In this new interview, No Echo contributor Dave Williams speaks with Streets Ahead founder Lance Crowder about the upcoming Canadian hardcore/punk festival. Lance also talks about the various bands he plays in and opens up about the health struggles that he's lived with in his life. -Carlos Ramirez
Alright, so tell me about Streets Ahead.
Streets Ahead is a 3-day music festival here in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We have hardcore, punk, metal, and indie rock bands from all over Ontario, Quebec, and the US It was an amazing time last year and this year is sure to be bigger and better.
Am I correct in assuming that the festival is named after a Tragically Hip song?
Bingo! Steve Nadeau, who I do the fest with, Andrew Narraway (Walk a Mile Records) and I were talking — we wanted to have a Canadian name that couldn't be easily misconstrued or misunderstood. Since the fest is young and focused on up-and-coming bands in hardcore, punk, and other heavy music genres, a name related to the future sounded on-brand. We all love The Hip, and with Gord Downie’s recent passing, we thought it’d be perfect.
This is the second instalment of the festival, but the first under the Streets Ahead moniker, correct? Why the re-branding?
I thought of the original name, Northern Breed, in a pinch when I just kind of wanted something that sounded cool. The rebranding came from wanting to steer clear of using words like ‘Breed’ …as well as ‘Northern’ [laughs]. There are just too many nationalist groups that throw words like those around. Additionally, a few people asked about the meaning of the name and were thinking it was a dog show or something. I guess just to avoid association with wack groups and to provide some clarity, we chose a music-themed name.
All proceeds from the festival go toward the Harmony House shelter here in Ottawa, right? Why Harmony House specifically?
Harmony House is Ottawa’s only second-stage shelter for victims of abuse. This is something I feel strongly about as someone who has seen the damage abuse can do — be it physical, mental, or emotional. It's a problem, and we need to do better as a community in supporting the people who are brave enough to come forward. Harmony House does a lot of good in this area, and since they run entirely off of donations, I feel the money can be put to the best use here. Check out the website for more info.
What bands are playing this year and what have been some highlights — musical or otherwise — in past years?
Last year we were a smaller, newer fest, obviously. So, we had a lot of locals from Ontario and Quebec, a lot of up-and-coming bands. Last year, my highlights were four bands: Stepping Stone from Regina was amazing, and they're taking over the world now. Pine, an Ottawa “dreamo” band, that I love. They were a nice break from the madness that was a 15-band day. Everyone watched despite them being completely different. Detail from Michigan, because they are always an absolutely insane time. It was wild, you can find videos on the Instagram. And a band called War Prayer, who we're having back this year. No one really knew them last year but they were phenomenal. This year, I'm looking forward to seeing Hangman, new locals Premonition, Doxx, some new bands like Refuse to Change and Misgiver. The lineup is incredibly diverse in both genre and background and that's something very important to us.
Both Northern Breed and Streets Ahead have connotations rooted in Canadiana. Is being Canadian important to you and what role does that play in your musical life?
Both names are definitely Canadian-themed. It's less of a personal importance to me, inasmuch as I want Canada to be seen as credible musically. We have big successful billboard acts, but a lot of people forget about us in the DIY punk and hardcore communities. I like where I'm from, but I also am in no way shape or form exclusive to Canada, or else I wouldn't have a 50% American bill for the fest this year. It’s more just to convey a message of “despite what people may think, we have bands, we have fests, tours, shows, and Canada shouldn’t be slept on.”
What’s the current state of Ottawa hardcore and Canada in general?
I think Canada is in the best shape it has been in, at least in the 13 years I've been involved. We have our big heavy-hitters like No Warning and Comeback Kid touring again, and we have a plethora of new bands really getting after it from all over. Mortality Rate and Stepping Stone from out west are constantly touring all over Canada and the US. Prowl from Montreal is also very busy. Mil-Spec and Wild Side are both playing American festivals and are both on established labels over there as well. You see festivals like Sustain Fest, NDY, Heart Fest (RIP), Wild Rose and more putting various cities on the musical map. This trickles down all the way to the Nation's Capital.
There are so many talented bands here — Doxx, Premonition, Inherent, Martyrs, Torpor, and many, many more that all play consistently, put out music and support each other. We have people starting new labels and zines, new promoters, new venues, new studios. Ottawa is booming in my opinion. Is it perfect? No. I don't think anyone can truthfully say any music scene is, but for a small city, we are doing great. Even the different crowds intermingle and overlap, which allowed you and I to meet, and is why we’re talking about this right now.
Have you always lived in Ottawa?
I'm actually from a small town called Kemptville, about 45 minutes outside of Ottawa. I moved to the city in 2011.
How old were you when you started going to shows?
In Kemptville there wasn't a whole lot to do, so I just wandered into a battle of the bands at the community centre one day when I was 11. I liked the alt.rock bands on the radio — Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Staind, etc .— so there were some similarities to the metal and hardcore bands playing that show. I distinctly remember seeing the band Daggers Bearing Notes and thinking it was absolutely crazy. I was 15 when I actually started going to shows regularly. Cody Coughlan (Constraints, Rydell, Premonition) and Mitch Plunkett (Kamen, Smart Mouth) were booking most of the shows in town. There were always a decent number of local bands at any given time. Bands like Sam Slick, Darkness Rites, Smart Mouth, Texa$ and others would play roughly once a month. And since there wasn't much else to do in Kemptville, everyone went to shows.
Cody started asking me to come ahead of time and help out with setting up, doing doors or flyering. That's how I got my start. Then I saw the band Darkness Rites. I was standing outside by myself after the show and Cory Wilson (who is now in Obey the Brave) came up and started talking to me. He introduced me to a lot of people and gave me a free shirt. Soon after, I started doing merch for Darkness Rites at shows all over Ontario. Also, I got my feet wet performing live doing a song here and there with them. That helped me come out of my shell, and by the time I started playing in my own bands I was all set. That always meant a lot to me, and I've tried to be that same person to new kids getting involved now.
What were you like growing up?
I've always been told I have a big personality. I still don't really see it but that's what family and friends say. I grew up with a few medical problems, so I had over forty surgeries between being born and turning 18. I have two conditions, both of which involve my spine. First is scoliosis, a pretty common condition which causes curvature of the spine. The second is spina bifida. It's a little more complicated, in that the spinal cord itself can become tethered, or tangled. With both conditions together, they sort of affect one another. So, I had surgeries on both the outside and inside of my spine. It's led to some loss of sensation and nerve damage in my left leg. I wear a brace to support my knee so I can bear weight and walk on my own.
I'm really lucky, a lot of people with this kind of situation aren't nearly as fortunate.
Being in the hospital that much, my parents still had to work, so I spent a lot of time alone. That taught me to be really independent and self-reliant. I was always drawn to comics, cartoons, and wrestling – something about my situation, and not being able to do much, I guess I was drawn to the larger-than-life personalities doing all these crazy things. My parents got divorced when I was six and I spent most of my ‘growing up years’ with my mom. I have a really good relationship with both parents though, as well as my stepdad. From high school onward, I was pretty reserved and timid. I had friends – probably more than I realized – but that's when I started being affected by social anxiety. Working on shows and playing in bands helped me break out of that in a big way though. I moved out of my house when I was seventeen and have lived on my own or with roommates ever since.
Do you think that your medical condition affected your involvement or experience in the hardcore scene?
Fitting into hardcore has never been a problem for me. I think that the general attitude in alternative music scenes is that everyone is there because they don't feel they “fit in” in one way or another. I'd say I fall in line with that. No one's ever been anything but chill. I'll catch an out of place question about it every once in a while, but I'm an open book so long as people aren't dickheads or abrasive about it. Sure, I had an unconventional childhood, but I'll still pop off at a show if I'm feeling it. I don't really let much get in my way, to be honest.
Who and what inspires you to do what you do?
Selflessness. Bravery. Passion. Again, this can be traced back to growing up essentially on my own in the hospital. Seeing the selflessness of my parents, family, and friends helping us out through tough times. Seeing the bravery of the other kids in there growing up, going through much worse than me. Later, seeing the passion of local promoters and bands in my hometown was awesome. No one was going to get rich or even make a living off of playing Leslie Hall shows, but everyone busted their asses to make sure those in attendance left saying “damn, that was fun.”
You seem like a genuinely happy and positive person.
I really like people. I like making friends, hanging with loved ones, helping out anyone I can, however I can. I love playing music, nerding out over wrestling, comics, etc. But ultimately, I love people and living as well as I can. Without getting too deep here, I'm really lucky to be where I'm at. I'm lucky to be able to walk, I'm probably lucky to be alive with some of the dumb stuff I've done, so I just push myself to make my life as good as it can be — as well as helping my family, my friends, or anyone in the music community, really. Oh, also, my 12-year-old brother Justin. He's my biggest motivator.
How do you feel you’ve evolved as a person both in and outside of the hardcore scene in the past few years?
I've grown up a lot, in both regards. In the past, I was definitely headstrong, brash, standoffish, call it what you will. Over the last five years or so, I've worked on making sure I know how I come across to others, as well as trying to understand where other people are coming from. I'm figuring myself out, and what I want out of life, rather than worrying that I'm not already at the finish line, you know?
Talk to me about where you see hardcore’s place in a social climate that is progressing more and more in terms of diversity and inclusivity.
I find that hardcore is, if anything, at least slightly ahead of the curve. That's not to say that it's perfect and there's nothing but sunshine and daisies. What I mean is, we’re aware of the impact and effect of exclusionary behavior, etc. and most of us are working on it. Whereas people in my hometown or school program will throw around disrespectful terminology, views, etc. and have no idea or concern for how offensive or ignorant they're being. I’m trying to do as good a job as I possibly can. If someone is called out for something dangerous, sketchy, or unacceptable, I intervene and try to get both sides of the situation. It's not uncommon for me to request that someone step away from coming to shows for a while. It makes some people uncomfortable to take that public, hardline stance, but the role I'm in — playing in as many bands as I do, booking shows and fests, etc. — it would be nothing short of socially irresponsible for me to do anything less.
What’s your day-to-day life look like right now?
I work on shows a lot. I play in three active bands — Young Lust, Contempt, and Sedition — and a few occasional bands — Sharp Tongue and Ice Monster. If I'm not playing or booking shows, I'm probably doing social media marketing work for bands, events, wrestling, or whatever. I run two podcasts as well, where I record, host, and edit it all. View From Below is ultimately everything I have my eye on: movies, videogames, music, local shows, wrestling, etc. The second is Ready Up! This was my friend Justin Lam's idea, where we randomly generate a setting, character and gameplay style and then have to try and work it all together into a video game pitch or plan. It's like improv for gaming nerds. I really enjoy both of those because they're an outlet where I can speak candidly about exactly what I want to talk about. If people choose to listen, cool.
It's better than chatting my friends’ ears off about wrestling when I know for a fact they couldn't care less. That eats up a lot of time. On top of that, I'm unveiling a clothing line called Sign of the Times Apparel (yes, a Cro-Mags reference), doing different prints for different walks of life. My markets are going to be streetwear, activewear, and stuff that looks like Sick of It All merch [laughs]. The reason I chose to launch this was, as I get older, playing sets takes more energy out of me, energy I don't always have. This gives me a reason to travel and do pop-up markets, set up at shows, etc. It keeps me going to things that I’m not booking or running, and also doesn’t cause me to break the bank doing it. I think the first run of shirts will be in October, and ideally set up a booth at the fest where I donate a percentage of the profits to a charity — potentially CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) or maybe Kind Space, a local LGBTQ+ community Centre. All that aside, I just finished school working on a business degree, so I'm looking for work in advertising, marketing, or promotional work with events.
What do you ultimately hope to do with your degree?
I'd like to do anything similar to what I do now: event coordination, advertising, logistics operating, anything where I can apply what I've already done to a sustainable job. My plan right now is to go to work in advertising for a friend’s company in Calgary. Ideally do a year there, a year at their Toronto location, and then head to Japan for a few months. I like the track I'm on. I'll still be involved in music, whether it's playing or more in a behind the scenes capacity. I love hardcore and I owe it a lot. I 100% wouldn't have turned into who I am today if it wasn't for getting involved and meeting the amazingly supporting and kind people I’ve met.
Is there anything else you’d like to highlight, promote, share or acknowledge?
Oh yeah. Lots of local stuff. Support Walk A Mile Records. My friend Andrew Narraway started a label and is doing great stuff. He's distributing multiple bands from Ontario, Western Canada, and even Philly. He works really hard and I'm extremely proud to see my friend do so much for the scene. Also, support each other. Support new bands like Torpor, Premonition, Bug Bites, Dead Progress.
Support new promoters like Isabel. It takes a lot of people to make the scene work, and we can all stand to learn from each other. No scene, no person is perfect, but if we all work together to keep each other in line, we can only stand to get better. It's easier to tear things down than to be productive, but I urge anyone who wants to find a comfortable place within their music scene to do so by sharing their experiences, information, education, and by helping your peers improve where they can stand to improve, correcting them where they stand to be corrected, and above all else, supporting each other.
Tagged: streets ahead festival