Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Zero Kanada

Paying three separate visits to Canada recently has allowed me to catch up and seek for myself reasons why that country’s music scene has improved so dramatically in the past decade or so. A few years ago, the lamentably slim pickings only served to confirm the prejudiced thinking of southerly neighbours: a well run, well adjusted country, but one without even a cuckoo clock to shout about.

Sure, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and, very occasionally, k. d. Lang formed a batch of reliable bass hitters (with Young an all time home run specialist) but their star had faded in the popular consciousness as Alanis Morissette, Bryan Adams, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Avril Lavigne and the Barenaked Ladies got the radio play. Even the Maple Leafers’ vaguely alternative offerings were nothing of the sort – Cowboy Junkies and Steppenwolf anyone?

And yet post 2000, the quantity of pathbreaking Canuck music has been dollar for dollar as large as any in the world. In the Kingdom of Indie, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, the Hidden Cameras, Wolf Parade and the New Pornographers have all been several cuts above the average, while Holy Fuck have reinvigorated the motorik beat of Krautrock, Rufus and Martha Wainwright have crooned, Fucked Up and Crystal Castles have screamed with intelligence and Godspeed You! Black Emperor have made a serious bid to be considered the band of the last decade, as well as keeping us guessing with the positioning of exclamation marks.

Why the improvement? This is no empirical study but my recent trips have revealed Canada to be…well…just a little frayed around the edges…and I’m not talking about traditional economic indicators like Inflation, Gross National Product and Employment – Canada still rides high by all these measures and has, superficially at least, ridden out the financial crisis rather well.

But the Alberta oil boom and the continued prosperity of its trio of megacities – Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – have masked a widening disparity when it comes to provincial development. My travels have taken me to the capital Ottawa as well as the easterly Maritime provinces and these areas have been savagely hampered by job losses, increased homelessness and nagging poverty. Ottawa seemed edgy in certain neighbourhoods after dark and it’s clear that wealth among the top echelons of Canadian society has failed to trickle down. Even the large conurbations have their problem areas – Vancouver’s East Hastings district (immortalized by Godspeed) rivals San Francisco’s Tenderloin district for grimness and the westerly reaches of Montreal’s main shopping street, Sainte Catherine evoke 1980s Liverpool.

This review of the Manchester band Delphic’s album on Pitchfork made some spot on conclusions about the damage economic prosperity can do to a music scene and I can only think the reverse is true in Canada. With regional and urban development carried out patchily, there is a growing pool of have-nots north of the Great Lakes and this may have helped innovation to flourish. If we’re lucky, Michael Bublé may disappear soon too.



Blogger kourtney said...

wow, you seem to have a handle on Canada's musical, political, and social scene more than half the people in this country! i bet virtually none of us without some sort of family ties could do the same with your beautiful, albeit tiny, little island country. cheers!

12:56 am  

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