Thesis and antithesis in Canadian indie rock
By Terrence Dick
The yin and yang on the spectrum of professionalism in Canada’s independent music scene is represented by two recent compilation albums. Both are as schizophrenic as collections of heretofore unrelated bands can be and both, in their own bizarre ways, are simply concerned with marketing themselves.
The first one is actually the seventh in an ongoing series of compilations put together by an organization called Toronto Experimental Artists. Founded in 1989 by Mark Harrington, they have consistently assembled hungry young artists from a wide spectrum of genres (folk, metal, punk, soft rock, electronic, etc.) on uniformly designed CDs that appear in the Broken Pencil mailbox with astounding regularity.
According to label guy Clay Phillips, “TEA Artists pooled themselves together with their resources and skills to help promote their works in an affordable way. Pooled resources include many of the TEA services today: recording, mastering, graphic design, photography, radio promotion, film/TV placement, record label development, CD manufacturing, compilation CDs, consulting etc. When we first began to work together, we found it difficult to make it cost effective for the independent musician. Over time we grew and began consulting independent artists in the different directions they can go in affordable packages tailored to suit their needs and budget. TEA prides itself in being an artist friendly community that can help connect artists together and bring them what they may need or want to develop their own connections in the industry.”
This sort of business-oriented attitude is completely different from the resolutely DIY, anti-mainstream, passive aggressive indie rock that most often ends up in the Broken Pencil coffers. But just like any independent musician trying to make a go of it, Clay Phillips and his cohorts are simply working together to get their music out there.
“TEA compilations began with bringing artists together with the intention of creating a buzz in all areas of media – radio, print, film and live performance,” says Phillips. “Many comps today are just music convention mail bag fodder. The main reason for our comps is the sense of community it can bring for all involved. A chance to share, hear feedback and receive much needed information for artistic growth.”
According to Phillips, “TEA has had some great successes at radio with quite a few songs on the charts. Strong artists on our comps include: David William, Andrew Spice, Jamil, Davey Boy, Mike Criscione, Robbie Cooper, Little Sunday, Patricia Eyre, Unit 731, Daisy DeBolt, Jill Jack, Power Boxx and many others.”
And then there is Vagina Plow, Statutory Ape and Your Shatterproof Guava Beverage vs. Solidberg. All of whom can be found on the deeply disturbing Bad Bands Revolution CD assembled by the rabblerousing duo of Matt and Kat Collins. They were inspired by a certain aesthetic shift that moved through the Toronto underground a couple years back.
As Matt Collins puts it: “Following the initial Torontopia explosion in bands, a real “crafted pop” movement began in Toronto – which was very different from the Blocks art-indie/DIY aesthetic that had marked what was going on in 2003/04. The sort of weird party vibe seemed to drop off in a lot of people’s eyes, but a number of quasi-joke bands were emerging; outside of the public’s eye, for the most part. Bands like Dollarama and Garbage! Violence! Enthusiasm! and Better Than Everyone popped up. That’s when I coined the term Bad Bands Revolution, because I sensed an urgency both on the part of the bands, and the fans of those bands – people looking for art, humour, and rowdyness.”
Sometimes conceptually oriented, sometimes plain stupid, the assembled bad bands explore a variety of ways to undo what thousands of years of musical traditions have built up. “The bands involved approach the idea of marking themselves as bad to challenge what people consider good – good songwriting, a good time, what qualifies as a good idea,” says Collins.
Though trying to explain what makes a band bad is almost as hard as it is to explain what makes a band good. “It’s close to impossible to create a set of rules by which something is objectively bad and certainly, many feel subjectively that BBR contains a lot of bad music, either that the music is unlistenable, but also that what is happening is bad for music, and bad for people to get behind,” admits Collins. “There are some bad bands, on the other hand, that use those same terms to expose the allegedly good as bad – that’s what the Riptorns seem to be about. The Riptorns play cover songs they are unfamiliar with, often of critically acclaimed bands, and they play them exceptionally poorly. On top of that, their sets push the boundaries of tolerance by lasting for close to an hour and they berate the audience for paying any attention to them at all.”
A second volume of Bad Bands Revolution is being put together for release in the new year, says Collins. “We will be making an open call to anyone who wants to form a band, as well as inviting many of the bands from the first comp and some new bands we’ve met recently (Saskatoon’s Robot Alliance, for instance). Meanwhile, we’re professionally pressing volume one for an autumn release, which will hopefully be distributed nationally.”
As for Toronto Experimental Artists, Phillips says: “Anyone can submit music to us for our compilations, but that doesn’t mean it will get on. We seek out good music we feel passionate about. The range of music on our comps is usually: pop, rock, blues, hip-hop, R&B, folk, electronica, ambient, acoustic, experimental, singer/songwriter stuff.”
Check out Toronto Experimental Artists at http://www.teasouth.com/
Bad Bands Revolution might be found at your local independent record store.