Montreal Punk Fest Riot 1979

Photo above by Louie Pepin

Being punk today is very well accepted but with the 40th anniversary of Montreal first Punk Fest taking place, let’s remember those who paved the way. Those who were ridiculed, spat at, beaten and bitten didn’t have it easy. I am lucky to have a first-hand witness who was right at the epicenter of  the riots of McGill University that started during a show of The 222s: Chris Barry frontman of The 222s

Memories of a Fucked Up Festival

Photo Louie Pepin

by Chris Barry 

I remember that so-called “First Ever Montreal Punk Fest” gig in January ’79 better than most, actually. This because it was the first big gig I’d ever done and it didn’t really work out so well for The 222’s. There were a lot of people at that show, close to 1000 as I recall, but the vast majority of them were frat boy/sorority gal types who either had no interest in, or actively despised, the music. I suspect it was more like going to a freak show for these people than anything. 

Anyway, the 222’s were apparently the big headliner and as such were the last band to go on stage. The 222s always styled ourselves as a wannabe pro outfit, aspiring to be as tight as the Ramones, which to some people just wasn’t “punk”. God forbid you should actually be in tune. Plus, in ’78 – ’79 the Chromosomes had a major hate on for the 222s, and they had a lot of friends, operating kind of like a gang. Tough boys, those Chromosomes were, and while by the time Rosenberg finally croaked in the early ’80s our mutual animosity was way behind us, they were going to make sure this night didn’t go well for the 222s. Sort of like, “this’ll teach ’em for knowing how to play their instruments!”

Cut a long story short, we hadn’t been on stage for 2 minutes when the beer and spit and bottles and rocks and god fuckin’ knows what else began to rain down upon us. The Chromosomes had gotten the ball rolling, but by that time of night, with 50 cent beer and drunken frat boys galore, the 222s, with our dayglo leather, Chairman Mao shirts, fake zebra skin pants and the like, made for pretty ideal targets. “Fuckin’ faggots!”

That’s essentially where we started from when we hit the stage. Except the Chromosomes had also sabotaged our gear, so drums were falling over, amplifiers suddenly didn’t work, all this shit just making everything that much worse for us. Consequently there was a lot of dead time between songs while we struggled to get our gear working again. Which left lil ‘ol me to deal with this increasingly aggressive audience, which I didn’t do very well.

Being pretty fresh at all of 16 years old, I had no idea how to deal with a situation like this. So instead of just going “fuck you all” and leaving the stage – which is something the 222s would eventually learn to do quite well, as this was far from the last time we’d be assaulted onstage – I instead took my cue from Iggy’s Metallic KO record and started taunting the audience – possibly the very dumbest thing I could have done.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, my taunts only made our situation worse, apparently turning some in the audience that much more violent. Finally, maybe 15 minutes into our set, they pulled the PA and turned the house lights on. Another bad idea. A riot immediately ensued, causing all sorts of damage to the university and surrounding area. An event which promptly led to “punk” being banned from every venue in the city for about a year – not that any of them had been booking our respective bands prior to the riot, of course.

See Mtl Punk- The First Wave by Érik Cimon et Alain Cliche (2011)

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