Tuesday, August 29th, 2006
Does Your Hometown Care?
This month’s issue of Exclaim! has an interesting feature on something it calls “Torontopia”, or the fiercely grassroots and DIY indie aesthetic that has been a large part of this city’s culture for the past half-decade or so. Citing current and past institutions like Wavelength, Three Gut Records and the Blocks Recording Club, it documents the rise – and alleged fall – of the scene and it got me thinking. I’ve been running this blog for four years now, less a couple days, and like to think I’ve done a reasonable job of writing about music from a native Torontonian’s perspective. So why was it that I couldn’t relate to the piece at all? Or to the bustling, creative community that it documented?
I guess it ties back to the point I’ve raised occasionally in the past about feeling some guilt about not covering more local music. Yeah, I’ve spilled lots of digi-ink on the local bands that have broken out on the (inter)national stage – Broken Social Scene, Hidden Cameras, etc – but what of the acts who haven’t reached that level of profile? Am I guilty of that infamous Canadian inferiority complex that craves validation from abroad before acknowledging homegrown talent? Or is it a simple matter of efficiency? I have x amount of time in a day to spend with music regardless of origin – should I apply some sort of CanCon guidelines to my time and in essence treat domestic acts like special needs children or should I leave the playing field level and if the new Born Ruffians record, for all the love it will get locally, doesn’t affect me the way that Austin’s Okkervil River does, then tough noogies? That’s sort of the approach I’ve been taking, but then things like the Polaris Music Prize come along and the guilt returns.
Other Canadian sites have done bang-up jobs of covering smaller Canadian bands – I Heart Music and From Blown Speakers, for example, have their ears pressed far closer to the ground than I. But it’s not entirely for lack of trying – I’ve gone out and caught lots of local bands, some intentionally, some incidentally, but the fact is that statistically speaking, I don’t like many of them. Lots of bands beloved by the Stille Post crowd leave me scratching my head or worse, plugging my ears. I find that part of what could be considered the “Torontopia aesthetic”, or that of its descendents, is an over-intellectualization of music and art. That’s sort of evident from the Exclaim! piece. It’s like people don’t start bands, they start cerebral art projects based on creating a new hyper-hyphenated ironic genre for the amusement of themselves or their friends, and not necessarily for the purpose of just getting together and creating good (by my definitions) music. Not that the two goals have to be mutually exclusive, but to my ears the more important of the two – the music – ends up taking a back seat.
Maybe I’m just as guilty of over-intellectualizing this whole thing – maybe I just don’t like Nintendo cover bands or looped Slavic poetry accompanied by fuzz-pedal sleigh bells. I could simply, at the heart of it all, be a meat-and-potatos rock and roll guy, not an avant-garde-ist, and what the community creates isn’t up my alley. There’s no shame in that. And I could also be projecting outsider baggage from high school, bitter at not being in the know, in the cool kid clique. Probably both. But as long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to expose myself to more Canadian music, to try and use this soapbox to get the word out on new acts that I can honestly and wholeheartedly champion. I do think I’ve gotten better at it, but it can be tough to balance that out with judging the music strictly on its merits and not its postal code, with trying simply to cover music I like wherever it originates. Believe me, it’s harder than it sounds.
I recommend reading this conversation with Carl Wilson of Zoilus at Indiepolitik as a very interesting and informative companion piece to the Exclaim article. But Carl, a superb local scene booster, has a very soothing tone to his writing. Like Morgan Freeman doing books on tape. Except without the talking. But rationalize it however you want, and maybe this wraps up this whole train of thought in a nutshell, but I still cannot listen to Ninja High School.
The Guardian has an extended profile on Broken Social Scene, the extended family and their deep ties to their hometown while Wired holds the band up as an example of the tastemaking power of Pitchfork. The Globe & Mail talks to Brendan Canning about the score to the film Half Nelson, which the band didn’t actually score. And Captain’s Dead has a live acoustic radio session available to download. Via Claude Pate.
Harp talks to Emily Haines about her forthcoming solo record Knives Don’t Have Your Back. She’s streaming a song from it on her MySpace and another here. Also note that a third late show has been added to her two sold-out gigs at the Gladstone on September 12, the same day the album is released (it’s out a fortnight later in the US).
Expanding our scope geographically, Exclaim! talks to Chad Van Gaalen about his new album Skelliconnection, which isn’t getting a whole lot of love from critics. And Stylus takes the wayback machine to mid-90s Can-Rock radio for their list of “Top Ten Canadian Rock Not-Quite-Smashes”. You know, I really liked Slowburn back in the day. “Whatever” was a great song.
And to anyone who feels cheated from the post title that there’s not actually any Superchunk content – accept this mea culpa of a couple live tracks circa 2001, recorded right here in Toronto (meme victory!). Much more free ‘Chunk audio here.
One to file under self-promotion – the New Music segment on yours truly that was shot last month will be airing next week – it’ll be on MuchMusic on September 4 at 9:30PM and 1:30AM ET and repeat a week later on September 11 at 12:30PM ET. For those of you, like me, who don’t get MuchMusic, it’ll also air on CityTV on September 9 at 1:30PM ET and repeat on September 12 at 11:30AM ET. Naturally, I am not going to be around for, oh, ANY of these airings so I’ll be relying on the old VCR to capture what will amount to 20% of my 15 minutes of fame. It’ll be available online in the near future as well.
HAve you seen the new Flickr mapping functionality? It’s beyond awesome. Thanks to Duarte for pointing it out to me – alas their foreign maps are far less detailed than I’d like, but I am able to place my Toronto pics down to the intersection. Which is what I spent much of last night doing (but not done yet).
And finally, “Toronto Is Great” may have been a Torontopia slogan, but The Toronto Star says that Travel + Leisure magazine disagrees. They think we’re just good.