This two-part mix makes up a 2-hour retrospective of Canadian synth, new wave, electronics and post-punk music with some select pop and space-rock tunes. From obscure, underground gems to select radio hits and everything in between that came out between 1978-1986. Parts 3&4, still to come, will be a personal selection of newer artists 1998 to now.
Segment of MuchMusic TV’s official Launch – English Version (1984)
01. BLUE PETER “Don’t Walk On Past” (1983)
02. IMAGES IN VOGUE “Educated Man” (1982)
03. PSYCHE “Black Panther” (1986)
04. BENJAMIN RUSSELL “Power Of Love” (1983)
05. SPOONS “Smiling In Winter” (1982)
06. E “Dance With Me” (1981)
07. LOU CHAMPAGNE SYSTEM “Broken Hearts” (1982/1984)
08. MEN WITHOUT HATS “Antarctica” (1980)
Segment of MuchMusic TV’s official Launch – French Version (1984)
09. IDLE EYES “Tokyo Rose” (1985)
10. BREEDING GROUND “Reunion” (1983)
11. THE BOX “Must I Always Remember” (1984)
12. MOEV “In Your Head” (1982)
13. MORAL SUPPORT “Strange Day For Dancing” (1984)
14. OHAMA “Of Whales” (1985)
Segment of a Skinny Puppy interview on the MuchMusic show “City Limits” (1985)
15. SKINNY PUPPY “Glass Houses” (1984)
Segment of a Simple Minds interview on the Montreal TV show “Music-Video” (1981)
Segments of a Rough Trade special on a local TV show “Freeze Frame” (1984)
01. ROUGH TRADE “All Touch” (1981)
02. RUSH “Subdivisions” (1982)
03. THE PARACHUTE CLUB “Middle Child” (1984)
04. ISINGLASS “One Three Four” (1981)
05. NASH THE SLASH “Dance After Curfew” (1982)
06. VITAL SINES “Collage” (1982)
07. SAGA “The Flyer” (1983)
08. FM “Phasors On Stun” (1978)
09. KINETIC IDEALS “In A Second” (1983)
10. CHALK CIRCLE “April Fool” (1986)
Segment of from MuchMusic radio station ident (1984)
11. CERAMIC HELLO “Climactic Nouveaux” (1980)
12. RATIONAL YOUTH “Dancing On The (Berlin) Wall” (1982)
13. STRANGE ADVANCE “Love Games” (1982)
14. TRANS-X “Living On Video” (1981)
Segment of Gowan endorsement on MuchMusic (1985)
15. GOWAN “A Criminal Mind” (1985)
I’ve been living in the UK for over five years now and have had a lot of encounters and friendships with people in this country and throughout Europe. Over these years there’s been numerous discussions about music and “classic tracks” from back in the day where I occasionally find myself forgetting that some of the tracks I grew up with in Canada are really unheard of elsewhere, in both popular music and more underground material.
I attribute this to a life-long exposure under Canada’s “Canadian Content” law, or more commonly known on the Canadian streets as “CanCon”, which requires that all radio and music television to air at least 40% Canadian content on their programs. This isn’t so much a bad thing; if anything it makes for a uniquely Canadian cultural experience. This heavy dose of Canadian music and video to citizens such as myself may explain why my fellow Canucks may have a chuckle when someone mentions Kim Mitchell‘s “I Am A Wild Party” or the word “Bootsauce“. Or perhaps being familiar the story (or fable?) of Mike Reno from Vancouver’s 80s bad-boys Loverboy owning a chain of hot dog stands called Mr. Tubesteak. This may or may not be true but makes an amusing anecdote nonetheless.
Similar laws are in place in countries like Australia and New Zealand and these content conditions may have contributed the feeling of being away from home that I get at times; at least culturally. Of course in Canada we got a lot of music from other countries, including the universally known material from the US and the UK as much as anywhere else but mostly Canadians will remember Gowan exploring temples in Mexico in his promo video for “Moonlight Desires” or Rough Trade sleazing it up on network television with their racy hit “High School Confidential”. I even have a bit of soft spot for Bruce Cockburn‘s “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”, which was essentially an adult, new wave tinged pop song from someone who was essentially a folk artist active since the early 70s.
These were of course more prominent chart artists of the 80s, synth-inflected pop variety but there was plenty of interesting stuff going on in the more underground — a large amount when the big picture of these mixes had come together. I was trying to keep it to 2 hours so there’s obviously a few things that are left out of this, but trying to cover a number of bases at the same time.
From Montreal there was obviously Men Without Hats and the various splinter projects including Rational Youth, The Box and Isinglass, as well as other artists of the day including Benjamin Russell, François Matte and Trans X. The latter had a massive hit “Living On Video” that made waves beyond the borders of Canada. You can check some great archive footage on YouTube of where this scene was at the time through a Montreal “cable-access” style show called Musi-Video.
In Vancouver the same activity was happening with bands such as Images In Vogue, Moev, E, and Strange Advance and others. Cevin Key from IIV would later go on to join Skinny Puppy, whom having a lasting legacy even today.
Toronto’s scene produced a lot of popular artists including Rough Trade, The Parachute Club, Spoons and Blue Peter but there was a lot of lesser known, indie bands such as Lou Champagne, and darker post-punk stuff such as Breeding Ground, Kinetic Ideals and Vital Sines. This city also was the home of Nash The Slash and Ceramic Smile (one member of this group was from the Spoons and later was a prominent graphic designer with Peter Savile‘s studio), both working with more electronic and experimental sounds that were more in common with the earlier releases on England’s Mute Records than their fellow Canadian artists.
And of course there’s some stuff totally out of left field, such as Ohama — also known as Tona Ohama — a Japanese-Canadian making incredible minimal-electro synth from the wilds of Alberta in the early 80s. Some of his material has been recently re-released by the New York boutique label Minimal Wave. Moral Support are another group I have very little information about but their sound sits more in place with the “italo” sound coming out of, well, Italy at the time… Psyche were from Edmonton, Canada’s most northern city over 100,000 people and put out a lot of great electronic records, starting out as school kids with a more minimal, synth-punk sound.
There’s even a sampling from the more post-prog, space rock camp including Rush and Saga, both from Toronto. Many people associate Rush with guitars having two necks, glass-shattering vocals and multi-part songs about computer-savvy priests but their material from 1981 to 1986 had a lot more of a synth-pop sound than their output from the 1970s. Also included is a very synth-heavy space-rock track (1978) from Toronto’s science-fiction obsessed FM, who at the time contained a member who would later become Nash The Slash.
For entertainment value there’s quick segments of station idents and dialogue from Canada’s own MTV-style channel, MuchMusic culled from vintage 80s clips online, as well as a segment from the cult Montreal show Musi-Video.
Opening with the hit track “Don’t Walk On Past” by Blue Peter, the mix closes with Gowan‘s epic synth ballad “A Criminal Mind”, a smash Canadian hit from 1985 that definitely fits a Miami Vice-style moody montage. So tune in, listen and enjoy!
Below are a selection of videos available online relating to the material in the mix. Some are official videos of tracks on this mix, live performances, television performances and/or televised interviews. Note that these links may expire at some point as YouTube tends to come and go with the availability of video links. It might be of interest to note that the vocalists for The Box and Saga seem to have a shared fondness for bright orange coveralls.
Thanks to Michael Wood, Bori Bron, MM Lyle and Josh Stevenson for some recommendations and reminding me of things I may have forgot, as well as providing some tracks for this project. Ironically only one of the previously mentioned is Canadian!