Decade:Zero – Broken Social Scene

I am not going to do a Best of Decade list. I am going to post bands and albums that defined the past 10 years under the heading Decade:Zero.  These will be posted throughout the year and decided by using random on itunes and posting when I come across something worth posting.

“We are friend first, then bandmates.  That has always been our ethos, and is what allows us to keep our sanity.  What we created together in Toronto is a most wonderful thing to be a part of. It can keep you up at night, but it will get your ass out of bed in the morning too”Brendan Canning, 2008

Broken Social Scene are not a ‘band’ in the traditional use of the term.  They are a group of friends who happen to be extremely talented musicians.  Their roots can be traced back to the Toronto alternative rock scene of the early 90s.  When bands like hHead, Do Make Say Think and By Divine Right were trying to get their big break.

There were many artists trying to make it in the Canadian scene, but they just weren’t getting exposure beyond their national borders.  In some cases, not even beyond the borders of their city.  This was happening a lot in Toronto, and these musicians were getting frustrated and looking for a new way to do things.  When Kevin Drew (of K.C. Accidental) and Brendan Canning (of hHead and many other bands) met through mutual friends, this ‘new way’ of doing things became a reality.

Kevin and Canning recorded the first BSS album, Feel Good Lost, in 1999 and released it in 2001.  This album was a mixture of indie rock, ambient sounds, lo-fi production and almost entirely instrumental.  It was released to critical acclaim in Toronto, but was not an album that was very exciting to perform live at places like Ted’s Wrecking Yard.

So what ended up happening is, Kevin and Drew would perform as Broken Social Scene, but instead of performing songs from the album, they would bring whoever was hanging around up on stage with them to jam.  It just so happens, the people who were hanging around were Andrew Whiteman (aka Apostle of Hustle), Emily Haines and James Shaw (of Metric), Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell (of Stars), Charles Spearin (of Valley of the Giants), Ohad Benchetrit (of Do Make Say Think), Jason Collett and, of course, Leslie Feist.  Talk about an amazing line-up!

This diverse group of musicians became a ‘scene’.  They hung out constantly and started creating music in dive bars, living rooms and basements.  There were no pressures, no expectations and no rules.  This ‘scene’ went on to release the first ‘true’ BSS album, You Forgot It In People.  A modern classic that broke them out of Toronto, out of North America, and sent them flying around the world, supporting artists as diverse as they were themselves.  I could try to explain the music, but you just have to hear it yourself.  Every song sounds different than the next one.

By the time their third, self-titled, album came out, the ‘scene’ was on the verge of major changes.  This would be the last album that all members were a big part of.  Stars, Feist, Metric, Jason Collett…they had all gotten pretty big on their own and there just wasn’t so much time for BSS.  The album was released, they toured behind it and then things changed.

Feist blew up after her song, 1,2,3,4, was featured on an iPod commercial.  Emily Haines did some solo work before continuing down the Metric path.  Amy Millan did the same with Stars.  And Kevin and Drew both put out solo albums and toured them under the Broken Social Scene name with an always changing line-up.  All this material was great…most of these album topping Year End lists left and right.  But BSS was missed in the last half of the decade.

Then on July 11, 2009 the whole band (with almost all original contributors) performed at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.  It was a once in a lifetime show that thrilled the fans who were lucky enough to be there.

The 7 degrees of separation game between BBS and other bands could fill a book, and in fact, it did.  Pick up This Book Is Broken by Stuart Berman to learn how Kevin and Drew met, who their influences were, who Feist dated and who Emily slept with.  You will learn the whole story of this band whom (history will prove) defined much of the early 00’s when it comes to not only Canadian music, but the whole worldwide DIY scene.

The ‘core’ group is in the studio now working on the follow up to Broken Social Scene, and it sounds like a lot of the original members are contributing to the album.  So hopefully BSS will be a big part of the next decade as well!