Friday 20 January 2017

BAND PROFILE: Crushing noisecore crew Canvas reform for one-off Ritual Festival appearance

By: Andy Price


Picture the scene… it is 1999, record stores still exist in a real way, everyone was very excited about the Y2K bug, and I was a gangly and uncoordinated youth working a shitty temp job in Nottingham. This was great because it meant I could go walk into the town at lunchtime, go to Selectadisc, my favourite record store, and spend the tiny amount of cash I was making on awesome music.

So, back in ’99, I was finding my way in extreme music. Like a blind man at an orgy, I was carefully feeling my way. I’d done the Nu-metal thing (I’m not ashamed. Well, I’m a bit ashamed), and had pushed into more extreme waters, albeit mostly still pretty mainstream ones. Fear Factory, Machine Head et al were lighting my candle, but not quite fulfilling me. I’d formed a friendship with one of the owners of the store and then one fateful Wednesday lunchtime he beckoned me over and placed a CD in my hand saying ‘Andy, you’ll like this. Trust me. Give it a listen and if you like it, you can pay me then. If not, no harm, no foul’. That album was the self-titled early retrospective by Canvas. I put the CD on for the walk back to work but never made it back; I got half way there, turned around and went and paid the man. The album was a revelation, a desperate, urgent, strangled scream from the underground; a mangled noise of instruments that made no sense and yet also made perfect sense. It was absolutely beautiful in its twisted rage.

I never looked back; I picked up the two splits that followed, even the 7”, despite not having a record player. I bought the follow up album, the masterpiece ‘Lost in Rock’ on the day of its release, and revelled in it. Canvas opened my eyes to the underground; both in terms of metal and hardcore. They are the gateway that got me to Converge, Botch, The Dillinger Escape Plan and significantly my eyes were opened to the UK underground, and bands like John Holmes, Medulla Nocte, Iron Monkey and Hard to Swallow… I devoured all of this music mercilessly; it influenced me massively and still does. I can honestly say that without that first Canvas record, I may never have found the music that I know and love today. 

This is one of the reasons why Canvas were important; they started out in that hardcore scene and bridged the gap between metal and hardcore, and kind of opened up everything, especially when they started picking up real media coverage. They were important because they led hardcore kids to metal and vice versa; they are important now because their recordings are seminal. They feel as fresh, exhilarating and powerful as ever, with a level of invention that is still staggering, especially on ‘Lost in Rock’. In hindsight that record started shaping my love for diverse and technical music like Meshuggah; just listen to the groove and dizzying rhythms of the opening track and you’ll see what I mean. If the band had been able to hold it together a little longer, that record would have been huge, and might have helped them break out of the scene they found themselves in. As it was it seemed to sink a little, almost without trace, which is criminal. It’s a labyrinthine and almost uncomfortable listen, but thoroughly compelling and a constant well-spring of inspiration.

It was not long after Canvas split up that I started playing music, and looking back even my earliest bands reflect the influence that Canvas exerted on me, albeit filtered through the prism of the other musicians I worked with, and my own lack of ability. Experimentation, a lack of compromise in sound and wilful abuse of time-signatures were a good example of this; that has never left me and is still very much part of the sound that I bring to Conjurer.

To say that I’m excited that Canvas have come back together for Ritual Festival in Leeds is a massive understatement. Canvas are in the shortlist of bands that I really have never stopped listening to since I bought their records. Some bands fall in and out of favour as tastes change, but that never happened to Canvas. I only caught the band live once, at a show in London at the Water Rats for the “Lost in Rock” release show but it’s a show that still lives in my memory in terms of the sheer chaos of their live aspect. In hindsight, the setlist was perfect although I didn’t know much of the new material that well. The crowd were up for movement and the band were on fire. It’s in the list in my head of formative gig experiences that influences the way that I play live, along with shows by The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Chariot; the energy and, for the want of a better word, the sheer fearlessness of their performance was exhilarating, and I’ve always used that as a template for what I want to bring to the stage.

I’m excited to see how 15 years has tempered the band and their performance; we’re all older and creakier, but the level of experience on that stage now is fantastic. I’m used to the records now too; I expect the live experience to be heavier and darker. That we get to share a stage with them is mind-blowing to me, I’m so excited to be playing the same bill as them. I’d love to see them do more shows, although I’d completely understand if they want to keep it as a one-off. I think that there’s a whole generation of music fans that should hear these songs; especially given that so much of the hardcore / post-hardcore scenes have converged onto some of the same ground that Canvas stamped down back in the day. I hear traces of the Canvas sound in other bands that are around today; chaotic rhythms, progression and naked experimentation has become far more normal. While we’re making a wish list though, I’d like some merchandise and if we’re really shooting for the stars, a pressing of some kind of discography on vinyl. Chaps, if you’re reading this, make it happen please!

I’d be fascinated to hear new music from this line-up too, but I suspect that might be too much to ask for.  I’ve been sharing about my love of the music the band created since the announcement – I’ve had a lot of people ask questions about where to start with the band. Obviously the answer is ‘all of it’ – especially since the band have been good enough to put their back catalogue up for free download on their bandcamp. That said though, ‘Womb Plague’ from the split with Hard To Swallow is an excellent place to start, or ‘Black Shape of the Nexus’ – both versions of that are great but I love the intro of the version from ‘Lost in Rock’. ‘Unworthy of Perfection’ is great too, all grinding rhythms and brutal vocals. I give up on trying to narrow this down; just go and get the whole lot. Your MP3 player and your ears will thank you for it.

The funny thing is that at the time I didn’t really pay attention to individuals in the band – I was never really that interested in musicians at that time, that’s only come after I started playing music myself – and it’s been surprising to find that I’ve actively followed some of the bands that some of the members created after Canvas ended, including Humanfly, Kings and Amplifighters; I’ve spent time with John and Albert, and Paul across various shows and events. Someone actually had to point out that the Sutcliffe brothers were the same ones that drove my favourite underground band; I nearly fell off my proverbial chair. I have only mildly fan-boyed since. Well, probably a bit more than mildly, but I think I got away with it

In the summer of this year I got the logo for the band tattooed on my leg. Partly this stemmed from a conversation with Dan from OHHMS – he’s a big fan as well and got the same tattoo in the same session. We were playing a show together in Leeds and had gotten talking about Canvas, what the band meant and how much they had inspired us – it seemed a natural conclusion at the time. For me, the tattoo serves as a reminder of how I should strive to create with music, to plough a musical furrow that interests me, but also that I should not hold anything back. These are the lessons I’ve taken, and this is the reason that Canvas remain special and a massive inspiration to me.

No pressure lads.

The Canvas discography is up on bandcamp as pay what you want/free here and Ritual Festival tickets are still up for grabs here with the full line up of the festival included below.