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.