FEATURE: Don’t Blame Canada: How Musicians from the Great White North Are Changing the Game



Don’t Blame Canada


ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash 

How Musicians from the Great White North Are Changing the Game


MANY people assume I am a Canadian journalist…


IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Vancouver

because so many of my interviews focus on artists from there. I have been doing this gig for over six years and, over the past few months, I have noticed an influx of requests coming from Canada. I am not sure why so many Canadian artists flock my way. I am aware I am on the radar of popular Canadian P.R. sites and record labels – things shared by one artist is then seen by another; that leads to a chain of requests. The national stereotype seems to hold true: they are awfully nice people. It would be too long naming all the Canadian artists worth recommending – and my memory is pretty lousy! – but there is a general vibe that is very pleasing. I have reviewed a lot of artists who are taking music back to its roots. There are artists everywhere who record and release their material to cassette. We see fewer and fewer tape-released material at this time. Here, it is seen as retro and nostalgic: in Canada, it is part of many artists’ process. I have seen bands that put out a double-cassette release: one song on each side of the tape. Once or twice; I have seen bands collaborate on a double-release – where they would take lead on one song each and backing on the other. Emails and requests I get from artists are friendly, warm and informative.


There is less work involved when it comes to Canadian acts. They produce great photos and the information I need; they get their answers back in a timely manner – always producing full and interesting responses. That might sound like general administration stuff and genial insignificance: to me, it is a great reason to feature an artist and follow like-minded sorts. I find, with Canadian artists, they have a more ambitious approach and direction. Maybe it is their political landscape – more secure and settled than the U.S. and U.K. – or a natural way of life. There are loads of great artists coming from Canada but, to me, Ontario is providing the best music. So much of my time is spent looking at musicians from Toronto. It is a big city, yes, but I wonder how so many great artists from a place that isn’t the size of a small planet. I have noticed great music from Vancouver and Quebec but this is true: there is something extra-special about Ontario. You have Vancouver in B.C. and Toronto to the south of Ontario; there’s Red Deer in Alberta and Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. It is interesting seeing all the different music coming from various areas. I have mentioned Ontario but there are so many productive areas of the nation. What I find is, unlike some smaller nations, there is not a reliance on one genre.



Here in the U.K., we have musicians representing everything music has to offer. To me, Canada is more reliable right across the board. The nation is flying when it comes to Alternative and Indie; they produce fantastic Pop artists and some incredible Soul. Maybe they are not as prolific when it comes to Rap and Urban avenues – perhaps the U.S. does that better. Established Toronto bands like Broken Social Scene, Weaves and Alvvays are putting the nation on the map; same goes for city-mates Crystal Castles and BadBadNotGood. We all, whether we know it or not, listen to new Canadian artists. I will bring in another article soon – and conclude with my thoughts – but, to me, the best of Canada always has one part of their mind in the past. They appreciate physical formats and are keen to see them continue; they have that passion for older technologies and fuse it with the modern and new. I know other nations love where music has come from: few have the same fondness and intensity as Canada. Published last year; a great article explored Canadian record labels and how music got made:

The making of a Canadian music star is no small feat – beyond talent and luck, there are multiple organizations, players and stakeholders. In this unstable mix of fans and audiences, live music venues, multinational music corporations, local radio stations and key taste-making DJs on both the club and radio circuits, there are innumerable variables”.


IN THIS PHOTO: Union Station, Toronto

There is great success and profitability in Canada right now. The music landscape is bustling but, compared to wealthier, more popular nations; I wonder whether they are being overlooked. We know most people look at U.S. and U.K.-made music. We have big labels here; the U.S. has the most commercial and wealthy acts. Although there is incredible music all around Canada, I wonder whether we are doing enough to promote it. Maybe I should put out a list of the best Canadian acts. Look at my blog and scan through the interviews there. You will see a whole host of Canadian artists who have huge strengths and compelling stories. We all know about the strong American and British stars – huge acts like Drake and The Weeknd are scoring massively on streaming sites. Another part of the article highlights some concerns and ironies:

The paradox in Canadian music is that we have so many superstars and very few developmental channels to build future superstars. We cannot expect to continue to have globally relevant Canadian pop stars without examining (or creating) the mechanisms needed to sustain pop chart ascension. In the music industry, technological disruption came early, and solutions such as streaming and 360 record deals – in which labels take a cut of an artist's other money-making activities, such as touring – have temporarily plugged the hemorrhaging of profits. Superstars such as Justin Bieber, Alessia Cara, the Weeknd and Drake keep Canada in the global spotlight, even if we haven't perfected a star-making formula”.


IN THIS PHOTO: Alessia Cara/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I know there are so many wonderful Canadian musicians working hard and trying to get their stuff out there. The native followers are supportive and kind: Canada needs the support of the wider world and those bigger musical nations. The final point I will bring in from the article looks at music venues in Toronto and dangers facing some of its artists:

Two panels focused on some of Toronto's local infrastructure promise to be informative and important to the evolution of the city's music strategy. With the threat earlier this year of disappearing live music venues across Toronto, there is much to discuss, especially with the city's condo-filled skyline affecting the affordability of those venues. And cultural spaces such as the former site of the 416 Graffiti Expo, at Queen and Portland Streets, are the reasons why local hip-hop artists of two generations ago could imagine Toronto as a hip-hop city, a place to affectionately name and represent as the T-dot-O-dot in the mid-1990s”.

It seems the same issues facing Britain’s music scene afflicts Canada. Despite the warnings and the musical snow; Canadian artists are fighting and, free from the pressures of international eyes and expectation; they are providing more original and special music. I have mentioned the cassettes and hardware artists record to. Platforms such as BandCamp are more popular in Canada than anywhere else. It is interesting discovering new Canadian music because, with every offering, I learn something I did not know before.


Going forward; I feel Canada, alongside the U.S. and U.K., should be part of your regular rotation. Nations like Sweden, Australia and Germany are housing terrific musicians and burgeoning scenes. I feel Canada mixes the best aspects of British and American music – diverse and genre-spanning; able to mix commercial and unique – and has its own dynamic. The warm and fascinating personalities of the musicians, added to the work mentality and inventiveness of their releases, stands Canada out. It is a nation that deserves more funding and attention. From recent inclusions such as Mute Choir and old favourites like Emily Mac – there is something for everyone. I cannot fit all the great Canadian music onto a single playlist. I am not surprised so many Canadian artists come my way: I am less surprised I am hooked by the country and what is coming from there. I know there are so many Canadian artists who want to perform over here. It can be hard enough getting dates in the U.K. – a lack of finance and the country preferring its own artists – so we need to find a way of putting more Canadian artists into the fore. It is a growing and amazing nation that does not get the same credit and exposure as America – despite the fact there is a richer scene and friendlier, more engaged artists. One of my hopes is the world opens its eyes and realises what fantastic sounds are coming…


IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Chilliwack, British Columbia

FROM Canada.