Steve Kado is the main man behind the Blocks Recording Club, a bonafide collective run by members of the Creeping Nobodies, the Phonemes and Final Fantasy and others. A couple of years ago Kado was in nearly a dozen bands, including the Barcelona Pavilion and his solo project The Blanket. Blocks also had an insane release schedule in 2004, numbering nearly 15 releases. After realising that didn't have any time left over to have a life, Kado scaled back to being a hype man in Ninja High School and the drummer for Jon Rae and the River (he plays on the new album, but left just before its release), while trying to get a grip on the runaway success of Final Fantasy.
Personal history: I first met Kado on the street outside the Family Thrift Store in Guelph while he was getting his hair cut by Jenny Mitchell of the Barmitzvah Brothers. I had just seen the Barcelona Pavilion play (my first time) and was trying to get him to give me copies of their EPs to bring back to Brave New Waves. (promo has never been his strong point.) Later that year, the entire band (plus the Barmitzvah Brothers) would crash in my kitchen in Montreal when they played the BNW 20th anniversary party. Kado stayed at my place a couple of times after that when he had a gig in town; sometimes when I wasn't even there. Long discussions and debates often ensued into the night, even though I barely knew the guy. Blocks cohort James Anderson, who also stayed one night when Lenin I Shumov was in town, asked us, "How do you guys know each other?" We both responded, "We don't, really."
He's an extremely intelligent, magnetic, confident and passionate chap, and even when I vehemently disagree with him he remains intensely likeable. As his statements below and the mere existence of Blocks illustrate, he's an idealist. Lately this has made him feel like he has to draw lines in the sand, a move I find unfortunate but somewhat understandable.
But in a town where people have always talked more about ideas than actually implementing them, Kado is the embodiment of Torontopian ideals in terms of his slogan: "don't try, do!"
Kado's quotes in my Torontopia article--again, if you haven't read it already, I recommend you do so before diving in here--were the most controversial parts of the article... at least in the insular world of Stillepost, the equivalent of the high school cafeteria in the Toronto music scene.
Many wondered why Kado seemed so negative about the present day and already nostalgic for 2004. To me, this seems obvious: 2004, for him, was full of ideas and action and optimism. In 2006, he's had to face up to the realities of doing something he never wanted to do: running a real record label. Which, despite its co-op structure, Blocks has been forced to become on some level, only to deal with the demand for Final Fantasy. (Spotted in a Leaside HMV last night: He Poos Clouds priced as part of a 2 for $25 promotion.)
On top of that, his retreat from the stage (in order to have a life) has coincided with more mainstream discussion of the Torontopian ideals he championed (including in the New York Times), and it sounds like he's upset that Arts and Crafts is (likely unwillingly) dominating that discussion, and not more grassroots, DIY folks... like himself. Needless to say, this is all conjecture on my part.
Many people wanted to know: what's his beef with Broken Social Scene? You'd have to ask him. The band never came up in our discussion directly, on or off the record, though it's obvious from some of his references that he's referring to them (the Olympic Island show). I'll take full blame for baiting him on Metric (a band whose music I've despised since day one), but I didn't include that part in the article. I was as surprised by the tone as anyone else.
I honestly don't know who he was referring to when he said he was "being ripped off while having the same group of MuchMusic video bands rebrand themselves as a Toronto community of artists." You'd have to ask him. I didn't, because I didn't want the article to be a bitchfest and I had a lot of other things I wanted to talk about.
As it is, the discussion and all its tangents ran an hour an a half. I foolishly parked on Bloor (I was on my way out of town, otherwise I would have biked) and got my car towed because we finished after 4PM. The bill was $160. Can I write that off as a business expense come tax time?
Here we go:
July 18, 2006
Setting: The Blocks office, inside the Tranzac Club
You’re credited with coining the term. Is this true?
I didn't invent the term. I forget his name. I played a game of fototag at St. Lawrence Market with this guy, who was a friend of Rob Judge's. He had this idea for a hilarious magazine called Torontopia. I thought it was a funny word. It would be about how awesome Toronto was, but it would be about really boring stuff. It would be based on Japanese magazines that freak out about 'stuff,' about the corner of Grace of Dundas or something, which has a church and a convenience store and nothing else. That was his deal.
I definitely brought it from there to, like, Jonny Dovercourt and Carl and whomever.
Jonny says he heard it from you in 02.
I would be the source for that, but I didn't invent it.
So the originator thought it was entirely a joke.
He thought it was a joke, and it's funny to me, too. Both of us felt the same way about Toronto, that what's so good about it is what's so bad about it. I don't want a more beautiful city. I don't want waterfront redevelopment. I don't want anything to work any better than it does. In some respects I feel really conservative about it, but Toronto was the capital of gross alternative rock and MuchMusic video bands, so you had that gross sheen.
Sure, I Mother Earth was based out of Toronto, but it was a part of this hilarious other world that had nothing to do with anything. In and of itself it was so douche-y and lame that it didn't draw any attention from the States or anything. Nobody said, 'Woah, this is where I Mother Earth is from?! Wicked' It was our lousy generic commerical music. Otherwise it was a town that was mostly full of immigrants but still had this dose of Protestant restraint from being the northern capital of the British Empire for a while. It had a good blend of stuff.
I torrented all five seasons of Kids in the Hall recently. What blows my mind is that it was funny to anyone outside of Toronto. It's the most Toronto-y show I've ever seen. The sad part is that it was shot between 1989-1994, I think. The bumpers of that show are these Super-8 shots of stuff, and you can recognize all this stuff from a Toronto before there were Starbucks, before downtown chain stuff got big, before whole neighbourhoods changed drastically.
Toronto was a way less douche-y place, as an urban area. The process of it getting douched up has a lot to do with very Torontonian insecurity. I don't feel alarmed by it. I don't feel this change is irreversible. It's part of the same process that has always led to Toronto building a CN Tower or City Hall. If we weren't screwing things up all the time, it wouldn't be Toronto, it would be a much more successful, smooth-running city and we wouldn't have these problems.
Right now we're decimating all our major public art institutions by putting unnecessary extensions on them. This is disastrous from a personnel standpoint. This will ruin both collections, the ability to display them, and the people running things will be sacrificed hugely in order to facilitate the construction of wings provided by wealthy donors to house collections that aren't necessarily of any exterior importance.
Ken Thomson's Cornelius Krieghoff collection is the impetus for the AGO needing all this extra space. Otherwise, I would feel it was fine for size. It's small enough to do in a day, which for a displayed collection I think is delightful. Cornelius Krieghoff might be important in the history of Canada, and his work belongs in the National Gallery in Ottawa, but as art, in the history of art, it's not a major chapter in Canadian art by any means. Really, Canadian art gains international significance with people like Jeff Wall, 1989. Other people before that, sure. Really, we haven't been producing. That's what the AGO should be focusing on, other than the requisite amount of Group of Seven stuff for tourists.
(more talk like this for another five minutes)
It's good that Toronto is doing what it does best: self-sabotage and screwing things up. I can't wait until the condos down by the lake are crime hives full of guns, like the Don Valley condos all turned out to be.
Is there a similar self-sabotage at work artistically at all?
My proximity to it makes me feel more defensive, and less likely to have that same 'it will all wash out in 20 years' attitude. I feel like me and my friends have been stolen from by a group of largely older… basically being ripped off while having the same group of MuchMusic video bands rebrand themselves as a Toronto community of artists. I feel a bit dinked around by that on a personal level. But I felt way more down about that in 2005. Now I feel like lines have been drawn again and everyone knows what's what, who's on what side of what line. Nothing's so weird anymore. We have our new Watchmen now.
Which are who, Metric?
I’d say maybe Stars.
Metric are another kettle of fish entirely. The Watchmen never got to open for the Rolling Stones. So the scale and level of the lameness is what's so astonishing, and what is maybe a bit shocking. It's not something I'd wish for myself, it's not like I feel they're stealing my opening spot for the Rolling Stones, but that it's something no one should want. It's something that no one from Toronto should need.
On a smaller level, I was reading the Wavelength program for February 06, which was some anniversary—perhaps their 300th show. There was a description for a panel called Torontopia vs. Dystopia that read: “Are instances of violence and hard drugs ruining the scene?” And I wasn’t sure what that was about.
I would say your shock and surprise at that is: is undeserved multimarket commercial success bad for the Toronto music scene, for artists who aren't even a part of the Toronto music scene. The attention comes from without, based on people who have nothing to do with Toronto.
Who has nothing to do with Toronto?
I would say Metric definitely has nothing to do with Toronto. They were easily trying to make it elsewhere, and moving back to Toronto seems to have been largely a failure, to pull in the success they wanted in L.A. When things started turning around here, it seems like they said, 'Well, instead of going to L.A. to make it, we'll go to Toronto to make it.' That kind of thing. It seemed like a more savvy decision. It's a place they occasionally live in between touring. I can't sense any affection or sense of place or anything Toronto-y about what they do. Not that they have to sing about Toronto, but you can just tell sometimes. You can often tell when bands are from New York or Montreal and Toronto. With Montreal it's often disguised by the fact that they're really from Victoria or Ottawa. Then, they sound like an Ottawa band who burned all their bridges and moved to Montreal.
I don’t hear anything particular Montreal or Toronto in a lot of these bands, because they’re often made up of immigrants to the city.
There's something in the desires of the people who move to the place, regardless of where they're from.
Like people who move to Olympia wanting to sound like everything on K Records?
People who want to make certain things or certain ways of living will move to Montreal to live the Montreal way. It shows. Another wicked thing about watching five seasons of Kids in the Hall is hearing the same Shadowy Men song over and over. They are the most Toronto band ever.
They’ve all lived here for many years [ed note: bassist Reid Diamond passed away in 2001, R.I.P.], but they’re actually from Calgary.
Not all of them, though.
Uh, at least two of them definitely are.
Well, they sound the most Toronto-y. Possibly because I was between the ages of nine and 14 and forming all my impressions of music around me in those years, but the association with landscape is huge. Brian was playing guitar at Graffiti's one day when I was shopping in Kensington Market, and they had the front door open so you could hear it for at least a quarter of a block, doing exactly what he does. The sun was setting, and it was the Al Waxman neighbourhood, and I got all teared up thinking how Toronto-y it was.
Shadowy Men strikes me as a great band who did unique, special things...
They were a different kind of instrumental rock band, definitely.
I meant more the creative packaging and overall approach to marketing themselves.
But that didn’t seem to be contagious in the rest of the Toronto scene at the time. I’ve heard you talk before about the all-ages scene in the mid-90s and how you grew up with Grasshopper, and then later on finding out about Fifth Column. There always seem to be…
Flare-ups. I got really distressed in 2005. 2003 and early 2004 was really awesome, and I felt like a lot of energy and ideas sprung up. By the end of 2004, things definitely mellowed down and got a bit worse. I thought it was a little dip, but all of 2005 was hideous.
Where there signposts or events you're thinking of?
No, it's the lack of signposts and events that's the problem to my mind. Not to say that nothing good happened or no one did good work, but what was special about one time was definitely not special about the other time. Possibly that's just for me. Blocks output definitely slowed, but that was more 'Steve becomes reasonable as a human being.' It was more the hideous awareness of what I was actually doing and what the real ramifications of lots of decisions I was making actually were. Once that knowledge really hit home, we had to make a sudden shift to a more sustainable output from where we were. Also because frankly I didn't have the energy to keep doing things the way I was. Blocks output slowed, and people keep asking me when I'll do another Toronto is Great compilation, and I say, 'Well, I'll do it when Toronto is great.' I can wait. I'm patient. I'm not going to blow my load on 'Toronto is okay' or 'Toronto is fine.'
And you probably don’t want to repeat yourself with the exact same bands.
Well, a lot of them aren’t around anyway. But some of them are. The other thing about that compilation is that it was bands who weren’t already recording things. It was bands before they got a record together. It was much more responsive. There are all kinds of bands I don’t see these days because I work too much. At the same time, I think fewer people are playing shows without having any kind of recordings to represent themselves. Which is unfortunate, because it means that ideas don’t get worked out and that laboratory time seems to be missing.
They have to have something to put up on MySpace right away.
Exactly. [sarcastically] There’s no point in being a band unless you have a MySpace page.
Does the existence of Torontopia create a counter-intuitive complacency, where people see things happening and figure they don’t have to do anything?
That might have happened. Possibly that was the case. What was exciting about what some people were calling Torontopia at the time was that it had to do with doing things for yourself. The only way to participate in that experience was to do something for yourself. You really couldn’t relax about it and think, ‘Don’t worry, they have it taken care of.’ Because then you weren’t having any of the fun. Then you weren’t invited to the party. Maybe in some people’s minds that wasn’t the case, but in the one that was the most meaningful to me, and in the part of that world where my hopes rise and fall for Toronto, that’s more the case. There aren’t that many non-participants and spectators. If anything, that’s what my problem with a lot of the commercial-type stuff is, is that it doesn’t encourage any behaviour at all. It encourages you to buy your ticket to the giant show on the Island, it encourages you to get sunstroke with a bazillion other people…
Sure, but people got sunstroke at Track and Field [a two-day festival/camp-out held on a farm outside of Guelph in 2004 and 2005, hosted by the Social Arts Club and featuring many Blocks/Torontopia bands.]
But Track and Field, at least 50 per cent of the people were playing there, which is significant. As well, Track and Field is definitely not for the money. Not that it makes it better or worse, it’s not a terrible idea to make money, but Track and Field is a very honest and sometimes gruelling celebration of doing things yourself and making your own stuff. That’s not what a giant concert event is. That’s about purchasing an entertainment product and having minimal expectations of it: ‘I expect at least this level of quality.’ And those things are met or not met. It’s not the same thing at all. I don’t think it’s the kind of engagement that I think is important, socially.
I want to talk about February 29, 2004.
When we put out the Blocks compilation?
How did that day go? What was the feeling in the room?
It was my birthday, I turned six. I freaked out about it pretty hard, because I had done lots of the recording for the compilation in addition to assembling and manufacturing it. The month leading up to it was insane and the show was very ambitious and involved waking up really early. It was 10 until 5.
Did everyone play?
Everyone who was supposed to played. But not everyone on the compilation, no. It was wild. There was terrible coffee. We had excellent food. Two days before that I helped assemble food with Todd Lawrence-Parsons, who’s an excellent vegan cook. We had millions of bands. We had piles of junk to sell. It was an overwhelming experience for me. I don’t know what other people felt about it. I remember feeling mostly annoyed by the things that I had to fix the whole time. I remember the night before I went to bed really early because I need a good night’s sleep. Then in the middle of the night, [roommate] Owen [Pallett, Final Fantasy] broke into my room, ‘Steve, they need to hear the Hank record!’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? Who does?’ There was an Expensive Shit [DJ night] the night before, and [DJ] Luca, who was our other roommate, didn’t bring the first Hank CD, Ackril Venning. So Owen decided he would go home and scream at me about it. I said, ‘You dumb shit. Get the fuck out of my room! You stupid, stupid shit!’ I was so angry. Basically I stayed up all night stewing at how pissed I was at Owen. Then I got up at 6 and started dragging stuff to Cinecycle. Martin [of Cinecycle] was very patient, he was great. No complaints about Cinecycle. But I’m not the right person to ask about that. To me, it was chaotic and overwhelming all the time. I remember that I didn’t work out the stage plot stuff very well, so there was too much gear swapping and moving around, which was really dumb on my part.
When it came out, the title alone, did it appear inevitably self-congratulatory to people outside of Toronto? Could they not help but act a bit defensive?
It definitely didn’t sell too well outside of Toronto, in Canada. In the States, no one gives a shit either way. In Canada, everyone hates Toronto, right? I don’t know if it seemed self-congratulatory, or whether it was more of the awesome fact that they hate to know about all the time.
I remember when Barcelona Pavilion played Montreal for the first time, you were all wearing tacky Toronto tourist t-shirts. This was at the Brave New Waves show.
I forget that show entirely. We were all sick and in lousy shape. I remember that being the worst show ever. At our Pop Montreal show there, most of the people there who weren’t French speaking were from Toronto, expats who now live in Montreal. I remember doing a shout-out to the various surburbs of Toronto during the show, which really angered Efrim Menuck [of Godspeed, Silver Mt. Zion].
Who's from Toronto!
Yeah, he went to Rosedale High School. Sorry, Forest Hill Collegiate. He went to school with Matias. He said, ‘You’re not in Toronto anymore!’ I forgot how the heckle went down. But the Brave New Waves show sucked, and we knew it, and it was recorded for posterity and broadcast and it made my flesh crawl.
Recently, googling the word and researching this article, I came across references to several external movements that transcended the geographic origin of the term.
I don’t think there’s anything definitive about the idea of Torontopia or Victopia or whatever. In a way, what’s hurt indie rock so much is that it’s not related to punk rock anymore at all. Most of the American Analog Set or Death Cab for Cutie school of indie rock is so divorced, not only in its sound but in its production and goals, from punk rock that it’s really just regular pop music. Whereas something like Yo La Tengo, at least there is that connection to punk rock even if the music doesn’t happen to sound like punk rock anymore.
There’s a long tradition of that anyway. How many Crass albums actually sound like punk records? Two. Then they have this totally weird art rock phase that ends up with a ten minute instrumental on the last record about quitting your band and giving up. How wild is that? But they’re a punk band for sure.
It’s the separation from punk rock goals. One of the things about punk rock that’s pretty rad is when Maximum Rock’n’Roll does scene reports, and everyone’s scene is the best scene. It’s not about DC or Olympia, it’s about Columbus, Ohio or whatever and that’s all there and the understanding that there’s a network of these things existing. That’s what lacking from contemporary indie rock. There was a time when there wasn’t much of a difference economically.
When you talk about ‘every local scene is great’ there’s something refreshingly mundane about that. People’s answers are always the same throughout the years, no matter whether you’re talking about Halifax or Winnipeg or Guelph or Victoria. They say, “We’re so isolated here and there’s nothing else here to do, so because I live in Winnipeg I’m going to make the most fucked-up electronic music I can.”
In Canada it’s different than the States, in that the claim of geographic isolation has a lot more play. It’s much more true. In Winnipeg, there really isn’t anything going on for eight hours around them.
I’ve heard people make the same argument about Toronto being isolated too, which I don’t really buy, myself. Toronto isn’t isolated. Toronto just has this huge self-negation because they know everyone in Canada hates them. Most people who move here do so somewhat reluctantly. Combine that with the ridiculous boosterism of the world-class crowd…
You’re on to something there. A weird negation plays a large part in the Toronto psyche, exhibited by its insecurity and financial power that allows it to put douche extensions on the ROM. ‘We have this great institution—let’s destroy it by putting a large crystal on top of it.’ Why are you doing that? ‘Because we feel unsure of ourselves.’ That’s so Toronto.
The thing with Toronto is that especially if you’re from here or doing music here, it’s a really small town. There are two giant high schools, Central and Northern, with a population of several thousand each. Between those two, if you grew up here, you have a one-person connection to just about everyone else your age in the city. Invariably, people who go to those shows come from all over the city for specific programs … I’d go to band camp every summer, and I was really interested in art schools on the periphery of Toronto. From any of these hub high schools, there would be a group of kids who would splinter off and go to alternative schools. It’s a small town. If you grow up here, you can know a significant connection to everyone your own age. This happens to me all the time now. I run into people from high school a lot, and people who recognize me from there. People I didn’t know then.
In that respect, Toronto is a really small town if you’ve only ever lived here. And everything coming through here when I was a kid was disgusting, like I Mother Earth…
Coming through here or coming from here?
No, from here. All the bands would come through here, sure, but they’d only come to a Lee’s Palace type venue. They wouldn’t email you and say, ‘You like music, do you want to put on my show?’ Not that there’s anything wrong with being a commercial show promoter, but it’s removed from the immediacy of a scene that handles these things, professionals that handles these things.
So when someone says ‘we’re all alone here’ or some variation of that: we are all alone here, in the center of evil in Canada, in the heart of darkness. We’re regular guys who feel a part of an extended neighbourhood, you’re connected to this place and these people, and then there’s this other stuff that has nothing to do with you that runs the whole thing and represents you to the outside world. So that people say, ‘Oh Toronto, that’s where Our Lady Peace is from, or the Barenaked Ladies are from.’ Actually the Barenaked Ladies are kind of a touchy subject, because they actually were a grassroots thing. I mean, they’re terrible, but it is what it is. You can’t say, ‘those jerks!’ But Our Lady Peace is a good example. So yeah, and Toronto is where the MuchMusic building is. And we say, ‘Yes, this is where the bank is who made the decision to close all of your farms. We’re from the place where some guy in a blue suit fucked up your fishery and then closed it. It’s got nothing to do with us.’ So here we are in this small town knowing each other, but at the same time it is the biggest city in Canada but all that stuff is fighting us.
I wanted to ask you about Berlin. I know that at one point you wanted to move to Berlin, but after going there you found all these amazing venues but it didn’t have the bands to support it. Then you came back to Toronto…
And found it was actually so much better. In Berlin, everything was really easy to do. They had surplus infrastructure. It was cool, too, it wasn’t a bunch of empty strip malls. It was crazy communist junk that you could inhabit; they were begging for economic redevelopment in 90 per cent of those areas.
They’d say, ‘If you open a shop on this street, the Chamber of Commerce of Berlin would pay all of your bills for six months.’ So guys had all these dumb businesses that were cool, but there was nothing riding on it. If their sweatbands-only store failed, they’d start a headbands-only store and see how that went. Or they’d start a record label.
I went to a lot of small shows. My goal wasn’t to see Peaches in Berlin. I got enough of Peaches when she was in Toronto. I was there for six weeks, and for the first two weeks I picked up every flyer and checked everything out. And I met people who brought me to other things. There was a really healthy older, improvised, avant-garde music scene, which was to be expected and what I was interested in.
In terms of bands, I went to a festival similar to the Toronto is Great festival, which is held in an old washing machine factory just outside of Berlin. Lots of those bands weren’t from Berlin. Or those that were were things like the Puppetmastaz, which was pretty good. There was this band Puma, and I would be proud to see a band like Puma anytime. Puma was amazing. It was these two sisters who always broke up the band, always fighting. The thinner, prettier one, and the frumpier, dark-haired one, and this guy Jan who played drums. The sisters were always saying it was their last show ever. They were the best, but they were the only band that was actually like anything from Toronto. They were the only band that anyone was really excited about, because they were head and shoulders above the other bands.
When you went to Berlin did you have fantasies about what it would be like? Were you down on Toronto at the time?
I was getting more mature about Toronto. I used to think that I would get the fuck out of here as soon as I found a university program that would get me out of here, or as soon as university was done.
What turned it around, the Hidden Cameras?
To an extent, sure. But my going to Berlin I think was before I was in the Hidden Cameras, or just at the same time. Was I in the Hidden Cameras in 2001?
You were. I saw you with them in the fall of 01.
Yes, I was. That’s right. I was in Berlin and missed them playing their first Pride show. So to an extent it was the Hidden Cameras, and it was also realising who was around and what all these people were like and how awesome it was that we all lived in a village together, and that village was full of wicked, awesome people.
Also realising what proximity to all these institutions means. The isolation argument is not true. You can read any book here, look at whatever art you want, if you wait long enough, any painting you want to see will drop by. Any foreign movie you want to see, you eventually will. Now that I spend a lot of time in New York, I appreciate the convenience of Toronto because sure, New York has everything you want, but it’s so much more work to get it. It’s somewhere in this gigantic metropolis. In Toronto, it’s all about a twenty-minute bike ride away no matter where you are. It’s convenient.
I was coming to appreciate the world I had here. It was too easy for people to do stuff in Berlin, so nothing was riding on any of it. Stuff could collapse if it needed to.
Is that not true of half the bands on Toronto is the Best?
Hmmm. Yes and no. I wouldn’t say the motivation for starting a band here is because you couldn’t open a sweatband store. A band is easy to do, and if you’re going to start and stop one, then fine. But more ideas and less opportunity means you get better stuff; you get the best ideas. Whereas lots of opportunity and few ideas doesn’t help you out at all. The best DIY stuff I saw in Berlin was all outside of music, like squats that have been running for 20 years.
I wanted to ask about infrastructure. You were talking before about flare-ups in Toronto, and how things start and then stop for whatever reason, people get burnt out or whatever. Whereas Blocks is trying to not only tap the energy that’s going on now, but set itself up as something sustainable and not linked to one or two people.
That’s a conscious choice. The idea to make a thing that will be a long-term thing to counteract the fact that historically that’s not how things happen here. Maybe in doing so, strike the first blow against evil that will sustain itself. That’s the reason to do anything, to do better rather than worse. I like to frame it in really simplistic terms like battling evil.
Yeah, it’s obviously more complicated than that. Having a reductive and simplistic way of thinking about things clarifies how you feel about stuff. I think acknowledging too many layers of complexity leads to you making excuses to yourself to do stuff that you would never have approved of doing a month before. Keeping a solid idea of what’s right and wrong, although limiting in many respects, is really key to actually making this work and not fuck up. The goal is a long-term goal. I’d like there to be a Blocks for decades. If I give up, or if I don’t get things set up properly and then I move on—which should happen eventually—and then the next person gives up, it would be a bigger failure because it would be a failure of a projected long-term project.
Are there parallels to small presses and other artist institutions?
We manage to sustain that kind of stuff in Toronto, with stuff like YYZ which has been around forever, and Coach House Press, and things that gain the status of institutions.
Do you think it’s the trivialization of music that has prevented this from happening before? Literature is a recognized art form, whereas indie rock is a bunch of slackers with Casios.
Part of it is that music isn’t real. Music is automatically time-based and over once it’s done. In that respect, the idea of a recording industry is not the same thing as a book publishing industry. The shape and structure of text as a form has been longer, and up until very recently, books are books. It’s a totally different deal. Art is art, and it’s equipped with presence and this thing is often bound up in a specific object.
Music is something people do, it’s a social activity. Recordings are this novel invention of the 20th century to present or promote this social interaction. Therefore they don’t have object status of themselves. They had more object status when they weren’t immediately reproduceable, as analog media. But now with digital media they’re right where they belong as being ephemeral.
There shouldn’t be a recording industry, and it’s not in anyone’s interest that there be a professional recording industry. Not in any musician’s interest, anyway. It’s in the interest of entertainment lawyers. Music is a social behaviour, it’s hive stuff. The kind of stuff that aliens are watching us for as an interesting behaviour: ‘What are they doing this for?’
[We then spoke for about another 20 minutes on the social nature of music and its relation to the so-called music industry. I didn’t transcribe this because I knew it had nothing to do with the Torontopia article I was writing. Perhaps one day I’ll revisit this conversation for the purposes of this blog.]