We’re very happy to announce a new partnership with Weird Canada on the NMC blog!
Weird Canada is dedicated to highlighting the emerging and boundary-pushing musical adventures taking place in Canada, with a focus on regional peculiarities. You can expect to see regular content from Weird Canada on new releases coming out of all parts of the country.
Founded in 2009 by Aaron Levin, Weird Canada’s website has become one of the best sources for experimental/DIY/niche music in Canada. With dozens of contributors ensuring that the site has regular content, Weird Canada fills the void that other musical news outlets leave behind with their focus on more popular content. As Levin has recently shifted from Edmonton to Toronto where other collaborators critical to Weird Canada’s existence also reside, bigger and bolder plans are currently in the works to take things to a more serious organizational level.
NMC talked to founder Aaron Levin, managing editor Jesse Locke and contributor Paul Lawton to find out what keeps them pouring in hours of their time to this labour of love. Read on and stay tuned for regular updates of the most exciting experimental sounds coming out of Canada today!
NATIONAL MUSIC CENTRE: What was the catalyst for starting Weird Canada?
AARON LEVIN: Weird Canada has its genesis in campus/community radio, which for most emerging musicians, is their first avenue to reach an audience beyond their friends. Music Directors are therefore at the gateway to the emerging creative potential within their local communities. When I worked as Music Director for CJSR in Edmonton, I was exposed to a vast amount of incredible, unexplored music. I quickly learned that my experience was not unique; there was strange music being crafted in every corner of our magnificently large country.
Myke Atkinson, the Music Director at CJSW in Calgary, had the brilliant idea to send packages of local releases to other community radio stations as a means of widening these artists' reach. I'd rip them open excitedly at the thought of fresh sounds that would otherwise never come across my desk; most of the music was CDR-only and the bands hardly had the spare change to do a $70 mail-out. Specifically, I remember Braids (at the time, Neighborhood Council) had their first album sent to CJSR care-of Myke.
Despite Myke's (and other Music Directors') efforts, this music never entered a national dialogue because of radio's regional focus and lack of curation. The stations were amazing at servicing their local communities, but struggled to transmit a national narrative.
I started Weird Canada to write this narrative; to capture the sounds being made in all these tiny communities under the national banner of emerging fringe.
NMC: Why not take shape as a record label, magazine, or some other form?
JESSE LOCKE: All three of us have varying levels of experience running record labels of our own. Paul is definitely the most active with Mammoth Cave, Aaron has released some fantastic re-issues under his Cantor Records imprint, and teamed with Edmonton’s Pop Echo for the 99 Sevens series, while my cassette label Planet of the Tapes is definitely more of a hobby than a serious venture. In short, Weird Canada could potentially expand into a label someday, but until now we’ve decided to keep the site and our other projects separate.
AL: Two reasons: accessibility and exclusion. Radio taught me a lot about how people discover, discuss, digest, and interact with music. I conjectured that a website with a clean, minimal, consistent layout with a scan representing the real, physical entity under discussion with two-to-three easily-clickable songs was the perfect means for someone to explore. It's not intimidating, takes little effort and investment, and is immediately intuitive; the words merely filling up space.
NMC: What defines the music featured on Weird Canada as different from other music available out there?
AL: We're proudly genre agnostic. Certainly we have a focus and a bias, but I can say that we've covered music from every single sub-sub-sub-sub genre known to humans. What we look for is not a type of sound but an approach to sound-making. We are excited not by “folk music” but “folk musik”, if you catch my meaning. Does this mean that the dude plucking a banjo with a bent spoon will always get coverage on Weird Canada just because it's weird? No.
One thing we try to emphasize as much as our resources will allow us is to take unsolicited submissions seriously. Not everyone can afford a publicist and so when an artist sends you an e-mail saying “hey, check me out!” we need to respond to that with the same seriousness as, well, anything. Those types of correspondence are our bread-and-butter. Furthermore, we try very hard not to fall into the stranglehold of nepotism, which means burning through our submission inbox is crucial.
NMC: Why the focus on Canadian music?
PAUL LAWTON: The Canadian music scene drifts towards a have/have not divide. There are a percentage of bands doing extremely well, and the rest of the bands fight over the leftover scraps. Which is unfortunate because, as Weird Canada has proven time and time again, there are so many bands in Canada doing groundbreaking, genre-shifting work that just doesn’t get the appropriate amount of enthusiasm or attention. The focus is on Canadian music is partly because there is so much happening in Canada that wasn’t being documented properly, and Weird Canada definitely fills that niche.
NMC: What kind of programming does Weird Canada do outside of the website?
AL: We program quite a lot of live music and put on a few annual festivals in several cities across Canada (Wyrd, Wyrd MTL, Wyrd X Weird Canada, Obey Convention, Sled Island, etc.) Recently we launched **Weird the Gathering** a monthly networking event for DIY/fringe music enthusiasts in Toronto. We're hoping to expand the gathering to other cities across the country.
In the future we have a number of external programming initiatives that include a podcast, radio program, literature, and other types of collective gatherings.
NMC: What are Weird Canada's future plans?
AL: Our main priorities are to restructure ourselves internally and externally, redesign the site, launch several new forms of content, including a focus on non-exclusionary, resource-driven content, and truly become the beacon for DIY music in Canada.
One of my dreams is to set up a rural Ontario touring circuit through all the college towns surrounding Toronto. If this becomes a reality it will entirely change the game for bands touring Canada (the most difficult country on the planet to tour owing to its vastness).