Fledgling Montreal Storefronts Distribute the Local Alternative

For awhile now in Montreal we’ve seen various scenes start growing again, as more and more people join the folks still active from the mid-80’s scenes. Okay, so we might not have the strong local record labels (OG, the young and vibrant Cargo, etc.) and regular press coverage (Reargarde, Rectangle et al.) that we had back before the underground was more than just an ‘alternative’ flavour of the mainstream. One thing we have now, though, is more bands, more comic artists, more poets and zinesters than ever before. In a way, we can thank the economy for that, as many of the 56% of people aged 18-35 who are unemployed in Montreal have stopped waiting for a future to be offered to them, and have started making their OWN futures.

As much as poverty can be a potent catalyst for art, however, it doesn’t provide the resources (and, often, the morale) needed for organizing and sustaining a community of artists. This is why we can end up with more bands and underground artists than we’ve ever had, yet at the same time have a local scene which is more fragmented than it has ever been. Slowly, though, some people are beginning to do something about this.

“We wanted to show that there is a scene here,” says Pat K., editor of the Kerozen zine and caretaker of the Kerozen Boutik at Cafe Chaos, a local showbar on St. Denis St. “At first, we just asked everyone we knew to give us copies of their CD or whatever it is, and now we get four or five new things every week without asking. We’ll have to buy some new racks soon. We’re running out of room.”

Sure enough, the selection of stuff baffled me. I counted 65 local CDs, forty cassettes, a handful of vinyl and dozens of zines and comics. Band shirts and stickers are also available, and a handful of non-local CDs are mixed in, left by bands passing through on tour. Although they sell about $100 of merchandise every day, the artists get to keep it all (except for $1 off each CD for the store). I had to wonder how the people running the store could survive on such a slender commission.

“Well,” explained Pat, “Cafe Chaos always had as its goal the promotion of the scene, so they don’t charge us for being here. I’m on UI right now so I can get by with that and the tips from the bar. We also have three people on the welfare P.A.I.E. program who take care of the administrative stuff, the promotion, and distribution. We’re eligible for that program because the company we set up to run the store & zine is a non-profit organization. It’s great, the employees are still considered to be on welfare, but they get minimum wage for working 35 hours a week. So with a little help from the government…”

Another thing Kerozen does is hold a Kabaret at Cafe Chaos once a month, featuring bands in a variety of styles as well as spoken-word artists, performers, and occasionally comic jams. The club itself hosts several gigs a week by local and out-of-town bands.

A catalog of all the bands, zines, and merchandise in the store is available on the web site (ww3.sympatico.ca/pp.dore) and is updated weekly. It’ll be printed up soon and included as a flyer with an order form in the Kerozen zine, as well as in its (unofficial) English counterpart, Fish Piss. The advantages of artists pooling their contacts are many – the Kerozen zine is now being sold in small towns throughout Quebec that yielded the bands and artists whose stuff is sold at the store. Bands wanting to organize a tour can contact other bands in the cities they want to play in, and while they’re out there roaming the country, they can distribute CDs and zines to all these places. Likewise, they can bring back lots of local stuff from other cities to sell in the store back home.

On the other side of town, a similar operation is in its embryonic stage. The Quantity Catalog aims to list as much local work as possible, as well as independent out-of-town stuff (send zines, recordings and/or info to Grayson Miniely, 4224 Clark, Montreal, Que., H2W 1X2). Their storefront is located closer to where the English music and spoken-word scene plays itself out, but will likely carry the same stuff available at Kerozen, as well as help Kerozen get more chapbooks and things from the English side. Language is a petty distinction in this matter, though (unlike what mainstream media may suggest). Much of the stock at Kerozen is already anglophone, or francophone bands & comic artists whose work is in English.

I was encouraged by what I saw at the Kerozen Boutik, although Pat and I still ended up reminiscing about the old days, when Reargarde was around. “That was my bible, man,” he said. “I found out about all the bands and shows and records from that. It’s too bad that the weekly tabloids don’t do that anymore. They really don’t care about local stuff, and there’s so much more of it now.” I agreed, but mentioned that it’s up to us now. There’s already an age gap between the people in the established local ‘indie’ press and the youth culture they’re supposed to be writing about. A changing of the guard is afoot. Although we would do well to study the old guard’s examples, it’s up to us to act now, instead of just follow.

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