Did you hear? Last week, The Grid ran a cover story telling us that Toronto is the best music city in the world. The piece began by listing the year-end co-signs Drake and Feist and Austra received from Americans and their big rags: Jons Caramanica and Pareles of the New York Times, SPIN, New York Magazine’s Nitsuh Abebe. And THEN, the New York Times blog bigged up Andre Mayer’spiece so Richard Florida tweeted about it. Even the Mayor leapt to endear himself to hipsters and pinkos and ethnics, hashtagging #drake and #brokensocialscene.
I can’t help but think “this is why we can’t have nice things” when a tepid, click-baity piece – the latest entry in that paper’s habit of transparent hyperbole – about Toronto being the best at something isn’t saying anything substantively exciting beyond hollow sentiment.
Thing is, I agree with Andre Mayer’s general thesis. In fact, in last August’s Toronto Life I rah-rah’d our hip-hop and R&B arrival by zooming in on the unfamiliar, commoditized excitement over this city amongst non-locals and locals alike. It took a long while for our eclectic, historic, tight-knit scene – documented wonderfully in last year’s CBC special Love, Props and the T-Dot – to capture the kind of regional notoriety that cities like New York, Atlanta, Philly, L.A. and even London enjoy. But now Drake is no longer a “Canadian rapper,” and Jay-Z and Kanye West do double-header shows here and, like, even the Z-listiest of rappers deign to come up. So we cool.
Back to The Grid: The biggest plot hole is that the most feted acts Mayer cites are very strongly indebted to places outside of this city for their success. Feist notably took off once she went ex-pat in Europe (and has recorded all of her acclaimed records outside of Canada); Drake went down south to sign with Lil Wayne; how long has Austra been in Europe now? Even Fucked Up, who play local charity shows, are signed to NYC’s Matador. The closest we get to understanding the dearth of collectivized support in this city – the tangible thing that really helps artists succeed – are Mark Pesci’s comments noting the development of an infrastructure that’ll give way to a more permanent scene.
So it’s a limp press release (more like an internal memo) that some people from here are worth paying attention to. With, oh yeah, some tokenist sops to multiculturalism. The takeaway is less than thrilling, reinforcing the trope of insecure Torontopians in need of outside validation. (Look up: that’s now immortalized in our amorphous simulacrum of a skyline.) At this point, I’ll direct you to the province’s series of “There’s No Place Like This” tourism commercials which do a much better job at being excited and adventurous about musical diversity. (Watch the Aline Morales one. Drums!)
And, can I say? It felt kind of majorly oversighty that presses weren’t stopped to add one tiiiiiny little line about the rumour that Azari & III will tour with Madonna, the biggest pop star in the world. Or something about super young jazz ingénues BADBADNOTGOOD making their international debut at legendary curator/starmaker Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards in London this past weekend. Or about Caribou (because we’re extrapolating when it comes to the Hammer, right?) curating the staunchly anti-corporate, highbrow-but-accessible All Tomorrows’ Parties Festival in the UK this past December. Raekwon’s new label offices on Yonge Street, a hub for scouting local talent. What about our growing roster of in-demand DJs and producers? And since they’ve finagled a mind-boggling spot at Coachella: WHAT ABOUT THE AIRPLANE BOYS?!?
This half-grizzled, half-shiny metropolis is a taste-making, trendsetting base camp for tons of sonic creativity. No doubt, there’s something in the water. Building a real narrative and mythology around our music scene by focusing on the percolating newness and lurking opportunity – instead of jetsetting megastars – would’ve backed The Grid’s claim that this is a music town worth getting excited about.