No Pop – more relevant than ever in 2017

Odonis Odonis Live

At the start of 2016, we introduced you to the term No Pop created by Toronto’s Lonely Vagabond. We felt that a year on was a good time to give a No Pop refresher to make sure we were still all moving the needle in the right direction. Maybe 2017 is the year when we can all get behind a musical movement that embraces the underground and more authentic creativity. It started as a term to describe Toronto’s underground scene and letter evolved into a manifesto.

James Pew, producer and recording engineer at Euphonic Sound Studio had some thoughts on No Pop, he said “It has more to do with the mindset of the people making the music, than any specific musical or sonic aesthetic. I’ve met tons of people at my studio who, when making music, are very concerned with sonic characteristics of something popular (like the use of auto tune on a vocal to give the robot warble effect). For them, having something that links them to the mainstream is the goal even when they don’t realize that there music/production will never be on par with the overly crafted and produced glossy products of the mainstream world. To me, this pursuit is insanity. If you want to be in the mainstream world and have the production values of a Rhianna or Beyonce (or other example of big money artist) than you need to be in that world and access its resources (writing teams, production teams, the entire big money artist development system). Chasing a big money sound and brand with little money and resources is in my opinion a huge waste of time. In simplest terms, the No Pop movement allows for a non-big moneyed artist (also known as an Indie Artist) to create sonic art on their own terms, ignoring any aesthetic parameters set by the prevailing mainstream culture.”

It’s important to remember that one of the main No Pop ideologies is that we have to look at the present and not forget about the music of the past. There’s so much music in the vaults that are just waiting to be discovered. No Pop isn’t a Toronto specific movement. It’s also catching on in some places in Europe like Dead Bees Records in Toulouse, France who are now using the #NOPOP tag for all new releases. Lonely Vagabond said about the origins of No Pop, “One of my greatest passions is learning about music movements, educating myself about the societal and cultural forces that create them. I feel like I’ve read every book and watched every documentary there is out there. Music revolution has a voice. We can’t let it go silent.”

It seems musicians are always at the forefront of any political or social movement. Considering the current political environment, it seems a new movement people can grab onto is more needed than ever. People will try to look to mainstream artists since they are a bit more accessible, but the mainstream players in the music industry are too tied into ‘business’ of music, and less often make music that is authentic and representative of a particular culture, society or any real movement. But, does embracing No Pop mean you must completely avoid the mainstream?

Talking about the mainstream, Denholm Whale, co-founder of Buzz Records, member of Odonis Odonis, stated “Yeah, there are definitely certain mainstream artists & entertainers that spark my interest every once in a while. I also have a fond nostalgia for pieces of mainstream culture that I grew up with. What irks me is the advantage that mainstream artist can posses through nepotism, marketing dollars, powerful teams, etc. These advantages can blind a consumer to the wealth of culture outside of their doorstep. I don’t think it’s wrong for someone to enjoy a metaphorical big mac every once in a while, just don’t be ignorant to rest of the world. Make an effort to go local with arts and culture.”

James Mejia, founder of Hand Drawn Dracula label, said the following about mainstream music, “Are you saying something that’s important to you or are you saying something that everyone wants to hear. Ideally, it would be both, but moulding work to fit current trends will always resonate hollow. It’s up to the artist or the entertainer to clearly set their own goals for their practice and the realistic expectations of the results.”

Using technology and more specifically, underground artists can connect with their audience easily and in real time. It’s ironic that social media—which is a very big thing in pop culture right now—is where we go for grassroots movements such as this these days.

James Pew had some interesting thoughts about social media, he said, “Having running water is also a big thing in our society. But just having a medium in-an-of itself is not very exciting and says nothing about how each person with a sink uses the water. There is a kid in Ontario that used the running water and sink in his house to conduct his early experiments that eventually led to an invention where by a genetically modified form of e coli generates abundant energy by breaking down waste water. Meanwhile, most of his neighbors used there sinks to do their dishes. Some people will use social media to further deepen their interface with mainstream culture (a process I like to call deepening the shallow), others will create things never before imagined.”

Denholm Whale added, “Yeah, its a little unsettling, especially considering that these social networks are limited by algorithms that force us to pay for more and more reach that used to be free and are just a big data hub for advertisers. Eventually, we won’t be able to connect in the same way via these channels, though I am sure something else will come up.”

Let’s make 2017 the year of No Pop and support our local musicians and artists that are creating from the heart and making something ‘real’. Check out a live band, buy a t-shirt at a show, or grab a copy a record from outside of the mainstream.

But, don’t forget about the past. Do some digging online and find out about artists and music from the past. Maybe you can hit a used record shop and randomly grab an album from past eras. Expose yourself to something new.

There’s tons of great music out there, you just have to look beyond what’s in the top 100 or popular on the radio right now. If you find something that moves you, share it with your friends or go online and tell people about it and that you’re part of the #NoPop movement.