High Kicks, Juggalos, Niagara Falls: The Weird World of Wild Side | Revolver

High Kicks, Juggalos, Niagara Falls: The Weird World of Wild Side

How Ontario's "grim," "magical" tourist town shaped rising band's rowdy hardcore style
wild side OWENS, Angela Owens
photograph by Angela Owens

"In the winter this city is desolate, and it is grim … But in the summer, it is a carnival and it is a magical place where anything can happen. Good and bad."

Wild Side frontman Brandon MacFarlane is describing his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ontario, where the 27-year-old has lived within earshot of the iconic waterfalls for his entire life. MacFarlane has immense pride and deep reverence for the area's natural beauty as well as its chaotic and uniquely kooky underside that tourists rarely experience, noting that growing up in Niagara Falls was quite different than the postcard imagery that most people associate with the area.

Witnessing fist fights in the streets, public intercourse, unassuming people committing sketchy crimes, and luxury cars in the driveways of near-uninhabitable houses were all common occurrences in the neighborhoods where MacFarlane grew up. As a kid, he and his friends would run loose in the honky-tonk lined streets of Clifton Hill, the main drag of Niagara Falls filled with museums, bars and kitschy restaurants. They'd sneak into hotels and swim in the pools, mess around in abandoned buildings, and then go to work the next day in the same area. (At just 12 years old MacFarlane was hired by the Guinness World of Records museum to hand out brochures and clean the facility.)

Niagara Falls' unrelenting energy, and a touch of the area's brassy spectacle, makes its way into the blazing hardcore on Wild Side's debut album, Who the Hell Is Wild Side?, which was released in May on Triple B Records. The album is a playful, rabid update to the tried-and-true NYHC of their neighbors to the south, bursting with fun-loving attitude and careening, riff-heavy songs. Opening cut "Supercharged" begins with a rolling drum intro, stadium-sized power chords, an ostentatious pick slide and a "HUH" so mighty you can practically see MacFarlane booting the air as he huffs it. Then, in a snarling delivery that's part Backtrack and part Cold World, he spells out his band's personal ethos in the very first verse. "I'm not your average man/Don't live your average life/Rules, I don't live by/For that I pay the price." Wild Side would fit snugly on any modern hardcore bill (like their recent Power Trip gigs), but they're also out to push boundaries (which they've proven opening for Insane Clown Posse).

"We'll play with anybody, anywhere, anytime," MacFarlane says with his thick Canadian accent. "Just tell us we can't, or we won't, and we'll prove you wrong."

MacFarlane has played in hardcore and punk bands since he was 12 — most notably the youth crew–esque Ancient Heads, who put out an EP on REACT! Records back in 2014 — but Wild Side is the first he's ever fronted. MacFarlane and drummer Shane Tyrer banged out an introductory demo for Wild Side back in 2014, before they even had a band together to play the songs live. Shortly after they added guitarists Andrew Stark (of Candy, and formerly Malfunction) and Emmett Morris (of Demolition, another Triple B band) and bassist Matt Caldwell. MacFarlane writes all of Wild Side's songs and he actually played all of the parts (minus lead guitar and drums) on Who the Hell Is Wild Side? The frontman's full-throttle approach has been central to Wild Side's rise — but it's also caused him to crash and burn a few times along the way.

"Once we were planning to do the record I just kept getting injured pretty seriously, from 2016 till the time the record came out. So I was kind of just holding it up," he says of the five-year gap between their demo and full-length. "I've hurt my back, my spine … I broke my ribs, I hurt my neck. Busted up my knee pretty good, busted up both my shoulders pretty good, tore my AC [joints] — three on one shoulder, twice on the other. I'm just beating the hell out of myself."

He's not keen to go into the details for all of those injuries, but he says some of them are work-related and others are from "living a little rough" and "doing some funny things." The broken ribs came from sparring in preparation for an underground boxing fight (he emphasizes that there was no betting involved), which prevented him from holding a guitar and singing for some time. "They just needed me because I was the same height as him," MacFarlane says of his opponent. "But he was really big so literally the first punch he hit me to the body broke my ribs. There's a reason there's weight divisions. And he outweighed me by a lot."

wild side angela owens, Angela Owens
photograph by Angela Owens

However, none of those misadventures dampened MacFarlane and his bandmates' mischievous sense of humor, which they put into play when cooking up ideas for the new album's artwork. The band was initially planning to hire a plane to pull a banner behind it emblazoned with the record title, but quickly concocted a plan B once they realized it cost $5,000. Instead, they set their sights a bit closer to home and commandeered a huge billboard in Niagara Falls asking the simple question: Who the Hell Is Wild Side?

"That's over the tourist area, that's the Times Square of Niagara Falls," he says of the billboard, a photo of which was used as the cover art. "People think it's Photoshopped, but it's real — there's videos of it." MacFarlane goes on to add that Wild Side ended up getting the placement for free, simply because the sign company found the idea "fun, cool and funny."

"We didn't rent anything because renting implies we paid for it …" he continues. "I've said it before: You can't do that in L.A., you can't do that in London, you can't do that in New York. There's nowhere that's gonna happen but Niagara Falls."

Something that's not going to happen very often in Niagara Falls, ironically, is a hardcore show. Although MacFarlane was introduced to the genre through a long-defunct local band called Keep It Up (who appeared on a Revelation Records comp that informed most of his taste), he traveled to neighboring cities like St. Catherines and Buffalo, New York, to catch shows growing up. Today, there are hardly any hardcore shows in the Niagara Falls region, so Toronto has become Wild Side's home away from home. They played their album release show there and drew a hefty crowd, and MacFarlane says they're welcomed with open arms into the city's thriving hardcore/punk scene.

Wild Side's wild style has also earned them acceptance into another slightly more outlandish community: the Juggalos. The group got wind that Insane Clown Posse were making their long-awaited Canadian return in June 2016 and Wild Side convinced the booker (who used to manage long-running Toronto punk act No Warning) to put them on the bill for the Barrie, Ontario, date.

"[When] money got talked about, Shane said, 'We don't want any money to play. But you have to give us a 100-person guest list,'" MacFarlane recalls. "And he said 'OK, done.' So he gave us the guest list and we put anybody and everybody on."

MacFarlane says that people were booing them when they walked onstage, but that Wild Side's special guests created a turbulent pit that the Juggalos couldn't resist. "I think they just like to have fun and I think they could feel the supercharge coming from Wild Side," MacFarlane says proudly. Later in the night, he and Stark tried to sneak onstage when ICP were playing but ended up getting thrown out by security. "We got kicked out by their road crew — who were all dressed in full clown attire," he says with a laugh. "So we're getting physically forced out by these clowns."

Of course, Wild Side's determined leader found his way back in no problem. "You know how many times I've been kicked out of stuff and just snuck back in? You can get around security. Outrun them or jump onstage — what are they gonna do?"