Personal Views is a ground-level tour through music scenes from around Canada guided by those who make them move. To close out 2016, we bring you the best of the year from seven different cities,
Every publication tries to make their best of the year list the be-all and end-all of music, but as the long tail of the internet somehow focuses everyone's attention on the same handful of albums the more interesting picks can often be found perched on the DIY merch tables and the "local releases" shelves at record stores.
We know that Frank Ocean and Beyoncé put out good albums this year, but what were people listening to in Regina's hip-hop scene or the "no jerk policy" attics of Victoria? Who was capturing ears in Montreal on both sides of the language divide? How are communities from Toronto to Calgary evolving beyond "safe havens for white dudes" and what does that sound like?
To find out, we contacted members from seven music cities across the country and asked them to shine a spotlight on their local scene from ground-level. It's a scrapbook of POVs and Bandcamp embeds taken from across Canada in 2016, uncovering gems that you, like us, probably missed if you weren't looking close enough. (That said, do listen to our Best Canadian Songs of 2016 and Best Canadian Music Videos of 2016.)
Hit play on just about anything and your playlist will be refreshed until at least the new year.
Photo by: Raphaël Ouellet
Safia Nolin is a Quebec City-born, Montreal-based singer/songwriter. The charming, tear-inducing artist recently released Reprises Vol. 1, a stripped-down set of Quebecois classics. Now, she gives us her view of Montreal in 2016, one in which "music has no language."
Favourite Montreal Releases of 2016
Fred Fortin, Ultramarr
Laura Sauvage, EXTRAORDINORMAL
Favourite Montreal Discovery of 2016
What defined Montreal's music scene in 2016?
Safia Nolin: I think the music scene in Montreal is awesome. Every year, I’m amazed by the amount of really good music that is released from both languages through the months. Speaking of languages, I think bilingualism in music (mostly in rap) seems to be an issue for some people. To me, music has no language. Actually, music itself should be considered a language and I wish the music industry and people in general would be more open to this way of seeing music. Languages are evolving, so is music and it’s okay. It’s more than okay, it’s actually fucking cool.
Queen City Stoop Kids are a gang of hellions and pranksters making prairie rap wavier than a wheat field. Regina's own Odd Future or Cool Kids. Kav the Bruce helped us open the door on Saskatchewan's hip-hop scene and some other local favourites this year.
Favourite Regina Releases of 2016
Surf Dads, Summer Vacation
DGS Samurai Champs, Crayons
Voodoo Doll, OKM and Deadkeys, OMM TAPE VOL 1
Favourite Regina Discovery of 2016
Kav the Bruce: Trifecta Team's LOA dropped her track "Funeral" and we're stoked to see how far she goes. A lot of potential and a great contributor to the scene locally.
What defined Regina's music scene in 2016?
Kav the Bruce: 2016 saw a lot of local acts taking major stages across the world and then back at home for BreakOut West to cap it off. But when we're back in Sask, we soldier on with a local scene that has always challenged its acts to be something extra.
The Trifecta Team in Regina had an amazing finale to their Trifecta Festival, and hopefully their success putting on events locally will inspire others. Nothing better than free festivals put on by locals to refresh the weary mega-fest attendees who might be getting sick of that grind. Who knows?
As Sask groups begin to climb that ladder, the questions start to turn to: "where do we go from here?" The ceiling in the unique environment of the Canadian music industry is always hard to define. Uncertainty and lack of a clear path do colour the chatter around the water cooler, perhaps ironically encouraged in some way by Saskmusic's (amazing) support helping acts experience those larger stages and venues worldwide. Locals have had a taste and now we want the whole damn thing!
Victoria psych pop quartet Jons returned to our headphones last month with their feel-good collection of lo-fi, krauty grooves, At Work On Several Things. Now, the band's guitarist and vocalist Patrick Rendell redirects some of that shine to illuminate what else happened in Victoria in 2016.
Favourite Victoria Releases of 2016
Sister Blanche, Nightmares & Daydreams
Pinner, Demo #3
Iceberg Ferg, In the Valley of the Purple Prince
Favourite Victoria Discovery of 2016
Photo via Holy Smokes
Patrick Rendell: There are lots of sweet new things emerging constantly in Victoria, but our favourite would have to be a band called PPPD. They're some of our really good friends and they're one of the tightest live bands this town has ever seen. They have some recordings coming out soon that are sounding incredible so keep your ears to the ground for that one.
What defined Victoria's music scene in 2016?
Patrick Rendell: Something really cool which is being discussed way more openly and more often than before is the need for everyone to feel safe at shows, and that a big part of the onus is on the organizer of a show to ensure that they’re creating a show that everyone can feel like they can come to and feel safe and respected at. It’s still an ongoing process that needs work as it does in other places, but people who put on shows in Victoria are pretty good lately with implementing a “no jerk policy.” Shows in Victoria are often incredibly friendly environments. Like recently, there were nanaimo bars being handed out.
Photo by: Michael Grondin
Femme Wave is a feminist arts festival that began in Calgary in 2015 with the mission to "create an integrated, encouraging arts scene with opportunities for women and non-binary artists." Co-founders Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack share a bit about their Calgary in 2016.
Favourite Calgary Releases of 2016
Lab Coast, Remember The Moon
Dream Whip, Dream Whip
Favourite Calgary Discovery of 2016
Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack: They’re a teenage grunge band in Calgary that applied to play Femme Wave and blew our minds. The lead singer is maybe 16 years old and she’s one of the greatest singers we’ve seen perform in a long time. They just blew us all away and it will be great to watch them grow and progress their music.
What defined Calgary's music scene in 2016?
Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack: Social awareness has been a big topic in our music community lately, especially this past year. Topics surrounding racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism have all been at the forefront and some people in the community are having really important and meaningful conversations. We’ve seen organizations and venues standup against bands with problematic names (the Black Pussy show being dropped from venues was definitely a big one), while some venues and festivals are accepting accountability for their spaces and implementing policies and staff training to create safer spaces for their patrons.
Through Femme Wave, we implemented a safer spaces policy at the music venues we were working with and that was a fairly new concept for our community, but it was very well received and I think will be more commonplace moving forward. People are really talking about ways to make the community more inclusive and not just a safe haven for white dudes that have been populating these spaces for years.
Peterborough art punks Lonely Parade released No Shade, the trio's second full-length album, through their own Sleepwalk Tapes in September, supported by a month-long trip to the East Coast and back. The band got together to talk about Peterborough's little but lively DIY scene.
Favourite Peterborough Releases of 2016
Prime Junk, Sunnyvale
Garbageface, NØ FUTUR(E)
Jesse Foster, EP
Favourite Peterborough Discovery of 2016
Lonely Parade: Fat Plant Presents is a group from Peterborough who put on shows of alternative genres, mostly on the noise and experimental spectrum, and are always safe spaces. They've been doing shows where musicians in Peterborough that we all know play sets of music they make on their own - Perkolator was formed after one of these shows, Augusta played one late last year, and Charlotte just played one this week. It's a really cool way to hear music that will likely only be played once, to see someone you know do something new and out of their comfort zone. It's representational of what goes on in Peterborough behind the scenes and are very much like snapshots of certain periods in our scene.
What defined Peterborough's music scene in 2016?
Lonely Parade: Peterborough's scene this year has been full of ups and downs, which makes a lot of sense because of its size of under 100,000 people, there isn't much to level out the playing field. There are only so many people in Peterborough going to shows, and fewer yet people playing in bands and creating. Everything is DIY in Peterborough regardless of whether the aesthetic is intentional. A single breakup can mean a complete division of our entire scene! Which is kinda funny in a warped way if you think about it.
We've had a bunch of new developments this year in Peterborough, new albums, new bands, songs, and press. Conversations about safe spaces, weird music, and a few breakups. Peterborough lost around 5 bands this year which kind of punched everyone in the gut. But from the ashes came some fresh perspectives and a bunch of cool new bands (Deathsticks, Prime Junk, Puberty Hands, Perkolator, Meowlinda, Kitty Pit) and also some great re-workings, (Faux Cults-now defunct but they had a good year, Beef Boys and Nick Ferrio).
This year in review would not be complete without recognizing the contributions of our own arts and culture magazine Electric City, which re-launched in a new print format and has really been a great cohesive fire under everyone's asses, uniting our city under one newspaper roof and giving people a professional platform to review others and read about all the great stuff happening in our small city! The difference a solid press platform can make is enormous and we'd recommend you definitely check out Electric City online if you want to know more about Peterborough's scene.
Photo by: Brody LeBlanc
Fredericton-based art-rock trio Motherhood released their quirky and explosive sludge-o-rama, Baby Teeth this past summer. The band's Penelope Stevens tells us a bit about the New Brunswick capital's "obnoxiously supportive" music community.
Favourite Fredericton Releases of 2016
Jane Blanchard, Narcissus
Penelope Stevens: This is Jane's first release and hoooooo it is a doozy. It's only 3 songs, short and sweet, but it's got the weight of so much more; you feel like you are peering directly into a bleeding, aching, twenty-something heart. It's so honest it hurts.
The Waking Night, Bad Anatomy
Penelope Stevens: The Waking Night is like..... psych-drone-country-rock. Bad Anatomy really showcases songwriter Matt Legere's nearly deranged vocal approach, and although it's heavy hitting, there's some really tense, vulnerable moments. It's Neil Young all coked out backed by a mushroom trip rock-and-roll band. This album is not hip or on-trend, it's pushing against the currents of CanCon in a really meaningful way.
Right Shitty, Bachelor of Arts
Penelope Stevens: If we're being technical, Right Shitty is from Saint John, about an hour away from Fredericton, but they play here all the time and I wish they would move here. Anyway, Bachelor of Arts is grungy post-punk done so so perfectly right. Lead singer Stephen Rickett's got such a bonkers screamy, desperate voice that they could have made this album an a capella performance and it still would have ruled so hard. Honestly they're four of the strangest people I've ever met, and I think it shows in their ability to give no fucks and make a completely relentless album.
Favourite Fredericton Discovery of 2016
Penelope Stevens: Jane has spent many years (although not that many, she's only like 22) behind the scenes, playing supportive keyboard roles in bands since high school. When she announced that she had a solo project, I don't think anybody had any idea what to expect. I remember her first performance; she was visibly shaking and I was mentally preparing for a condolence speech afterward. But when she began to play, the whole audience went completely silent. Tears were shed, hugs were extended across the room, it was a breakthrough moment. Her voice is so heart-wrenching and her songwriting so scarily honest, I avoid her shows unless I'm prepared to cry for all the lovers I've lost and all the mistakes I've made. I think she knows the power she holds, which is why she still shakes when she steps on stage; it's not fear, it's reverence.
What defined Fredericton's music scene in 2016?
Penelope Stevens: 2016 was a tough year for everyone, and Fredericton didn't quite escape the trend. We saw a lot of bands break up, venues close, festivals end, and key community advocates move away. Fortunately, we've always had an obnoxiously supportive community, and one that cares so deeply that it's a relatively safe space for those on the in. What Fredericton is looking for now are ways to extend the fold beyond our shrinking borders - hopes are high that out of desperation will come innovation. There are murmurs of new projects starting over the winter, so we'll see where 2017 takes us. Fingers crossed it will result in a new punk scene, something that hasn't existed here since the early '90s.
RPM Records' Jarrett Martineau
2016 marked a cultural revolution for Indigenous artists in Canada. Their work counted amongst the richest, the most urgent and vital — and finally, some part of the mainstream seems to have been paying attention. Jarrett Martineau began RPM Records this year, a label highlighting the music of emerging and established Indigenous, First Nations, Aboriginal, Inuit, and Métis musicians. Here's what he had to say about 2016 in Toronto.
Favourite Toronto Releases of 2016
Jarrett Martineau: After making waves through their various collabs with MCs and vocalists, IV, arrived fully-formed, flawless, and showing the band at the height of their powers. The album is both meticulously arranged and casually improvisatory, but its incandescence comes in no small part from its pairing of BBNG with a string of stellar features from Mick Jenkins, Kaytranada, Sam Herring, and Charlotte Day Wilson. The whole album has been on repeat since the summer.
Charlotte Day Wilson, CDW (EP)
Jarrett Martineau: I did a double take when I first heard BBNG's "In Your Eyes." That smoldering slice of vintage 1970s soul by way of 21st century Toronto was my introduction to the softly compelling sounds of rising Toronto singer Charlotte Day Wilson. I immediately googled all of her other music and, after finding a few tracks on SoundCloud to hold me over, I was hypnotized by the release of Wilson's eponymous acronymic debut EP, CDW— 6 songs of honey-golden soul that are still keeping me warm as the winter hours set in.
Adria Kain, Reverse Psychology (EP)
Jarrett Martineau: I don't know where Adria Kain came from, but discovering her heartfelt, personal take on R&B felt vital and necessary this year. Reverse Psychology offers just a small taste of an immense talent, who will be making major waves in 2K17. Keeping a close eye on this one.
RUNNER UP: Zaki Ibrahim, ORBIT: A Postcoital Prequel (EP)
Jarrett Martineau: Does a cross-continental, multi-city, collab project begun in Capetown and concluded in Toronto, count as a local release? If it does, then my vote goes to frequent Torontonian Zaki Ibrahim's exceptional, futurist EP, ORBIT, as one of the most interesting releases of the year. The EP is, as Zaki describes it, "a spiral body of music that tells a love story of twin stars"—and I was fortunate enough to catch its debut at a local planetarium listening session, where the music was brought to life in visual form through an array of projected star motion, galaxies, nebulae, and colliding stars that traced the album's sonic flows in some otherworldly, interstellar magic. A galactic vision of things to come.
Favourite Toronto Discovery of 2016
Jarrett Martineau: Other than emerging Anishinaabe artist, Ziibiwan, whose ambient/experimental beat-making I loved so much that his Time Limits EP became the first release on RPM Records, I recently discovered The Build—an up-and-coming Toronto artist/music collective that is quietly assembling an under-the-radar roster of dope producers, beatmakers, DJs, and vocalists.
Their local, Boiler Room-style series of low-key producer showcase nights at Cosmos Records are a great introduction to the crew, led by Astro Mega, Gillian Mapp, and Meredith Jay—and featuring a rotating cast of musicians including: Anzola, CY, Nyiam, TooM, Josh Grant, and more. Beats for days and good vibes only.
Catch the latest on YouTube.
What defined Toronto's music scene in 2016?
Jarrett Martineau: In the many communities I'm a part of in Tkaronto, and through my work with the Indigenous music project and label Revolutions Per Minute, I've found myself in a lot of conversations this year talking about how best to bring more Indigenous artists into all aspects of the local music scene—but in ways that aren't tokenizing or box-checking.
What does the era of so-called "reconciliation" mean for Indigenous art and music? How can Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities better collaborate across genres, scenes, and communities? And do we support not just more of these conversations happening, but more active engagement by all Canadians to amplify Indigenous presence across all aspects of music?
We started a lot of those conversations and attempts this year in Tkaronto. Hopefully next year there will be even more of us implementing them.