What started as a concert for an influential California avant garde electronic band soon became a festival showcasing some of the best hardcore, experimental, punk and metal-influenced music the east coast has to offer—and the local label that releases it. The ironically named Obey Convention festival, hosted by Divorce Records, goes from April 13-15, featuring 16 bands and headlined by the veteran act Bastard Noise, making its way from Los Angeles.
"I simply wanted to make it somewhat diverse because Bastard Noise could be considered an obscure band for its demographic of music fan in Halifax," says Divorce and Obey Convention founder Darcy Spidle. "We wanted to make it a wide-reaching festival. There's quite a mix but there are bands that I think have things in common. Like Bastard Noise...they symbolize that crossover."
The festival, playing at three venues, allows Haligonians a taste of music made on the fringe. It's rarely heard on the radio, but many consider hardcore to be some of the most creative music being made locally. Bands performing include Halifax's own Scribbler, Die Brucke, On the Blood of Others as well as Disguises from Toronto, The Nerve Endings and Juyho, both from Minnesota. Most significantly, Obey Convention casts a spotlight on the excellent Divorce Records roster with Be Bad, The Hold and Torso taking the stage.
Divorce Records began in 1999 as an outlet for Spidle's music. An avid fan of obscure work who calls CBC Radio's strange recordings platform Brave New Waves an early influence, Spidle is an east coast guru for music not generally palatable to the masses. He even looks the part during the interview, with a hoodie covering his bald head and a full beard that wouldn't look out of place on the set of 300.
Although the early Divorce releases were hardcore punk, Spidle diversified the roster to include electronic, indie rock and folk elements, while maintaining its DIY ethic. It's this approach that has bands willing to join the roster.
"I was really happy that someone else in Nova Scotia was doing this sort of thing," Torso's Sandy Saunders says. "I always kind of felt excluded from any sort of scene and I felt like I was alone. That's what attracted me to Divorce Records and just hearing how excited Darcy was about it just pushed me even more."
"It really reminds me of SST Records, which was Black Flag's record label," says the singularly named Tobias of Be Bad. "Just in the work ethic and the approach. It's so fiercely independent and really about the art."
While toiling away in relative obscurity for several years, the label got a boost in 2004 when Spidle's hardcore band The Hold, released its Noisebloodassault EP. Other releases include music by Spidle's brother KC as Husband and Knife, as well as the aggressive Be Bad, the raucous punk of Attack Mode and festival co-founder Sandy Saunders' electronic project Torso. Other bands that lived under the Divorce label include experimental project Shit Cook, and Dog Day, about to drop Night Group on Black Mountain.
The last few years have been busy for Divorce. Spidle expects the label to release several more projects in 2007, including full-lengths by Husband and Knife, The Hold and Be Bad. A split album between Torso and Unicorn, the side project of Bastard Noise's Bill Nelson, will be officially released as part of the festival, Friday at One World.
The hard work seems to be paying off for the Divorce crew. Exclaim! recently featured the label and its bands frequently score stellar reviews in various publications. The fact Bastard Noise—a highly regarded act in avant garde music circles that has released over 100 recordings over 15 years—agreed to make the trip from LA shows the pull that Divorce has within it's genre of music and its impact on the east coast scene.
"We want to emphasize that this music isn't unreachable," Spidle says. "With the label we try to do some more accessible stuff and with the festival we wanted something for everybody. I think that's an important way to spread the word about music that's really obscure."
Obey Convention, Friday, April 13 at One World Cafe, 2412 Agricola, 6:30pm, $5; Saturday, April 14 at The Speakeasy, Dresden Row at Spring Garden, 9:30pm, $6 and Sunday, April 15 at Gus’ Pub, 2605 Agricola, 9:30pm, $5 ($14 festival pass), www.divorcrecords.ca