Opinion: Heartbreak, New Love & Nostalgia—My Personal Love Affair With Broken Social Scene

By Ayla Shiblaq

In 2011, Broken Social Scene declared an indefinite hiatus. I was convinced that this was a catastrophic loss for the Toronto independent music scene, and a possible end to any good music that would be released in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Of course, at the time I was being a tad overdramatic and, of course, dreadfully wrong (examples of GTA musicians include Born Ruffians, Tokyo Police Club, and many others).

For the past decade and a half, Broken Social Scene was putting out albums that redefined what a band could be, as well as defined the beat of Toronto. I, in my moments of complete grief and disorientation from hearing about the hiatus of my favourite band, completely forgot the importance of the legacy they created.

It is undeniable that Broken Social Scene’s influence in the Toronto independent scene is unparalleled. They became one of Toronto’s few supergroups that gathered international appeal and critical acclaim, but as a band, they meant more to me than the legacy they left.

The band started in the late 90s as a combination of the KC Accidental (“KC” being a combination of the two first letters of the bands founders, Kevin Drew and Charles Spearin), and members from hHead including the initial inclusion of Brendan Canning and, eventually, Leslie Feist. Drew and Canning met at a downtown Toronto club where they simply began talking about music. Soon enough, that conversation morphed into a collaboration. Over time, Broken Social Scene was formed through the constant additions of local favourites and rising stars. By the time they released the 2003 album You Forgot it in People they were 30 members strong.

Drawing inspiration from bands like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, Broken Social Scene marked the new generation of independent music that would emerge in the early 2000s. With their combinations of traditional rock elements, electronic accessories, and folk vocal and lyrical inspirations, Broken Social Scene was one of the bands who broke the mould of being a strictly anything band. Everything about them was an invitation to originality. Whether it was their sound or their whopping 30-member count, the originality in their music was effortless. They, like many of the great bands before them, did not try to paint their own image, but let the music do it for them.

You Forgot It In People album art

You Forgot It In People album art

Broken Social Scene transcended its Toronto borders and extended to the hearts of many, including mine. Near the end of my first year of high school, the year I would credit to my self-discovery and the music that currently shapes me, I came across You Forgot it in People. I loved Feist’s work as a middle-schooler (I discovered her through the 2007 iPod commercial, don’t judge) and Metric’s Fantasies, so I decided to look more into their work. With the help of the iTunes “related albums” tab, I came across Broken Social Scene. Amused by their name and curious about their music, I downloaded their albums and gave them a listen. Initially, the first half of the album didn’t impress me because it was mostly instrumental that my “niner” self did not yet enjoy. Then, “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl” came on and that’s when I fell in love. I told all my friends to listen to it, but they all said it sounded like “creepy doll music.” I felt like I was the only one who truly connected to the song.

Since then, every single time I listen to ”Anthems” it takes on a different and new meaning. First, I thought it was about love. When I listened to it in grade ten, I thought it was about long-distance relationships. By grade eleven, it became about growing up, and by grade twelve I was able to confirm that it was that nostalgic feeling of missing one’s old self while growing up.

It may sound ridiculous to say that a song as simplistic as “Anthems” defined me in some way, but, in reality, that’s what happened. Over the years, the more I listened to You Forgot it in People, the songs made more and more sense. I appreciated the complexity of the instrumentality and I finally developed the strongest emotional connection to any album I’ve ever given a listen. Since that fateful June day when I discovered “Anthems,” I was hooked.

Forgiveness Rock Record album art

Forgiveness Rock Record album art

My love affair with Broken Social Scene continued on when I examined their discography even more. From the familial vibes of their self-titled album, to their questioning of society and relationships in Forgiveness Rock Record, to their lesser-known albums including Feel Good Lost and Lo Fi for the Dividing Nights, I felt they could do no wrong. I had never seen them live up until last year’s Field Trip Music Festival, where they reunited for the first time since the announcement of their hiatus. This moment, though corny, was so special. They played You Forgot it in People in its entirety. I also happened to be seventeen at the time of the festival and when they played “Anthems,” I fan-girled over that simple fact. I had just graduated high school with this album guiding my way through. It was fate.

I consider Broken Social Scene to be my favourite band in existence. They got me through high school with tunes of heartbreak, new love, and most of all, nostalgia. Their legacy of being a large family of musicians creating music in the name of Toronto will live on despite their quasi hiatus – which ends only when they take to the stage in early June at Fort York’s Field Trip Music and Arts Festival. I feel that there is truly no other band that captures the essence of what it is to be an idealist and a romantic in a dog-eat-dog world.

2 Responses to “Opinion: Heartbreak, New Love & Nostalgia—My Personal Love Affair With Broken Social Scene”
  1. Vers says:

    BSS and “Anthems” especially carries a special place in my heart. It was my first year in highscool back in 2003 when I heard it for the first time and, like you, it’s meaning for me has changed through the years, though my affection for it hasn’t. This song has been at the center of my life’s soundtrack for a decade and I can’t listen to it without feeling pangs of nostalgia.

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