10 Essential Early Canadian Electronic Records That Deserve Reissues
From a potato farm in Alberta to downtown Toronto, our favourite unheralded releases of the 70s and 80s.
Ohama photo courtesy of Polyphasic Recordings
With reissues becoming increasingly commonplace in electronic music, there's been a rise in labels like Dark Entries, Medical Records, Minimal Wave, and others, who scour crates, Discogs, and the internet for the next lost gem to reissue and repackage. While the bulk of these unappreciated in their time records come from Europe or the United States, there's a very small portion sourced from Canada, despite the wealth of great experimental, new wave, and musique concrète acts to come out of this country.
From rural Alberta to Burlington, Ontario, here's ten early Canadian electronic records ranging from the mid 1970s to the late 1980s that we think deserve proper reissues, presented chronologically.
David Pritchard - Nocturnal Earthworm Stew (Bouilabaisse Nocturne Aux Vers De Terre) (1976)
His late 60s and early 70s all-night show on Toronto radio station CHUM-FM was once famously described by Frank Zappa as "an utter freak out," so it's not surprising that David Pritchard's 1976 album followed in the same vein. Experimental, proggy, and melodic, with song titles like "Birth of Merlin" and "Satan's Seaside Walk," there's several tracks here that wouldn't sound out-of-place on an Aphex Twin release. While Nocturnal Earthworm Stew was reissued on CD by Pacemaker Entertainment in 2004, this one deserves the proper vinyl treatment.
Bunny & The Lakers – Numbers (1979)
Opening with a mechanical shriek lasting several minutes, the rest of Numbers is a collage of quirky pop songs, experimental jams, and a 10-minute-long kraut-inspired opus entitled "Batlore," which sounds like it was recorded from a room beside the studio. The Toronto band allegedly played only one show with a young G.B. Jones (who went on to found experimental post-punk group Fifth Column) sitting at a table.
Canadian Electronic Ensemble – Canadian Electronic Ensemble (1981)
Founded in 1971, the Canadian Electronic Ensemble was created to demonstrate the feasibility of live electronic music performances to other musicians, during a time when it was considered extremely difficult to do so due to the sheer size of the equipment. The Toronto group's dense, sprawling second album draws on prog influences; recommended if you like Cluster.
Ann Southam – The Reprieve, The Emerging Ground (1983)
Throughout her lifetime, Winnipeg-born, Toronto-based Ann Southam quietly amassed a catalogue that made her one of Canada's most prolific and important contemporary composers. Heavily influenced by minimalism, modern dance, and tape music, "The Reprieve" is a haunting piece commissioned by choreographer Patricia Beatty for Toronto Dance Theatre. It's not available on YouTube—all the more reason for a reissue—but you can listen to an excerpt here.
Bernard Bonnier – Casse–tête (1984)
After studying with French musique concrète pioneer Pierre Henry in the 70s, Bernard Bonnier returned to Quebec City before releasing this absolutely insane proto-everything LP. Visions of post-punk, breakbeat, and acid house can all be found in this sample-heavy collage of drums, field recordings, and vocal samples. It's since been reissued on CD and hopefully a vinyl reissue isn't far off.
Broken Tables – "The Ruins"/"Image of You" 12" (1984)
Who'd have guessed that one of the best cold wave records of all-time would be made by a trio from Burlington, Ontario? This 12" has everything you could ever want from the genre—distant vocals, infectious synth lines, and stripped down drum programming. It's completely unacceptable that this has not been reissued yet.
Ohama – I Fear What I Might Hear (1984)
Born on a potato farm in rural Alberta, Tona Walt Ohama built himself a DIY studio, where he recorded some of the most arresting synth-pop to ever come out of Canada. Minimal Wave released a compilation of his early output in 2012, but his debut I Fear What I Might Hear deserves to be heard in its entirety, the perfect soundtrack for disenfranchised, small town youth coming to terms with media and technology during the 1980s.
Ohm and the Secret Sources - Exit From a Dream (1984)
Besides some killer synth lines and lengthy guitar solos, this four-track EP is also notable because it features Astrid Young, Neil Young's sister, on bass and backing vocals. The music video for "All In My Mind" includes some great Toronto-centric shots of Bloor Street, the Eaton Centre, and for some inexplicable reason, a car being lowered into a grave.
Hugh Le Caine – Pioneer in Electronic Music Instrument Design: Compositions and Demonstrations 1948-1972 (1985)
In the mid 1940s, Canadian inventor Hugh Le Caine built the Electronic Sackbut, widely recognized to be one of the first synthesizers. In 1955, he composed musique concrète staple "Dripsody," which used tape loops and splicing to manipulate and contort the sound of a single drop of water. Released thirty years later, this two album collection of Le Caine's compositions and experiments only proves that he was ahead of his time.
Story Structure – "I Told You" 12" (1989)
According to Discogs, only 200 copies of this ridiculously catchy synth-pop 12" were pressed. Though there's very little info out there about the band, this release was was produced by legendary disco producer and TAPPS founder Allan Coelho. It's rumored that a full-length was planned, but no material has seen the light of day, yet.
Geoff Snack is on Twitter.