CMW 2013: A Retrospective

This year was the first time that Demo writers threw themselves into covering perhaps the largest musical event of the year in Toronto, Canadian Music Week. The industry conference and six-day festival can be overwhelming, but we did our best to give you a glimpse into the small slice of the 1000 bands and 60 venues we were able to witness. Emily and Adam did a fantastic job documenting their journeys across the city, and hopefully you enjoyed reading about them as much as I did. I was around too, though (you can read my daily reflections on the bands I saw over at Grayowl Point), so here are a few thoughts from my perspective. –Elena

The great musical stuff

I was asked a couple of times towards the end of the week what my favourite performance was. The fact that I didn’t have an immediate answer was probably a good indication of the quality of the bands I managed to see in my five days of attendance.

Apparat Organ Quartet

Apparat Organ Quartet

Contestant #1: Apparat Organ Quartet was a surprise hit for me. I was feeling rather uninspired for a large part of Wednesday night, but the Icelandic band’s combination of organs, synthesizers, drums, and vocoder-vocals blew me away. I had never heard of the band going in, but walking out I was a huge fan.

Contestant #2: I had been wanting to see Karneef even since I fell in love with In Error, so his 2am set at the Drake on Thursday was a personal must-see. His quirky intonation and love of grooving bass came off with even more personality live than on the record, something that I definitely did not think was possible.

Contestant #3: I fell in love with Doom Squad’s catchy bass lines, use of recorder, and synchronized swaying motions when I first saw them in February. A repeat performance in the dark cave environment of the Comfort Zone may have been even better.

What everyone was talking about

That tumblr. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about. It was hard to talk to anyone around without excitedly sharing opinions on Slagging Off, a blog that quickly gained infamy for its “death to Canadian music” mantra and snarky, aggressive shots at bands. The first-anonymous writers (it turned out to have been started by Paul Lawton of The Ketamines) raised legitimate points about problems with the festival, although their methods were not the most constructive.

Digits. For clarity, this is nothing to do with the tumblr. Just an awesome set I saw during the week.

Digits. For clarity, this is nothing to do with the tumblr. Just an awesome set I saw during the week.

The story that had the biggest impact on me was in this post, detailing a young musician from Calgary who spent thousands of dollars in travel and accommodations to get “exposure” through a CMF showcase, despite not having music strong enough to warrant such a financial risk. How much exposure can one really get from a 1am time slot in a bar that no one will be at? When the musicians are not paid? How effective is Canadian Music Week as a venue to support and provide exposure for our country’s musicians?

This was a question I dealt with myself as I realized throughout the week that musical discovery during CMW is often like shooting fish in a barrel. Sometimes you get lucky and find something amazing, but I get the vibe for the most part that just walking into a random venue will result in something uninspiring. It is definitely possible to have a fantastic week if you curate your schedule. Seriously, I had fun. My week was amazing. But as someone who covers local music regularly I like to think I have a better sense than the average festival-goer as to which bands are worth seeing, either from past experience or word-of-mouth. Even then, though, exerting so much control over your schedule gets in the way of the always-fun feeling of discovering new bands.

So yes, there are some problems with Canadian Music Week. The rise of this tumblr highlighted some of the corporate-over-artistry vibes going on. What I cannot get behind, though, is their methods. Specifically calling out a large host of bands and directly insulting them, often on measures not related to their music, is hardly constructive. I realize that there is a problem with way-too-nice, way-too-polite music journalism in Canada (remember this business?). Heralding bands that do not deserve it is a huge problem. But so is un-constructively shooting down musicians just starting out. The writers could get behind DIANA and Aidan Knight (who are both rather great, in very different ways), but could either band really have gotten to where they were if they were discouraged and written off in the beginning? It takes joining a supportive musical community to create the kind of environment where experimentation and risks can happen.

Maybe instead of insulting each other we can focus on building something that supports arts in the city, all year round. I could write novels about folks in the city already doing exactly that (hey, Wavelength), but let’s stay focused.

The great non-musical stuff

Prince Nifty at Thursday's Wavelength show.

Prince Nifty at Thursday’s Wavelength show.

I really have to give a shout-out to Show Gopher. The website/mobile app is an invaluable resource for the Torontonian year-round concert-goer, but it became essential to keep track of CMW showcases. Did anyone actually use the official schedule (I mean, they filed anything starting with “the” under “t”!)? Each night, I planned out my schedule with Show Gopher’s grid, listening to samples of each band and taking their recommendations to heart. Their presence was felt away from technological devices, too, offering “emergency guitar picks” to artists backstage at each venue.

Personal favourite moments

Canadian Music Week can be about the connections you make and experiences you have, too. Some of my favourite moments:

-Sitting on a bench for 25 minutes at the Garrison as Emily cabbed to King Street and back. She only missed one song.

-Realizing I had actually successfully stayed awake long enough to see Karneef. It was looking a bit questionable earlier in the evening.

-Seeing one of my favourite bands from high school (The Zolas are just as endearing as I would have imagined).

-Meeting some people I only internet-knew previously.

-Getting covered in glitter after Castle If and dancing on stage with Mozart’s Sister (even if I’m cringing while indirectly reading about myself in the handful of reviews that have since appeared).

-Spending time with the amazing people in Toronto’s music scene. I’ll sing Yacht Club with you guys any day.

Elena Gritzan

Top photo: Adam Bernhardt

Other photos: Elena Gritzan

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Comments
One Response to “CMW 2013: A Retrospective”
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