This City Is broken: 10 Years of Arts & Crafts

By Marko Cindric

Initially, this piece was meant to be nothing more than a review of last weekend’s Field Trip Music and Arts Festival—fifteen musical acts converging in celebration of the tenth anniversary of Toronto’s seminal Arts & Crafts record label—but it quickly evolved into something much greater than that. As a result (and corresponding to the nature of Broken Social Scene’s own set from Saturday night), this is an open love letter to the arts and culture of Toronto, the resilient pulse of the city we all know and love.

During a break between songs, Torquil Campbell of Stars made a wholehearted plea to the Field Trip audience: “Start a band with your friends.” A simple, perhaps understated suggestion encompassing more than a decade of history—songs and shows and albums, people coming and people going. These six words represent the spark that would eventually become Broken Social Scene: when Kevin met Brendan.

When the new millennium was upon us, Toronto musician Kevin Drew was serving as the “K” in an instrumental post-rock duo called K.C. Accidental—the “C” being Charles Spearin, another soon-to-be BSS member. Together the pair released two LPs featuring collaborations with a number of other musicians, many of whom would become pivotal in the evolution of Arts & Crafts as a collective: Evan Cranley of Stars; Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric; and Jason Collett. As the indie rock legend goes, Brendan Canning, a veteran of the Toronto club scene, befriended Drew after professing his admiration for the latter’s musical endeavors. This friendship eventually blossomed into a full-fledged musical project, and in a natural throwback to K.C. Accidental’s sound, the duo wrote and recorded Feel Good Lost—the ambient, mostly instrumental debut album of Broken Social Scene. The next step to spicing up their live performances was to add vocals to the formula, bringing even more familiar faces to the band’s rapidly growing roster: Leslie Feist and Amy Millan to name a couple. Together, the group of like-minded friends started their own record label (with help from former Virgin exec Jeffrey Remedios) and created a monumental album entitled You Forgot It in People (with help from eccentric producer David Newfeld).

The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward to 2013: Broken Social Scene is currently on hiatus, with five full-length albums under its belt. Arts & Crafts Productions is celebrating its tenth anniversary and currently manages more than 30 artists and bands. And what a better way to celebrate than to awaken the sleeping giant that started it all?

From left to right: Leslie Feist, Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, and Evan Cranley performing at Field Trip.

From left to right: Leslie Feist, Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, and Evan Cranley performing at Field Trip.

Last weekend, Broken Social Scene broke their hiatus for two nights only—the first to perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and the second to perform You Forgot It in People, in full, to a crowd of 10,000+ people at Toronto’s Fort York National Historic Site. The lineup included other major acts such as Bloc Party, Feist, Dan Mangan, and Hayden, as well as up-and-comers like Cold Specks, Trust, and Gold & Youth. Performances were divided between two back-to-back stages, and attendees were invited to explore the festival’s many supplementary thrills including an art installation, a signing tent, and a display of the Norman Wong x Arts & Crafts portrait series.

Perhaps one of the most heartfelt aspects of the festival was the Kid Zone, catering to the newest generation of A&C listeners. (Children were granted free admission with their families.) But this passing-of-the-torch notion wasn’t the only reason the Kid Zone was so touching: Broken Social Scene as a band, and Arts & Crafts as a label, have effectively redefined and reinforced the idea of family. The love emanating from every person on stage that day, both for each other and for the audience, cannot be described with mere words. Every lyric sung and every note struck felt and sounded like love. In the audience, every cheer, every clap, was a complete investment of the heart.

Amy Millan holding daughter Delphine while singing with Brendan Canning and Torquil Campbell.

Amy Millan holding daughter Delphine while singing with Brendan Canning and Torquil Campbell.

In this sense, the festival gained new meaning as an intense and insatiable transaction of love.

Many of the members of Broken Social Scene and company are family themselves: while performing with Jason Collett, Amy Millan of Stars ran to the side of the stage and returned bearing daughter Delphine in her arms (Millan is in fact married to bandmate Evan Cranley); following the wrap-up of Broken Social Scene’s set, Charles Spearin piggybacked his daughter across the stage. They are family, they are friends, and they are a family of friends—and like most families, they always seem to return to one another, as evident when Jimmy Shaw surprised both the audience and the band by making an appearance near the end of the set. Shaw, along with fellow bandmate Emily Haines, had been thought unable to attend due to a previously scheduled Metric concert in Philadelphia on the same date. The genuine surprise and excitement in Kevin Drew’s voice upon his arrival brought tears to the eyes of fan and musician alike, and served as a reminder that this band, and this label, were built upon a love that’s hard to come by in this day and age—the kind that doesn’t sleep, even when it’s dark out.

A massive thank you to Arts & Crafts, Broken Social Scene, and its many friends and family. Here’s to another ten years. We all know you’ll be back.

To Toronto as a city, you’ve been through a lot this past while, but Kevin Drew is here to remind us of how to forgive, and how to keep loving:

“I’m sorry. I love you. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Header photo courtesy of Norman Wong. Accent photos courtesy of Megan Stewart.

3 Responses to “This City Is broken: 10 Years of Arts & Crafts”
  1. hm says:

    Literally such a beautifully written piece.

  2. paccana says:

    I love this post so much, thank you for sharing!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] on last year’s almost flawless execution and improved line-up, Field Trip will definitely be one of the summer’s best festivals in […]

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