PAPER BAG RECORDS FIRST ANNIVERSARY with Matthew Barber , FemBots , Hawaii and the Uncut at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, October 2). $8. Also Friday (October 3), with Stars , Bodega and Lady Lustre . $10. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Montreal - I'm standing in the smoky, sweaty Cabaret theatre on the Main in Montreal, watching Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew seduce an audience of jaded hipsters. "Ladies and gentlemen," he howls, "it all ends here! Here, at Pop Montreal, in front of all you lovely people, the Broken Social Scene will play the final show of their career!"
Should I believe him? Every other gig he tells me he's never playing songs off last year's breakout You Forgot It In People disc and then reneges the next time I catch the band live. Either way, I keep thinking about how appropriate it would be if Drew and his ever-morphing indie art rockstravaganza called it quits right now, a week before the first anniversary of Paper Bag Records, the label they helped blow up.
A year ago, Broken Social Scene was a Toronto-centric phenomenon, a loose collective of indie musicians revolving around Drew and co-captain Brendan Canning, who packed local clubs for their unpredictable artsy freakouts. These days they're so popular they've gotten props in American glossy Jane Magazine and band members' parents are turned away from their Pop Montreal showcase.
Credit You Forgot It In People, which showed up on many best-of-2002 lists. Or, more accurately, credit Paper Bag Records, the tiny upstart label that launched its own career by putting out that record.
Since its inception last fall, Paper Bag's grown from a half-baked whim hatched by a trio of buddies - Amanda Newman, Trevor Larocque and Enrique Soissa - at the MTV Canada launch party to a burgeoning indie that's put out some of the best Canadian pop music of 2003, from Stars' Heart to Matt Barber's Means & Ends.
Hard to believe it all started with "meetings over pints and lots of really bad ideas," Newman says laughingly over breakfast at a Montreal greasy spoon.
"Our jadedness with the industry was why we had to do it. Our mandate is, more or less, 'Don't put out shit,'" adds Soissa.
The crew had a name and Canada-wide distribution (through Outside Music, where Larocque works) before they'd even started thinking about what bands to sign.
The fateful Broken Social Scene dream fell into place when Larocque caught them opening for pals - and sometime Scenesters - Stars at Lee's, where he met Drew. When their paths crossed again in indie rock paradise Soundscapes, Drew mentioned Broken Social Scene were looking for distribution.
"I was more interested in Stars," admits Larocque. "But they were still working on their record, and all they had was rough demos. Broken's record was done, in the last stages of mastering. So that was a good start."
They locked down a handshake deal, which fell apart when the Scenesters decided to pioneer their own semi-indie label-slash-production house, EMI subsidiary Arts & Crafts, and called it quits with Paper Bag.... But there are no hard feelings, insists Soissa.
"At first it was about them believing in what we were doing, helping us establish ourselves and that record. I guess they realized there was a lot more potential that could be reached going through Virgin/EMI, and they figured they'd go for it. There was no contract and they wanted to do it. We could've fought it, but what was the point?"
The next night at Pop Montreal, I decide to check out their showcase at the tiny Casa del Popolo.
The joint is fairly full, but most of the faces are from back home in Toronto. The FemBots get a healthy response, yet the crowd has thinned out by the time adorable Matt Barber takes the stage later in the night.
It makes me think that Paper Bag's still a regional phenomenon. Hopefully, that'll change now that they've signed a major distribution deal with heavy hitter Universal and if they play to their strength - the impressive diversity of their artist roster, from indie twang oddballs the FemBots to their most recent conquest, Windsor/Detroit techno god Richie Hawtin.
Their goal, they claim, is to attract a slew of new fans to music they wouldn't otherwise hear.
"There are enough people with interest in Paper Bag that we can get them interested in Richie," argues Larocque. "It's all about diversity. Hell, we're trying to get the new Nickelback record!"
Adds Newman, laughing, "There has to be room for garbage as well. We need to hit the teenage market! We need to sign the next Avril Lavigne! Or, like, a suburban pop-punk band.
"We're gonna start going to high school battle of the bands contests."