Friday, September 01, 2006
high art, local news

I've talked about it here in the past, but it's something I still wrestle with a bit; do I have an easier time getting behind local bands, just because they're local? Exclaim! ran an article on Torontopia this month (maybe read that before you keep going if you're not familiar with the term), which inspired this post from Frank at Chromewaves, which in turn elicited this response from Carl over a Zoilus.com. It seems though, that the crux of the discussion is about "the scene" and whether or not those who immerse themselves in it end up with a biased perspective compared to those who are outside looking in, and vice versa. They, of course, are focusing on Toronto, which is a rather distinct beast with some very distinct aspects to itself, but their are similar applications to Vancouver/Vic/anywhere.

Frank very kindly pointed to Matthew and I, as two bloggers who have "their ears to the ground" when it comes to our local scenes and smaller Canadian bands in general. It's definitely something that I've tried to do, but at the same time, I've never considered myself part of "the scene," and I actually think that benefits my forays into music criticism. It's tough to give your honest impression of someone's music if they're also your friend. That's not to say that I avoid talking to musicians or anything, that's just how my social circle has (mostly) set itself. That being said, when it comes to Vancouver acts that I think are great musically, I think I do tend to shout a bit louder than if I were boostering for x indie band from Minneapolis (or wherever). On the other hand, thinking back to the local bands poll, while I was introduced to some music I'd never heard, and while I'm not super keen on a couple of them, most of them were already acts that I felt deserved any ink that gets spilled on their behalf; not because they're local, but because they're good. The "top ten" in particular, are bands that are amongst my favourites period, and that has nothing to do with geography. Is there some Vancouver pride bubbling up inside me when I see something so seemingly ridiculous like Coldplay choosing Black Mountain as an opener to confuse amphitheatres full of fans of their whiny drivel? Damn straight. It's nice to see some locals get their due, but more importantly it's nice to see great bands get their due in a industry where mediocrity tends to rise to the stratosphere.

In retrospect, maybe the whole furor around Frank's post, and the heated debate around Torontopia in general is something to do with Toronto being distinct. There are plenty of acts from TO that I love to death, but I agree with Frank that some of them leave me scratching my head.

Then there's the community aspect of Torontopia.

In many ways - most, even - it's really pretty awesome, but sometimes it seems as if attempt to shake off the self-loathing that formally plagued TO has resulted in criticism of any kind being seen as treason. Sure, you should celebrate the good music that you've got, but does someone being part of the community automatically validate their artistry? For that matter, should someone who dares to speak up about their personal distaste for someone's music be ostracized? That doesn't seem like much of a community to me. A united community is great, as are the amazing amount of people from Toronto who are unafraid to move in a direction that is off the beaten path of your standard indie fare. Thing is, what makes those types of endeavours exciting is that sometimes when you fly out on a limb you fail (or at least, you don't soar) in some people's eyes. Often, I'd much rather see someone fail at something novel than be pleasant at something I've seen done very well many times before, but not everyone does. A community should be there to support those endeavours, to pick each other up when something doesn't quite turn out as planned, but there's very little that's healthy about unquestioned love for anything that eminates from within. There's nothing healthy about lashing out against any sort of criticism from outside.

Trying new things, moving in new directions, say, starting a band with only dollar store instruments is something that is laudable as an artistic endeavour, but that doesn't mean that the music is going to resonate with everyone. I'm not trying to pick on Dollarama here. Writing a 9 song concept record about the schools of magic arranged for a string quartet is an endeavour that may be equally likely to fall flat. Some do, some don't, some dig, some don't. It seems like a simple matter of taste has made Frank the scene's enemy du jour.

The inability to accept criticism is to me, not a strength of any community, but a weakness. Matt Collins of Ninja High School commented in Carl's blog, noting that "Tokyo Police Club have escaped any criticism at all while bands like my own, and Dollarama, And Garbage! Violence! Enthusiasm! have had undue and destructive criticism heaped upon them." Undue? Destructive? It's music and you're putting it out there for people to hear and experience. They're going to form an opinion on it. Saying someone's honest opinion is undue or destructive is, well, undue. Regardless, while it's always nice to receive praise for things, art is something that one generally does because it involves some sort of self-fulfillment, no?

Why does TPC get an easier ride? Because more people happen to like them. Ditto for Final Fantasy and the Hidden Cameras (two more pieces of Torontopia). Why do people criticize NHS or the bad bands scene more often than Broken Social Scene? Not neccesarily because "they don't get it," but because they most likely legitimately don't like it. Should Matt and co. change and make "better" music to please those people? God no. It seems that they've set out to do exactly what they set out to do: make the music that they are inspired to make. But conversely, should Frank or Graham listen again until they "get it?" You can't beat someone over the head with something until they like it. The majors have been pulling that for years, and we all loathe it when they do it.

Bringing it all back home, I have to wonder: if I were to pan the new Blood Meridian record* would I then find myself unwelcome at a Leeroy Stagger show? Black Mountain show? Would Matt Camirand give a damn? Somehow I doubt it. I'm sure some of this happens here as well, but it certainly doesn't seem to be as pronounced. Then again, maybe I'm closer to the scene than I think.

Thoughts?

*for the record, I'm quite partial to the new Blood Meridian record, more so than the EP.

now playing: the Buzzcocks - Oh Shit!

6 Comments:

As someone who goes to lots, and lots of local shows here in Victoria, and as someone who (is now) traveling with one of the local bands to various shows as a photographer, I've seen countless acts from Victoria and the island.

As far as liking things just because it's local and or popular, I've never found a problem with. There are lots, and I mean lots, of local acts that I really do not like. Including some of the more popular (ie: Kincaide, Moneyshot).

Then there are popular ones, like Counting Heartbeats, or Maurice (who just signed a record contract through David Foster!) who I would love if they were local or not, however the fact the are local makes me appreciate them more.

I think it comes to down to how much of a "snob" you want to be about it. Im sure there's people that (like what happened when "Grunge" exploded) think if it's from one place, it must be good. This of course happens if you're in this place with some people. "I'm from Vancouver. We have an awesome scene! Everyone here is so talented".

I'm kind of rambling here, but my point is:

If it's amazing, and local, I love it.
If it's bad and it's local, well, it's bad and I don't like it.
If it's popular and local, but I don't like it, I don't like it.

Anyway, yea

And I still think Blood Meridian sucks :)

By Blogger Peter, at 5:15 p.m.  

Interesting commentary... I think locals will always play favourites to some extent, but here and now it seems to be justified. Let's watch it grow!

We hate your hate. :-)

By Anonymous Chris, at 3:41 a.m.  

What I found interesting was that Frank claims to be a regular Zoilus reader and has recommended Zoilus in other places, but never read a mention of the term "Torontopia" on Zoilus before. Carl talks of little else!

I wouldn't mention the above on either of their blogs because they both seem like nice guys.

By Anonymous David, at 4:00 p.m.  

Nice article. But please don't confuse Torontopia with the Bad Bands revolution. They're not the same thing.

"Torontopia" is a catchphrase stand-in for a general sense of enthusiasm, energy and excitement for creative experimentation without regard for conventional rules (and conventional notions of aesthetics). This is an environment that allows something like Bad Bands Revolution to occur. But that does not mean that Bad Bands Revolution is Torontopia.

To wit: it is a mistake to chastise "Torontopians" for reacting strongly to Bad Bands criticisms when an overwhelming majority of people participating in Torontopian-like things have never even heard Bad Bands.

Just thought I'd clarify.

By Anonymous dylan, at 2:58 p.m.  

i definitely wasnt trying to say Bad Bands and Torontopia were synonymous... hence the references to Final Fantasy, Hidden Cameras, et al.

and i wouldn't consider Ninja High School part of the Bad Bands scene... and im pretty sure they wouldnt either, but there seem to be some strong reactions over criticisms of them (NHS), which was more what i was getting at. i just mentioned Dollarama because Matt Collins did in the quote i pulled from Carl's blog.

Granted, I have an outsiders perspective, but it seems like Frank was being unneccessarily vilified just because he gave his honest opinion on a couple of bands that happen to be well-inbedded into the scene. It's not like he made some sort of bottom line statement like "bad" or "terrible," just that it was his personal preference. The responses to that were completely over reaching.

By Blogger Quinn, at 2:23 p.m.  

Fair enough. I don't think I've ever actually read Frank's blog, so I don't know what's what on that. Forgive please.

My whole thing is that I think Torontopia as a vague, amporphic, positive, try-anything, experimental enthusiasm is something that should be embraced by all regardless of what precedes the "-topia" (Victopia, maybe?)

I just feel that "Torontopia" is not something to be readily dismissed because a Toronto band freaks out at (what I'm sure they consider to be) un-constructive criticism.

By Anonymous dylan, at 8:14 p.m.  

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