Oh Canada, Our Best Bands, Our Best Brands


Com­ing off the heels of TAVES 2017, us Canucks show­cased lots of cool new Cana­dian gear from Cana­dian HiFi com­pa­nies, like Totem Acous­tic and Brys­ton, just to name a cou­ple. Totem Acous­tic show­cased their new Totem Sig­na­ture One loud­speaker, as well as the new Totem Tribe tower, which both sounded awe­some. They also had the Totem SKY and SKY Tower, which were noth­ing short of amaz­ing.

Brys­ton was show­cas­ing their Ac­tive Speaker Sys­tem with the new 3-chan­nel 21B3 amp as well as the BDP-3 dig­i­tal player, which I was try­ing to sneak out of the room with­out any­one notic­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, I failed, but it gave me some ex­tra time to no­tice the BDA-3 DAC and the BP26 preamp, which would have been an equally good steal.

Out­side the brands show­cased at TAVES, Canada is home to a few other great hifi man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Ax­iom Au­dio, Hafler, Par­a­digm, An­them Elec­tron­ics, Ref­er­ence 3A and Au­dio Sen­si­bil­ity.

The in­ter­est­ing twist for me was that in some of the au­dio rooms, ex­hibitors were play­ing a good sam­pling of Cana­dian artists. I heard some Blue Rodeo, Ar­cade Fire, Leonard Co­hen, k.d. lang and Glen Gould tunes em­a­nat­ing from those rooms. As a mu­si­cian and proud pa­triot, I have al­ways been cog­nizant of Cana­dian tal­ent and how we ap­pear on the in­ter­na­tional stage, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively.

To com­plete the mu­si­cal tri­fecta, not only do we have an arse­nal of great Cana­dian tal­ent, and first-class au­dio com­po­nents, we also man­u­fac­ture some world-class mu­si­cal in­stru­ments to help make all that great mu­sic. Brands such as Seag­ull gui­tars, Si­mon & Patrick and Art & Luthiere gui­tars are all man­u­fac­tured in Que­bec, by par­ent com­pany Godin. Those brands are well known for their fine work­man­ship, great tone and com­pet­i­tive pric­ing. On the per­cus­sion and drums front, Zilid­jian cym­bals, as well as Sabian cym­bals, both founded by Robert Zilid­jian, are used by the best play­ers to ride, crash and keep time. (Snare-roll & cym­bal crash!)

Cur­rently, Canada has the sixth largest mu­sic in­dus­try on the planet and has in­cu­bated some of the great­est home­grown tal­ent of the last sev­eral decades. Leonard Co­hen, The Band, Os­car Peter­son, Gor­don Light­foot and Paul Anka. World-Class Cana­dian pro­duc­ers like Daniel Lanois, Bob Ezrin and David Fos­ter have pro­duced records re­spec­tively for U2, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, and Michael Bublé.

Cur­rent home­grown acts I love and lis­ten to on a reg­u­lar ba­sis in­clude The Dears, The New Pornog­ra­phers, Ron Sex­smith, Ar­cade Fire, Joel Plas­kett, The Low­est of The Low, and of course, The Trag­i­cally Hip. For all the Hip fans, please see my trib­ute to TTH and Gord Downie on page 8 of this is­sue. If you find your­self un­aware of any of those acts, run out and… per­haps… just turn around and run back to your smart phone or dig­i­tal mu­sic sys­tem. Hit up iTunes, or stream Ap­ple Mu­sic, Spo­tify or Tidal, to check them out. I’d rec­om­mend The Dears, from Mon­treal

and their bril­liant al­bum Gang of Losers and Joel Plas­kett Emer­gency from Nova Sco­tia and their 2007 Po­laris Mu­sic Prize fi­nal­ist al­bum Ash­tray Rock. The Sub­urbs by Ar­cade Fire from 2010 is also an amaz­ing re­lease from the Mon­treal based band. And if you pre­fer your mu­sic on good-old vinyl, there is no short­age of record stores across the coun­try.

To bor­row a pop­u­lar food-cy­cle anal­ogy, you can say the Cana­dian “mu­sic-cy­cle” runs from mu­si­cal in­cep­tion, cre­ation, per­for­mance and then ul­ti­mately, play­back. It’s cool to think that the Cana­dian in­flu­ence can be had at ev­ery stage of the process. A Cana­dian mu­si­cian can com­pose, play and per­form their mu­sic on a Cana­dian de­signed and man­u­fac­tured gui­tar, with wood from Cana­dian trees, record in a Cana­dian stu­dio us­ing Cana­dian record­ing gear, have a Cana­dian pro­ducer put the al­bum to­gether and then play the fin­ished prod­uct back through Cana­dian amps, speak­ers, and ca­bles.

Grow­ing up in Mon­treal in the 70s, many of my favourite artists were Cana­dian, al­though I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily aware of that fact back then. Artists, like Bach­man Turner Over­drive, Rush, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young were ubiq­ui­tous on the ra­dio, both here and in the US. The only hint of Cana­di­ana I ever no­ticed was the small Cana­dian flag sticker on Randy Bach­man’s white Stra­to­caster and the small maple leaf in the BTO logo. As a kid, that was the first time I re­al­ized they were Cana­dian, and even back then, I thought it was cool that they were from “my coun­try”.

How­ever, be­ing from Canada back then wasn’t al­ways cool. De­spite all our tal­ent, po­ten­tial, pas­sion, smarts, wide-open spa­ces, nat­u­ral re­sources and a po­lite and af­fa­ble pop­u­la­tion, be­ing Cana­dian some­times meant sec­ond-rate, es­pe­cially when com­pared to the US, or Great Bri­tain. With a gi­gan­tic land mass and a frac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion com­pared to our over­whelm­ing and clos­est neigh­bour, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment re­al­ized it would be tough to com­pete, even within our home and na­tive land. Con­se­quently, the CRTC was es­tab­lished in 1968, and in 1971, they man­dated that Cana­dian broad­cast me­dia ini­tially play 25% Cana­dian con­tent, as de­fined by the MAPL sys­tem. MAPL is the acro­nym for; Mu­sic, Artist, Per­for­mance, Lyrics. Per­haps they had the fore­sight to guard against po­ten­tial cul­tural and fi­nan­cial bom­bard­ment by in­ter­na­tional acts, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously giv­ing Cana­dian artists a fight­ing chance to be seen and heard. Ini­tially, the Cana­dian broad­cast me­dia did not meet the new “Can-Con” man­date fa­vor­ably and a num­ber of them tried, in vain, to cir­cum­vent the rules.

Those afore­men­tioned acts would have un­de­ni­ably been world-class artists with or with­out the CRTC rules, es­pe­cially as a num­ber of them had al­ready moved to the US to chase their dreams and suc­cess. Cer­tainly though, other Cana­dian acts did ben­e­fit from the rules and that po­ten­tially set up the im­petu­ous for fu­ture artists to suc­ceed while still liv­ing here. To­day, Can-Con is stip­u­lated at 35% to 40% and it seems to be work­ing. As an in­ter­est­ing and hu­mor­ous side note to Can-Con, the bril­liantly hi­lar­i­ous tele­vi­sion se­ries SCTV, was get­ting pres­sure to in­cor­po­rate more “Cana­dian-spe­cific skits” in the show. The writ­ers weren’t happy about be­ing forced into it, so they re­sponded by tak­ing Can-Con to­tally over­board, and created the ul­tra­Cana­dian Bob & Doug McKen­zie skit us­ing ev­ery Cana­dian cliché they could think of.

Iron­i­cally, that skit be­came one of the most pop­u­lar on the show, both in, and out of Canada. As it turns out, one of our big­gest ex­ports was, and still is, com­edy.

The in­flu­ence of the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment with the Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil lab­o­ra­tory in Ot­tawa has been equally in­flu­en­tial for our na­tional HiFi brands. The NRC al­lows Cana­dian com­pa­nies to test prod­ucts in de­vel­op­ment, free of charge. This al­lows Cana­dian brands to bet­ter com­pete on the world-stage with­out in­cur­ring the mas­sive R&D costs in­curred by some of the non Cana­dian brands we ul­ti­mately com­pete with.

These days, we have so many world-class artists; I would be un­able to list them all in this ar­ti­cle. How­ever, I find it in­ter­est­ing that so many Cana­dian mu­sic fans are not al­ways aware of the ex­cel­lent tal­ent we have here in our own back­yard. Para­dox­i­cally, we only seem to take no­tice of our own tal­ent once they get very pop­u­lar out of our coun­try. So whether you are look­ing to dis­cover a new band or solo artist to fall in love with, new elec­tron­ics or loud­speak­ers, or per­haps a new gui­tar, I urge you to search out the grow­ing in­flu­en­tial seal of qual­ity that is “Made In Canada”. I guar­an­tee you will be im­pressed.

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