This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 2009 Canadian conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music at Dalhousie University here in Halifax. The conference – subtitled “Going Coastal: Peripheries and Centres in Popular Music” – brought together academics and students from across Canada to discuss the role that popular music plays in our lives from a variety of critical perspectives and backgrounds. I’ve been blogging about the conference at its website, but I also wanted to explore some of the papers in more depth, particularly those crossing over with the indie/alternative music I write about here at McNutt Against the Music. I conducted five interviews in total (I could have easily done 10 or 12 more), and I’ll be sharing them all this week. First on the docket…
Name: Ian Dahlman
School: Ryerson and York Universities
Program: Masters in Communication and Culture
Title: “‘A big, beautiful mess’: Multitudinous Perspectives from the Centre and Peripheries of Broken Social Scene’s Membership”
The short form: Dahlman is researching the independent popular music collective with Broken Social Scene as the case study, hoping to better understand their creation, political economy, and internal dynamics and structure. In doing so, he’s conducted interviews with several members of the band, including Jason Collett and co-founder Brendan Canning.
McNutt: What is it about the collectivist model of band membership that intrigues you?
Dahlman: It’s so different, the dynamic. The live performance is always different, the recorded albums are always different and they always felt very dynamic. What really drove me to explore it was actually the self-titled album, because I felt you could feel all the ruptures and breaks and cracks. It didn’t seem like it was always necessarily a happy, utopian place but actually something that was constantly in flux and had its own share of anxiety, fear and love. It was collecting the emotion of all these constantly-shoving people in one project.
McNutt: One of the things that intrigues me about your project is that you’ve actually interviewed a lot of people – and hope to interview even more – that have been involved in Broken Social Scene in one way or another. I’m curious if their vision for what Broken Social Scene should be is consistent, or are there some interesting breaks in that vision between certain actors?
Dahlman: What becomes clear is that there wasn’t necessarily a “vision” when it first began. It was just something that organically grew from a very real set of contextual conditions: economically, politically, personally. But at this point, it does seem like there is actually a real coherence as to how it’s understood. It’s a place that you can come and go from. They do understand it as a very open and inclusive space creatively, and there aren’t really any “breaks” from that at this point.
McNutt: I want to explore one of the ideas you presented in your paper, which is that the centre in BSS – which is certainly Drew and Canning – becomes the periphery when they’re not recording and all these other related bands are promoting their work. How does the group manage those dynamics?
Dahlman: Well I think it was something they had to learn to manage. When they first came together and they toured You Forgot It In People and they blew up and everyone loved them, it was like summer camp – it was very utopian, everyone was having a great time all together. But as they started to realized that they were also meant to have this popularity in other areas and to come and go, they actually started to pull at their own seams. One of the ways they certainly learned to deal with it is the “BSS presents” records, done on their own time with their own space. Also, I think there’s the move recently to kind of staple down a “core” group of people. Really, to make money now in music you have to tour, and touring as the large BSS isn’t practical all the time. So these little things have helped make the band more workable.
McNutt: So what do you think these developments – “BSS presents,” the increasing popularity of the band’s satellite artists – mean for the future of Broken Social Scene?
Dahlman: Well just cause it’s changed doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good or bad. I know there’s a blog post from Drew that he just made talking about being down in Chicago recording. My understanding is that there is this core group established that went down and recorded. I think largely what’s happened is that there’s this new wave of BSSers as the old generation has gone off and done their own thing. They brought in new people from, say, Land of Talk, to fill those roles. All it means is that they’re constantly renewing, which is very interesting.