British Columbia

Music city: CBC searches for Vancouver's signature sound

All week, CBC's On the Coast team has been on a quest to find out what Vancouver's sound is. It began when Montreal declared itself a city of excellence for heavy metal music. So, what is Vancouver's signature musical genre?

Punk, pop rock, femme hip hop or soul? What does Vancouver have to offer music lovers?

Vancouver artist JB the First Lady says BIPOC — black, Indigenous, people of colour— is revolutionizing hip-hop music in Vancouver. (Nadya Kwandibens/Redworks)

CBC's On the Coast  team has been on a quest to determine Vancouver's signature musical sound.

It began when Montreal declared itself a city of excellence for heavy metal music. The city is home to several famed heavy metal bands like Kataklysm and plays host to a two-day metal festival in the summer.

"[We're] sort of an epicentre of all of that," Montreal Coun. Craig Suave told Gloria Macarenko, host of On the Coast. "Montreal is renowned internationally for the quality of its music, for the vibrancy and the dynamism of its scene."

The decision to officially declare Montreal the city of metal was made in a unanimous vote by city council. 

So, if Montreal is the city of metal, what is Vancouver's signature musical genre?

Punk city

For Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry, punk rock is Vancouver's sound — it being the city of D.O.A., who gained wild popularity in the 1980s. 

"At that time we were still sort of an isolated kind of logging town, disconnected from the rest of Canada," Fry said.

The 1980 album Hardcore '81 is arguably where D.O.A. coined the term "hardcore" and went on to influence the punk genre, says Fry.  

Original D.O.A. lineup, left to right: Randy Rampage, Chuck Biscuits and Joey Sh*thead. D.O.A. formed in 1978, initially playing to largely confused fans. Then punk took off. (Don Denton)

Vancouver's proximity to Seattle and California also came into play, he said.

"I think we're isolated from the rest of Canada, cut off from the rest of Canada by the Rockies ... I think the ability to tour back and forth up and down the coast really gave us those connections."

Should Vancouver declare itself the city of punk? Fry says no.

"It's a total poser move. No real punk would actually say, 'I'm the most punk.'"

Pop-rock city

Local singer-songwriter and musician Jody Glenham says Vancouver's sound is pop-rock. 

Glenham says Vancouver had many session musicians working on great albums during the '80s and '90s. John Webster played keyboard for '80s group Idle Eyes, as well as on albums by Tom Cochrane and Red Rider and all the '90s Aerosmith records produced in Vancouver. 

But Vancouver's pop-rock excellence is about more than just musicianship. 

"I think what it comes down to is the songwriting behind all of the pop-rock," said Glenham.

She cites Louise Burns, Japanadroids, The Bell Game, and Haley Blais as carrying the pop-rock torch for the West Coast. 

And of course, there's Bryan Adams.

"That's the sound of Vancouver. You know, it's that really cutting clean rock and roll guitar coming through," she said. 

Creating a movement

Jerilynn Snuxyaltwa Webster, whose stage name is JB the First Lady, believes Vancouver's sound should be a reflection of its diverse community.

She says the perfect sound for the city is the hip-hop genre BIPOC, which stands for black, Indigenous, people of colour. BIPOC is a feminist — or "femme," as they say in the music industry — manifestation of the historically masculine genre of hip hop.  

"In hip hop it's very male dominated. So there's a new sound of women saying our stories because our story hasn't been heard yet. It's a fresh new sound that people are going to want to hear and are totally embracing, especially from the BIPOC community and the LGBTQ community as well," she said. 

For JB, BIPOC is about creating a movement, rather than just a sound. She cites Vials, Mamarudegyal MTHC and Missy D as some artists to watch out for on the Vancouver hip-hop scene. 

JB says hip-hop culture and music are valuable tools for youth engagement, which is why BIPOC can be so powerful. 

"It's a contemporary way of collecting oral history, and that's what our people as Indigenous people have been doing [all along]." 

Soul city

Singer, musician and producer Kevin Mehr, or Kevvy, says Vancouver is all about soul. 

He says Vancouver has churned out great indie-pop from the likes of Dear Rouge and Mother Mother. 

However, Kevvy says Vancouver is heading in the direction of more soul music excellence. He cites I M U R as one of Vancouver's greatest soul groups now putting out albums. 

Vancouver producer and solo artist Pomo has produced a lot of the latest Anderson Paak record, as well as a great deal for Mac Miller. 

Kevvy says the best soul is happening in little studios all over the city.

"I think it's getting cherry picked by Los Angeles. I find we're slowly losing these great talents," he said.

"But they'll come back and they represent Vancouver in a great way I think," he said.

With files by On the Coast


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