Vancouver music history

Vancouver music history chronicled at Soundscapes

If you're a city that's established itself as a music scene, then you need an oral history. Toronto got its due in 2009 with Stuart Berman's This Book Is Broken, which explained the genesis of our chief supergroup Broken Social Scene by examining the rise of Wavelength Sundays. Montreal's music scene has yet to be immortalized - I nominate Said The Gramophone scribe Sean Michaels for the job. But from Vancouver comes Fresh At 20, a new revelatory book about upstart label Mint Records. Music writer Kaitlin Fontana conducted over 90 interviews (!) to trace Vancouver's music history from its dangerous late 80s punk days to the rise of The New Pornographers, the homegrown superstars that put Vancouver on the map.

It's an inspiring read. Mint was founded by two college radio geeks Randy Iwata and Bill Baker in 1991 who built their label slowly in the model of Sub Pop. Signing friends, former roommates and quasi-frenemies, they built a solid roster of Canadian talent, fostering an indie community in a coastal town only miles away from Seattle's grunge explosion. The bands Mint signed varied from adorable girl-groups (the band cub coined the genre "cuddle-core"), queer punk rockists (The Buttless Chaps, The Pansy Division) and zany new wavers (The Evaporators and The Smugglers, fronted by Nardwaur The Human Serviette and CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence, respectively).

Like any label Mint went through several ups and downs - they collaborated with California punk label Lookout Records! (famous for signing Green Day and Operation Ivy) to release their albums stateside, which might've worked if their relationship wasn't so fraught with tension. They made a killing with cub but then plummeted after the band broke up, until a girl from Tacoma named Neko Case decided to release a groundbreaking country album.

And as the record industry devolves into scattered MP3s and Soundclouds, Mint still keeps trying to release handcrafted, innovative records. One of their coolest products was a split seven-inch released in 2009 between Andrew W.K. and Nardwaur titled A Wild Pear. Their current signees include The Pack A.D., Immaculate Machine and Hot Panda.

In her introduction Fontana writes about how Vancouver's music scene was almost formed in opposition to Seattle's grunge boom. Free of intense scrutiny, Vancouver could turn into whatever it wanted. There may never be a defining aesthetic to Mint's 20 years of music - the label has signed surf rockers Huevos Rancheros, released a children's album and burned their bridges of Gob. But from the well-meaning intentions of two college programmers came a rich legacy of rock n' roll.

Kaitlin Fontana launches Fresh At 20: The Oral History of Mint Records today at Soundscapes Records (572 College Street). There will be a free signing, onstage Q&A hosted by yours truly and some surprises from 4 to 7 p.m.

Get pumped with our Mint Records Playlist:

The New Pornographers' "Breakin' The Law"

Duotang "Turtle Boy"

The Organ "Fire In The Ocean"

The Buttless Chaps "Where Night Holds Light"

Cub "My Chinchilla"

The Pansy Division "Bad Boyfriend"

The Evaporators "The Bombs In My Pants!"

The Smugglers "Vancouver B.C."

Huevos Rancheros "Get Outta Dodge"

The Pack A.D. "Blackout"

Immaculate Machine "Dear Confessor"

Vancougar "Obvious"

Carolyn Mark "Dirty Secret"

Neko Case "Bought And Sold"

Photo by John Pee in the blogTO Flickr pool

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