Context is everything for this D.I.Y. Edmonton two-piece
THE FAMINES with CARTOONS, SAM COFFEY & THE IRON LUNGS and CURSED ARROWS at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Saturday (October 20), doors 10 pm. $7. 416-975-0909. See listing.
On July 14, 2008, a day before their first official show, the Famines recorded a warm-up session for their hometown Edmonton weekly, Vue.
In 2009, the duo decided to release the seven songs on cassette, aptly calling it 14 July 2008, but the recording – spirited and energetic in its fuzzed-out, stripped-down punk fury but very rough around the edges – was more a document of a time and place than an official release.
To communicate that fact, guitarist/singer Raymond Biesinger and drummer Garrett Kruger made sure to provide adequate context in an accompanying booklet. Two hundred and sixty-eight pages’ worth, to be precise.
An absurdly thorough, itemized account of their resources, whereabouts, tools, height, weight and breakfast routine (among other things), it’s an incredible snapshot of Edmonton’s music scene on that precise day. Re-released for this tour by Ottawa label Bruised Tongue (the booklet is now, unfortunately, only digital), the whole package is even more effective with four years’ distance.
“One thing that really bothers me about modern society and the modern internet music industry is that there’s so little context,” says Biesinger over the phone from his Montreal studio, where he makes a living as an illustrator for publications like the New Yorker and Spin.
“I’m not going to flatter myself and think some future historian is going to find our cassette and consider it a valuable tool for understanding the era, but it is an intense snapshot of a band making music at an independent level in Canada, what their qualifications were and why they were doing it.”
That historian would be very lucky to stumble across the Famines. Though they only have 11 songs recorded (handily compiled in last year’s The Complete Collected Singles, 2008-2011), there’s an abundance of other material to dig into. Like a four-volume collection of stark black-and-white images entitled A Visual History Of The Famines and an instructional pamphlet on DIY (How To Book A Maybe Successful Tour For A Band That Hasn’t Received Hype On Pitchfork, Etc.).
The Famines are as much a multi-faceted art project as a punk band. It almost seems like they only make music in order to meticulously document the process. Not that the music suffers. Raw, loud and unembellished, it’s a display of what you can do with just drums, vocals, guitar and zero effects.
“In a world with such an abundance of choices and options,” Biesinger says, to me the most original thing you can do is impose limitations.”
Part of the purpose of collecting the Famines’ singles into a single compilation was to give them incentive to move forward. Here, Raymond Biesinger explains how that, and his move to Montreal, forced a flurry of Famines-related activity.
Biesinger expands on the claim that modern artists don’t offer enough context for their work.
Biesinger explains a talk he gave at the University of Alberta called DOOM, in which he argues that the commercial arts are dying and musicians are becoming hobbyists and consumers.
Though he claims to be disconnected from the mainstream music landscape, Biesinger has literally charted the last sixty years of Edmonton’s music scene in a giant 26-foot chart.
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