These days, when removing a public venture from the public eye for more than a few days is a quick and easy path to the hearts of marketing departments going into shock and shutdown, taking a year off is akin to throwing one’s hands up and walking into the ocean. But taking 2017 is exactly what Heavy Montreal (or stylised as just “Heavy”) did. Of course, the organisers had a very good and valid reason, but that didn’t stop conspiracy theories about why the festival disappeared from the summer concert schedule from running amok. Whichever way you swing it, the festival is back in 2018 with a top-heavy lineup that scrapes the stratosphere of the mainstream (Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Avenged Sevenfold), scours the deep recesses of the underground (Necrotic Mutation, Ultra Vomit), pulls in a couple of non-metal/hard rock artists (Perturbator, Tech N9NE) and has fucking Helix front and center and ready to give you an ‘R’ and fucking rock you!
Never fear, there’s lots to keep those in Decibel-land grinning widely with the likes of Sleep, Voivod, Napalm Death, Between the Buried and Me, Baroness, Nile, Eyehategod, Power Trip, Khemmis, Havok, Witchcraft and more. But probably the biggest coup and attraction of Heavy Montreal 2018 is the return to North American shores after what feels like a million years of Emperor who will be performing Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk in its entirety. There’s all this and a lot more going on if you’re still on the fence about schlepping north of the border next month where the money may look funny but still has Americans coming out almost 20% on top in the currency exchange game. If you break it down in the language of the headbanger, that’s 20% more beer, merch, food truck burgers and sunscreen. To give the low-down, we got in touch with two of Evenko (the company responsible for booking the fest and others as well as shows and events in and around Montreal throughout the rest of the year) and the fest’s principle bookers, Daniel Glick and JF Michaud, for a quick chat about Heavy Montreal and what to expect as it makes a triumphant return.
Big question first: what was the reasoning behind the festival skipping a year last year?
Daniel Glick: Last year we booked Metallica and Guns N’ Roses to play huge outdoor shows in the summer time and we just didn’t want to compete with that. We thought we’d kill ourselves. I think it’s important to recognise the competition in the market and we didn’t want to compete with ourselves. So, we thought, ‘let’s just take a year and bring it back when there’s less competition in the marketplace.’
So it’s a simple as that? There have been all kinds of conspiracy theories about why Heavy Montreal missed a year and I’m sure you’ve heard them all…
Daniel: No, I haven’t. I want to hear them.
Really? Well, one of the tamer ones was that the park wasn’t available because of Montreal 375 anniversary celebrations and Heavy Montreal happened to be a casualty.
Daniel: To set the record straight about what people think may have happened there, the area where we normally do Heavy is undergoing renovations for two years. Last year was the first, this year is the second and I don’t know if you know, but we do other festivals on the site. So, we moved [indie rock festival] Osheaga over to what, I guess, is our temporary site when the park wasn’t available. But, I can see how someone would that and start a rumour because the old Heavy site was under reno. But the real reason was that we didn’t want to compete with ourselves.
The more dire one comes when you look the timeline from the public’s eye: there’s no Heavy Montreal because supposedly the park wasn’t available, but Evenko is still putting on Osheaga, [electronic music festival] Îlesoniq and suddenly the punk fest ‘77 gets announced at Parc-Jean Drapeau around the time when Heavy Montreal usually happens. Combine that with the fact that the last time Heavy Montreal happened it was on a smaller site. People concluded that the franchise must be in trouble in terms of popularity and therefore financially.
Daniel: We also took a year off in 2009, I think it was. I believe that was the year we had AC/DC at the stadium right around the same time that we would have done Heavy. We look at what’s going on and if certain acts aren’t able to be a part of Heavy, then we’re not going to try and compete with the biggest bands in the world.
Second big question: I know for a fact that a lot of North American promoters have been trying for a long time to get Emperor. How did you manage to secure them for this year’s festival?
JF Michaud: We’d been working at getting Emperor at the festival for five years. Every year of the festival you have your list of bands that you’re hoping will be able to play. Like, one band I’ve been trying to get is Graveyard and it’s always been a scheduling thing, not that they don’t want to play North America or anything. So, what happened with Emperor is that we’d been trying every year and three or four years ago, their management kind of got back to us saying that the band wasn’t doing shows that year but they might be available in the future. However, at the time Ihsahn’s solo project was available and he wanted to do a few festivals. The music was cool, Emperor has a massive fan base in Montreal and we were sure the fans would be happy to see its frontman performing at the festival. Sure enough, he played in 2015, the show was amazing and everyone had an amazing time. So, when we hit them up to ask if they were doing any shows this year, they said they were doing a handful of festivals in Europe, but Ihsahn had such an amazing time playing one of the smaller stages at Heavy Montreal that he’d love to come back. It’s been ages since Emperor has played any shows in North America and we’re definitely stoked. It’s been one of the two or three bands I’m really pumped for at this year’s festival.
On that note, in addition to Emperor, this year you have Nile and Eyehategod playing, bands with long history of issues with the Canadian border.
JF: I’m not exactly sure what it was with Eyehategod, but they had never played Canada. We had them come through with Black Label Society back in January and by that point we had talked to them about playing the festival in past and the timing was never right. I think the band had tried to get in the country years ago and they weren’t able to make it, but this time around I guess they were able to figure out whatever they needed for paperwork for the Black Label tour. When we saw them, they were so good and we thought of the opportunity to bring them back for the festival because the fans want to see them. They really appreciated the opportunity to be able to come back to Canada twice in a year especially since they hadn’t been here in the entire existence of the band.
Is whether or not a band has trouble getting into Canada something you consider or worry about when putting together a lineup? Or do you just book it and worry about it later?
JF: I think we try book artists that festival goers want to see or are really dying to see. Club shows and bar shows are usually booked a couple months in advance, but when we have a band on the festival they’re booked nine months or a year in advance and that allows them more time to make sure they can fix any legal issues they might have. I think that’s why festivals might tend to get acts that might be harder to get otherwise.
Daniel: We definitely try to watch out for that, to make sure they can get into the country if there are any prior issues. And the little more lead time helps us out a bit if it’s something serious or if it’s the case where the government is in a position to issue a pardon or something.
With the year off, how long would you say you’ve been working on putting the fest together this year?
Daniel: I feel like it’s something that’s always going. We work on our stuff all year ‘round. It’s always in our heads and we’re always thinking about the next year and things we can do better and tweak.
Is the site design going to be different?
Daniel: They’re into the second year of the park renovations, so we are on a temporary site where we did Osheaga, Îlesoniq and ‘77 last year that’s where we’re doing Heavy this year. It’s the F1 race track, on the same island, at the same Metro stop but maybe a five minute walk from the station. The stage placement is going to be slightly different than in the past, but it makes it a little more exciting. We’ve definitely decorated it to the best of our ability, adding Astroturf and stuff to make it feel a little more green. I really liked the site and I think the fans at the other festivals last year enjoyed it too.
JF: It’s interesting, but some people were under the impression that the site was smaller when it’s actually a little bit bigger. I think what created that perception is the fact that it kind of creates a more intimate setting. You don’t have to walk as much to go from one stage to another and every stage area is nice and intimate with good sight lines. Overall, it was a cool experience. Obviously, the site we previously used was in the middle of the forest on the island and people have been coming back to it for the last eight years. But this site also has something interesting to offer and I’m actually looking forward to getting back to it again.
Do you have to go through any special process or have troubles dealing with the city when switching sites like that?
Daniel: It’s fairly easy. We have a very good relationship with the city and the park and it helps that we do our other festivals on the same island, so everyone is pretty understanding if we need to move from one place to another as long as it makes sense for us and our fans.
Do you have the Heavy in the City club shows booked yet?
JF: We’re still tweaking it and working on a few things, but I’m pretty happy with the diversity this year and with having the ‘77 festival the day before, we end up with a little bit of crossover with the opening parties and after parties. I think it’s going to make for a pretty decent selection of options. The Heavy in the City lineup hasn’t been announced yet; we usually wait until a month before the festival.
I know you guys do this full time and not only book the biggest metal bands in the world but also the biggest bands in the world in general. But what would you say you’ve learned most about what you do in the year off from Heavy Montreal?
JF: I’ve noticed that over the last two years there have been a lot of bands that have gotten much bigger and for us it’s been a lot of fun to book the festival this year; having bands like Gojira who blew up over the last two or three years. And not being there for a year made the fans realise how much they miss they festival. It was nice to have fans say to us that they miss the festival as much as it was nice to see Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and Tool last summer, that they miss having the smaller stages to discover new bands. It’s definitely rewarding for us to build a festival that fans were excited to go see this year.
Daniel: Hmm. That’s a really good question. Our lineup is a little deeper on all levels which maybe came with the time we had. We were a little bit choosier, I guess. I think we spent a little more time doing it and that’s been fun to take a step back. I know that with Avenged Sevenfold and a couple other bands, we were able to help plan what their tour stops were going to be. Like we made sure Avenged didn’t play Montreal in the winter time so that they would play Heavy instead. There was a little more time to do stuff like that and it makes it a little more fun for us to be able to talk to an agent or manager and plan their touring paths through our province for 18 months.
Heavy Montreal happens July 28 & 29 at Parc-Jean Drapeau in, you guessed it, Montreal. Info and tickets at www.heavymontreal.com