StressFest 2016 :: A Look Back

Tucked away south of Richmond on Spadina, Cinecycle is just a hop, skip and a sketchy alleyway from Wide Open. I walked through the green garage doors spray painted with the word “Cinecycle”, the only indicator that this was a venue and not the garbage door to Mamma’s Pizza. Stepping in, I was immediately greeted by the StressFest’s co-organizer Darryl Blackener who I managed to snag for a few quick minutes of Q&A.

StressFest is kind of the scrappy, all-ages counter-festival to CMW’s commercial gloss. For the last couple of years it was hosted at SoyBomb, another DIY venue with a skateboard half-pipe as a stage and home to another one of my favourite underground Toronto festivals. This year Darryl and his cohort Susan Cavanaugh opted for the bike-garage-cum-underground-cinema to feature three evenings of punk fury.

20160505_220119First up was Grand Detour from Toulon, France serving up heavy post-rock – a kind of Tool without the Maynard James Keenan ego meets Explosions in The Sky. Intricate guitarmonies would lead into jagged riffs and then reverb laden tremolo picking. The intimacy of the stageless venue more than made up for their lack of vocals, and their energy left a lot of momentum for the rest of the evening. Points to StressFest for thinking of filling the breaks in between sets with DJ Jack Moves, whose homespun beatboxing cover of Nine Inch Nails was a helluva lot more interesting than the usual PA filler, but you had to feel a bit sorry for him as the cigarette smoking crowd left him often playing to himself.

Right before Edhochuli were up to bat, Darryl informed me that these guys, “really rip”. Indeed Edhochuli delivered muscular riffs well deserving of their namesake and with proggy flair, interspersed between heavy screamo bombast by duo vocalists Jon Ahn and Garret Cassidy. Cellphone summoned Lemmy back from the underworld as their spirit guide, hammering out metal riffs with punk dirt and wah-saturated solo lines. It was fast and thrashy rock for the underground, with Cellphones guitarist J Leon up front in your face slaying with some sweet chops.

Headlining the night was Halifax trio Crosss, which captivated the remaining audience with their winding, grungy doom. Quirky stop-starts reminiscent of Pixie’s songcraft, with the uncanny vocal delivery of Andy March was a stark contrast to the fast tempo work of the three previous bands, but March and co. delivered each lurching beat with simmering malice. The set was equally delivered with a terse and almost wordless performance, like you were witnessing some solemn, demonic ritual.

Cinecycle turned out to be a particularly well-suited venue for the kind of underground acts that filled StressFest’s roster. It was small enough to be intimate but accommodated the audience who were there for the dirty DIY flavour. At the end of the evening as the acts packed up their gear, the dazed and howl-struck showgoers trickled out of the alleyway and onto Spadina Ave, satiated by another fix of furious noise.

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