by carl wilson

Bad Bands Revisited, Part 2:
Lawyerama for Dollarama?



Can you tell the difference? Dollarama band shot by A Soundtrack for Everyone.

In other "Bad Band" news, Dollarama reportedly received a cease-and-desist order from the retail chain of the same name this week. As pointed out in that thread, there's no reasonable way that the store would win a suit: There's no plausible danger of a junkshop band being confused with an actual junkshop. (Dollarama-the-store doesn't even sell CDs.) If anything, Dollarama the band actually promotes the chain: "Look, it's also an instrument store!"

I have my own complaints about Dollarama, actually: I wish that they'd practice and develop the texture of their improvisations, which are inconsistent and too-often tedious: The joyously hyperactive heights are always surrounded by flat plains of ho-hum. The group would do well to pay some heed to a few of the found-object-improv precedents (Nihilist Spasm Band, VoiceCrack, even some of the current Rat-drifting bands in Toronto).

But this argument goes beyond this band, which is admirably vowing not to buckle: The chain is flexing its biceps, but case precedent is against them, and artists should do their best to face down this kind of intimidation and lawsuit-chill attacking their ability to refer to the commercial world in their work. (Notice how the music industry has started ignoring mashup artists as too much bother to harass.) If corporations are going to usurp ninety-eight percent of the cultural air space, then artists need the freedom to represent, criticize, lampoon and just plain use those reference points, if art is to be relevant to the general stuff of life.

Warhol's soup cans and Brillo boxes remain the clearest example of where fair-use thinking needs to go, partly because they don't involve the distraction of the "parody exception": His Campbell's soup paintings weren't satire or, arguably, even commentary on Campbell's soup; they were simply portraits of the world as the artist found it, with tonalities open to multiple interpretations. And if Campbell's had been able to cease-and-desist them out of existence, it would have been an atrocity. It seems that they didn't because it wasn't common practice at the time; they were open to the idea that it might be harmless or even good for the company, since hegemonic "branding" thinking hadn't advanced that far by the early 1960s.

Dollarama is still a very young group, and you can't rule out they're going to blossom into brilliance; Warhol was dismissed when he first moved from commercial to "fine" art, too. (And if the Riptorns can improve their game, anybody can.) The crucial fact is that Dollarama's name is by no means extraneous to their conceptual pursuit - it's a strong signpost to the themes raised by their methods, questions about cheapness, the throwaway society, the class questions within music (expensive gear as shortcut to legitimacy, for instance) and the creative recycling of social waste on a broader level. Even if I'd like to see the creativity of their actual recycling practice increase a notch, that's a fertile landfill they're plowing.

(Postscript, Monday: I accidentally deleted a few comments to this entry in my usual spam-comment deletion routine last night. I was alerted and I think they've all been restored now - if any are still missing, let me know. Huge apologies to those affected. It was just a slip of the mouse, not at all intended to censor commentary.)

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, October 20 at 6:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)



Hey Jeremy -

Great comments. I enjoyed them quite a bit.

I think the critique that Dollarama doesn't hone their improvisations is a good one and an apt one. I love the idea of Dollarama and what they're doing - making music with found instruments of a rigidly-enforced nature that goes against all musical conventions. But as much as I am a supporter, I find their performances to be lacking in some of the aspects that I think could really fluorish within the constraints of their band's conceit. More on this in a second. You're absolutely right in saying that the manifesto-like approach perpetuates rules just as much as anything else, but that's where I think the value of Dollarama and some of the other concept bands really excite me. It's the same thing as Dogma 95 or the Five Obstructions - other examples of using manifestos/concepts to delineate boundaries for creative activity. Yes, the concepts themselves take on an extra added importance, and in some cases the concepts threaten to overtake the creative activity itself (resulting in a heightened degree of meta-appretiating the art itself). However, I don't think that taking in this kind of art is necessarily the case of experiencing one thing or the other: either having a visceral/real experience of the creative activity, or having a critical/analytical experience of the creative activity solely through understanding it as a demonstration or working-out of the given rules. I think that (if you are open and willing to be adventurous) you're experiencing and comprehending and synthesizing both of these things. So when you watch Dollarama, on one level you are hearing a bunch of sounds made by a bunch of people banging around a bunch of instruments and on another level (if you're feeling open and receptive), you are seeing what kinds of things can be purchased for a dollar; you can watch how those things are put together to make music/noise; you can think about how these noises are being put together to form a song; you can think about how these songs are both different and similar to mainstream/conventional musical practices. I think you're experiencing both of these things and I think a great deal of entertainment and enjoyment can come from trying to negotiate and rectify each different type of experience in a way that provokes a lot of thought.

And it is this reason - back to my earlier point - that I find Dollarama still underachieving. I find their concept very rich with a great deal of potential for posing real challenges to conventional music practices. However, I do feel that in order for that to happen, they need to strike closer to the heart of those conventions. My interpretation of their concept is not so much "conventional instruments are useless" as it is "conventional instruments aren't as necessary for music production as you might think." If Dollarama were to hone their musical structures within their given restraint, I think it would satisfy the part of me that believes it is possible to subvert conventional music practices in such an audacious way. I think that closely aligns with a couple of shortcomings you perceive Dollarama as having in terms of subverting musical commodification. The meta-appreciation of the concept seems to overshadow the actualization of the concept itself.

As for the inside nature of it all, I think you're absolutely correct in that as well. I think we're on the same page in that it is important that avant-garde art be confrontational. In order to challenge conventions and mainstream thought, you have to do more than just push boundaries, you have to step so far beyond them that you can stand outside them and offer both a unique perspective as well as proof that the world won't collapse without those familiar structures. But that's saying that these bands were talking about are rooted in an avant-garde art tradition, which I don't think they are. I think these bands are rooted in a much more punk tradition (which I think is boundary-pushing with much different goals and more quotidian contexts). Hence people bringing a indie-rock-show style of enthusiasm to these groups - you can't help but be excited when your friend's band gets exposure in a national magazine. This doesn't mean that these projects can't be appreciated in a more abstract metaphysical context, but that's up to the spectator and isn't inherent in the methodologies/spaces/practices in which these performances take place. And I guess the end result is that it does present limitations on the "revolution" and afford less room for growth.

Just some thoughts,

Posted by Dylan on October 24, 2006 12:25 PM



I don't entirely agree with you, Jeremy, but you make some good points, mainly about the tightly bounded context. I think it makes sense that groups that question the practices of indie bar bands - as both the Riptorns and Dollarama do - perform in the same spaces as those bands do, and those practices are widespread enough that "in-joke" is too cheap a way to dismiss it. Nothing wrong with jokes, satire, performative criticism... I just think they can be taken further, and I share some of your frustration at what sometimes seems to be a limited desire or ambition to do so.

Jeff: I thought I'd seen the Riptorns twice last winter, but maybe I'm mistaken. I've definitely heard the recordings on the BBR compilation and on the MySpace page. I haven't deliberately avoided your other shows - timing just hasn't worked out. (I don't get to nearly as many shows as people sometimes think I do, for simple practical reasons having to do with my day, and sometimes night, job, and other projects.) Also, I never meant seriously to refuse to listen to the CD: In the exchange you mention, I was kidding around. If I recall it was towards the end of an evening and spirits were boisterous. I'm honestly sorry if it seemed to you I was really turning it down, which I wouldn't have done in earnest. I regret the misunderstanding.

Posted by zoilus on October 23, 2006 4:49 PM



I managed to find a copy of the Rheostatics' The Blue Hysteria at the Dollarama in my hometown a few years back...

Posted by jamie on October 23, 2006 9:41 AM



Yes, this is true: I know Eric is very busy as a promoter. I have (sort of) worked with him many years ago: he booked us for a show that my old band backed out of, for personal reasons.

Carl's piece alludes to the fact that they don't hone their improvisations. I suppose that is the point, to dissemble those hierarchies of legitmation that mark the indices of "music" vs "not music," "good band" vs "bad band." But I cannot read into it that somehow the commodity of music making and public space are being put into question. The performances are legitmations of a manifesto-like approach that perpetuates just as many rules as anything else. The fact that Dollarama, and other Bad Bands in general exist in a tightly bounded vaccuum says something right there. I'd like to ask the minimum-wage-earning employees of Dollarama (the store) how valorized they feel for being benign players in musical revolution.
And we can't forget that by attending performances, ie "shows" that we book at a club, pay 5 dollars to attend, and watch, beer in hand, we're participating in keeping those boundaries erected just as well. Hence, I would rather see Eric, Aaron et al set up in the middle of Yonge St. on a busy Friday afternoon. That to me would be really exciting. Maybe they've already done something like that, I don't know.
My main problem is the self-referentiality of the enterprise. Of course every community needs to have a purpose, and I laud the stillepost/Bad Bands groups for generating discussion, which I have not taken part in previously. But I wonder if there isn't a short-sightedness to it all. I don't claim to have any larger vision either, but couching your art in theories that challenge the status quo leaves you open to criticism. I criticize the "in-joke" nature of it all, and the search for legitmation that I see, ie "look we've been recognized by the Globe and Mail and the Star and Eye Magazine" and the perfunctory congratulations that the community shouts back. It smacks of contradiction.
When I browse 10 page threads about the Riptorns ruining the showcase, I see people with a very limited vision propagating dogmatic notions of legitimacy to themselves, post after post after post.

I know and respect some people involved in this, and consider them among my friends. I post this here in the hope that more discussion will follow.

Posted by Jeremy on October 23, 2006 9:15 AM



"Dollarama is still a very young group, and you can't rule out they're going to blossom into brilliance; Warhol was dismissed when he first moved from commercial to "fine" art, too. (And if the Riptorns can improve their game, anybody can.)"

You've only seen the Riptorns play once. Quit frontin', Carl! I offered you a copy of our CD to review and you refused it. You're going to regret that when we blossom into brilliance and you can't say, "I've been listening to them since 'Malcolm X'.".

Posted by Jeff on October 23, 2006 1:45 AM



I don't know of any upcoming Odradek shows. Perhaps you ought to book one. If you wish to contact the band then I can help you to do so.

Posted by Scott Thomson on October 21, 2006 10:33 PM



Jeremy, I was just kidding around. Seriously, though: some links or some way of finding out where Odradek is performing would have been appreciated. I'd like to check them out some time.

Oh, and Eric from Dollarama is one of the best and most talented promoters in Toronto. He frequently posts on stillepost to inform people of the bands he is bringing in town - often well-known international talent that he pairs up with promising local bands.

Posted by Dylan on October 21, 2006 12:07 PM



Actually Dollarama does sell cds.
I bought the Kathy Lee cd and a fantastic spoken word cd of the former Pope's favourite sermons.

Selling 8 for a $1 cd cases too is not the point either.

I suppose the point is that Dollarama, (the junk shop) does not sell cds of music.

Posted by Erella on October 21, 2006 11:15 AM



I think Scott was just trying to point out that Dollarama's project is not unprecedented, even in this city. And as far as invading public space with shameless advertising, the only time I notice the members of Dollarama appearing on stillepost is to promote the new achievements of their group. I'm just saying.

Posted by Jeremy on October 21, 2006 9:50 AM



What did I JUST SAY about invading public space with shameless advertising?

Posted by Dylan on October 21, 2006 3:34 AM



Pay attention, please, to Odradek (Michelangelo Iaffaldano, Jim Bailey, Andy Yue). No Toronto group has been creating more spellbinding found-sound, improvisatory music than them. Forget about sensational, cease/desist-inspiring nomenclature. These guys just make great music... worthy of a much broader audience.

Posted by Scott Thomson on October 21, 2006 2:50 AM



If corporations are going to usurp ninety-eight percent of the cultural air space, then artists need the freedom to represent, criticize, lampoon and just plain use those reference points, if art is to be relevant to the general stuff of life.

Yes. Yes. YES.

Thank you for saying this. I've been vehemently ranting about this for years now. From a slightly different perspective.

I work in the TV documentary industry. A major part of my responsibilities in post-production go under the heading "E&O;". This is in reference to "Error and Omission Insurance". For simplicity's sake, let's just say that every time you make a commercial film, TV show or video for public broadcast, you need insurance to cover you in case you didn't receive all appropriate copyright permissions - whether by error or omission.

So what I have to do is slowly go through a rough cut or a fine cut of a production and identify all persons, places, things that appear on screen and make sure that we have received permission from the authorized representatives of those people, places and things. This is all well and good when you're interviewing people and/or shooting on their property. Where it gets out of control, however, is in the arena of logo/proprietary permission - the part of E&O; where you have to identify any and all logos (or things owned by companies) to and ensure that you have their permission to have them appear on camera. It can range from an interview subject wearing a pair of Nike shoes to a "McDonald's" billboard appearing in the background. If these things appear, you have to call up the company concerned and get written permission to use that footage. No permission? Blur that logo!

It is one of the most frustrating jobs not because it is tedious, but because it is the most outrageous legal propositions ever concocted. It sets up this double standard wherein corporations have an ubiquitous right to invade our public space/visual space/consciousness with their advertisements and logos while being legally protected from any ramifications that are the consequence of being in that space. It's this absurd idea that all public space is up for grabs when it comes to blasting people with ads, but those very same ads claim and demand the right to privacy if that space is being used under any other conditions.

Gah. I have to stop. I'm going to have aneurysm.

Posted by Dylan on October 20, 2006 8:41 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson