by carl wilson

Clarifying Utopia

toronto3.jpg

Graham caps off a righteous rant over at Regulate the Voice about a sloppy, cliquey, in-jokey Sloan "tribute" show last week with this comment: "i'm not swallowing the whole 'Torontopia' or 'uTOpia' stuff because if it was so, one wouldn't need to keep asserting it to be true (see books, documentaries, zoilus at times)."

First off, I don't doubt the Sloan show was weak. Maybe there were some cute moments, but overall, from all reports, too much laziness for an event to which you invite the public. I enjoyed Dollarama, for instance, the first time or two around. I like the concept. But I wish they'd start developing beyond the concept: It's actually possible for improvised noise on jerryrigged instruments to sound good and take the listener someplace, and the members ought to start checking out the precedents. (Start with the Nihilist Spasm Band!)

But Graham is missing the point of both Torontopia and uTOpia: It's not to assert that Toronto already is some kind of utopia. It's to suggest that the people who live here begin to imagine that it could be one, that all the aspects are present, and it only takes a leap of faith and will to create that T'topia for yourself, from day to day, or at least something more like it. My slogan for many years has been: "Maybe you can't change the world - but you can change Toronto." And that attitude has really done wonders for my life here. And "Torontopia" as a collective idea just recognizes that maybe a bunch of people in the city are coming upon this idea mutually.

Even more so the point is that it's not specific to Toronto: You can adapt this attitude to whatever place you live. The defeatist, "this town is a shithole" attitude, which is so widespread here (see the comments on Graham's post), the Toronto self-hating thing, is so profoundly uncreative - rather than "love it or leave it", it's either leave it or remake it. (As the Nihilist Spasm Band did with London, Ont., for instance, or the fabulous Ford Plant kids did with the shithole town I came from, Brantford.) Love and hate are both self-fulfilling prophecies. And utopias, after all, are by definition unreal.

So if you find people, like me, or Coach House, or Blocks, seemingly bent on "asserting it to be true" it's because the truth is in the asserting. And the occasional letdown, I'd say, comes with that territory.

(Also, Graham, nice Destroyer post.)

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 22 at 5:28 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (39)

 

COMMENTS

This kind of Y-ing is why I never Z in this city.

Posted by Matt Collins on March 4, 2006 7:34 PM

 

 

Whoa. So I just stumbled across this thread with echoes of WE HATE SLOAN TRIBUTE NIGHT and I just thought I'd chime in. I'm the guy who put the thing together, so if you'd like to send hate mail, please do so at the e-mail address listed.

For one thing, people seem to be taking the whole night waaaaay too seriously. I don't know why people are up in arms about how this one show I put together is somehow representative of Torontopia or scenester-garbage or whatever. It's ridiculous to point at one show and say "this instills any and all things about a perceived cultural movement". I didn't put together the night as some sort of overarching encapsulation of "the scene". That's ridiculous. I had an idea for a show that I thought would be interesting and so I went out and did it.

And I'm not going to apologize for doing it. I put out an open call to anybody who wanted to play the show. I got a couple of responses and then asked a couple of bands (some of whom are friends and some of whom are not) to play and went from there. The only criteria I asked of bands is that they be INTERESTING. I didn't want to hear note-perfect renditions of Sloan songs. I don't find anything interesting or of value in a long slate of bands doing as-faithful-as-possible renditions of familiar songs using the exact same instrumentation. I'm much more interested in seeing bands break down a song, take it apart, put it back together again in a unique way and seeing if I still recognize it as a song, what differences I notice and what holds them both together.

And that's what the bands did. Sure, there were more conceptual projects (yep, Dollarama, Disgrimination), but then there were more faithful renditions (Tammy Hagar, The Chris Murphies, Mack Lawrenz, The Bicycles). Something for everyone, I thought.

Apparently not. It seems like some people had their sensibilities offended. That's fine. I'm glad people feel free to voice their opinions.

Myself, I had a great time and I think a lot of other people did, too. And not just because of what seems to be perceived as some meta-level of appreciation that stems from being in on a supposed closed joke. Some people actually are into participating and watching unconventional creative activity. Sorry, but it is true. If you're not into that sort of a thing, so be it.

On a side note, I would rather see something I absolutely HATE than see something unbearably mediocre any day of the week.

And for the record, I though TheRatio's review of the show was actually pretty fun.

Posted by Dylan Reibling on March 4, 2006 6:27 PM

 

 

A point noone seems to be bringing up is that dude wasn't at Sloan ironically. If he had gone out and proclaimed loudly that no matter what, he would not go to the Boat, and thyen, magically, found himself there anyway, it would have been ironic. I hate to reiterate what dave Eggers said in the appendix to his mostly awful breakthrough novel, but this fellow Graham needs to admit to his subjectivity a bit more, and realize that sarcasm is as valid a voice as any, and by dismissing it with the decade-long plague buzzword "irony" he is only alienating himself by painting the entire scene with it. Many of the sarcastic people have no prob;em with the non-sarcastic people, and vice versa. As well, many of the sarcastic artists are taking their sarcasm more seriously than many serious artists who are very relaxed, and this shallow dismissal of "hipsters" and is as pointless and defensive as pretending you don't like Dipset even though you obviously do because you buy their records. Just on behalf of artists who are getting fucking sick of this "taste" shit and want everyone to stop pretending they don't like things they do like, while openly disliking things they honestly dislike, please reconsider the way you consider "irony" because it's not like that at all. In fact, it's insulting and smug, beyond elitism, and does not contribute to anything but aesthetic technocracy and homogeneity (see: a wealth of "clever, intelligent" pop bands).

Posted by Matt Collins on March 1, 2006 7:02 PM

 

 

I didn't mean to suggest that the internet was any minor detail, in fact I think it is THE detail that seperates Toronto's music scene past from its present.

The fact that bands sound different today is of no real surprise to me. So, maybe there was a lot of bad post-grunge, today there is a lot of bad post-pop. I was also very fond of the early 90s hardcore scene, but in some ways it was a successful community because it didn't branch out. It was easy enough to go to hardcore shows, interesting 'indie' shows, and avoid the bad post-grunge entirely. But that too is true today, the mighty wavelength notwithstanding.

I'm not sure what you are getting at with the 2nd point. Major labels have just really fucked up over the past couple of years and the internet was there to fill the void. I didn't observe any dismantingly of the 'community' in the mid to later 90s. Of course I was an active participant at that time, so perhaps I am biased. But that might be the point. I think today we have many people who are disparaging of a past they were hardly a part of insofar as it gives them an excuse to lend some weight to their own current contributions.

Posted by Kristian on February 28, 2006 11:49 AM

 

 

oh, and Andrew? I think that paradox is exactly what is causing all these conversations at the moment.

Posted by zoilus on February 27, 2006 4:52 PM

 

 

Early 90s versus early 00s:

1. Not all, but way too many, of the early '90s bands were boring post-grunge bands. Toronto was not leading the way at that point - it was mostly following the trend. (Again, there were exceptions.) The nicest scene at that time was the hardcore scene. The whole thing was more macho then than now.

2. Yes, there was a supportive community then. (The Broken Social Scene people have their roots in that time, basically.) But it fell apart in the great post-grunge letdown that messed up the whole alternative-rock network that was built during the 80s throughout North America, as some bands were signed (and screwed) by major labels, others were resentful, etc. Which led to the big mid-to-late-90s fallow period (during which, of course, some things were still happening).

3. People have learned from experiencing or witnessing or hearing about those mistakes, and are mostly not making them again.

4. The *main* thing we have had in the past five years that Toronto did not have then is not great bands but great projects. Wavelength is a million times better than Elvis Monday ever was. The key record labels now are much better conceived and managed than the indie labels were then.

5. But you know, the Internet is not some minor detail. The Internet has changed (and half-wrecked) the whole damn music industry!

Type locally, be heard globally. It's quite a nifty gadget.

Posted by zoilus on February 27, 2006 4:47 PM

 

 

This is really interesting discussion, even for an outsider (ie. Montrealer that doesn't spend nearly enough time in Toronto). But I feel like there's a paradox at the root of this whole 'assert it and it will come' approach that Carl is advocating. And I say this as someone who has always tried to proceed with this kind of attitude.

The problem is this: when the context is ultimately an aesthetic one, but the boundaries are somehow geographic, what happens to the critical ear? How DO you support a community when part that community has a creative project that just doesn't float your boat on an aesthetic level? Do you pretend that it does? Do you sing a band's praises just because they spring from the same neighbourhood, share friends, visions, etc.?

At some point you've got to choose between asserting the general awesome-ness of a place, and keeping the awesome-ness standard high, no?

But people do tend to rise to the occasion when you put your confidence in them ...

Like I said, a bit of a paradox.

Posted by Andrew Rose on February 27, 2006 4:23 PM

 

 

Guy, yes! dead on. With all due respect, the continued assertion that the last few years represents a "realization" is confusing at best. Who realized what? The music scene in Toronto looks no different to me now than it did in the mid 90s. I don't think it was ever bad. There are certainly ebbs and flows in what I personally find interesting. Nevertheless people were always very mindful of what they were doing and what they were observing around them.

Guy, when you say "Probably they didnt have the charisma and commitment" I think, the only thing we didn't have back then was the internet.

Posted by Kristian on February 27, 2006 3:23 PM

 

 

..oh man....about 5 years ago i woke up and found out how much of a home this 'shithole' is to me...everything everybody has said on htis string is true at some time and no i'm not trying to be metaphysical..after going to an under attended film gig at the rivoli a number of years ago i was bemoaning this and my own underattended gigs to alan zweig, who in his achetypical dryflat delivery observed that people in toronto like that this sort of stuff happens but ONLY that...they don't attend...'look at all this stuff..it's so cool that we live in a place that this stuff happens in...we just don't go'...THAT one was a real mindfuck for me at the time....now i'm just happy that i'm doing cool shit with people with good hearts, megatalent and a fucking work ethic...note to all those improvisor wannabes - record what you do and listen back to it in a week and look in the mirror and say "this is really great shit, it's equal to what i think is 'the shit' on the cds that i own, and people should pay to hear it"...then go back to the basement and WORK ON IT 'TIL IT ROX '..then come out and perform and then it may actually be "Awesome"....art statements for the sake of art statements are a real fukn bad case of the emporer's new bondage gear...yeah, i'm on a wack tangent..so sue me!

Posted by nilan on February 24, 2006 8:03 PM

 

 

torontopia=myopia

I spent the early 90's going to see indie rock shows and there was a lot of love in the community back then. This assertion that the supporting loving tight scene is new is the biggest bullshit ever. Maybe some of the kids now go around thinking they re-invented the wheel but circa 1992 its not like people were not community oriented.

This idea that all this new love and support is what allowed the thriving scene in Toronto is ignoring a key truth. The folks in 1993 had a community sense equal to that ive seen in 2005 but they didnt do as well with it. In the indie scene for example there were people trying to set up labels and organize and do shit in 1993 too but it wasnt done as well as it is now. Probably they didnt have the charisma and commitment (and i dare say the maturity of talent) that exist there now. In music like in love, timing is everything. I think Parts Unknown would have done much better now.

Thing is these things wax and wane. There is a lot of talent there now or 2 years ago, there might be less in 2 years. That doesnt mean toronto is any different its still Toronto as good and as bad as always.

There will always be a critical mass of people who keep organizing and trying to do shit.

Posted by guy Tanentzapf on February 24, 2006 6:08 AM

 

 

Maybe this tangent has passed, but here goes...

Vancouver lacks the tight-knit community of Toronto, and the initiative to make things happen. (Maybe it's the pot, right?) To quote Jesse of the Butchershop (a now-defunct art collective) in a recent Only article, "Perhaps Vancouver is too DIY for its own good [...] There are too many separate groups all trying to service the creative communities, and they don't know about each other." Bands like Fun 100, You Say Party! We Say Die!, and Hot Loins play most of their shows exclusively with each other-- same goes for the other "cliques" of local bands. There are small scenes, but not much to speak of in terms of a city-wide musical and creative community. I'm not saying it's unfriendly; I've lived here forever, go to lots of local shows, and have nothing but good things to say about most whom I've met/listened to. That said, nobody seems to know each other beyond their own sphere. I think we're on the cusp of great things-- we just need a catalyst.

I've never felt as though the Torontopians were trying to push the idea that Toronto is better than other cities. They're proud of what they've managed to create, and understandably so. When I was first introduced to the term "Torontopia" by a friend from Stillepost, I was delighted, for reasons you've already touched on: it demonstrates a gorgeous idealism, and the belief that all cities (not just Toronto) can be utopias.

Posted by luisa irene on February 23, 2006 11:12 PM

 

 

Two points Malstain:

1. I think Steve and Matt are actually just sneakier, not showing their cards.

2. Owen certainly didn't mean that in the sense of "even if it's shit, they'll support it." He meant, whatever style it's in, no matter how weird or not weird, people will support it if it has value. It's worth asking whether one attitudes blurs into the other, but don't mangle his meaning.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 6:38 PM

 

 

AH - I was actually referring to Graham's Sloan post more than yours, though yours had some of the same feeling.

It's true that some of your Wavelength reviews seemed a little bit knee-jerk, but I also got the enthusiasm. People should never make the mistake of thinking a few folks (understandably, but a bit too aggressively) defending their friends on Stillepost are reflective of the whole spectrum.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 6:32 PM

 

 

Perhaps the most articulate comments/criticisms have already been made, but this is an issue that has always interested me, so... my 2 cents...

When I first heard Matt Collins go on about how amazing Toronto was, a few years ago, I thought: "Wow. I've NEVER heard anyone say that. That's pretty cool."

One thing though, when guys like Matt and Steve Kado say shit like that, they are very much NOT being tongue in cheek or trying to inspire other cities. Whether you agree or not, they actually, honestly think that Toronto is better than anywhere else.

Finally, I just want to say that what's wrong with the term-that-shall-not-be-named (at least by me) was summarized in Carl's NYT interview with Owen P, who said about the TO music community: (I'm paraphrasing): "Whatever you do, the scene will support." That, the lack of critical stance, is the problem. (Is Montreal's minefield of playa-hataz a better approach? That's another topic).

Posted by malstain on February 23, 2006 6:23 PM

 

 

As the person who sort-of-possibly started this whole spat, I feel I may as well say a little something. I too am a relative newcomer to the city and certainly to the scene. I too really like Toronto and certainly enjoy the fact that there is so much happening. Knowing the rules a bit better now, it was probably very stupid to write reviews of Wavelength shows -- essentially I end up sounding like I'm crashing a party, damning half-formed acts for being half-formed. (Partly because I didn't think anyone was reading! Woops). I was actually quite fond of witnessing the Wavelength scene. They seemed like good people. I was nonetheless pretty shocked by the response my review of the Sloan show ended up getting, and, for example, the many stillepost treads it kickstarted. Only at THAT point did I get the feeling that this was an exclusive clique -- one that was more than ready to laugh and sneer at outsiders and one suspiciously antipathetic to any sort of criticism. Again -- mea culpa. I shouldn't likely have been reviewing the shows anyway. I am, as it turns out, unfit for Torontopia in any case. But the whole thing was surprising.

Posted by AH on February 23, 2006 6:05 PM

 

 

i haven't found wavelength to be too much a problem really... johnny dovercourt is far from close-minded and he seems eager to support a wide cross-section of styles/ music. same goes for keith hamilton. i think it's the audience that is the issue. and somehow i think there's more than meets the eye with this too.

Posted by nick_s on February 23, 2006 4:25 PM

 

 

Nick - that last post is right on.

As for the cliqueishness: To me defeating cliqueishness was a central point of the original spirit of Wavelength and Torontopia, and unfortunately I feel like it's crept back in, the past couple of years. More on this soon.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 4:17 PM

 

 

i agree with you carl about the party mentality. i'm definitely not attacking a sense of not-taking-oneself-too-seriously!!! just from what i'm able to observe, it's the in-crowd, in-joke aspect that makes the party aspect of it a bit alienating for some. and i'm not saying i've always felt alienated.

i think the idea of turning events into more of a party and more of social event is totally constructive. too often there's a sense that outsiders are not welcome.

this is a problem, not only in the indie-rock world. obviously the improv community has the same issue. at events at the arraymusic space or tranzac everyone knows each other, it's great. but i just wish that newcomers (audience newcomers) were made to feel more welcome.

because i think listeners are more open than they're letting on, and than, sometimes, musicians estimate. certainly in parts of the improv community there's a sense of marginalization ("we make weird music, so obviously those people don't get it so obviously they won't attend our shows") which i think is a bit misguided! i think it's far more complex than that. it's a problem which is more widespread.

Posted by nick_s on February 23, 2006 4:14 PM

 

 

regardless of "torontopian" ideals, i think graham points out something interesting... that is how people perceive toronto in other places. agreed montreal folk are often just convinced of how great it is there.. but i have found at times people in toronto are *TRYING* to convince themselves, as well as others of this.

the problem with the "uTOpia" thing is that for those not in the loop. those too far away to see the tongue planted in the cheek... that it just feeds into this perception.

that being said, having started to come to toronto on a regular basis, i am finding toronto is very welcoming and that there is a really unique spirit here, among musicians (that's all i have really been able to observe).

the one thing i do find though is that there is a sense of segregation and fragmentation... different cliques and scenes.

something which toronto might be able to learn from london, brantford, or even kitchener-waterloo is shedding that cliqueyness. in smaller centers, because they're too small for multiple scenes, you see weird bills and more cross-fertilization. yes, there are people in toronto who transcend these boundaries and cliques but usually they're the artists themselves... the audiences still stick to their parties and don't seem to have that same spirit.

this is not a case of me being bitter of the audience from one band i'm in not carrying over to another... it's something i've observed--radically different audience size and types for similar bands--based solely on what scene they're associated with--even if the musicians themselves associate freely between scenes and even if their music is somewhat similar.

nick


Posted by nick_s on February 23, 2006 4:04 PM

 

 

As for the "party mentality," I think one of the great things that's happened here is the realization that you can do creative work without taking yourself too seriously, that a party can be a creative occasion and a creative occasion can be a party.

Sometimes of course a party is just a party, and not even a good party. But sometimes a party is more like a Dada cabaret.

As Trevor Coleman said brilliantly at the Wavelength panels, there's never been an exciting artistic scene in history where people looked back later and said, "Gosh you know what was wrong with [Paris in the '30s, London in the '60s, the Warhol Factory, etc. etc.]? We should all just calmed down and not stayed up so late and not have had so much sex and drank so much wine."

The great thing about these parties is that mainly the point has not been to get hammered but to congregate around creative ideas. In that case creative energy and party energy go *together.* Stopping the party won't make anybody more creative - that creative drive is either going to be there or it won't, but a more open, uninhibited and welcoming scene (which the current one is, much more than most) is only going to encourage people.

Again, some of the parties will just be dumb fun among friends, but the best ones in the art and music - and sometimes activist - scenes here in the last five years have been something more than that. Those who feel left out, frankly, wouldn't magically be empowered if there were less going on. I think action breeds action. If you see a group of people creating a culture for themselves, doesn't it make it seem more possible for everyone else to do the same?

There are limits to the positivity of parties, of course. The party can always turn ugly. And there need to be non-social, individualistic projects too. But so far the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 3:52 PM

 

 

Graham, I spent more than a decade in Montreal and people there were *always* going on about how cool it was, and I eventually came to believe they (we) were overcompensating. I love Montreal dearly, one of my favourite places on earth, but it had (has?) huge problems. And the same people who talked all the time about how cool Montreal was, were also talking about how they hated 90 per cent of the people around them. The hostilities and backbiting were amazing. Toronto used to be like that, and part of the Torontopian attitude was to cut that shit out. Unfortunately, I'm getting the feeling that it's coming back in. Human nature sucks. (And it's not "rigorous criticism" in a lot of cases, unlike your post. But in many other cases it's obvious bitterness and envy and bullshit.)

I can't talk about Vancouver because I don't know it very well. I'm not very fond of it, but that's just superficial. (I don't like mellow, I'm allergic to pot, I'm not outdoorsy etc. But obvs. there's more going on there.)

But the point of Torontopia, to me, was never to say "look how great we are." It was to say to other people here, "look how great *you* are, look how great this place can be" - again, as an explicit argument against a self-hating, self-defeating attitude here. (The funny thing about the rest of Canada's hostility toward Toronto is that they don't realize how much of Toronto feels the same way.)

So "Torontopia" was never directed at people living in other places. And it's becoming obvious that people who don't live here or haven't lived here very long misinterpret it. It's not overcompensating because it's not some kind of boast. It's a PROGRAM. It's an INTENTION. Its only message to people who don't live here is, once again, "Your city? It's ALSO utopia!" (Potentially, imaginatively, if you want it to be.)

And this conversation is really making me think the term has outlived its usefulness.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 3:11 PM

 

 

graham--agreed!

Posted by nick_s on February 23, 2006 3:01 PM

 

 

Oh, one more thing, what i was getting at in the comment that started this whole discussion was a lack of internal confidence in the city and the scene. Sometimes Toronto is like that kid who was always telling you how cool and amazing he was when he was really just wasn't. Cities like Montreal or Vancouver do not seem to externalize (overcompensate?) liek Toronto does, befitting their statures as pretty rad cities.

Posted by Graham on February 23, 2006 2:58 PM

 

 

carl,

i agree with you on the notion that perhaps these concept bands are doing something which, can be more honest than people about pumping out more rock songs, but i never proposed that straightforward songs were more valid or interesting. i jus think that perhaps there is some unexplored potential, and there are a wide variety of concepts available to artists, and perhaps wearing it one's sleeve is not always necessary.

furthermore i agree with bethany's statement: "i feel like what's going on in the downtown core is a great party. there's nothing wrong with doing something for your community/friends, but i think a lot of people would take exception to such a narrow view of culture and thus of "cultural flowering" in toronto. blocks and wavelength didn't rescue toronto from the shit-heap, just its independent music scene." this summarizes my sentiment quite well, aside from the shit-heap aspect. i feel like this "party mentality" thing is what is really in question here... some of the people who are scene as contributing the most to the toronto's arts scene's better good are also making it more insular--which seems a bit contrary to the spirit of the torontopia thing...

and perhaps i am taking that word a bit too seriously. still makes me feel a little queasy though... maybe it's because i don't actually live (t)here.

nick

Posted by nick_s on February 23, 2006 2:57 PM

 

 

Wow, the link to my rant was quite a surprise. I am really amazed that my little rant would lead to such varied and important discussion. There are a lot of avenues I could pursue here but I'd like to respond to a few things.

First, to the torontopia concept and Carl's (re)articulation of it. ("It's to suggest that the people who live here begin to imagine that it could be one, that all the aspects are present, and it only takes a leap of faith and will to create that T'topia for yourself"). In a sense, C'Z'W completely anticipates what I was going to say in response when he says that anything, even Brantford, could be a torontopia. But, I'd like to push this further: if anything could be so, if you try hard enough, then the concept loses its internal coherence after awhile. The point of Torontopia, or so i think of it, is to point to the good work coming out of this city itself -- that is, the imagining might be cool, but it's the practice that really matters.

Secondly, I am not a hater! Nor am I some outsider whose pissed at being on the outside. Brief anecdotage: when I was last coming back into Trawna, on a bus from Ottawa a couple weeks ago, I was actually very happy to be back, very happy when I saw the glow of the city from an horu and half outside of town. The point here is that like I said I hink T.O. has acquitted itself well, better than I thought it would actuallywhen I moved here from Vansterdam. It's a different space, and kinda butt fucking ugly, but it's not like I hate it (anymore). That doesn't mean that i can't or shouldn't critique it for fear of being cast aside by the QSMs and KHs of the city.

My cultural interests sort of take me back and forth from the indie scene in town to the hip-hop one and so it could be seen that I'm never part of one and never really part of the other. I don't really feel that; i think of myself as part of both as if the two scenes could be traced in a sort of venn diagram. One of the major points that bethany made up there was, if I'm reading her correctly, to put the indie scene in perspective i.e. it's not really as important as we might think it to be. Any time spent in the rap scene in town (in comparison with the indie scene) will bear this point out.

Anyways, to get this comment back on track, Toronto is a city not without its problems, many of which were put forward cogently by bethany and I'm not going to recapitulate them here. I agree with Carl about the need to merge the indie and the political in a meaningful manner; that is, in a manner which befits the seriousness of what's at stake and not in a half assed Sloan tribute type way. Just this summer and continuing on today, in our city, there has been a wave of gun violnce against african canadians but the indie scene was, correct me if I'm wrong as I was only here starting in August, pretty quiet about (in contrast to the rap scene). (There is a whole tangent here that I won't go on about the place of race, or lack there of, in our scene.) Also pretty silent was our mayor David Miller who though he might be miles better than Mel Lastman is pretty much an empty suit.

What I guess I'm getting at here is that things are not as good or bad as some might say and that there's a lot of work to be done.

And, um, Sloan still sucks.

Posted by Graham on February 23, 2006 2:47 PM

 

 

PS: as unlikely as it sounds, i think things like Manhunt actually are a baby step (sideways) onto that path, because they get young people away their computers and their jam spaces and out into the city streets, promoting a sense of connection, a sense of place. without which they're never going to take an interest in any of this shit. of course by themselves they don't mean much, but give the organizers a little credit for the sensibility involved.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 2:21 PM

 

 

hey bethany: all points well taken. (i adore the point that real love of a place involves embracing its ugliness.) but if you'd been at the uTOpia launch or the wavelength panels, for instance, you'd have heard people bringing up some of the same stuff, trying to connect culture and activism: (some of) the indie kids are not as oblivious to (some of) these issues as you assume. (check out indieculture.org, and there are more projects like that in the works.) However, there are significant practical hurdles to doing something about it. people naturally concentrate their efforts on the neighbourhoods where they actually live. toronto is too huge for people to take in otherwise. the inner suburbs are a huge question mark, but i would feel about as grounded trying to organize something there as i would if i just flew off to detroit and tried to get involved there. i'd be happy just to see more crosscultural (and cross-disciplinary) bridging in the downtown community, to see a wider range of people involved in more projects - but i also experienced how tricky and awkward that could be when i was organizing tin tin tin. more on that in a future post. again, we're talking about artists, not politicians or activists, or philanthropists. (being a middle-class white person is not the same as being rich, especially when you're 21.) mediocre combinations of art and politics are often worse than no combination at all. but i agree with you that a heightened awareness of the segregation of different parts of the community - and of the political-economic factors that affect us all - would be a good first step to making 'torontopia' more meaningful.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 2:09 PM

 

 

Interesting discussion. I had a related discussion with Misha when last in town.

Graham's write up about the show is quite vicious and negative. There is a general line of thought that this is a bad thing (its a very canadian line of thought). But If a band in NY played a crap show, they would get a crap review, im not so sure this
was ever the case in toronto. People from Canada always go on and on and on about how we dont support our own local talents and how you have to make it somwhere else before you get recognition. This thinking is used as an excuse to fawn over low quality product.
What im saying here is that in moderation being extremely critical is not only OK but vital. As long as you do it well and try to make it a constructive criticism. On my part i promise if and when i move back to town to spout as much constructive negativity as I can.
That sloan show sounds execrable.

Posted by guy tanentzapf on February 23, 2006 8:01 AM

 

 

yeah, that wasn't really intended as an oh-this-ailing-city kind of tirade (though i would point out that rarely does an american or an european make it to lawrence heights or jamestown). really i was just trying to clarify that "this place is a shithole" and "dude i totally love toronto" are not actually incompatible sentiments. i kind of think that the best way to really appreciate a place, especially one like toronto, is to get with the things that are most hate-able about it, cause those are what make it what it is. the ugliness, the iciness, bay street, no mountains-- whatever. it's not on trial, shit, it's just a city.

what i'm also saying is that the things that some people hate about this city, or at least in which they see an opportunity for improvement, are things that sustain other people culturally, socially and economically. think the controversy over pedestrian sundays in kensington. think parkdale. the arts community doesn't have to solve the city's political problems, but it should feel an obligation to occasionally poke its head out of the cocoon. there are better ways to deal with conflicting business interests or with gentrification than just to assert that "we're making it AWESOME, okay?" as though the imperative to awesome (and hugs) trumps any objective concept of what might be good, beyond “what’s good for me (and my friends).” it creates the illusion that when you're satisfied, all is right with the world. toronto is great! and when a majority of toronto-boosters never stray west of dufferin or north of bloor… yeah, that's a problem. making the city better just becomes an issue of "parkdale doesn't have a tattoo parlour....yet."

anyway, i'm not asking anyone to do everything, or to do anything. i acknowledge and appreciate what the artists/musicians/activists/intellectuals in question are doing (some of them are close friends). but i think your point about how the sloan show might have been fun for the kids that were in on it but maybe wasn't fit for the public is true: great party, not a great show. i feel like what's going on in the downtown core is a great party. there's nothing wrong with doing something for your community/friends, but i think a lot of people would take exception to such a narrow view of culture and thus of "cultural flowering" in toronto. blocks and wavelength didn't rescue toronto from the shit-heap, just its independent music scene.

Posted by bethany on February 23, 2006 4:57 AM

 

 

Eric, thanks for taking my comments in the spirit they're meant. I look forward to seeing what you guys do in future.

Bethany, I say 'right on' to about 90 per cent of your points, though I maintain that I could only name about two cities in the world that don't have the kind of urgent problems you name (and Montreal and Vancouver would not be those two, though they each have their charms), and that Toronto does actually have some pretty incredible sociological qualities - just ask an American or a European what they think of the city, it's often quite eye-opening. It's too bad that you weren't (evidently) at the uTOpia launch at the Gladstone, where most of the points you made got discussed in quite extensive detail. And I've been planning a post on the meaning of "indie" that will address some of this too.

HOWEVER: While I think more cultural expansiveness is necessary, I think it's off-base to expect a bunch of musicians and artists to solve the city's political problems. It makes no sense to condemn that community and close your eyes to what it's achieved on that basis. Any kind of cultural flowering, especially in non-corporate, diy culture, is meaningful and hopeful for the city, and can have good spinoff effects, and a lot of these 'white kids from the suburbs' have a deeper and longer-term commitment to the city and its culture than you give them credit for, and aren't about to drop it and retire to yuppiedom. (Though not as many as I sometimes wish or imagine, it's true.) I hate the attitude that if you can't do everything, even if you can't do the most important thing, then anything you can do is worthless.

Your objections are substantial and they need more attention. But I don't get why you have to make potential allies into adversaries in the process.

Posted by zoilus on February 23, 2006 1:00 AM

 

 

carl,
I am trying to make dollarama more relevant and less of a one time novelty, as it's true that breaking things can only go so far. I built some instruments, some of which failed miserably, some of which will be unveiled on the 4th of March, that I hope will start some form of evolution for us. Thanks again for your creative criticism, seriously.

eric

Posted by eric warner on February 23, 2006 12:50 AM

 

 

i made the lesser of the disparaging remarks about toronto. shit-chute fits like a glove; i wish i'd thought of that one myself. please don't take my "toronto sucks" attitude as defeatist. i was born and raised here, and this is the only home i have. and toronto DOES suck-- it's ugly, difficult, and, sniff, it just doesn't care. shit, that's what MAKES it toronto. it's not vancouver or montreal, and i couldn't be more grateful. but the things that really suck --minority ghettoization, crumbling social infrastructure, imploding inner-ring suburbs, pollution, poverty, corruption-- are nowhere on the toronto hype machine's radar. for most people "torontopia" is a pleasant interlude between high school and a salaried job with a home back in the suburbs that spawned them-- why worry about the needs of the immigrants that make up 50% of the city's population? or disabled people? or single parents? they don't even exist. not to target the toronto public space committee specifically, and with no disrespect to dave meslin, for whom i have basically nothing but, um, respect, i remember sitting in a TPSC meeting where, in response to a question about why they are not more involved in neighbourhoods outside the downtown core, he just shrugged and said that it was cause "most of us live downtown."

and frankly, i find the idea that a bunch of affluent white kids from the suburbs are going to deliver toronto from the cultural abyss to be about the most ridiculous thing i've ever heard. thanks for capture the flag, guys. why do we value trampoline hall over the freestyle battle between three kids on the 24 bus? why manhunt over a pick-up game of cricket in a housing project parking lot? shit, there are two indie rock record stores in the whole city-- there are three desi record stores just within three blocks of my apartment. who's got the thriving scene, here?

Posted by bethany on February 22, 2006 11:47 PM

 

 

Well, perhaps the "Torontopia" term has outworn its usefulness by now, Nick. I certainly don't use it as much anymore, tho' I do think you've been taking it altogether too much in a straight-faced way - it's a much more deliberately goofy and gentle kind of self-congratulation than a chamber of commerce slogan.

As for the "novelty" aspects of the scene: I agree that sometimes the projects are under-worked, but aside from this Sloan thing I haven't heard that many specific cases of "silly posturing" cited. I will say that witty conceptual projects, *when they're well executed,* are often of more honest artistic interest to me than yet another band trying to play "good" "intelligent" "indie-rock" songs. Not that I dislike rock songs, but the point of adding more to the infinite heap sometimes feels difficult to locate. Not to slag all the bands, many of which have a lot more going on than just cranking out more rock, but I sometimes wonder if the hostility toward the conceptual bands is just a matter of a category mistake: Rock fans go out to show expecting rock music, are instead greeted by art project, are disappointed and confused. The question is, who ever promised a rock show? That's what makes the Sloan Tribute an especially contentious case, because it implicitly *did* promise a rock show.

Posted by zoilus on February 22, 2006 10:53 PM

 

 

While I think that Graham's post is a bit on the bitter side, he raises some interesting questions about the ruling elite of the Toronto indie crowd.

Now I must admit that I am a Kitchener resident, but I come up on a weekly basis (or more frequently), so I have a fair idea about what the environment is like there.

I agree, the whole "shithole" attitude is completely unwaranted, even for a place like Kitchener-Waterloo, there are some oasises (oases?). We have the Starlight, there's the Open Ears Festival, and Ian Newton's Zero to One, which is an artist run space known for putting on consistently interesting events. I don't go around trashing where I live... I may qualify statements about it to those who reside in larger, nicer, more interesting centers, but I never dump on it.

On the other hand though the whole "Torontopia"/ Toronto-pride movement thing rubs me the wrong way! I am all for improving Toronto and making it more culturally rich, but why does it have to have this awkward label put on it? I can't help but be reminded of some (small)city-funded commercial on TV (I'm think CKCO in Kitchener) or Radio (complete with hokey jingle), every time I hear "Torontopia".

I just feel that while some may be using the uTOpia (or whatever) banner as a way to unify people and work toward something greater, as an outsider there are times it feels a little self congratulatory. And you don't really see this spirit elsewhere.

I felt kind of weirded out and excluded when there was all this "Yay Toronto" stuff put in between sets at the Music Gallery at Wavelength 300. Not that it makes me angry... I just felt like while all the musical activity was very much a product of Toronto as a very unique artistic community. These intermittent comments were very Toronto as well.

Aside from the whole Toronto-as-utopia thing, I feel like some of the critiques Graham levels against the hipster crowd are somewhat accurate. His way of describing it was a bit over-harsh, but I agree that this whole postmodern irony / feigned "badness" or WHATEVER it is tiresome, and seems a bit pointless.

There are considerable number of musicians putting novel concepts first on the agenda, and pairing them with this cliqueness, and even at times a certain dismissiveness is growing irritating.

Not that there's anything wrong with the use of novelty... Laura Barrett is the perfect example of someone who has a lot of novel aspects to her music, but transcends mere novelty. There is a great deal more substance in her music.

Dealing with the issue of intentional sloppiness, what about the Rat-drifting label? Obviously their aesthetic involves a considerable amount of icky aspects which could be read as fake-poor-musicianship. This is only their aesthetic, though.... And one facet of the aesthetic. The Reveries, while on one level are congruent with the hipster ethos of doing fucked-up irreverent covers, really actually can be strangely evocative.

This Sloan tribute night seems to exemplify the antics of said hipster clique, for which novelty is the priority. I have not heard Dollarama, but some other acts seem to be preoccupied with silly posturing.

I guess the thing is what is that sort of behaviour really doing to advance this imagined utopia? I think there's a lot of under-recognized activity that's still getting swept under the rug in favour of aggressively witty antics, and perhaps soon, Zit Remedy tribute nights.

Posted by nick s on February 22, 2006 9:07 PM

 

 

The part in Graham's post on Destroyer that most resonated with me was: "There is a part of me that thinks that [Bejar] just writes some pretty good lyrics and melodies and is a sort of twisted but awesome pop-smith and he can appreciated as well just on this level than on any other." I personally think that Bejar writes *excellent* lyrics and melodies, and I would add that that Destroyer can be appreciated on this level, in addition to encouraging the "academic" (for lack of a better descriptor) discourse that Bejar has to date, is pretty amazing and, in the end, great fun to behold.

Posted by jennifer on February 22, 2006 9:04 PM

 

 

NYT (K. Sanneh) on Destroyer's Rubies: http://tinyurl.com/h674u.

Posted by jennifer on February 22, 2006 8:50 PM

 

 

There are people who feel that way (although I do challenge the "impenetrability" idea - it's pretty much the most permeable 'clique' I've ever seen), but I don't get that impression from Graham, Greg. He writes early on in his post: "Never had I seen such an ugly side of 'Torontopia' which, for the most part, has acquitted itself well since I moved out here (emo complaining from late 2005 notwithstanding)." He was painting the Sloan tribute as the exception rather than the rule. I think his objections to "Torontopia" were more conceptual than sociable, which is what made them worth answering.

Posted by zoilus on February 22, 2006 7:24 PM

 

 

Sounds to me that this Graham has issues with being an outsider to what he perceives is a an inpenetrable clique (which it can be). If you can't join 'em, hate 'em.

Posted by G on February 22, 2006 6:13 PM

 

 

In the past few months I've given serious thought to moving to Toronto, a city I really dislike and which I swore many times I could never live in, basically and entirely because of this collective imagining of An Awesome Toronto: the idea that there are people I respect bumping into each-other, creatively, trying to cause sparks. That kind of environment seems really fecund and attractive.

It's -not- because I -believe- it's already Awesome. I think I'd probably still hate it. But the idea that people are moving that way, asserting themselves in a communal (and Awesome) direction, makes me want to catch some of that momentum.

Posted by Sean on February 22, 2006 6:13 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson