Nfld. & Labrador

'Nans are punk': This St. John's band is so into nostalgia, its new album is on cassette

Tongue firmly in cheek, Black Market Hard-Tack describes its style as "nan-core."

Black Market Hard-Tack, tongue in cheek, describes its style as ‘nan-core’

Black Market Hard-Tack has been active in the St. John's music scene since 2016. (Ryan Christy/Submitted)

Back when news was circulating that Newfoundland and Labrador staple Purity Factories might be sold, Ryan Wade can remember driving with his mother and listening to the radio.

"And Mom looked at me and said, 'Well, you're gonna have to get your hard tack on the black market.'"

It was a phrase that stayed with Wade, so he filed it away in the back of his head for a chance to use it.

The opportunity came along in 2016, when the band Black Market Hard-Tack made its debut in St. John's. It's a band with a sense of humour, but it takes nostalgia seriously — so seriously that its latest release is out on cassette.

Wade (guitar, synth and sequencing) formed the band with Curtis Kilfoy (vocals, guitar, synth and sequencing), singer Krissy Breen and bassist Evan Hodder. Kilfoy and Wade started composing music together in a humble way: the Korg DS-10, a music program on the Nintendo DS.

Their style: post-punk synth-pop

In two years, they've released one EP and two albums, have gotten played as far away as a Welsh radio station, and one of their songs will be in an upcoming feature-length film, Deep Web, by independent director Jessy Dupont.

Black Market Hard-Tack describes its style as post-punk synth-pop, but what they're channelling can depend on the song.

"There's definitely a lot of influences from a lot of bands.… There are bands that are a little bit heavier than ours," Breen said.

"And we are all over the place genre-wise, like per song. 'Cause some of the songs are definitely heavier and some are very melodic, some of them are extremely pop and some you can really rock out to.… There's a huge spectrum on influences, which is really cool that they do all come together."

"We're cutesy on the front end but really, underneath the hood it's kind of gothy," said Wade.

They can't be pegged down to one trope, with their songs covering the gamut from Shawnadithit to nuclear holocaust to the Comics Code Authority.

'Some dark stuff with a lot of humour'

On their latest album there are songs about Newfoundland; Remains of the Bay deals with opiate addiction and The WAPS is about a gambling addiction.

"It's a mix of some dark stuff with a lot of humour," Breen said.

Vinyl has gotten crazy expensive to make and sell. Tapes are a nice way to get stuff out in an analog format that doesn't break the bank.- Curtis Kilfoy

A lot of their songs are about obsolete media, said Kilfoy, while others are about nostalgia and things that have been abandoned.

Jumbo Video Castle of Horrors was inspired by the old video store that used to be on Ropewalk Lane. Inside the store was an actual horror castle decorated with mannequins of figures like Jason of the Friday the 13th series and Freddy Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street films. Their song is a homage to VHS era B-horror and slasher films, explained Kilfoy.

That nostalgia isn't limited to their lyrics either. While their music is available online, they've also released a self-titled album on cassette — part of a trend in which young musicians celebrate analog technology from an earlier era. 

From left, Curtis Kilfoy, Ryan Wade, Krissy Breen and Evan Hodder rehearse in a tight space. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC)

"Vinyl has gotten crazy expensive to make and sell," said Kilfoy. "Tapes are a nice way to get stuff out in an analog format that doesn't break the bank. It smudges and blends the sound in a nice way, too."

The cassettes can be bought around town at places like Fred's Records, Fixed Coffee and the Battery Café.

"It's almost like trading cards or something… The way you hear the media maybe isn't necessarily important, I guess," Wade said.

The tape comes with a download code, so if listeners don't have a tape player they can still listen to the album digitally.

'Everybody loves their nan'

Black Market Hard-Tack occasionally describes their esthetic as "nan-core," though it's a bit tongue-in-cheek.

"I know a lot of people use it but to me, it's kind of like an in-joke between my sister about a certain fashion esthetic in St. John's," Wade said.

One of Black Market Hard-Tack's releases, Impurity, is inspired by the packaging for Purity's hard tack bread. (Submitted)

It's not uncommon to see young women borrowing the look their grandmothers would have sported.

"I've seen some ladies downtown sometimes with a plastic bonnet on their head — my grandmother used to do that. So it's kind of like recycling the look of grandma into your fashion esthetic, you know?"

"It's like a symbol of strength in Newfoundland really, you know, like the grandmother. Everybody loves their nan," he said.

Breen added, "Nans are punk."

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About the Author

Elizabeth Whitten


Elizabeth Whitten is a journalist and editor based in St. John's. When she’s not chasing her next story, she's cuddling with her dog and reading a good book.