The Vancouver Indie Music Scene—Where B.C. Does Not Stand for “Blame Canada”

Montreal has long made its mark on the hipster map and Toronto has earned its well-deserved Indie cred via the critical successes of bands like Metric and Broken Social Scene. Go west, and the byproducts of a community built on logging and blue collar work become more obvious through the presence of more beards, more brawn, more Bryan Adams, and less fedoras and tight jeans.

While the East Coast has always been home to acts who craft grand statements of white collar existential angst (a clear example of which would be Montreal based Pitchfork darlings The Arcade Fire), the West Coast has constantly been associated with that rough-and-tumble sound borne of the gold rush and the unforgiving terrain. The West inspired Johnny Cash to write “Folsom Prison Blues”. The West is where Bob Dylan came of age and revisited Highway 61.

Thus, it is easy to place British Columbia natives The New Pornographers, a Vancouver-based Indie rock collective formed by solo artist A.C. Newman and Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar, within this same lyrical and melodic landscape, despite the obvious geographic differences between California and British Columbia. The collective’s most recent release is 2010’s Together, a title that serves as a not so subtle nod to the collaborative, D.I.Y. spirit associated with the Indie genre. Canada’s music scene may thrive through the efforts of labels like Arts and Crafts, known for getting the more experimental of the Indie set to the mainstream; yet The New Pornographers have fastidiously stuck it out with the classic rock and pop structures with which they’ve spent more than a decade perfecting their sound.

Black Mountain, another classic rock driven acid trip of a band, also frontlines for another Vancouver collective called The Black Mountain Army. Formed after a joke that Black Mountain was actually a modern-day hippie commune, the collective has since expanded to include friends and other members of the B.C. creative community. While this sounds like phenomena typical of the music subcultures, Black Mountain have managed to make breakthroughs by appearing on the Spiderman-3 soundtrack and opening for Coldplay on their X & Y tour. No further proof of pop sensibility is needed once your band has shared a stage with Rom-com crooner Chris Martin. Yet, Black Mountain’s next record Wilderness Heart, due out in September via local label Jagjaguwar, shows them returning to their original rifle-wielding yet peace-loving sound.

Like in any thriving music scene, there are exceptions to the West coast Americana archetype such as Hot Hot Heat. The keyboard-driven dance punk quartet jumped the Indie boat for a sweet corporate deal with Warner Records, leaving other synth acts like Vancouver’s The Book of Lists in their wake. Pink Mountaintops, another permutation of Black Mountain, cites Krautrock icons, Can and NEU!, among their influences. All this is proof positive that Canadians, from coast to coast, despite living in a fake country can make real music.


This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of UNO magazine, or which I do not have a copy (yet) *cough*. Yep.

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