July 7, 2006

Heavy metal veterans drive generational wedge through Iqaluit

Over-30s flee Angava's high-volume performance at Alianait festival


Angava closes down the Alianait! Music concert on Saturday, July 1. Kuujjuaq's well-known metal band developed a loyal following across the North over the past 12 years, although their blaring music tends to repel anyone over 30. (PHOTO BY JOHN THOMPSON)

Nunavik's best-known heavy metal act has a reputation for driving elders out of hearing range fast.

"We've half-emptied places a good number of times," said Derek Tagoona, the lead singer and guitarist for Angava, as the band prepared to play at the Alianait Arts festival concert in Iqaluit on Saturday.

"The crowd can go from 12-60 to 12-20 in a heartbeat."

Angava formed 12 years ago in Kuujjuaq, when Tagoona began playing music with his younger brother, Willis, on drums, and friend Fred Parsons on bass. They practiced in the wood shop of their high school, and because they were all under age, needed special permission to play in Kuujjuaq's bar.

Since then they've toured the North, from Whitehorse for the Arctic Winter Games ceremonies in 2000 to Inuvik for CBC's True North Concert in 1996 to Nuuk, Greenland for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference held in 1998.

Tagoona still counts their best show as the Nipiaa Rock Festival in Aasiat, Greenland, in September 2000.

The yelling of the excited crowd drowned out the sound of their instruments, Tagoona said - which says a lot, given the volume of their shows - and their bassist actually stopped playing to cover his ears with his hands.

Later, according to newspaper reports, mobs of fans clambered for autographs from the band. "It's true, but the mobs were already there," Tagoona said.

Other metal acts come and go in Canada's North, but Angava remains. Three years ago the band lost singer Ben Watt, who moved to Montreal, bringing them back down to the original three members.

After the group survived one decade, the older Tagoona brother decided to mark the occasion by tattooing the name of their band across his chest, in red and green gothic letters.

"I don't see myself stopping anytime soon," he said. "I still have plenty of metal left in me."

He said the band was pumped to play in Iqaluit, because "it's a good way to remind people that we're still around."

During the day, the older Tagoona brother, now 30, works as a web designer, while the younger brother, 26, is a gym teacher. Parsons, 30, works as a maintenance man for the hospital.

So why start a metal band in Nunavik, where country music rules?

In fact, William Tagoon, the father of Derek and Willis, is a well-known folk and country musician. "He's always been behind us," Derek said.

Both albums recorded by the band were performed in their father's studio, Qimuk Music Limited. A new album by Angava is presently in the works, due to be finished this fall.

And while father and sons have different tastes in music, Derek credits his dad for turning him on to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin at a young age.

It took a while for the home crowd in Kuujjuaq to adjust to their brand of metal, with influences such as Metallica, Pantera and Pearl Jam.

"We had plenty of requests in the early days to tone it down," Tagoona said.

Nice try.

"As we write and progress, it gets heavier and heavier," Tagoona said of their music.

Now when Angava plays in Kuujuuaq's bar, usually several times a year, the venue fills to its 200-person capacity, says Tagoona - although he adds "It's always full, most of the time."

He uses his songs to work out the stormclouds in his life. "It's something negative," he says of the music's subject matter. "We're saying something like, stand up, deal with it."

At the concert in Iqaluit, most elders fled the scene well before Angava took the stage after 11 p.m., as the closing act. "They're terrible," said one woman, wrinkling her nose.

But nearby, a group of long-haired men in their early 20s waved lighters in the air and banged their heads in solidarity, and a group of small children stood spellbound in front of the stage. Most who braved the dropping temperature appeared to enjoy the show.

Earlier that evening, the Tagoona brothers also played backup for Quartaq's Beatrice Deer.

A good portion of Angava's fan base drifted away near the end of the band's set, when a vendor began giving away day-old hot dogs for free.

But the grinding guitars and thumping drums could continue to be heard from blocks away well after midnight, ensuring anyone who lived nearby would not be sleeping at an early hour. And fans could count on leaving the show with their eardrums ringing.