Monday, February 27, 2006

NY Times on Canada's Collectivism

To call BSS [Broken Social Scene] a "band" is to simplify matters drastically. It's more like a network, or, as Emily Haines, a sometime BSS'er and lead singer of the Toronto band Metric, put it, "somewhere between a tribe and a cult." Most of the members of BSS are also members of other bands that are released by Arts & Crafts. The very name connotes what all the artists on the label have in common: they are lo-fi, heartfelt, ironic, makeshift and as tightly interlinked as the kids in a summer-camp lanyard-making session. The musicians play on one another's CD's (BSS can have between 9 and 17 musicians on a given track depending on who shows up or what's needed for a particular song), a level of cooperation and organization unusual in any popular-music scene, even one that might be summed up by the slogan above the bar code on BSS's most recent CD: "break all codes." Perhaps it helps — or maybe it hurts — that a few of them have also slept together, though the BSS'ers tend to be secretive about whom, when and why.

Musically, you could say that Toronto has become a nicer but less aesthetically coherent version of Seattle in the early days of grunge. Broken Social Scene is Toronto's Nirvana, without — so far — the troubled-rock-star antics or the anomie and with a social agenda that puts collective music making above individual success.


Just as the L.A. punk scene circulated around the SST label and the early grunge scene sprang from and adhered to the Sub Pop label and K Records in Olympia, Wash., the Toronto scene has coalesced around a few key labels. The 25-year-old Kado, who has joined or started more than 10 different bands, started his own extremely independent music label, Blocks Recording Club, in 2003. Blocks now puts out records by local bands at a phenomenal pace — 30 CD's in two and a half years. The most acclaimed is Final Fantasy, which sold 7,000 copies of its last album, a string-heavy CD with full band arrangements, which Kado describes as "orchestral loner music." Unlike A&C, Blocks is a cooperative — CD's are packaged by hand — that divvies up profits between members and musicians.

- From Guided by (Many, Many) Voices, in Sunday's NY Times Magazine.

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