Gifts that Didn’t Make It: Music

CBC_Logo_1992-Present.pngFor the past seven days, the Metroblogging sites around the globe have been unveiling seven gifts their cities can share with the world – one gift a day for seven days. Vancouver’s musicians make for one of the gifts that didn’t quite make the cut.

Bryan Adams may have only been ten-years-old in the summer of sixty-nine, living in Kingston, Ontario, but from age sixteen onward when he moved to the west coast, Vancouverites have always visualized a small Commercial Drive storefront for the Five & Dime of his first six-string notoriety.

And he’s not the only one. Sarah McLachlan’s birthplace is Halifax, but it wasn’t until after her move to Vancouver that she began fumbling towards ecstasy. Other artists have called Vancouver a second home: Joni Mitchell’s paradise which was paved over to make a parking lot is sometimes asserted to be late 1960s Vancouver (though just as often Waikiki Beach in Hawaii), Bachman Turner Overdrive’s Richard Bachman lives in west Burnaby, Bob Geldof left Ireland for Canada’s “left coast,” and Loverboy, well . . . um, well, no city is perfect. Even Alberta native Tommy Chong was the man behind the guitar tracks for a local Soul and R&B band called Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers (I promise, I can’t make this stuff up).

Vancouver is also home (whether native or adopted) to a number of other musical names you might have heard: Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, Delerium, Moev — but by these terms, the “no fun city” has typically been considered a lightweight compared to heavy hitters like Toronto in the past, or Montreal who’s these days taking the North American music scene by storm.

But that’s where Vancouver fits into the whole mix. Vancouver’s true gift to the North American music world is yet to come. Maybe not this year, or next, but soon enough phrases like, “Oh, Arcade Fire are only from Montreal? — I thought they were a Vancouver band,” may not be that far-fetched. Or “Typical of the Vancouver sound.” “Vancouverite musician.” “The Vancouver Scene.” You can almost hear it now.

As Seattle wallows about in its post-grunge hangover, and Montreal enjoys its current time in the spotlight, the music of Vancouver is rallying its troops for the imminent West Coast indie invasion.

Torquil Cambell, of Stars and Broken Social Scene fame (Don’t know them? Wait three more months, and you won’t remember how you lived without them on your iPod Shuffle), not only calls Vancouver home much of the time, but chose it as the breeding ground for his if-it-doesn’t-win-an-award-within-two-years-I’ll-eat-my-foot collaboration Memphis.

Vancouverite Dan Bejar’s one-man project Destroyer touts some of the best lyrics and songwriting in the music business today.

And the Vancouver supergroup The New Pornographers represents everything Vancouver music ever was, is, or should be. If after listening to their indie anthem “The Bleeding Heart Show” a few times on one-song repeat you’re not dumping out your pockets to offer every cent you have to own a copy of the Twin Cinemas album, you just don’t have a heart yourself.

And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the dozens of other Vancouver indie pop bands which are nourishing enough to let you coast for days at a time without food:

  • Blogger/singer/songwriter/cult-hero Matthew Good of the Matthew Good Band
  • Rough and tumble Black Mountain
  • Quirky folk-alt band The Be Good Tanyas
  • Edgy and thoughtful Bend Sinister
  • The melancholy Awkward Stage
  • And let’s not forget You Say Party! We Say Die! — definitely my favourite best/worst band name ever, or at least a close tie with the Japanese punk band “The Bathtub Shitters.” Sadly, rumour has it they have recently broken up. I can only presume someone said, “Party!” Bassist Stephen O’Shea confirms, happily, that my information was wrong, and You Say Party! We Stay Die! were not the subject of the breakup rumour — now I need to figure out whether I dreamed that. . . .

“Enough! Enough!” you may be shouting. “But I don’t like the alternative rock stuff!” Well, why didn’t you say so?

Into the club scene? Master turntablist Kid Koala can hook you up with whatever you can’t bear not to dance to.

Something more low-keyed? Try dream-pop band P:ano or ambient electronic master Loscil (when I saw the unmistakable profile of the Lion’s Gate Bridge on cover of his album First Narrows, I knew he was a Vancouver native before even being told).

And, of course, for some true East Van urbanity, check out jazz-flavoured hip-hop outfit Threat from Outer Space. The music itself is worth the price of admission, but they’ll always have a place in my heart for summing up the Vancouver ethnic scene better than anyone I’ve ever heard: from the single “Message Up Front,” “If New York’s a zoo, Vancouver’s a museum, three million human beings: Asiatics, Europeans, Indians, Koreans, lions, zebras, and chameleons. . . .”

You don’t get any more Vancouver than that.

Vancouver’s gift of music may not yet be the sweater you got from your sister one year and wear every cold gloomy Saturday, or the cherished keepsake you received from your grandmother twenty years ago, but given a little more time it may just prove to be the gadget you don’t know how you ever lived without.

(Most music here brought to you by CBC Radio 3, New Music Canada, and the letter V. . . .)

3 Comments so far

  1. Paul Hillsdon (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2006 @ 8:18 pm

    I understand why our music scene didn’t make the list, but it’s definitely worthy of being mentioned. Like you said, I can’t wait to see a few years from now when it blows up. Great informative post.


  2. Stephen O'Shea (unregistered) on December 4th, 2006 @ 5:00 pm

    you say party! we say die! have not broken up


  3. Jonathon Narvey (unregistered) on December 4th, 2006 @ 11:14 pm

    Um… that’s one really long post.



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