There's not much to get hyped about in the Maritime economy, which is by far the slowest growing in the country. After decades of bad luck and questionable fiscal policies, the provinces are trapped in a bubble of economic and demographic slump.
So while Maritimers are debating whether or not Nova Scotia is the next Detroit, their creative class is taking part in the Maritimes tradition of "going down the road"—moving west for bigger, brighter things. Creative industries are either struggling or dying out (you might have heard of the recent film industry fiasco in Nova Scotia), and the trend hasn't spared the electronic music community.
Ryan Hemsworth, Buck 65, DJ Cosmo, Classified, Dead Horse Beats, Eviction, Blank Banshee, Double A, Arthur Comeau (formerly Radio Radio), A.A. Wallace, DJ/production duo BOTNEK...the list is exhaustive. The lack of venues, publicity, quality labels and studios—where artists can go sonically further than their bedroom setups—all contribute to this. But many move away simply because they can't find a "normal" job.
Montreal-based DJ Marc Aurèle, aka Construct, made the move after graduating from NSCAD in 2009. "The day after I graduated I packed up all my things, refused a few job offers and left for Montreal. I basically left for better job potentials, and a bigger art and music scene," he says.
Construct says that similar to most Canadian artists, who feel like the kid brother to the American market, Maritimers feel like the kid brother to Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. "An artist won't be taken seriously until they emerge in a bigger market. Ryan Hemsworth would be a shining example of this—gaining close to no traction in Nova Scotia until after he broke out worldwide," he says.
Collaboration between veterans and newcomers—or the lack thereof, is another main issue. "Often with a small market, you have a rather small demographic of fans to pull from. If you spend years crafting and building a market, you are mostly reluctant to share or give up a piece of that market. I faced some of this tension when I was around. I can still see and feel it happening to artists that I know and support," he says.
He adds that Montreal has a wild history of debauchery, vast unused industrial buildings, and an open mind about alcohol consumption in public; a luxury that Maritimers just don't have.
But not all is grim. As modest as it is, many people are dedicating time and energy to keep the community afloat. Events like Halifax's OBEY Convention, St-John's Yung Dumb, Moncton's RE:Flux Sound and Art Festival, and Future Forest, an electronic music festival held in New-Brunswick, offer platforms for local talent. And local, young up-and-coming talent like P.E.I's Ramzoid and Halifax duo Pineo & Loeb are blowing up online.
Marc-Xavier LeBlanc (aka Bones), an award-winning, Moncton-based DJ and radio show host, is happy to see the scene finally starting to grow. Bones runs widely popular monthly events all over the Maritimes, and founded the Studio Lab Sessions, a think tank and monthly collaborative space for artists to exchange and learn.
"Sadly, there's still a lack of focus and business knowledge here. Artists like Dezza in Halifax are putting out some great stuff, but if they had access to bigger studios and experienced producers, they would improve much faster,'' he says.
Despite this, Bones sees a lot of potential in the community; he's been reaching out to elementary schools and local music programs. "It's all about teaching the new, younger generation. In the last few years, some of the best music released has come from the east coast. And even if artists move, it doesn't mean they forget their roots," he says.
But while festivals like Future Forest have definitely gained popularity in the last few years, founder Tim Kukula says the entrenched conservatism of the region still threatens to halt that growth.
"There's a lot of prejudice and it ties into recent issues we've experienced," he says. Future Forest is held in a remote area near Fredericton, N.B., but a nearby influential cottage owner, CBC Information Morning's Terry Seguin, is trying to have the shows shut down at midnight.
"There's a lack of understanding, funding, and government support. If we had a country music festival, they wouldn't bat an eye," he says with a sigh.
Natasha is on Twitter.