Review: Hearts on Fire: Six Years That Changed Canadian Music 2000-2005

Hearts on Fire: Six Years That Changed Canadian Music 2000-2005

Michael Barclay, 618 pgs, ECW Press,, $36.95

Just as the mania around the supposedly world-ending Y2K bug was coming to a head in the final months of the millennium, the boy band era of music had reached its zenith. One could have been forgiven for thinking the five-piece vocal ensemble was the future of music. But just as the preppers and hoarders were to be disappointed, so too were executives in the music industry who would see their record profits crash back to earth thanks to the advent of peer-to-peer file sharing and an artistic shockwave that found its epicentre in Canada, of all places. Michael Barclay’s Hearts on Fire: Six Years That Changed Canadian Music 2000-2005 tells the story of how Canadian musicians — fueled by cheap rent, accessible arts funding, and their communities — earned international acclaim.

Barclay is the perfect person to tell their stories. The former associate editor for Exclaim! magazine wasn’t just there for this historical moment — he was part of it, even (allegedly) taking part in the millennial howl on Arcade Fire’s anthemic track “Wake Up.” Of course, he doesn’t rest on those laurels and anecdotes. The book reflects a significant amount of research, making use of interviews and secondary sources to narrativize the genesis of some of the biggest acts in Canadian music.

Hearts on Fire is nothing less than a tome but is by no means an exhausting read. By choosing to focus his chapters on groups of artists connected by genre, scene, or sometimes both, Barclay gives a good sense of the artistic zeitgeist of the era while also allowing the reader to skip around between sections. The result is a text of interest to anyone nostalgic for the simpler times of the early aughts and to music fans more generally.


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