Briefcasefest Is a Macabre Grassroots Festival for Heavy Metal Fans of All Ages

In its fifth year, the fest brings a well curated line-up of metal and hardcore groups from across the world.
May 19, 2017, 6:55pm
Image provided by band, Völur

For every high profile festival that takes over Toronto (like Canadian Music Week, NXNE, and Field Trip) experimental and grittier smaller scale events have popped up as a supplement, catering to to the weirdos who dig their music heavy. And with that, Briefcasefest was born. Briefcasefest is now approaching its fifth year, growing organically in popularity since its inception. Originally founded by musician Max Deneau and his friend Yegor Zakharov, the festival has grown larger and more diverse year after year. Under Deneau's leadership, Briefcasefest has had stronger line-ups under a widened metal musical umbrella. This year the fest will be held at venues like Faith/Void, CineCycle, and Coalition T.O from May 19 to 21 and is fiercely community minded.

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Unlike previous years, the entire festival is all-ages. This is a direct effort on Deneau's behalf to make up for the city's lack of under legal age offerings for heavy music fans. "Ideally, every gig I've done would have been all ages from the outset," says Deneau. "But the reality is that I got my foot in the door through running bar shows and have struggled to find a way to resolve this pragmatic approach with what I personally want to do or think is best for the community." He continued saying that over the years whenever he has had the opportunity to do an all ages event, he will. Deneau continued saying: "I don't feel like I have pushed enough to navigate the difficulties that come with trying make it work. I committed myself this year to going as far as I could with it." Deneau says he anticipated a challenge, particularly with the wave of issues Toronto has had with venues closing and being targeted online. "I completely understand the position a lot of venues feel like they are in, but I also feel that an effort should be made on the part of more traditional spots that are capable of running an above board all ages event when it makes sense."

Max Deneau

The festival is also slightly smaller and more streamlined now with a line-up of 19 bands to the festival. While the fourth edition of the fest featured lengthy line-ups on every night, this year has a relatively subdued opening night and shows on both Saturday and Sunday. Of the bands performing on Saturday and Sunday, only four hail from locales outside of Ontario and Quebec. "It's important to me to keep the ticket price cheap, to highlight bands in Ontario and Quebec specifically, and to not lose sight of the entire reason I started doing this in the first place, which was to bolster the local community," says Deneau. This year's line-up includes such highlights as old school sounding Quebec City death metal act Outre-Tombe, the malevolent and dense blackened death Toronto band Paroxsihzem, and dance inducing gothic doom act Dead Register, who hail from Atlanta, U.S.A. Local favourites Demontage, and Völur will also perform.

"Briefcasefest and those like it are super important," offers Völur violinist and vocalist Laura Bates. Her experimental doom band will be performing on the second day of the festival this year, primarily playing material from their forthcoming sophomore record, Ancestors. "There's a strong undercurrent of sincerely extraordinary music being made within our city and country that people like Deneau work their asses off to bring to light," she affirms. "While I respect that the average listener doesn't want to be challenged by 'extreme metal/experimental music' there is a tremendous amount of catharsis and community resonating in this network and our city is richer for it."

Deneau is aware that the experimental scene is constantly changing, and continuously adapts the festival to fit into that evolution. "The aim at the beginning was to have one day with more of a post-hardcore/sludge/experimental lean, and another focused on black and death metal but, as the event took shape, I started to look for ways that I could keep the core audiences satisfied with the bulk of the line-up while making things less reliant on a strictly binary approach," he explains.

The festival will also open on Friday with a screening of Blekkmetal, the unusual documentary focused on the Norwegian festival of the same name that simultaneously offers an interwoven narrative of the black metal genre. The night will begin with a performance featuring one-man Toronto ambient noise act BASILICA. After the film, there will also be a question and answer session with David Hall and producer Vivek Vankates, a Concordia University who has done extensive academic research in the realms of heavy metal.

The festival will end on Sunday night when a black metal dominated line-up invades Coalition: T.O. Headlined by Copenhagen-based second-wave black metal group Angantyr, the night will also feature Toronto genre mish-mashers Demontage. "The festival is [always] well-run, [with a] large variety of styles, and lots of buzz from different clades within the local scene," says Demontage's guitarist and vocalist Spatilomantis Lout."Briefcase always makes an effort to exposé somewhat underrepresented talents and mix the styles in a way that… brings something unexpected."

Sarah Kitteringham is a writer living in Toronto.