S.C.E.N.E. FESTIVAL - ST. CATHERINES, ONTARIO - JUNE 9, 2013
Written by: Keith Ham June 13, 2013
For the past 18 years, the city of St. Catherine’s, Ontario has been putting on S.C.E.N.E. Fest – a massive musical festival featuring over 140+ artists from just about anywhere. The festival literally takes place in over 10 venues, which sometimes houses two simultaneous bands or groups.
One of them an outdoor stage, and the rest in local bars or clubs, however, it doesn’t only end there as many local guitar players and dancers made their way just a little by playing either outdoors or in pubs and taverns that were off of S.C.E.N.E. Fest’s map. The genres featured in S.C.E.N.E. are as diverse as it’s venues (Which range from classic-style pubs to single room bars to multi-level dance clubs) – just about anything you could ever want to hear or discover are there; acoustic rock, rock n roll, folk rock, solo singing performances, hip hop, metal, and even just people dancing to others music in the streets. If you could imagine it, S.C.E.N.E. either had it or had something close to it.
My journey through S.C.E.N.E. was, of course, for Metal Master Kingdom – so I had the pleasure of catching a vast majority of the metal acts. Most of these occurred at the Coco Cabana off Carlisle St, a bar which seemed to be made specifically for up-close and personal shows at the highest capacity possible. However, it lacked a barrier between the audience and performers which, as you will hear, posed a few interesting issues for me.
The first act in which I caught was RINGS OF SATURN, a sort of progressive-style death core band. My expectations were honestly high for this group as they had claimed to play with the likes of CANNIBAL CORPSE and from what I’d researched beforehand, had gained quite the following over the years. Of course their songs were pretty good, I specifically liked when the music became highly technical – creating a very effective off worldly sound. Sadly, I didn’t much know any of the songs – the group hadn’t quite told the audience their titles. The experience was amazing musically; however, the audience wasn’t quite fully into RINGS OF SATURN at the time - most opting just to sway a little, halfheartedly starting mini-mosh pits that didn’t last more than a few seconds. RINGS OF SATURN was good; they just had the misfortune of warming up a rather stiff audience. On another note, I was happy to see the band later hanging out at other venues and becoming part of the audience for acts I’d see later.
My next stop would bring me to the downstairs of the Red Hot Chili Pepper, a pretty nice place full of quirky memorabilia on the walls. Here the band featured was St Catherine’s TAKE THE THRONE, a new-styled progressive metal band bringing about their first ever live performance. For their first performance TAKE THE THRONE drew in an impressive audience, which kept growing as their set went on. This wasn’t surprising as front man Langdon Smallwood, for such a small stage, had enormous presence - despite a large pipe and an awkwardly placed rail running in front of the bands playing area. The rest of the group followed suit as well, gaining confidence as more attention came to the group. Somehow they started a pit in a space of about 4 meters.
PROPHETS, a metalcore band from Hamilton, brought me right back to Coco Cabana. Here I attempted to get up close to the band to take photographs; though, I and another photographer were literally hit by a single mosher several times and had no choice but to back up in order to spare our cameras. The band, PROPHETS, did bring an amazing stage presence however. Their music, though sadly the typical run of metalcore, had everyone in the audience moving – the lead singer, Ian Flynn, as with the TAKE THE THRONE had brought on a massive amount of energy and was highly interactive with the audience . Being originally from a small town and seeing only really small-venue shows, I’d never had the pleasure of witnessing an actual circle pit nor the crowd actually chanting. PROPHETS had everyone In the Coco Cabana doing both of these.
Next up was a different venue, The Jagermeister Stage, one which I was able to get up and close to the group playing – California’s THE FACELESS. Regrettably the band had to play without their singer, who they informed everyone had missed his plane. Still, though the band looked highly stressed (except guitarist Wes Hauch who seemed to still be enjoying himself), the band was still highly appealing – dishing out more Opeth influenced progressive death metal. Here the audience wasn’t really in tune with the music, mostly drunker members used the area as a hideaway – one particular individual opted to simply run around screaming for no apparent reason. This was all a shame seeing that THE FACELESS really managed to hold their own without the singer.
WITHIN THE RUINS, a band from Westfield, MA was my next stop – setting up the upstairs floor of the L3 Security Stage. However, before this I caught the tail end of THEM THEIVES performance – in which they’d jumped around so much that the wiring on their equipment had become completely entangled. From what I heard, they were great for a hardcore band. Though, when I had the chance to be part of WITHIN THE RUINS crowd, I sadly forgot mostly of what they were about. WITHIN THE RUINS had brought such an enormous crowd that it completely filled the upper floor. If I hadn’t been early, I highly doubt I’d have even got to see them play. Again, their music fell under the realm of the ‘core’ genre’s but with such a hard edge that it actually hardly mattered in this case. The entire floor was pit by the final song, every member of WITHIN THE RUINS had brought such a powerful performance that honestly no other act would match what I’d just been part of. Highlights were numerous, crowd chanting, massive pits, a moment where the singer picked up a kid by the back of his neck and screamed into his face (I don’t think they kid was anything but impressed as he seemed to reappear for some more up-close action with other bands down the road).
I returned to Coco Cabana, where I’d spend the rest of the night, to catch another metalcore band BEINGASANOCEAN. At this point I was somewhat noticing that S.C.E.N.E. hadn’t really offered too much diversity in its heavier offerings. Only THE FALLEN, TAKE THE THRONE, and another band I hadn’t managed to check out due to overlapping timeframes MANDROID ECHOSTAR were outside of the ‘core’ genres so far (Sadly, I would miss later acts like WRETCHED PAIN). BEINGASANOCEAN, apparently very large in the metalcore scene, drew an enormous crowd which they completely ate up. As with WITHIN THE RUINS, the entire band was into the show. Literally, the audience was crawling on the stage, fans were screaming into the microphone, guitarists were jumping off of amplifiers, tossing them high in the air during breaks only the land them at the right moment to begin playing again, and the singer was hanging off of the Cabana’s speakers – jumping straight into the crowd as he sang. Overall, they put on a fantastic performance without any hitches.
Toronto’s LIFERUINER faced quite different circumstances. Immediately the band was met with problems concerning power, whereas the amplifiers went out – forcing the singer to keep through nearly an entire song without any instruments playing whatsoever (talk about perseverance). He later unplugged in order to allow their amplifier better power flow, allowing for an odd loud-in-the-dark experience. On the second bit, the microphone momentarily went out due to the awkward location of the power cords – plugged into an outlet located right beside the bar entrance and bathrooms where hundreds were no doubt trampling over it. Still, through all of these hang-ups, LIFERUINER persevered and just as with BEINGASANOCEAN, the audience was literally crawling on the stage - in fact, maybe more so. Though there wasn’t as much actual antics like with BEINGASANOCEAN, I was impressed by the music and performance of LIFERUINER – especially seeing how incredibly positive they had been met with such a large crowd.
In between LIFERUINER and the next group, I had the chance to check out a non-metal oriented group as well, pop-punk-rock group LIKE PACIFIC. My reasoning behind this was to see just how many people had come to see the limited metal acts, as every crowd was just about enormous; to my surprise the difference was extreme. The audience (with absolutely no disrespect to LIKE PACIFIC, who certainly keeps 90’s pop-punk very much alive) wasn’t much more then 15-20 people. This, by far, wasn’t the worst turn-out I’d seen of the day as many shows I caught moments of had sometimes less. Clearly S.C.E.N.E.’s audience had come for the harder acts more than the softer or more hip-hop oriented groups. My only complaint in the regard, however, was that very little attention was drawn – musician wise – to the outdoor stages.
The last group I’d caught was SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD, who were ending their cross-Canada tour at S.C.E.N.E. Fest. The band shared the same antics as other bands, jumping off amplifiers and singing along with the crowd – at one point the front man was so impressed with one individual’s voice that he allowed him to take several shots on the microphone. Later a guest appearance was made; however, I personally have no idea who this person might have been (the band never spoke his name). SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD’s best moment was no doubt when they began to play ‘Bust At The Chino’ a song which I had recognized from some late night Youtube scouting. Oddly, front man Alex Leech told the entire audience the song was about his gambling addiction – something I had to give the band points for.
All and all, S.C.E.N.E. was an interesting experience for me. Never before had I been near the ‘core’ scene and it was certainly something I was glad to have been part of at least once. Though, in all honesty S.C.E.N.E. lacked variety in its music and for that it suffered immensely. It wasn’t long until I could almost completely expect what was coming next, even if I hadn’t heard of the group before. Certainly there were heavier and less ‘core’ based acts, however, they were hidden or suffering from some difficulties (like THE FACELESS and their singer). I can only hope that perhaps S.C.E.N.E. would consider bringing in more solid genre’s (not slash genre’s) to spice things up and appeal to fans. All-in-all the performances were just about flawless, every bad powered through the hang-ups associated with such quick set-changes and tight timeframes. Newer bands certainly did make substantial impacts (such as TAKE THE THRONE) and more established ones (such as WITHIN THE RUINS) showed off all they had learned over their careers. And when it comes to fests like this, having been around nearly 20 years, I was happy to see that the little guys were allowed a chance to interact with the big guys. S.C.E.N.E. Fest was a pleasure and despite some personal problems – the music was good and that is all that matters in the end.