A different kind of music festival

A stock photo of a sleek white basin was projected on the wall behind the punk band. A song had just finished, and the guitar was still reverberating.

“Let’s hear it for basins,” said Conor Antenucci, the bassist and singer of The Costanzas. “They hold so much goddamn water!”

This is a typical remark at Basin Fest, the independent music festival that ran Oct. 11-13 at L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle. According to founder Philip Shearing, Basin Fest is about much more than water containers: It’s a grassroots festival with a worthy cause.

A guitarist and vocalist in the band Paddle to the Sea, Shearing created the festival three years ago in an attempt to counter artistic exploitation in the Montreal festival circuit. In order to apply to festivals, artists are required to pay an application fee, but they are rarely given fair remuneration in exchange.

“You pay to apply,” Shearing said. “They take that money from 10 thousand people and then they only give it to five hundred people. They’re always making a profit off the artists.”

In an effort to funnel his frustration into a positive outlet, Shearing created a festival with an alternative business model: Free applications, and the artist always gets paid. Tickets are $10 per night, enough to generate a profit for artists while still affordable given that five bands perform each night.

“I’m not getting corporate money,” Shearing said. “We’re doing this to help the artists and to support the local scene. We don’t charge you to apply, so anyone from Montreal and even other cities can apply.”

Now in its third year, Basin Fest has grown significantly. For the first iteration, the festival ran a single night at Piranha Bar, featuring seven bands.

“It was almost like a glorified show calling itself a festival,” Shearing said, recalling Basin Fest’s modest early years.

The following year, Shearing expanded to three nights hosted at Crobar. Moving Basin Fest from downtown to the Plateau was Shearing’s most significant step yet.

“I’ve seen so many good bands [at l’Escogriffe, so] I always dreamed of putting my festival here,” Shearing said. “This is kind of a step up for us because of the capacity and the location.”

On Friday night, the thundering chords of The Costanzas and other enthusiastic hardcore groups filled L’Escogriffe’s intimate space. The festival was divided by genre, with indie rock on Thursday, hardcore and punk on Friday, and psychedelic music on Saturday.

“I try to make it almost like a Spotify playlist,” Shearing said. “It’s not always the exact [same] style but it fits together.”

The name Basin Fest comes from a Griffintown practice space shared by many artists on Basin Street. Although property developers have since purchased the building with the intention of converting it into condos, fans will remember the space as a beacon of the thriving local music scene.

“[Basin Fest] symbolizes that garage, that place where you jam, you practice 20 or 30 times to play the one show,” Shearing said. “I want them to get paid.”

When considering the future of Basin Fest, Shearing always comes back to the idea of a a communal space, and wants to see the success of his ideology transcend that of his festival.

“I would love if promoters would [support] bands, stop trying to be all profit-driven,” Shearing said. “I’d love to go out of business for that.”


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