January 11, 2007 : Friends In Bellwoods - The Guelph Mercury / Waterloo Record
BY MICHEAL BARCLAY
What started as an artistic hub in a Toronto home has become a new wave of artists who hail from small-town scenes across Ontario. Those bands have come together to forge one of the best Canadian compilations in recent memory.
We all know local musicians who cut their teeth in the neighbourhood clubs and then split for Toronto. Some flourish there and some flail; many find the big city bustle too much to deal with and return to the small community that first nourished them. The Big Smoke can be a daunting place, but a new compilation, called Friends in Bellwoods, proves small town support groups can survive intact after making the big move.
"Some people think Toronto is so big, but when you look at it in a different way, there are little cities everywhere, small communities who like the same kind of music," says the compilation's co-curator Casey Mejica, of the band Ohbijou. "It becomes these little pockets of people in different areas of Toronto doing their own thing and making stuff happen and keeping music inspiring."
Mejica originally hails from Brantford, home to a thriving indie music scene revolving around the art space venue The Ford Plant. Her compilation co-curator is her drummer Jamie Bunton of Ohbijou, who played in Guelph band Alight, and the two-disc set is being released on a new record label, Out of This Spark, headed up by Toronto transplant Stuart Duncan, a former staffer at Guelph's campus radio station CFRU.
Friends in Bellwoods features 36 tracks that document a new scene of Toronto artists hailing from small town scenes like Brantford, Brampton, St. Catharines, London and Ottawa.
Guelph is well represented by the likes of the D'Urbervilles, We're Marching On, Bahai Cassette, Alight, and relative old-timers like Gentleman Reg, Bry Webb of the Constantines, and Barzin.
Musically, it moves through various moods: there's plenty of the melancholic folk-pop that Ohbijou does so well, but also electro dance party pop, ambient soundscapes, indie rock, and playful campfire singalongs.
There are also debut solo tracks from three prominent Canadian musicians: Webb of the Constantines is unrecognizable in a subdued duet with Mejica on a Lou Reed song; Death From Above 1979 drummer Sebastien Grainger reinvents himself as a singer/songwriter; and Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara showcases his love of textural electronics.
Most of all, however, it reflects the community that has built around Ohbijou itself, with its members directly involved in 11 of the 36 acts on the discs; many of the rest are frequent collaborators or tourmates. The band has had a banner year, releasing their debut album to great acclaim and CBC play, and playing with personal heroes like the Flaming Lips, Sarah Harmer and Joanna Newsom.
The Bellwoods of the title refers not just to the large Trinity-Bellwoods greenspace in Parkdale, but the adjoining street where Mejica lives with her sister and bandmate Jenn.
Their house has become a social and artistic hub, hosting performances and a recording studio where many of the compilation's tracks were recorded.
"Last summer, Jamie and I took a look at all our friends around us playing music and figured we should make a compilation of all this crazy, amazing stuff going on," she says.
"This captures everything that's gone on there in the last year or so."
And instead of being a nepotistic mess, Friends in Bellwoods is remarkably consistent, easily standing as one of the best Canadian compilations in recent memory.
Mejica was very conscious of creating a time capsule of this period and the tentacles of the Toronto music scene.
"We've always realized that the fun of living at this house and everyone's bands being popular will eventually peter off," she says, citing the successful five-year run of the Toronto-via-Guelph indie label Three Gut.
"Everything has its moment, and it's nice to relish it for a little bit and then move on to something else. It's nice to have something to mark a really good time that we're having in our lives right now."
LIVE FRIENDS IN BELLWOODS CD RELEASE PARTY, FEATURING THE D'URBERVILLES, FOREST CITY LOVERS AND MANTLER E-BAR, GUELPH JAN. 11 9.30 PM $7, ALL-AGES/LICENSED 519-821-3311, EXT. 126