As we move forward into the digital age and new tools allow us the opportunity to engage with our audiences, I believe that the foundation of every well crafted story will always be excellent writing. Tight and precise, while informing and delighting.
Cult Montreal is a local alternative newspaper that publishes both online and in print. I have had the opportunity to cover political protests, eSports events, and local businesses for the publication.
Northern Arena brings large-scale eSports to Montreal
This is my career,” says Cédric ‘RpK’ Guipouy, a professional eSports player from France, “I never thought I’d be doing this.”
This sentiment echoed across the Bell Centre on Sunday, Nov. 13 as the venue played host to its first eSports event, Northern Arena. From players to organizers, everyone seemed to be living a waking dream.
“It’s a nice surprise,” says Carl-Edwin Michel, CEO of the event’s organizer, the Canadian League of Gamers. “I like to compare eSports to two things,” he says, “a hockey game and a rock concert. It’s sound and lights, with big screens. At the same time, you have people competing.” Winners of the two main gaming tournaments, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, get $48,000 and $50,000, respectively.
When the lights went down, and all eyes gazed towards screens around the venue. Players took the stage and sat behind computers. A curved display facing the crowd showed a video feed of each players face. Above them, each player’s real-time statistics were displayed. A main screen hung between the two, showing gameplay as it unfolded, jumping from the perspective of one player to another. The voices of colour commentators blasted over loud speakers as the event began.
First up was Dota 2, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), where each player takes control of a fantasy-inspired creature from a top-down perspective. The two teams of five attempted to destroy their opponents’ home base using brute strength and magical attacks. One base was a lush forest, the other a dark wasteland.
Team NP, a Canadian Cinderella story, faced off against Wings Gaming, the reigning world champions out of China. Wings’ players wore professional black uniforms touting their many sponsors, while NP looked slightly more rag-tag.
The game was a tug of war, with teams offensively pushing into each other’s territory, back and forth. The battle was cheered on not only by several hundred people in the arena, but also by over 50,000 online viewers. NP had the crowd on their side, chanting “Let’s go NP, let’s go!” The Bell Centre’s thin screens, which normally light up for hockey goals, flashed “DOMINATING.” Suddenly, Wings bowled over NP in a quick reversal of fortunes, carrying the round. Round two started off much the same, with Wings ultimately showing their skill. They sweep the home country heroes, crowning themselves champions of the day.
The crowd filled only about a quarter of the arena at its peak, but the excitement was palpable. “It’s fun to encourage competitive matches here in Montreal,” says Gabriel Gagnon, a local spectator who has travelled to New York for a similar event. “I hope this continues, and that more people come participate.” Callum Antosk has been an online spectator before, but travelled from Ontario to witness Northern Arena. “It’s completely different in person,” he says.
Two hours later, the final event of the night began. Guipouy’s French G2 eSports faced North America’s Optic Gaming in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The game is a first-person shooter where one team of five attempts to plant a bomb, while the other tries to thwart them. The first team to win 16 rounds wins the game, and the first to win two games wins the prize money.
Players move tactically across the realistic ruins of a European castle, trading precise pistol shots and sprays of machine gun fire. The two teams seemed evenly matched. G2 took the early lead, winning the first game, but a string of bad moves costs them the second. Nearing midnight, the crowd thinned, yet the opposing chants for each team still echoed. Optic took the lead in game three and never looked back, going on to carry the night.
Northern Arena is likely not the last tournament of its kind to grace the city. “Our goal is to make it grow here at home, in Canada and Quebec,” says Carl-Edwin Michel. Local fans can look forward to what seems like a bright future for eSports, as plans are already in motion to bring the event back next year.
Montreal metal show cancelled amid
A group of baton wielding police separated two groups at the intersection of Beaubien and St-Hubert on Saturday night. Roughly 100 antifascists sporting black balaclavas and face scarves shouted towards would-be concertgoers dressed mainly in black hoodies scrawled with the names of various metal groups. “Nazi Scum off our streets!” chanted the protesters; “Better dead than red, you bunch of commies,” replied a member of the crowd opposing them. The standoff occurred the third night of la Messe des Morts (the mass of the dead), the sixth annual metal festival organized by Montreal record label and promoter Sepulchral Productions.
The three-day festival’s headliner, Graveland, drew heavy criticism from protestors, who allege that the Polish band (and their fans) espouse right-wing views. A small group of militant antifascists organized into a spontaneous collective, called Alerta, in order to protest the band.
“In videos we saw online, you can see members of the extreme far right doing Nazi salutes in the crowd, and we don’t think that this belongs in Montreal,” said one of Alerta’s founders, who spoke to Cult MTL before the protest (on the condition of anonymity).
Like many black metal acts, Graveland’s music focuses on Nordic imagery, but Alerta strongly believes that the band is part of the National Socialist (Nazi) Black Metal (NSBM) movement. Graveland did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but have denied similar allegations in the past (despite their singer admitting that he himself holds Nazi views). “When people start to find out about them and question their politics, they lie or they adapt their narrative,” said the Alerta founder.
As the concert was set to begin, the word went out on Facebook confirming what those who were already there knew: “For safety reasons, we are forced to cancel tonight’s concert,” the post read. A concert organizer addressed the small crowd of would-be showgoers, advising them to stop their shouting and return home. “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey goodbye,” sang the protestors before marching off. “Graveland, aren’t fascists, get your facts straight,” said someone in the crowd, as someone else flipped off the marchers and said “Sieg fucking Heil!” before laughing.
Members of Alerta have previously organized against similar events by Sepulchral Productions in a variety of ways, including information sessions and handing out pamphlets. This time however, they felt the need to make a stand. “We decided that we would go with a protest to show our presence in the neighbourhood, and to show that this is a safe place,” said the Alerta founder.
The first two nights of la Messe des Morts saw little in the way of protest, as Alerta did not directly oppose the views of the bands playing. New Zealand death metal group Ulcerate played on the festival’s first night, and released a written statement strongly denouncing “national socialist or racist ideologies,” also stating that they agreed to play at the festival before Graveland was booked.
Alerta, however, felt that this was not enough. “They are bringing their crowd, their friends and supporters to a festival where the headliner is an extreme right group,” said the Alerta founder. “Anyone who participates in this circus, by going or by playing, is participating in this movement.” Sepulchral Productions did not respond to multiple interview requests.
As the protesters left the scene by metro, they celebrated their victory, stating that it could not have gone better. Frustrated would-be concertgoers took to the event’s Facebook page to voice their frustrations. “If you are reading this I just want you guys to know that you are the real fascists,” wrote one commenter. “I guarantee that I’ll be buying a ticket next year,” replied another.
Over the course of six semesters, I had the opportunity to write for The Concordian, a weekly campus paper that published both online and in print. As a staff writer for the paper, I published over 30 articles in the music section including interviews, top 10 lists and album reviews. I have also written several unpublished articles.
Life after labels with Protest the Hero
Two years after crowdfunding Volition, PTH are once again taking matters into their own hands
“Well I’d like to say it’s nothing against labels …” said Rody Walker, lead vocalist of Protest the Hero, “but labels suck.” The Canadian progressive metal band is in the process of self-releasing their second independent album in a manner that, much like their music itself, is unconventional.
Protest the Hero are currently celebrating the 10th anniversary of their seminal debut Kezia, playing it uninterrupted and in full.
On Oct. 15, the band released “Ragged Tooth,” the first track in what is promised to be a monthly release schedule. For a fee, a minimum of $12 per year, subscribers will receive one track each month as part of a project the band has dubbed Pacific Myth, which will culminate in a physical release of the tracks in standard album format.
“When we were kids we wanted to do a kind of ‘vinyl of the month club’,” Walker said, “NOFX did it and we thought it was an interesting way to put out music back then.”
After coming to the conclusion that the subscription price for a vinyl club would be too steep, the band did the next best thing: “We found a way to do it without costing an arm and leg by going to a digital platform,” Walker said.
Pacific Myth is not simply a drawn-out release schedule for the band’s next album. “We’re recording the songs as we go along,” said Walker, “The second one isn’t even mixed yet and Nov. 15 is coming up fast. I also recorded some vocals for the third one.” The band hopes that this approach will satiate fans, while also giving them tracks that are “as fresh to the fans as [they are] to the band. The music will be as new as it can be,” said Walker.
When the band publicly announced they were leaving labels behind in January 2013 with an Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund their fourth album Volition, they were secretly unsure of what to expect.
“Our third record [Scurrilous] didn’t do so hot,” Walker said. “We were blaming it on the decline of record sales, but now I think that the truth was, people just don’t like that record so much.”
Fans did not know it at the time, but their support would determine whether or not there would even be a Protest the Hero.
“We were in a precarious position and [the Indiegogo campaign] was a last ditch effort. If it didn’t work out we would have put out the record and called it quits,” said Walker. After a successful campaign, the band felt a sense of rejuvenation. “It was really a surprise. It did really, really well and was a breath of life into our careers,” said Walker.
“Record companies are usurpers; they drain you. It was an easy decision to leave." -Rody Walker
While it may seem strange, this success was the reason the group decided against going with Indiegogo when it came time to fund Pacific Myth.
“We kept going back to the incredible memory of opening the page and seeing [the Indiegogo campaign] take off,” said Walker. “There was no way we could recreate or surpass that and we were too afraid of jeopardizing that memory.”
While he admits that leaving the corporate music structure has meant taking on more work, Walker has no regrets. “Even if it was the end of our band, it is the best thing you could do as an artist,” said Walker. “Record companies are usurpers; they drain you. It was an easy decision to leave. We’d all been broke for so long and knew exactly why.”
The band blamed their financial shortcomings on the corporate model. “How it works is that [the label] gives you a cash advance to make the album; it’s not a huge lump sum, but you’ll never make it back because albums don’t sell,” Walker explained. “You’re stuck in the label’s back pocket after that. So we found ourselves back in the same position after three albums.”
The vocalist has some advice for young musicians.“If you are independent, stay independent. Sure, important labels can seem seductive and sexy, but there’s nothing wrong with staying independent. You know, I look at [the band] Intervals. They’ve always been independent. They’re a good example of how to stay independent and produce quality music in a way that’s beneficial for the band and audience. To any musicians who are with the labels, get the fuck out as soon as you can.”
On Aug. 30, 2005, long before their shift towards independence, the band released their debut album Kezia. Ten years later, Protest the Hero is celebrating the release with a cross-Canada tour, performing the full album at every stop along the way. “It’s a little peculiar,” said Walker, “stranger than what we’ve done in the past, because everyone knows the set list, everyone knows what’s coming up.”
A tour focused on an album that is over a decade old would not be complete without some deep cuts. “Some of the songs we have played ad nauseum, but others we haven’t played live since the album came out. I very much enjoy playing some of them, more than some of the new stuff, but hearing the same old ones over and over … it’s like a fart in a shit-storm,” said Walker.
One track that tour-goers will have to get their fill of is “Blindfolds Aside,” as they won’t hear it played live for a while; “I don’t think that there’s been a show we’ve played since the record was released where we haven’t played that song live. I’ve made them promise that it won’t be on the set list next tour.”
As for those who are wondering ‘which hero?’ the band is protesting: “Probably Superman, yeah Superman sucks.”
Protest the Hero will be at Foufounes Électriques with Mandroid Echostar on Nov. 21 for their “Kezia X Anniversary” Tour. The show is sold out.
Top 5 Coolest Dressers in Music
5. Lady Gaga
Let’s get this obvious one out of the way first. Gaga certainly does not own the copyright for odd garbs, nor was she the first to dress in outlandish fashion, but what makes her stand out is the scale of her audience. While well known, the other artists on this list could only dream of holding the public’s attention the way Lady Gaga held it. Some of her greatest outfits include an ensemble made of raw meat and a dress that was inspired by the universe, complemented by a mask of the sky.
3. The Locust
While on stage, members of The Locust all dress identically so they collectively hold the third spot on this list.All four members of the group perform in green and black body suits and wear masks that are made to make them resemble their namesake. As a group stylistically defined as belonging to the powerviolence genre, The Locust’s songs are fast, frantic, and full of screeches. All of this combined with creatively naming their songs things like “The Half-Eaten Sausage Would Like to See You in His Office” and “Gluing Carpet to Your Genitals Does Not Make You a Cantaloupe” has earned The Locust a respectable following over the past two decades.
1. Dave Brockie aka Oderus Urungus
Known to his fans as Oderus Urungus, Brockie was the frontman for GWAR from 1984 until his death earlier this year. GWAR as a whole is truly something to behold, as all of its members dress as different types of extraterrestrial warriors from the planet Scumdogia and rarely break character in public. Their live shows leave audiences drenched in fake blood and other bodily fluids. While this list could have been totally populated by the various GWAR members’ amazing costumes, their leader, Oderus, stands as a personal favourite. His horned head, spiked shoulder and crotch pet known as The Cuttlefish of Cthulhu make Oderus the unchallenged greatest dresser in music – and a great Halloween costume.
4. Marilyn Manson
Manson has been criticized time and time again for his appearance, but the demonic artist finds a home on this list. The criticisms about his look probably even played an important role in propelling Manson to superstardom. Manson is nearly always seen wearing mismatched eye-altering contacts and white makeup, which leaves him looking pale, and often wears all black clothing. If one were to describe Manson’s appearance in one word it would undoubtedly be ‘unnatural,’ and this is most certainly his intent. The artist has often said that he hopes his appearance inspires people to be truer to themselves and reject societies’ standards—a noble endeavour indeed.
2. The Residents
The Residents, like The Locust, all wear the same attire on stage – giant eyeball helmets usually complemented by tuxedos and a top hat. Details on the art collective are scarce since they often attempt to misinform their audience and contradict themselves. In fact, no one is truly sure who The Residents are, though it is assumed that their members have changed multiple times since their formation at some point around the early 70’s. Other visual performers often accompany them dressed as everything from death to jesters. The only thing stranger than their uniforms is their music, which escapes description and must be heard to be appreciated.