We Played the Last Festival on Earth
by Antoine Lamothe, drummer and main composer of Montreal rock band Deadly Apples
Walking back towards our dressing room backstage at the Hell & Heaven Fest in Mexico a year ago, I had a feeling of euphoria. I had just experienced a surreal mid-day Main Stage set with my band Deadly Apples in front of a massive crowd of crazy fans. Our shows are usually very intense and the Mexican audience is always ecstatic, but this was different. In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, this was the last major event in the world that wasn’t canceled – the last festival on earth.
After years of focusing on my career in the film industry, I decided to get back into music as an artist a few years ago with my long-time bandmate Alex, frontman and lyricist of Deadly Apples. We’ve had the privilege of touring the world for the past three years, including a two‑month US amphitheater and arena tour with Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, a Japanese tour with Korn, a South American tour with Deftones, as well as several main stage slots on high-profile events such as Slipknot’s Knotfest and Vans Warped Tour.
During that period, we managed to build a solid fanbase in Mexico by playing major festivals, as well as great support slots in clubs with Deftones and Front 242. Our biggest show in that country was Hell & Heaven Fest 2018 – we played right before Ozzy Osbourne to a crowd of 80,000 festivalgoers. When we got the invite to play that festival again in 2020, we were fired up. The sketchiness of Mexico can often become a logistical headache when playing there, but it’s also part of its charm and always turns into an unpredictable adventure.
On the night before departure – March 12, 2020 – the entire band and crew gathered at our HQ near Montreal for a rehearsal and to be closer to the airport for our early flight the next morning. Over the past week, we kept hearing more about the worldwide spread of the coronavirus and the endless event cancellations. While we were rehearsing, the Quebec government banned all gatherings of more than 250 people. We were nervous about the festival being canceled, but the promoter assured us it would happen. After speaking with my doctor and researching the number of cases in Mexico by that point – which were very low considering the population – we decided to go ahead. While on the flight, the Canadian government asked all citizens to stay in the country or come back home immediately, then stay in quarantine for 14 days. It was surreal.
Once we arrived in Mexico City, it was business as usual there and life was still normal – a sharp contrast to the escalating crisis back home. The only noticeable change was the number of bands cancelling their appearance at the festival – Megadeth, Cypress Hill, Sum 41, King Diamond, Death Angel, Black Flag and many more. Reading all the news, we quickly realized that every other festival in the world had been canceled and this was the last one standing. I believe that this odd context was not lost on any of the fans and bands that did show up. We were the only ones left in the world that were able to live a moment like this and probably the last for a while.
We walked up on stage to a sea of screaming Mexican fans and were welcomed as heroes. We opened the set with our song Infection – which now takes on a whole new meaning – and the vibe was unreal. While most bands stayed away from the crowd, intense audience interaction is part of our show and nothing was going to change that. Alex went down to the barricade and crowd surfed several times. During the last song, he walked across the entire VIP front stage section all the way to the general admission barricade next to the front-of-house tower – thanks to his 200’ mic cable – then jumped right into that audience. His clothes nearly got ripped apart while fans were getting crushed by the nearby mosh pit. It was absolute chaos. It was a celebration of visceral art while the world as we knew it was seemingly coming to an end.
Because of all the cancellations, we got asked to play again the next day in the same slot at the last minute, which was very unusual. We got to do it again and it was even more intense. It felt like Groundhog Day of the end times. The night before our return, the Canadian government announced the closure of the border. We began to wonder if we would be able to get back home, but we eventually did. Interview requests started pouring in from both the Canadian and Mexican press. While most people praised us on social media for having the guts to rock out until the end, others criticized us as being reckless. In the end, we all respected the quarantine to protect others and none of us got infected.
Since our return on March 17, 2020, the situation has gone dramatically downhill on many levels. Over the past year, all our touring plans have been either scrapped or postponed, including a European tour with stops at major festivals such as Hellfest. We’ve been using this time to finish our new album called DISTRESS with Soundgarden producer Michael Beinhorn helping us with pre-production. The past year has been one of reflection, change and growth for us both as a band and as individuals. Our lives have been changed forever on many levels. No matter what happens next in these apocalyptic times, I feel content knowing that we played what is currently... the last festival on earth.
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