At Ride the Tempo we are all about Canadian music. Exclusively. So, Canada Day takes on an added meaning for us. We asked some of the musical artists that we have featured here what their thoughts are on Canadian music (if there is such a thing) and on being a Canadian artist:
Benjamin Hackman (The Holy Gasp)
There are traditions of Canadian music that predate all of us, but we neglect to hear them because we don’t speak the languages in which they’re sung, nor recognize the lives of their authors. We, whose ancestors came to Canada on ships, sacrificed Canadian music for the Canadian music industry.
Whatever music you’re into, Canadians are making it well. I’m a proud contributor to that scene. After countless tours, I’ve concluded that we’re a musically open-minded nation. Sadly, many programmers (radio / venue) don’t agree, so the public misses out on the full scope of what’s happening musically.
I don’t believe in a distinct Canadian musical identity. But it must exist in essence, simply because we exist. There is fullness, but the emptiness is greater. And the isolation, the distance between cities, the long winters, and the land itself, all converge to form something that’s hopefully Canadian.
Paul Lawton (Century Palm/Ketamines)
Canadian music is a thing, but to me it is the loose network of bands from coast to coast who collectively reinforce each other over the years. I think the difficulties for Canadian bands entering the USA has built a network of musicians who have just helped each other out for years. I have a floor I can sleep on in every city in Canada, and every time we see our pals from Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon or Halifax, it is always the biggest hugs and the best times.
Petunia (Petunia and The Vipers)
Yes, there is such a thing as Canadian music. Like all North American — like all continental North, South and Central American music — Canadian music has most of its musical roots overseas. In the case of South and Central America, you might say that the indigenous musics of the people, who were there living on the land upon first encounter with white people, have become a more mixed and more integral part of those modern continental styles or bodies of musics that we now call “South American” or “Central American”.
When we refer to the music of the United States we call it “American” music, or “Americana” if we are referring to specifically roots based music, and we do so without the conscious notion that the indigenous people of America had much influence on that brand of music at all. I think the same can be said about Canadian music, except with the case of Metis music where the link is still alive and well known.
I’m Canadian. I live on the land we call Canada. I make and play music on a regular basis. The sounds of that music travel by varied notions and motions through the air that moves in Canada. By definition I am part of “Canadian music”. You might ask rather: “Is there Canadian music being played here in Canada specific in tone and quality to the people who live here and the land they live on?” Again, the answer by definition is, “Yes the land and people of any given country of the world will shape the music being played there”.
Canada is a broad land and large parts of it are still wild and even undomesticated. Some of it even remains untraveled. There are very few people living in Canada compared to its landmass. Yes, there are large cities. The people who populate those cities have their roots in the countryside, whether one or two or even three generations removed. It’s winter half the year and this causes most Canadians to be housebound for the most part, for the greater part of the wintertime whether they live in the city or the country. Does this change the way that music is played by Canadians? The answer seems obvious. Of course it does!
Canada is a diverse country and there is a lot of music and there are great musicians coming out of it. It is a comparably small industry so often artists like KD Lang, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young end up in the US because there is more work there. There is a sound that each province brings which is distinctive. The East Coast is more folky with Celtic roots, Quebec varies from a hip indie scene (Arcade Fire) to flourishing French artists from Coeur de Pirate to Celine Dion. Rock is probably the most supported style of music the majority of Canadians consume but there are many niche artists too who are supported by the grant system or who find that leaving Canada is where the support is. If you want to know who the pancake breakfast equivalent would be, is say Nickleback, unfortunately. But taste is subjective and Canada is multicultural and has soooo much more to offer than that. Some you may not have heard of are Ray Condo, Coco Love Alcorn, Martin Tielli, Kevin Breit, Kinnie Starr, Jose Contreras and … Lily Frost :)
I don’t know if there is such thing as Canadian music. Personally I consider myself a human being of Planet Earth. I make music that is addressed to the whole world and I never think about my nationality when I work on sounds.
Tommy Bélisle (Choses Sauvages)
I don’t think that Canadian music exists because it’s more of a melting pot than a strong cultural statement. Fortunately, Canadian artists are amazing and it’s so koolz to be part of Montreal’s indie scene! Peace, love and party rocking.
Jessica Stuart (The Jessica Stuart Few)
Canada’s strong musical identity to me takes the form of smaller musical communities, rather than a singular national sound. If I had to name the popular Canadian sound, it’d be indie rock, which I’m not really a part of, but I am connected to the genre-irrelevant art music scene though.
To me “Canadian music” just means music that happens to be from Canada. There is no uniting sound or quality. I don’t really think of my music as specifically “Canadian”. My music is about the human experience, and I hope that would transcend imaginary boundaries.
Wayne Petti (Cuff the Duke, Grey Lands)
Canada is a melting pot of culture and therefore I don’t believe that there is one and only one sound that is genuinely Canadian. That’s the beauty of living here, there are no creative limitations and there are constant new sources of inspiration. I like to think I am a thin thread within the massive Canadian musical fabric. Just one of many…
Antoine Farley (Ritalin Sugarpie)
We don’t usually think about that stuff. Worldwide influences.
I do think there is such a thing as Canadian music — it’s music made by Canadians and/or music made in Canada. I don’t believe that it’s a necessary thing for Canadian musicians to pursue inherent Canadianness in their work. I think of the Julia Kristeva version of feminist art when it comes to “Canadian art” — that Canadians will make essentially Canadian work without necessarily striving toward “Canadianness”. The exception being, of course, music that is generated as protest work, as critical work, of Canadian society or governmental policy.
“Canadian” is a thing, and the more that I travel and spend time in other countries, the more I appreciate and understand how unique the Canadian perspective is. In a couple of sentences, I believe Canadians are nurtured to feel both inspired by the products of monoculture, but also deeply critical of it as well. Situated so closely to the United States, with their great and terrible notion of American exceptionalism, Canadians feel unexceptional, and make work that is skeptical of the very concept of exceptionalism.
I don’t believe it to be inferiority, as some Americans see it, but as a rejection of any concept of superiority or inferiority. It’s a very humanist attitude and I feel it is one of our finest traits as a nation. So yes, I think my music is Canadian, insofar as it is generated in Canada, and my patrons are Canadian audiences, musicians and granting institutions. And I believe my music to have inherent Canadianness, even if I’m not penning odes to the St. Laurence River or protest songs about Tar Sands. But more than this, I feel my music is more defined by its queerness, as I feel that my queer identity is a much more important part of who I am and what I do, and I hope that my music represents the queer community more specifically than the country I live in and love.
I think we’re lucky that we don’t get bogged down by limitations or expectations in music — there’s a kind of voyeuristic, looking-in-from-outside kind of attitude here that I think is really healthy for creative people.
I believe there is such a thing as Canadian Music. However I don’t believe it’s a particularly definitive term, especially when compared to other countries where you can use a term like Jamaican or Indian music and actually envision a specific genre. Canada exists as such a mash-up of cultures, so you don’t get that kind of cultural definition in our music scene. However, I would still call myself a part of the Canadian Music scene. For whatever it’s worth.
Richie Felix Alexander (Did You Die)
Yes … Canadian music is alive and living. Canadian music is a part of a sound that we feel combines American and UK music. It’s similar to US/UK indie rock, metal, pop. Any genre, really, that’s played in all 3 countries. We feel we are def a part of the scene that’s going on in Vancouver/Pacific North West, for sure. It’s like a hybrid between garage, post-punk, grunge and shoegaze.
Evan Matthews (Mauno)
I think that there is such thing as Canadian music insofar as the character of a place defines what is created there. What defines Canadian music for me is sonic diversity — Canada’s vast size creates unique stylistic pockets all over the country. Nevertheless, there is usually a thread of commonality that runs through it. We consider ourselves a part of Canadian music due to the fact that we are based in Canada (and are from all over Canada), and are influenced by lots of great Canadian music past and present.
Well, it’s really tough to say considering there are so many cultures who call Canada home. The music is influenced by the wide mix of cultural backgrounds. I don’t think my sound can be defined as Canadian music — I’m not even sure if I’m truly a Canadian citizen anymore according to Bill C-24… So I ask myself, is my music Canadian? It’s hard enough trying to pin my style of music into a genre that just about a hand full of people know about, and I’m not just talking about turntablism… which is already a tiny market over here. I’m talking about the music I make — something indescribably beautiful that’s inspired by a multitude of traditions and cultures around me….. MADE in Canada ;)
Jesse Zubot (Tanya Tagaq, Dan Mangan, Joyful Talk, Copilots, Tony Wilson 6tet)
I think there is a slightly undefined Canadian sound at the moment. Nowadays, it is moving and becoming very eclectic and hard to nail down. I’d say creative and slightly genre-defying is the Canadian sound right now. Indie and slightly experimental. It used to be more roots rock (à la The Tragically Hip, Skydiggers, Blue Rodeo, etc.). Yes, I consider myself part of it because I am Canadian and am 100% involved in creating and contributing to albums by artists such as Tanya Tagaq, Dan Mangan, recently Destroyer and many others. I also release more experimental forms of music via my record label Drip Audio. It is my life.
Julie McGeer (The Sands)
I think that Canadian musicians are unusually humble and kind. Maybe part of that is because it is so difficult to make a living, due to the geography and expense of touring. But with carrying this heavy load comes a fostering of community. A looking out for each other, like family, and specifically here in Vancouver, a soulful connection. I think one of the main reasons why Vancouver is teeming with talent is due to this strong loyal community support. Do I consider myself a part of the Canadian music scene…? Well, I have only had a lick of icing on the cake. I feel sweetly connected to the scene in Vancouver, which is very inclusive, friendly and open, and I hope in the not-so-distant future to begin branching out and connecting with more players, music lovers and organizers across this mighty country and beyond.
Kati J (Lié, High Wasted, SBDC, Snit)
I am originally from Seattle, WA, but I have always felt welcomed to the Canadian music scene equally to all other people. That aspect, and the dangling carrot of Canadian government funding, has kept me, and every other musician I know, working hard and sharing every opportunity that we have to keep moving forward with our art together.
Dorian Williamson (Northumbria)
I believe that Canadian music is a unique entity, especially experimental music, which has always artistically flourished despite being very underground. We were very inspired early on by bands like Skinny Puppy. Northumbria is definitely in that current of experimentalism. Also, we’re very influenced by the physical beauty and vastness of the Canadian landscape.