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Another record store gone March 14, 2010

Posted by sjroby in Life in general, Music.
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Various artists: Skull Disco Soundboy Punishments, purchased at Sounds Unlikely in June, 2007

I don’t know how long ago it happened, but Sounds Unlikely, an Ottawa record/CD store that opened in 2007 following the closing of the somewhat similarly oriented and much missed Organised Sound, went out of business.

I went there fairly often for a while, not least because they were the only store I knew of where I might reasonably expect to find some dubstep albums. I figured I’d be spending a lot of time and money there.

And then I lost my job.

In the seven or eight months between my first visit to Sounds Unlikely and my last day at Telesat, I bought 14 albums there. In the two years since losing my job, only 10 albums. And I was surprised to see that the last thing I bought there, I got last July, because I know I’ve been there a few times since then — but I also know that I went a few times eager to buy something and found precious little that was new in the store. There were staff changes, and less of the kind of stuff I was interested in was showing up — the last dubstep CDs I bought there, I bought in August of 2008 — but there didn’t seem to be much else that was new. And I rarely saw other customers or the friendly, chatty staff who used to be there, and the myspace updates about new stock and in-store events stopped coming a long time ago, too.

I sometimes blame myself for buying mp3s from eMusic and CDs from online retailers, because we still need record stores for finding the things we didn’t know we needed. A record store’s sound system may introduce you to some of your favourite albums; a knowledgeable employee may let you know that if you like this, you should try that. Plus, hell, it’s good to get out of the house sometimes. But I can only do so much.

(Laura said you only bought two dozen CDs there in just over two years? In addition to all the other CDs you got everywhere else? Most people don’t buy that many CDs, period. And didn’t even when people did buy CDs.)

So, farewell to Sounds Unlikely, and thanks for letting me buy CDs by Cyrus (Random Trio), Ulrich Schnauss, Githead, Burial, Boxcutter, Pinch, Disrupt, These New Puritans, Grievous Angel, Wire, Dusk and Blackdown, and Cadence Weapon, and a lot of compilations, my final purchase being the Soul Jazz Records double CD Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture.

In memory of Sounds Unlikely, End Hits, Organised Sound, Record Runner,  Spinables, Records on Wheels, Shake Records, and all the other places we’ve lost over the years. And good luck to Compact Music, Birdman Sound, CD Warehouse, and the rest that are still going. If I can get more financially secure, I’ll do my bit to make sure you are…

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Liz Worth: Treat Me Like Dirt (2010) March 7, 2010

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content, Music.
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Liz Worth: Treat Me Like DirtThe subtitle tells you most of what you need to know about this book: An Oral History Of Punk In Toronto And Beyond 1977-1981.

If names like the Diodes, the Viletones, and Teenage Head mean anything to you you’re probably intrigued. If they don’t, but you’re interested in Canadian music or punk rock, you should be intrigued. This book is nearly 400 pages of memories (and occasional contemporary reports) from dozens of people who were there at the time, including many — maybe most — of the surviving members of the bands discussed. There are a lot of photos, too.

(Note: you probably won’t find this one in your local bookstore, as only a few hundred copies have been printed. Order from Bongo Beat, the publisher, here.)

In addition to the key Toronto bands, including the aforementioned Viletones and Diodes and The Ugly, the Curse, and the B-Girls, Hamilton’s Teenage Head, Simply Saucer, and Forgotten Rebels and London (Ontario)’s Demics all get a look in as well. The rise and fall of the Crash ‘n’ Burn club, the rivalry between some of the bands, the Last Pogo, the realization of a scene coming into existence at the same time as the London (England) and New York scenes, the frustration of not having supportive media, record companies, and venues (unlike those other cities)… it’s all there.

Those not necessarily interested in the scene might find the book an interesting read anyway; there’s definitely an arc to the story, from the initial burst of creativity to the gradually increasing ugliness of it all and a lot of unhappy endings. The largely fake and harmless early violence of the scene is supplanted by real and ugly violence — from career criminals continuing to do break-and-enter robberies as their bands get popular, to street gangs hanging out at clubs starting vicious fights. And then heroin enters the scene and ruins a number of careers and lives.

Often, when reading books like this about scenes like this one, I wish I could have been there at the time. Not so much this time around. Maybe it’s the nature of the oral history, the story being told by its participants possibly leading to settling of scores, but a lot of the people in the book seem to be assholes or thugs.

Still, it’s a necessary chronicle of a historically significant moment — not just for Canadian music, but, many of the participants argue, for the development of Canada’s largest city. One of the problems with this scene is how poorly documented the music is. A decade ago, companies started releasing CDs compiling what was available from the Viletones, the Ugly, the Curse, and the B-Girls, and the first two Diodes albums were reissued, among others. But that’s maybe a dozen CDs from a scene with a lot of bands over several years. At least you can get a sense of what some of it was like from the DVD of The Last Pogo, discussed here a few posts back.

Personally, the only band in the book that I ever saw live was Teenage Head when they played in Halifax in 1981 — I had their classic Frantic City album and was excited that they were playing at my university, and I remember having a very good time. But a show on a university campus had to be a very different experience from many of the shows chronicled in the book, in seedy and dangerous places.

I’d love to see a similar book on the Vancouver scene — yeah, we have D.O.A.’s Joe Keithley’s book I, Shithead and Guilty of Everything by John Armstrong, a.k.a. the Modernettes’ Buck Cherry, but Treat Me Like Dirt is a monster of a book. The stories here could spark a dozen movies. More books like this on other scenes would be very welcome.