yes, winnipeg is tiny, and that sucks for a lot of reasons. I can’t tell you how often I check imaginary text messages to avoid an ex-boyfriend on the bus. On the other hand, our intimate creative community is great for a lot of reasons. Everyone loves something about Winnipeg music. We have a great history, genres constantly overlap and almost every talented musician is in a handful of bands.
I think the ’90s is my current favorite time period of Winnipeg music, from an outsider’s perspective of course; I wasn’t old enough to go to shows. This was a time where John K. Samson was still in Propaghandi and just released his cassette tape called Slips and Tangles, complete with a zine filled with his poetry. Artists Jon Pylypchuk and Marcel Dzama were in bands with extremely ’90s names like Skingerbreadman and Alien Hybrid. It was a wonderfully artistic and experimental time for Winnipeg music — cassette tapes came with full write-ups and artwork and they often had entirely handmade zines included with them.
While the present-day music scene might not supply us with merchandise as awesome as the ’90s did (who knows, maybe we will feel nostalgic about burnt CDs with Sharpied labels fifteen years from now), but we still have our diverse collection of genres that are constantly expanding and overlapping. Old bands go, the members start new projects and they constantly regroup to play “one last show” for their die-hard fans.
Once upon a time — I was trying to find a band who was played on the short-lived animated series Undergrads — I discovered Winnipeg locals the Bonaduces, who broke up way before I could convince my mom to drop me off at punk shows. Fortunately, frontman Doug McLean now fronts the Paperbacks, and of course the Bonaduces have put on a handful of shows in the last two years despite being “broken up.” On top of that, Doug was also in various projects such as Banned from Atlantis, Painted Thin, the Mandarins, Half Mast and a Rage Against the Machine cover band. While you can hear the Doug-ness in everything he does, he has covered a lot of bases.
Becoming a part of the music scene is incredibly simple and not intimidating at all. While there are no set rules to what genres play what venues, there are basic trends. The Albert plays punk, the Zoo plays metal, the Lo Pub plays indie. Once you find what you like, doors will open. There are people so dedicated that they open up their houses for shows. While I’m sure this is something that happens in underground music in all cities, in Winnipeg it often happens because we are so small. When venues book up, touring bands can’t find a show and end up playing in someone’s basement. The fans attending are respectful of the house, and everyone pitches in gas money to the band.
Winnipeg musicians are so enthusiastic. They want you to come to their shows, they want you to tell them you like what they’re doing, and they want your band to open for them. I’ve had many band-crushes that have turned into genuine friendships; we become fans of each other. So go! Embrace your local music. We have a lot of talent. Who cares if other cities don’t know? We’ll make music anyway.
We’re hardcore like that.