardcore festival New Friends Fest will kick off its second year at the beginning of August in Toronto. The resounding impact of the community built around independent festivals, as well as the opportunity to shape a music scene through their programming, has helped keep the scene of Canadian punk and hardcore not only alive but thriving while they continue to push for new perspectives through mandates of inclusivity.

Tickets and passes for I Can't Believe It's Not Paris can be purchased online or at the door the day of each show.

poster by Lisa Czech