Scott Thompson and Paul Bellini resurrect a gay punk band you’ve never heard of

This Friday (March 5), Paul Bellini and Scott Thompson will premiere their documentary Mouth Congress at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival. (Virtually, of course.) It’s the culmination of a DIY project the two friends and frequent creative collaborators started in the mid 80s: a gay punk band determined to be as loud and weird as possible.

Mouth Congress (the band, not the documentary) was an energetic, bizarre affair, as any five minutes of archival camcorder footage will demonstrate. Thompson thrashes around the stage, screaming and sweating, with Bellini supplying a more reserved strangeness and musicians Gord Disley, Tom King and Rob Rowatt keeping the songs flowing. It’s a thrilling expression of personality and energy – and with the context of the AIDS epidemic that was sweeping through the gay community at the time, every performance feels like an act of rebellion.

“We were young men who really should have been sowing our oats, and that meant death,” Thompson tells me in the latest episode of the NOW What podcast. “So we sowed them this way. I don’t think that’s really an exaggeration, I think that’s absolutely true.”

Thompson and Bellini’s thesis is that redirecting their sexual energy into performance was a survival instinct, and an expression of the need to be visible. But the band was quickly eclipsed by another project Thompson and Bellini were involved with: The Kids in the Hall. (Thompson was a member of the troupe; Bellini would be a writer and occasional performer on their landmark CBC sketch series.)

“We were just really having fun,” Bellini explains. “I don’t think there was ever a thought of success or building the band because we knew Kids in the Hall was in the background – and from the beginning, that showed signs of movement.

“So, Mouth Congress,” he continues, “there was no weight put on it. It didn’t have to be successful. It could just be [for] risk-taking. And that’s all we really wanted to do: dress up in stupid costumes and sing songs that were crazy. It’s not like we attracted attention or had an audience. We did everything for our own pleasure, which is a weird way of doing things. But because the stakes are so low, that’s all you get out of it.”

“Also, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Thompson says. “That’s really the greatest thing, to plunge into something that you have no idea [about]. We didn’t know what not to do, and we didn’t know that everything that we did was completely stupid and wrong, and would not grease the road to fame and fortune.”

Bellini decided to organize his trove of video and audio into a documentary back in 2011, which spurred a reunion concert in 2016 at the Rivoli, where both Mouth Congress and the Kids got their start.

“I’ve had all that stuff stored for so long, I thought we should do something with it,” he says.

The documentary arrives just as Mouth Congress drops three tracks on Spotify in advance of its first album, Waiting For Henry (“a double album,” Thompson points out). Finally, the band is legitimate… even though the music industry is an entirely different animal than it was when Thompson and Bellini wrote their first songs.

“I really believe that if we’d come out now, we probably could have made it,” Thompson says. “But in those days, it was just not remotely possible for a band like us to succeed. The other guys, the true musicians, they could have probably done something. But they chose two gay guys to front a band in the 80s. Not smart.”

Mouth Congress has its world premiere at 8 pm Friday at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, followed by a live Q&A from Bellini and Thompson. Tickets are available here.

Listen to the entire conversation with Scott Thompson and Paul Bellini in the latest episode of NOW What, available on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or playable directly below:

NOW What is a twice-weekly podcast that explores the ways Torontonians are coping with life in the time of coronavirus. New episodes are available Tuesdays and Fridays.


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