Simon Stephens’ play Punk Rock may not actually be about the punk musical genre in a literal sense, but it is about expressing the kind of energy punk kids wrestle with. It’s a play about kids: Bored kids. Smart kids. Angry kids and sad kids. It’s at times joyful, at times violent. It’s both empowering and destructive. Cameron Laurie, one of the play’s actors and who is in a punk band of his own (Stuck Out Here), explores the punk genre, gives us his picks for the five most essential Canadian punk bands, and shares a playlist he made specially for the show.
Punk is a weird genre. Borne out of bored kids. Borne out of angry kids. Borne out of art schools and shopping malls. Borne out of class wars and suburban skate parks. It’s sarcastic and sincere, angsty and apathetic, empowering and destructive. Taking the piss out of itself and meaning every minute of it. When punk works, it expresses every dark thought you were too ashamed to utter. It gives a voice of solidarity to that part of you that you don’t always know how to or want to express. It knows how petty you are, or righteous or selfish or violent or complicit or confused or useless or happy or sad you are, and it still loves you. Punk allows you to wrestle with every element of yourself in an honest, joyful, cathartic ruckus.
Here are my picks for five of the most essential bands this country currently has to offer. And what follows is a big raucous playlist to get you into a nice angsty mood.
The legend goes that Single Mothers broke up in 2009 and have been playing shows ever since. I first encountered the band in the late aughts, playing a house show in their hometown of London, Ontario. A crowd of college kids joined in to the manic snide anthems about pretentious grad students, coke binges, and frat boys. Since then Single Mothers have grown and evolved, though their cynicism and misanthropic demeanour still remains. Frontman Drew Thomson reads us his diary to a throbbing hardcore backing track that have made Single Mothers one of the mainstays in Canadian punk. The band’s name comes from Thomson’s own mother, equating single motherhood to his musical endeavour: loving something so hard, sacrificing so much for it, and hoping it grows into something beautiful. Their latest record, Our Pleasure, was a standout of 2017.
Frigs have just released a great debut record, Basic Behaviour, which is closer to post-punk and ’90s grunge acts like PJ Harvey and Sonic Youth than a more traditional “punk” sound (whatever that is). It’s dark and brooding, languid and hypnotic, teasingly pulsating towards a frenzied release that almost never comes. Frontwoman Bria Salmena has a captivating voice and an arresting presence that leads listeners on a journey of sonic discomfort. This is most on display in standout track “Chest,” where Salmena sings about the Brock Turner rape trial with an impassioned and righteous anger.
Liver is Canadiana punk, a genre that probably isn’t even a real thing, and yet here they are. Liver explores the toll of a long Canadian winter on the soul and the resilience required to survive it. With a huge sound of driving rock’n’roll and gruff anthemic vocals, Liver will get you through the darkest of Januarys. Their debut record, Capital, comes out this fall. Keep your ear to the ground.
One of the best Canadian rock acts of the past decade. They’ve consistently outdone themselves, release after release. They’ve been described as “Black Flag fronted by Courtney Love.” Mish Way howls haunting poetry overtop of one of the best bands in punk. Guitarist Kenneth Williams is a master of the genre, weaving intricate, driving guitar parts around Ways’ vocals.
The 6ix Gods of Toronto pop-punk. One of this city’s greatest exports over the past several years. Pup exploded on the scene in 2014 with their self-titled debut, garnering attention from Rolling Stone and the New York Times, as well as a Polaris Prize nomination. Their follow-up record, 2016’s The Dream Is Over, was anything but a sophomore slump. It was a triumphant album about the toils of life on the road and the tenacity required to pursue what you love. Pup offer huge pop hooks with honest lyrics and intricate, technical instrumentation. Their live show is packed with unrelenting energy as vocalist Stefan Babcock personifies the band’s name, resembling a small-but-mighty yippy dog that won’t shut up and can’t be stopped.
Full Spotify playlist:
Cameron Laurie is starring in the Toronto premiere of Punk Rock, produced by the Howland Company, which is running for a limited time between March 29 and April 14 at Crow’s Theatre.
Check out the Punk Rock trailer here: