Under the direction of Arcade Fire, the pivotal years of Canadian music on the world stage are told



Those who have come of age with Drake and The Weeknd being among the biggest names in music, period, might take it for granted that Canadian artists can reach such heights. But this has not always been the case.

In flaming heartsMichael Barclay delivers an authoritative (exhaustive, even) analysis of how independent artists from across Canada took the world by storm in the early 21st century, changing the cultural and musical landscape for those who came after. .


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“This new movement — which was not a fleeting trend but continues today — was not just the so-called indie rock, chart pop or any other music traditionally associated with Canadian cultural production” , says Barclay from the start. “That was all.”

Historian and co-author of Haven’t been the same: CanRock’s rebirth from 1985 to 1995 and author of The Neverending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip, Barclay certainly knows his subject inside and out. Boasting over 100 original interviews, as well as extensive archival material, the stories of indie rock collectives such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene and popular bands such as Tegan and Sara, The Metric and Feist are covered.

Ditto the folk and country twang of Corb Lund, the Be Good Tanyas, Sarah Harmer and Kathleen Edwards as well as the bizarre and wild sounds of Peaches, Caribou and the Unicorns. Not to be outdone, hip hop chart toppers K-os and Swollen Members to rockers Alexisonfire and Billy Talent and many, many more disparate acts all get their time in the spotlight (with a healthy amount only deserving of a passing mention, for one reason or another).

“(But) one group cast the longest shadow of all,” admits Barclay. “And not just because its singer is six foot five.”

That band, of course, is Arcade Fire, the band that formed in Montreal and sold millions of records, headlined concerts and festivals around the world, and became the first Canadian band to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year (for 2010s The suburbs).

“Ten years ago, this would have been a momentous occasion for the country, like an Olympic gold medal in hockey or an NBA championship,” Barclay said. “Yet it was just another WTF moment in a groundbreaking decade for Canadian music.”

While the tome’s length may be off-putting to casual readers, Barclay does an admirable job of drawing connections between seemingly disparate artists, from overlapping personnel to recurring players in the Canadian media landscape. or the common challenges (or opportunities) inherent in creating and marketing independent music at the twilight of the CD boom and the dawn of the file-sharing era.

Certainly, the focus remains on artists from the Greater Toronto Area or nearby Montreal. But Barclay also strives to shed light on artists from Halifax to Campbell River, BC, with many stops in between. The impact and influence of hometown heroes, the Weakerthans, are discussed at length, as are many artists who have graced our local stages and festivals time and time again.

“Residents of every province and metropolis will feel underrepresented,” Barclay acknowledges. “It’s the story of Canadian history… It’s also the story of this book.

As Canadian music history continues to be written, flaming hearts is sure to be a cornerstone for those looking to learn more or document the scene further, to make sense of this time when a group of rambling Canadians found themselves in the spotlight on the world stage and only never looked back.

Sheldon Birnie is a journalist and author of Missing Like Teeth: An oral history of Winnipeg underground rock 1990-2001 (which is referenced once in Hearts on Fire).


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Sheldon Birnie

Sheldon Birnie
Community journalist

Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. Author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), her writing has been published in journals and online platforms across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom Husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and recreational hockey when he finds the time. Email him at [email protected] Call him at 204-697-7112

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