We’ve long been fans of the Roots Rock Rebel radio show (Wednesdays from 10PM to 12AM on CKUT out of Montreal) and its host Aaron. Aaron describes the show as a “weekly dose of ska, reggae, punk and class war politics,” and that really does sum it up quite nicely.
Aaron has been kind enough to play Rebel Time Records music and inteview Rebel Time Records bands, so when we heard he was heading up Rock Against Racism shows in Montreal, we were intrigued and figured it was the perfect time for us to interview him…
Rock Against Racism started in 1976 in England…can you tell us what RAR is all about?
Sure! From what I understand about RAR, it was a movement started in London to confront the rise of the British National Party (BNP), which was a racist nationalist movement that was recruiting a lot of working class white youth. England has had a lot of problems with racism and xenophobia over the years (and still does today), but also has a proud tradition of anti-fascist activism going all the way back to the 1930s and the infamous Battle of Cable street. There is a powerful song by Oi Polloi about that incident called “Let the boots do the talking”. Anyways, I digress…There were massive outdoor concerts with some amazing bands at the time, like The Clash, X-Ray Spex, and Steel Pulse, to bring white and black youth together against the BNP. In fact, there is an awesome documentary about the Clash called Rude Boy that has some original footage from the first RAR concert in Victoria Park. For me, the original RAR was powerful because it showed that music was more than just a cultural expression, but could also be a political tool to set off movements for social justice. Also, it was the first time that punk rock and reggae were brought together in such an inspiring way, and there is a close relationship with those two genres right up to today. Those bands mentioned above are still some of my favorite bands.
When I was getting into punk rock and ska in Toronto in the 90’s, there was also a rise in neo-nazi bonehead activity around the city. I remember hearing about many racist beatings on the news when I was a kid, and there were fascist scum-bags like Ernst Zundel and Paul Fromm living in the city, and they had a lot of influence. To confront this, the Anti-Racist Action (ARA) got organized, and had a large presence. They would put on really fun shows under the banner of Rock Against Racism, or sometimes called “Ska Ska Oi!”. Usually they would be at the Reverb, Kathedral (which has since been gentrified and turned into a yuppie furniture store), or El Mocambo. Those events were so incredibly fun. They were always all-ages, and featured not only ska and punk bands, but also people from the rave scene, hip-hop groups… it was just an amazing explosion of anti-racist underground youth culture. Great bands used to play at their events like Marilyn’s Vitamins, King Apparatus, The Planet Smashers, The Kingpins… the list could go on. I remember one time Sum 41 opened up for the Planet Smashers at an ARA show before anyone knew who the fuck they were!
Anyways, now that I’ve been living in Montreal for 10 years, and I’m almost 30, I wanted to try to re-create that scene year, so I started RAR-Montreal. The idea is simple. Katacombes, which is Montreal’s coolest worker-run punk venue, asked me to start promoting a monthly DJ night there. But then I thought, why stop at just a DJ night? Why not have live bands, radical booksellers and info kiosks, and occasional film screenings? Each month it is a fundraiser for a different grassroots anti-racist or anti-capitalist group. That’s how we roll.
What prompted you to start up Rock Against Racism shows in Montreal? Has there been an upsurge in racist activity that prompted this?
I love the punk and ska scenes here. Most of the bands are great. But I think the scene is lacking a lot of the politics that were there when I first got into this music. Punk, ska, and reggae started as anti-establishment music, so let’s bring it back to the roots, eh? And so often you’ll be at shows, and either bands in the audience will say stupid fucking sexist or homophobic bullshit. I guess everyone knows racism is taboo today, but punks and “rudies” still think they can get away with treating women and queers like lesser humans. Fuck that. We gotta re-politicize the scene, but do it in a way that is still fun, and that isn’t hitting people over the head with our anti-oppression politics.
At all of our shows, we’re going to have volunteers who will be kinda vibe-checkers. This means that if anyone is making anyone else feel uncomfortable, it will be dealt with. For example, so many women get harassed or hit on against their will at shows, or people of colour are made to feel unwelcome. We’re trying to foster a more welcoming atmosphere where we actively call out any intolerant bullshit.
Also, there are so many great groups and causes out there that need money, because they certainly aren’t getting any from the government. I’m an anarchist and a community organizer first and foremost, so I really want to help these groups out.
What are your plans? What do you have lined up?
We have monthly RAR shows planned right up until spring. It’s pretty exciting! The launch of the series is January 31. It will be a fundraiser for the CKUT Homelessness Marathon. We’ll be screening the film Squeegee Punks In Traffic (S.P.I.T.), and then there will be performances from two great local punk bands, Boids and Action Sédition.
Our February show is February 14, which is also significant because it’s Valentine’s day, but more importantly, there are actions held across Canada in solidarity with missing and murdered aboriginal women. So our fundraiser that night is for Families of Sisters in Spirit, an aboriginal-led group in Ottawa working on the issue. That show will be all women-fronted bands, including Studfinder (riot grrl), Dirty Boots (experimental synth-soul), and We R Dying to Kill U. I’m very excited about the last band! We R Dying to Kill U are an anarchist experimental post-punk dance act. They accompanied Penny Rimbaud from Crass when he performed in Montreal last summer. It was mind-blowing.
Our show in March will be March 14, and that will be part of Israeli Apartheid Week. We’re doing it under the banner of “Punks Against Apartheid” (www.punksagainstapartheid.com), and all the money will be going to support the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli apartheid, and in solidarity with Palestine. There are 3 great local punk bands playing that one, including LOUDbag, Mayday, and Silent Bones.
And finally, our April 25 show will be a benefit for Solidarity Across Borders (www.solidarityacrossborders.org). Details to come on that one, but we have one VERY exciting band confirmed!
All the shows are at Katacombes. Katacombes rules. So does Janick from Katacombes.
Rock Against Racism is, of course, associated with music and one of RAR’s slogans is “Love Music, Hate Racism.” What music are you ‘loving?’what MTL bands are you stoked on? Who might we see performing at Montreal RAR shows?
Well, of course I’m loving all of the bands mentioned above who are playing RAR. There are some bands who wanted to play the series, but the dates didn’t work with their touring schedule. As far as ska bands go, I’m really enjoying The Fundamentals and Kman and the 45s.
On the punk side of things, there is no shortage of amazing bands in Montreal. I’m really loving some queer-punk bands, like The Facials and Dekoder. Everyone should check out Dekoder. Their music is dark and hard. Jeunesse Apatride have been doing their thing for around 15 years now, and they’re still one of my favorite local bands. I like some of the other RASH bands like Union Made, La Gachette, and Hold a Grudge. Oh, and the East End Radicals new album is GREAT.
What is the anti-fa scene like in Montreal? It seems to me that Montreal has always had a strong SHARP and RASH presence and lots of bands with anti-fa sentiments…is this still the case?
Yeah, there is a big RASH presence here. Not so much SHARP these days. I know that historically, there has been some tension between those groups because SHARP are less political than RASH. I’m a bit disconnected from the skinhead scene. I don’t identify as a skinhead at all, I’m more of an old school punk or ska kid. But I guess we all love the same music and politics.
People can get all the info for RAR-MTL and stay in touch at Rock Against Racism Montreal.