THE SILT with MICHELLE McADOREY and ERIC CHENAUX at Clinton's (693 Bloor West), Friday, June 28, $tba; MARTIN ARNOLD and THE DRAPERIES at Arraymusic (60 Atlantic, #218), Saturday, June 29, $tba; THE GUAYAVERAS at Ideal Coffee (84 Nassau), Sunday, June 30, noon, free. firstname.lastname@example.org
If the new Toronto independent record label Rat-Drifting doesn't make a mark on the city's music scene, it certainly won't be for lack of effort.Launched by guitarist Eric Chenaux and composer Martin Arnold, the open-ended label rooted in Toronto's improvised and experimental music community is releasing four records at once -- The Silt's Red Whistle, Marmot's Treacle Wall, the Draperies' L'Histoire Du Chapeau and a self-titled set by the Guayaveras -- with three different release parties.
There are also a dozen other discs in the pipeline, ranging from duets with former Crash Vegas vocalist Michelle McAdorey to a project featuring Chenaux accompanying himself through tiny speakers hidden in his mouth.
All this from a few people who insist they're not really all that interested in running a record label in the first place.
"There's certainly nothing fun about running a label, and I kind of wish someone else would put out all our records," Chenaux laughs, sipping coffee. "When we started Rat-Drifting, it wasn't a "Damn, those fuckers don't love us' kind of situation. We were a bunch of people who had been playing together for a couple years, and those groups stayed together. At a certain point it became really obvious that this wasn't something casual, so it made sense to document it."
There's a vaguely incestuous air about Rat-Drifting. The tastefully designed CDs feature many of the same musicians -- Chenaux, synth player Ryan Driver, brass man Doug Tielli -- popping up in wildly different contexts, from the minimalist folk of the Guayaveras and the eerie chamber movements of all-star band Marmots to the Silt's cracked and twanging pop music.
But while there are shared elements across the whole label, Rat-Drifting is not about one sound in particular.
"The people involved are really the connection between the records, and that's reflected in the label name; the idea of drifting is really important, and so is this idea of slackness.
"We used to use that word to describe people like Captain Beefheart or the Shaggs, and it's been kind of co-opted to mean dour or navel-gazing music. We try to get back to the essence of the word, whether it's by doing tunes, jazz standards, improvising or modern composition."
Toronto's improvised and experimental music underground is way out on the absolute fringes of Toronto's independent community but is also one of the city's strongest scenes. It's supported by shows in studios and lofts, the weekly Soundlist e-mail flyer and a group of players who, by constantly working together, have helped create something solid out of virtually nothing.
"We're all really good friends," explains Chenaux. "Besides playing together, we go and see one another's bands, and that's really important.
"What's really refreshing is that a dedicated audience has emerged for this. The people who are interested in this music are really intense about it and are there to listen and talk about it. You don't see that much in other music scenes."
Nevertheless, it's hardly pop music, and Chenaux understands that sales of the Rat-Drifting releases are likely to be counted in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Yet rather than restricting what he's doing, the limited audience for this music instead appears to be inspiring the label to do more.
"We're definitely not thinking of it as a business, which takes a lot of that bullshit pressure off," Chenaux agrees. "I don't have any preconceptions about widening the audience for this music either.
"People are just making music and we think it should be documented. Does that sound selfish?"email@example.com