Blow It Out Your Ear with Trevor Risk
Local man describes everything terrible about the music business in Vancouver.
Vancouver Hates (and Has Always Hated) Herself
You can’t say Vancouver is self-loathing if you work in a creative field without sounding sour and resentful. That kind of sentiment in most comparable cities is reserved for the kind of person who failed to meet their specific goals, and now wants to explain their failure away with the fallacy that it must have been the city’s fault. In Vancouver, however, if you speak to enough amateur local music and culture historians, you can piece together a fairly constant thread of Vancouver having hatred for her own talent and product.
It’s 1972, and a hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union’s best has just finished game four of the series. Canada has just lost the game 5-3 at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum. Boos pour down from all levels while a sweat-soaked Phil Esposito pleads his case with Vancouver fans, sitting in their miserable seats, seemingly taking pride in making their home team feel ashamed. Once out of Vancouver, the team trounces the Russians and creates the most cherished Heritage Moment to an entire generation. This might not be where it started, but it could be where Vancouver decided it was going to hate itself permanently.
I moved to Vancouver at the age of 18, a decade and a half ago, from a tiny hee-haw town that’s most aptly described as Letterkenny. My closest major city growing up (not including Ottawa, because: Ottawa) was Toronto. Toronto loves herself some Toronto. It’s an opposite but equal issue to Vancouver’s. Toronto allows Drake to coach the Raptors because he put the CN Tower on his album cover. If a band is from Toronto, it gets so much support from the city’s citizens that the rest of the country is expected to follow suit. Even if it doesn’t take anywhere outside of Ontario, it doesn’t matter to the financiers because there are more people in the GTA than,
like, all of Western Canada (see: controller.controller). Toronto gets high sniffing her own farts, which actually originate in Oshawa.
When I came to B.C., I thought that was standard for every major city. I expected to see all my favourite Vancouver acts I grew up watching on The Wedge at small venues. I figured the Pointed Sticks would be the parade marshals on B.C. Day. After I eventually realized this city was nothing like Toronto, I set out to figure out the root of this dour phenomenon.
It’s the late 1970s and Vancouver is the world’s leading spot for new wave and punk (or so I’m told by every music industry veteran and girlfriend’s mum who has ever told me some variation on this story). Vancouver’s Nick Gilder has an international breakout hit, “Hot Child in the City”. He tours extensively as the direct support for The Cars, and the final show with them is a homecoming in Vancouver. Less than three songs into the set (or three notes, depending on who tells the story) the boos pour down towards him. Shortly after, Roman candles fire towards him and his set ends early.
Nick Gilder was too preppy for the tastes of the city’s music fans—Bob Rock and Paul Hyde were once outcast by the punk scene for being able to afford a taxi to a gig. However, even if the punk/new wave scene numbers are as inflated as revisionists make it seem, there’s still the fact to consider that people attended the event only to let him know how terrible he was, and that he wasn’t welcome in his own town. “Hot Child in the City” should probably be Vancouver’s official anthem, but instead it exists to give Gilder PTSD.
Two years ago I received an email with the subject line “Shhhhh, Google Play Music invites you to play...” the “Shhhhh” part being fairly unsubtle (it’s the fifth “h” that’s boosts your mail-out open rate above 15%). To promote their brand, Google Play was throwing a super turbo secret party in a secret location featuring Vancouver’s flagship power-pop act, The New Pornographers. The whole thing was only for the most special VIPs in the city, and no, there was to be no “plus ones”. A few days later I received another invite to the same event, from a third-party publicist. Following that, a few days later, I received another one from a different publicist. Eventually I was invited by five different points of contact and was asked to spread the word, and could have as many spots as I required. I was out of town during the event, but scrolling my Facebook feed I saw one saccharine post reading “Wow, got to see the New Pornographers last night with only about 25 other people in the room,” and I laughed to myself thinking “The New Pornographers play field festivals in America, and have David Cross in their videos.”
I get that this entire essay might read a bit too close to Sam Malone’s scorching-hot “Root for your home team” take from the episode of Cheers where he was temporarily a sportscaster (and rapped about having a groin injury), but it’s far more complex than that. Wading through the general scorn one feels from attempting to expose a decades-long negative thread throughout the heartbeat of a great city is difficult enough. Trying to reverse the mindset might be too much of a mountain to climb, even though literal mountain climbing is the preferred recreation of local music supporters.
I remember once being in Hamburg at a music conference, representing music from Vancouver, and two charming but frank German men approached me. “We hear you’re from Vancouver. Our favourite music is from there right now. That must be so fun to see them and to know them in your own city,” one of them probed me. I told them that I know them personally, and that I love them too, but the city isn’t really so big on promoting them or supporting them, to which the other man replied “Ja… das… actually incredibly stupid.”
It doesn’t matter how hot of a child you are in this city. At best, you’re just gonna end up running wild and lookin’ pretty.