Personal Views - Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

PERSONAL VIEWS: The ideas, sounds and issues at the heart of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Three local musicians talk the latest and greatest Saskatunes.

- Sep 2, 2016
"Saskatoon from the air" by CLS Research Office, used under CC BY. Opacity lowered.

Personal Views is a ground-level guide to music scenes from around Canada by those who make them move. This time, a look at the hottest Saskatunes in Saskatoon.

Saskatoon, or “The Paris of The Prairies,” as the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry on the subject calls it, is a city that is often overlooked within the spectrum of the Canadian music scene. This is an error that they’ve tried to correct through a near successful attempt at ritual sacrifice, but perhaps they don’t have to go to such great lengths.

After all, this is the city where Joni Mitchell spent her formative years, the city that gave us legendary jugband Humphrey And The Dumptrucks, the “rowdy” Roderick George Toombs, the spiky Northern Pikes, and the inexplicably yet reliably funky Wide Mouth Mason.

More recently Saskatoon has been home to Rolling Stone discoveries The Sheepdogs, stoner metal mood factory Shooting Guns, the violent violins of Black Tremor, the peerless Paranoid Castle, the pyjama pop of Jeans Boots, and the wild reverberations of Feral Children.

For these Personal Views columns, to try and get a better understanding of what’s happening in a given scene at the moment, we speak to a handful of representatives, highlighting a multitude of perspectives to provide a much more nuanced view of what issues and sounds are unique to that place. Inevitably, opinions and recommendations overlap, but it’s rare for the same issue to be stressed across the board.

When asked what the biggest issue facing their scene was, each representative of Saskatoon’s scene emphasized the lack of diversity. While the recent and tragic death of Colten Boushie, just 100 km away from Saskatoon, has thrust the conversation of race and racism to the forefront of the city’s consciousness, it’s clear from each of their answers that this an issue that has been on their minds for some time.

While these issues manifest in a way that’s unique to Saskatoon, they’re issues that every scene in Canada has to deal with and acknowledge. So perhaps that’s also where we find our commonality — looking to Saskatoon for not only the sounds and ideas singular to their scene, but for how they address these universal problems.

Tyson McShane

tyson mcshane - slow down molasses

Tyson McShane plays in Slow Down Molasses, who release their third album 100% Sunshine today (Friday, September 2).

3 Favourite Saskatoon-based acts of the moment

The Avulsions

Tense goth/post-punk heaviness from one of my favorite new bands. They are in the process of recording a new album and based on this demo, if there is any justice in the world, it should be a release that people pay attention to well beyond our city’s borders.

Waitress 

The evolution of every Saskatoon musician’s favorite band, The Foggy Notions. Waitress also have an album of their perfect brand of ethereal dream pop in the works, which is already getting some great attention, despite them having yet to play live.

The Garrys

Garage-y doo-wop surf pop. And who doesn’t like a sibling band? It seemed like everyone I knew was talking about how great they were, but I kept missing their shows, so finally we just asked them to play with us and they lived up to every expectation.

And as a bonus, my new favorite Regina band is The Steves. Check out their wonderfully ridiculous video:

FACEOFF//GARAGE - THE STEVES -

Favourite recent Saskatoon releases

economics, The Wastes

Dean Summach aka economics is kind of the quiet wizard hiding in the corner of the room. For years he’s put out music and played shows, that always seemed to fly a bit under the radar. Last year he released his magnum opus. A fantastically expansive album that paired his electronic production with guest spots from some of Saskatoon’s favorite musicians, including soso, Maybe Smith, The Karpinka Brothers, Twin Voices, and local man-about-town/spoken-word-hero, Brendan Flaherty. It’s great. Check it out.

Favourite Saskatoon venue

Amigos Cantina

amigos-cantina-37

Saskatoon has been lucky to have some new venues open and start putting on great shows (i.e. Vangelis and The Capitol), but it’s hard not to love Amigos. For 20+ years they’ve been an oasis for touring bands and the reason many local bands manage to save up the money to release a record or tour. They treat bands right and as a result, bands love playing there and hanging out there. It often feels like a community center for musicians and music fans. Pretty much every band I’ve played in can trace its origins to Amigos. Also, I think the first time I met the lovely lady that is now my wife was even at Amigos! It’s pretty crucial.

Most memorable Saskatoon show (in recent memory)

Suuns + Jerusalem in My Heart at Amigos for MoSo2015

SUUNS and Jerusalem In My Heart - "Gazelles in Flight" (Official Video)

Full disclosure, I’m on the Board for MoSo and help curate it. That said, the Suuns + Jerusalem in My Heart show at MoSo goes down as one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen lately. Mostly due to the huge, enthusiastic crowd. I love the Suuns + JIMH record, but it is a pretty challenging album, so I was blown away to arrive at Amigos and see it completely packed with people losing their minds in excitement. It was pretty great show and pretty inspiring that a show like that can pack a room in a small city in the middle of the Canadian prairies.


What's unique to you about the music scene in Saskatoon?

Maybe not unique, but what’s wonderful about it is how incestuous the scene is, especially across genre boundaries. There is a fantastic hip-hop scene here, but it doesn’t exist in its own bubble. It is very intertwined with the indie rock scene. Two of my bandmates regularly guest on albums by local super-producer Factor Chandelier, and we’ve had Factor remix one of our songs, and that type of cross-over is not uncommon.

It’s a small city, with a small music scene, so I think that has fostered a lot of cross-genre-support and a genuine appreciation of music from different scenes. When you don’t have a ton of big name touring bands coming through, it means you’ll likely be a bit more adventurous in your show going. I’m certain that if I lived in a larger centre, I wouldn’t have nearly the appreciation of other genres that I do, having come of age in Saskatoon.

Does Saskatoon have any specific musical tendencies? Is there a specific genre or "Saskatoon sound" you associate with it?

I’m certain that if I lived in a larger centre, I wouldn’t have nearly the appreciation of other genres that I do, having come of age in Saskatoon.

Saskatoon’s funny, in that it is a small enough centre that I think it’s fairly hard for it to have a specific sound. In some ways it seems we kind of have one of everything. It almost feels like people actively make sure they can be distinguished from what their contemporaries are doing. Which is great, because it means you will rarely go see a show that feature three bands mining the same territory. It keeps things interesting and makes sure crowds tend to be fairly diverse, which pretty key in a small city.

In the time that you've been involved, how has it changed?

Hugely. When I first started playing in bands and going to shows. It seemed like almost no one toured and it would be a relatively rare thing to see Chart or Exclaim! cover Saskatchewan based music. Now it seems like a very regular thing that Saskatoon bands are touring nationally and internationally and getting written up in major Canadian, and increasingly international, press. It’s really great to see. For as long as I’ve been in Saskatoon, there has been a great music scene, but often only people from Saskatoon knew that. That is finally changing.

What's the biggest issue the music scene faces today?

As with most ‘indie rock’ scenes, diversity is a big issue. There are lots of wonderful people involved in music in Saskatoon, but largely, we all look a bit the same, and too often there are still bills that feature a three or four bands, all consisting of 3 to 5 men. Similarly, living in Saskatchewan, it’s distressing there are not more First Nations people playing in bands on bills that we play on. I think we can all do a much better job of making space for non-cis white male bands/musicians and making the scene more welcoming, accessible space.

Elsa Gebremichael

Elsa Gebremichael - We Were Lovers

Elsa Gebremichael is one half of electro pop outfit We Were Lovers, and is an instructor at Girls Rock Saskatoon.

We Were Lovers "Islands" Official Video

3 Favourite Saskatoon-based acts of the moment

Waitress

Ponteix

The Garrys

Favourite recent Saskatoon releases

The Moas / SusanSkid Fiction split

AcronymsEquals

Denise Valle, "Hearbeatz"

Hattiekarate

Respectfulchild[demos]

Anna HaverstockThese Years

Favourite Saskatoon venue

Amigos Cantina

this night will change your life

I’d have to say Amigos Cantina is my favorite Saskatoon venue. It’s been around for over 25 years. I’ve played and attended countless shows and events there, and sang many a karaoke song at the weekly karaoke night titled “This Night Will Change Your Life” hosted by Brendan Flaherty. The current sound guy, Andy, is great and I love the tex mex food and constant showcasing of local artists on the walls.

I’m also a big fan of The Broadway Theatre because it’s a community-owned non-profit cinema that also functions as music venue, and The Capitol Music Club because its awesome staff and space has been a great addition to our local music scene.

Most memorable Saskatoon show (in recent memory)

Lauryn Hill @ Saskatchewan Jazz Festival

MLH-Lauryn Hill in Canada: Saskatchewan Jazz Festival June 24, 2016

Lauryn Hill played at the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival in the Bess Gardens main stage. She’s a beast. The vibrations I felt from her presence, performance and music were just incredibly inspiring and I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about that show. She did not disappoint.

Weaves - "Buttercup" live at Wavelength Fourteen | ChartAttack.com

I also just saw Toronto band Weaves play at Vangelis and they blew me away. If you have the chance to see them live, do yourself a favor and go!


What's unique to you about the music scene in Saskatoon?

I would say that diversity in the sound and styles of bands in Saskatoon is what makes the scene unique and stands out the most to me. And not that every band necessarily goes by these specific genre labels, but in Saskatoon there are psych bands, metal bands, hardcore bands, dream / electro pop bands, rock bands, jazz and jazz fusion bands and groups, there’s folk, reggae, hip hop, soul and combinations of these. It exists in solo, duo, trio forms and so on - even 10-12 person collectives and I love it.

As a POC, it would be a dream come true to see more diversity in the people at the shows I play and attend.

As someone who can appreciate all kinds of music (for the most part), it’s refreshing to know that you have the option to actually go to various types of shows and see so many different styles of music right here in our own, relatively small, city. Also, diversity within a single show is important to me. I’d way rather see a bill that has three or four different sounding bands or groups (that also aren’t solely straight white dudes), than watch a bill of bands that all, for the most part, sound the same.

Does Saskatoon have any specific musical tendencies? Is there a specific genre or "Saskatoon sound?"

Considering diversity in sound is what I think makes our music scene unique, I would have to say not really, no.. In the late '90s/early 2000s yes the scene was definitely heavy with more punk, rock, grunge, and hardcore bands, and while those types of bands still exist, I would say now there’s just such an array of musicality here that I personally don’t really see / hear one sound significantly standing out as more prominent enough for it to be seen as the “Saskatoon sound.”

In the time that you've been involved, how has it changed?

When I think about how the music scene has changed over the years, the first thing that comes to mind is back when we were underage we were actively putting on, going to, and playing shows all the time. Be it at all-ages venues like Sids Garage, Louis’ Pub and The Bassment (which was pretty much the main venue we used to host all ages shows), house shows or renting out halls and churches we were always making shows happen. I don’t know if that happens much anymore with the kids these days.. maybe it does and I’m just out of touch. Either way, there was a long while (too long) where Saskatoon didn’t really have an “official” or steady all ages venue and that was pretty sad.

However, now there’s a place called The Academy and it’s filling that gap as the new official all ages venue, which is great and I hope helps foster another new era of bands in the local music scene. Other than that the other all ages venue options are (and I might be missing a place or two) The Broadway Theatre, The Underground Café, Sound And Silence Collective house shows (and O’Brians and Louis’ Pub on select shows).

What's the biggest issue the music scene faces today?

My biggest issue is the lack of diversity in the people that are playing in bands in Saskatoon. It’s definitely still a white, male dominated scene and as much as I’ve seen a growth in there being more women / female identified persons forming bands and playing shows in more recent years, the amount of people of color as well as LGBT / Trans / Gender Non-conforming persons in the scene is sparse. I don’t necessarily have the answers as to how we can change this in the near future but I definitely think more dialogue needs to happen in order for more of us to recognize it as something that needs improvement and make the necessary changes for progress and inclusivity to happen. As a POC, it would be a dream come true to see more diversity in the people at the shows I play and attend.

Lenore Maier

lenore maier

Lenore Maier drums in The Garrys, performs solo ambient works as Ursa, and works at college radio station CFCR.

3 Favourite Saskatoon-based acts of the moment

3 Ninjasks

Electronic '80s space trio.

Ride Til Dawn

Alt-country rock.

Chunder Buffet

Duchess Says meets The Ramones.

Favourite recent Saskatoon releases

Minor Matter, Minor Matter

Delicate and immense orchestral folk/jazz.

Chunder BuffetSocial Delicacies 

Duchess Says meets The Ramones.

Lying Light In The QuietRecovery

Ambient and powerful noise pop/drone duo.

Waitress, Delay Our Time 

Beyond romantic '80s synth and drone.

Shirley & The Pyramids, Shirley & The Pyramids

Psychedelic dream garage.

Favourite Saskatoon venue

Amigos Cantina

amigos-cantina-37

Awesome venue in the heart of broadway. The sound is always solid (Andy Coulic), and the staff is great. They do a lot for the community by hosting tons of fundraisers and Amigos is also a huge supporter of CFCR, Saskatoon's only community radio station.

PAVED Arts

paved arts

Paved is a relatively new venue in Saskatoon. I like it because it is totally DIY. It is a non-profit, artist-run centre that will let you book the 2nd floor and set it up however you please. Bring in a good sound person and a local brewery to sling drinks and you've got a recipe for an awesome show.

Most memorable Saskatoon show (in recent memory)

National Drone Day @ PAVED Arts

Drone Day

Without a doubt the Saskatoon edition of National Drone Day (May 28th, 2016). The event took place at PAVED Arts, was organized by Saskatoon musician Josh Rohs (Susan, The Avulsions) and featured 8 local musicians all experimenting with, and performing many varieties of, sustained sound. It was like an all-day ear massage. There were also free potato chips.


What's unique to you about the music scene in Saskatoon?

The community here is unbelievably supportive. On multiple occasions, I’ve seen brand new bands (exploding with nerves) play their very first show to a packed venue, and get immense support and applause from the crowd.

The music scene is Saskatoon has always been really strong, especially considering our population size (250,000). During the past 10 years, Saskatoon has been home to some really awesome bands. The community here is also unbelievably supportive. On multiple occasions, I’ve seen brand new bands (exploding with nerves) play their very first show to a packed venue, and get immense support and applause from the crowd. Saskatoon shows are the best.

Does Saskatoon have any specific musical tendencies? Is there a specific genre or "Saskatoon sound?”

There is a decent representation of most genres in Saskatoon at the moment. Sometimes psych rock over-saturates the scene, but I don’t feel that is the case right now. For the past few years, we’ve had strong bands in all major genres.

I would love to see more younger folks engaging in and performing hip-hop and jazz. I love old school rock n' roll, but good things happen when we abandon the traditional guitar, bass, drums instrumentation.

In the time that you've been involved, how has it changed?

Musicians in Saskatoon are much more community minded than they were 10 years ago. The establishment of groups such as the Sound & Silence Collective (SASC), for example, have woven a heavier fabric of support into our scene. It is basically artists supporting other artists. All of my fave S’toon bands have some sort of affiliation with the SASC.

There is also now, more than ever, a nice momentum behind the ambient/drone/electronic scene with folks such as Jon Vaughn organizing many Pop Quiz Records events. There is also a very cool winter installment called the Unheard Sound Series put on by Chad Munson and Tod Emel. This monthly showcase highlights local artists experimenting with various forms of ambient electronic sounds.

What's the biggest issue the music scene faces today?

Saskatoon is definitely not alone with some of the problems we face in regards to our scene. We are at a critical point where the venues, the bands, and the showgoers all need to actively foster and promote safer spaces where we create and enjoy music. There are not enough women, trans, queer, first nations and minority groups in the Saskatoon scene. This needs to change. Alcohol shouldn’t play such an important role either. It would also be very cool if Saskatoon had a couple more alternative music venues that weren’t just bars. If we make space for underprivileged and underrepresented folks we can seriously grow our music scene. It could be better than ever.

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