The Road to Pouzza Fest

Read Joelle’s insightful journal about her trip to Montreal’s Pouzza Fest – a both heartwarming and heartbreaking account of travelling thousands of miles for the love of punk rock.

Article by Joelle Laes. Part of our #MentallySound series, discussing mental health in music.

Monday – May 14th


I wake up as if I’ve just been given the biggest fright of the century. Turns out it’s only my alarm.

I feel confused. Anxious. Almost in a state of panic. I need to rush and get to the airport.

After spending the weekend at El Topo Goes Loco and being home for two hours to pack before heading off to another gig to catch The Affect Heuristic again on Sunday, I had a slight panic when my Airbnb host failed to reply in a timely manner (according to my standards). I had a bit of a meltdown once back home and turned to the only people I know to keep me sane no matter what: the Punk Rock Women’s group. Lots of love and reassurance later, I finally managed to fall asleep. This morning: still no reply. No time to call him, as I run for the train.

7.30 AM

“You could be stuck an office with a guy wearing a tie telling you what to do. You are living the fucking dream,” Richie Cooper (Eat Dirt.) comments on my obligatory Facebook airport-check in.

Am I? Living the dream? I can’t tell as I’m stood queueing at Brussels Airport, stressed out to fuck. I haven’t had a proper sleep in weeks (too many festivals and work); I still feel a bit fragile after the boozy blinding madness that was El Topo Goes Loco.

El Topo w The Affect Heuristic.jpg
Shout Louder vs. The Affect Heuristic antics at El Topo Goes Loco

I could use a cuddle to be fair. Or a straight jacket. That might feel like I’m being hugged too? I don’t know. I feel like I might cry.

I am tired, stressed out and alone. Why do I do this to myself? The pity party continues on and I contemplate sitting in a bathroom stall to have a cry. Could I still be hungover from the weekend? Or is this another case of post-trip-depression?

Whilst I make my way through border control, my phone buzzes. It’s my Airbnb host. He confirms the booking and tells me where to find the keys. The tight feeling in my chest loosens a little bit. At least I won’t be sleeping outside in a fort made of pizza boxes. I can breathe a little again.

Moments later I get a PM off a good friend: “Lovely to see you this weekend, don’t have too much fun in Canada x” I sense a stupid grin appearing on my face. I feel my muscles relax as I think of where I’m headed and why I’m heading there.

I’m about to embark on an adventure some can only dream of, about to spend money I don’t have on things that most adults consider irresponsible. Sometimes I think, should I be spending this much money on punk rock? Is It worth all the stress and anxiety?

Does my Mom worry? Absolutely. After all, if you are somewhere on your own, the only person you can rely on is yourself. But it is worth every ounce of stress it gives me. Like me, my Mom’s come to accept that this is the only way I can make myself happy.

Never have I forged more genuine bonds with people as when I’m singing along to bands, surrounded by people who love them just as much as me. It doesn’t matter if we don’t live around the corner from each other, there is a connection there that some people will never understand. Looking into other people’s eyes, seeing that moment of pure joy when they hear their favourite song. Watching bands pour their heart out on stage; these moments mean everything to me. In these moments I am truly happy.

Yet travelling on your own can be quite stressful. Hell, I’ve spent quite some time crying on trains or in airport toilets because I feel like everything is about to go horribly wrong. Or because my mind tells me now is the perfect time to start questioning every decision I’ve ever made in life. It is the mirror I never want to look into.

I never learned so much about myself as when I travelled to the other side of the world alone for a punk rock show at the height of my depression years ago. It was the turning point.

About 10 minutes pass and I consider booking a bus trip to Toronto so that me and my partner in crime, Judy, can catch an extra gig before Pouzza. She doesn’t know yet, as we are flying into Montreal from different places at different times. I’m hopeful she’ll agree to it. After all, she’s just as bad as me. I check with a local friend for a place to sleep and have him check to make sure my tired and excited brain doesn’t mess up dates or bus stops.


The flight is fairly quiet. Though the cat meowing a few seats behind me cuts right through me. Poor thing. I write a little and nod off to sleep. Seven hours later I’m in Montreal airport, worried more about the well-being of the cat than getting through border control without getting caught for smuggling CD’s in (again).

As soon as I connect to the WiFi, more gig-trips are being planned. A friend invites us to her gig just outside of Montreal tomorrow. We’ll be headed straight there from the airport when Judy lands. We are told to keep it quiet so we can surprise the other promoters. I’m excited.

Yet a strange feeling comes over me. Do people really think we are that special? That our presence will be such a nice surprise to others? I often feel like people have an image of me in their head that doesn’t match with who I feel I am. I’ll be honest, I’m a lot cooler on the internet. I’m shy, though it has improved, and I am the worst at keeping a conversation going. Thankfully my companion is the loud to my quiet, the yin to my yang, the gin to my tonic. And with that thought, I soothe my worries.

As I’m on the bus to the centre, a sense of calm comes over me. I am only here because I want to be here and made it happen for myself. The grin makes a reappearance.

Tuesday – May 15th

I spend the day sleeping, listening to music and planning the Toronto trip, whilst Judy is in the air, on her way from Manchester to Montreal. Finally a chill day to myself to unwind from work and all the other trips in the past few weeks. Some time to listen to the bands on the Pouzza lineup, which I’ve not done a whole lot of research on this time. Very unprepared, not my usual.

A thunderstorm and 6 hour delay later, she’s finally here. We talk shit for hours and finally get to sleep at 3AM.

Montreal view 2.jpg

Wednesday – May 16th

After a long lie, we decide to walk up the Mont Royal. Oddly therapeutic. We hang out at the lookout point and enjoy the sun while getting bit by a thousand mosquitoes.

Once back in the Airbnb we eat food, chill, and prep for our bus trip to Toronto. Snacks and sandwiches are a must on these journeys.

Thursday – May 17th

Getting up at 5am again, urgh. We rush to the Megabus stop. Now let me tell you, if you have any experiences with Megabus in the UK: forget about it all. Canadian Megabus is cheap as hell, but clean. And quiet. And even the toilets work! A pleasant surprise.

Lushious green forests and fields pass us by on the 7hr journey. Nodding off in the world most uncomfortable position, I feel utter bliss.

Toronto looks much more ‘American’ than Montreal. Triple the amount of skyscrapers, something that will always be odd to the Belgian in me and so much noise. Confusion central for me. We’ve got about 6 hours to kill before the gig, but we spend most of our time in a park.

Such Gold, who also play Pouzza fest, as headlining tonight’s gig, but the real reason we’re here is a Toronto skatepunk band called Family Meeting. They’re set to play the infamous Bovine Sex Club.

I had the pleasure of seeing the full band in Quebec last November at Punk Rock Meeting but have met some of their members a few times over the years. I’d like to consider them friends, or internet pals at the least. Their singer Josh is moving back to Australia on Saturday. This is his send off and last time he’ll sing for the band. It’s bound to be emotional.

Back of the class
Back Of The Class

First band Back Of The Class bring a 90’s punk rock vibe. Their first ever gig goes down quite well. I’m gonna keep an eye on them, I’m looking forward to seeing their progression. They are followed by Pseudo, who were hyped by quite a few people online. They blow me away with their more pop-punky tunes. Catch them at Pouzza if you can, or wherever really. You will not regret it!

Time for Family Meeting. Shuffle to the front with a drink. It’s clear a lot of the attendees came out to support them and give vocalist Josh a good send off. From start to finish, people are well into it and giving it rice. The sound is on point and so are the band; they absolutely kill it. If you’re into skatepunk, or melodic punk rock along the likes of Much The Same, definitely give them a listen.

Family Meeting
Family Meeting

Near the end the bassist and vocalist switch roles for a song and we watch Davey stomp across the stage with hardcore moves that can be compared to those of Alberto from Kill The President and Karl from Darko. It’ll be interesting to see how the band progress, as bassist Davey will be taking over vocal duties.

Kali Masi was enjoyed by yours truly from the back of the room. Their sound didn’t quite fit the lineup but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Bringing dreamy pop-punk vibes, it got a bit lost between the heavier bands on the lineup, so I think I’ll give them another chance at Pouzza.

Bovine sex club - ceiling .jpg
Bovine Sex Club

Such Gold closed the night with a set of old and new songs. The old songs are heavier and make for a more rowdy crowd and singalongs, but I personally enjoy the songs off Deep In A Hole much more. Unfortunately the bassist’s vocals (which are important for those songs) aren’t loud enough, so it gets a bit lost. But tomorrow they play Pouzza and I’m definitely up for round two.

After last call, it was time for the members of Family Meeting to say goodbye to their buddy Josh. I have to admit it was very hard not to cry with them. Much love and safe travels, my friend.

It’s heartwarming how people that live halfway across the world are so welcoming. But to be fair, within the punk rock scene, you can feel the love everywhere.

Blessed with the hospitality of our Toronto friends we manage to get about 3 hours of sleep on the world’s comfiest sofa before getting on the bus back to Montreal in the morning.

Before passing out Judy mumbles, “This is the best trip ever.”

I nod in agreement. “We’ve outdone ourselves this time.” I’ve forgotten all about the stress of the first few days.

“And it’s not even Pouzza yet.”

Article by Joelle Laes. Explore our #MentallySound series for more articles about mental health in music.

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