The 30 Artists Who Defined Exclaim!'s First 30 Years

We launched in April 1992 — and to celebrate, we're reminiscing about Arcade Fire, the Weeknd, Nardwuar, Grimes and more

Illustration: Fiona Smyth

BY Matt Bobkin and Alex HudsonPublished Apr 25, 2022

So much has changed since Exclaim! published its first issue in April 1992, but 30 years and over 300 issues later, what remains the same is Exclaim!'s commitment to promoting boundary-pushing artists of all genres in Canada and beyond, largely driven by James Keast, Exclaim!'s Editor in Chief from 1995 to 2020. While we're flattered every time an artist credits an Exclaim! review, interview or live showcase for helping them achieve some success, plenty of artists have changed Exclaim! for the better, too.

In celebration of three decades of Exclaim!, we've plundered the archives to pay tribute to some of the artists who've made the biggest impact on these very pages. They're by no means the biggest artists — or even the biggest Canadian artists — we've featured, but the ones whose ethoses matched, challenged and elevated our own. We're just grateful to be along for the ride.

Change of Heart
On the cover: August 1994, March 1997

Ian Blurton is one of Exclaim!'s original fixations — his band Change of Heart appeared on the cover twice within our first few years, plus the making of the band's 1992 album Smile was given a full-page feature in our first issue, written by the band's own drummer Glenn Milchem, now of Blue Rodeo. And with his subsequent band C'mon, occasional Change of Heart reunions, solo work, and ever-increasing catalogue as a producer and all-around studio wizard, Blurton remains an elder statesman of Toronto's indie rock community and a forever-favourite here at Exclaim!

Eric's Trip
On the cover: February 1996

When Seattle's Sub Pop Records set their sights on the Halifax Pop Explosion, they didn't end up making any of the city's artists their first Canadian signees — instead, that honour went to Eric's Trip from the neighbouring province of New Brunswick. Not that the distinction mattered to most people — in our 1996 cover story, the band's Julie Doiron mentioned that "it's a little bit of a drag" being mistaken for a Halifax band. It surely didn't help that we made Eric's Trip share the cover with Halifax band Plumtree (who later inspired Scott Pilgrim, itself named after an Exclaim! writer), but we'd make it up to Doiron with a solo cover in 1999.

Nardwuar the Human Serviette
On the cover: May 1998

Being music journalists, we don't typically cover the comings and goings of other music journalists. The one exception is Vancouver icon Nardwuar the Human Serviette, whose long-running radio show has been on UBC station CiTR since 1987. He's a musician as well — he fronts long-running punk band and one-time Exclaim! cover stars the Evaporators, plus other punk outfit Thee Goblins — but most of our coverage of Nard over the years has focused on his absurdly popular, impossibly well-researched interviews. Exclaim!'s growth over the years has often run parallel with the Evaporators' record label, Mint Records, which was founded one year before us in 1991.

The Sadies 
On the cover: August 1998, August 2006

The Sadies have a gravitational force that pulls so many artists into their orbit. Gord Downie, Neko Case, John Doe, Andre Williams, Jon Langford and others recorded with the group, who were equally beloved by fans and peers. Even before they were the Sadies, members had appeared in Exclaim!'s pages — singer-guitarist Dallas Good and bassist Sean Dean were featured in Exclaim!'s first year with other projects, while drummer Mike Belitsky was on the cover with Jale in 1996. Tragically, Good died earlier this year at the age of 48 — and the subsequent outpouring of grief and support made it clear just how many lives the Toronto alt-roots band had touched. 

Kid Koala 
On the cover: February 2000

Eric San has never failed to delight audiences with creative new projects, a giddy sense of play and masterful turntablism. He can scratch and cut with the best of them, but perhaps what stands out most about Kid Koala's career is that he's never failed to keep pushing the envelope of electronic music. He's made music intended to draw to; he's toured a zany vaudeville show; he's performed silent concerts for audience members wearing headphones inside of "space pods." Never change, Kid Koala — by which we mean, always keep changing.

The Weakerthans
On the cover: August 2000, September 2003

John K. Samson has co-founded a publishing house (ARP Books), has written a book of poetry, and has worked as an adjunct professor in creative writing at UBC. He is very literally book-smart. But being one of Canada's brainiest songwriters has never made his music any less accessible, as evidenced by his indie rock output as frontman of Winnipeg's the Weakerthans. (He also spent time as bassist of beloved punk band Propagandhi, although he had left long before they appeared on our December 2009 cover.) A true wordsmith, Samson even beat James Keast in a Scrabble game during their 2003 cover-story interview.

The New Pornographers
On the cover: November 2000, May 2003

Carl Newman is the only person to appear on the Exclaim! cover four times: twice with the New Pornographers, and previously with Zumpano (February 1995) and Superconductor (July 1996). The Vancouver supergroup are the centre of a Venn diagram of era-defining indie music, also including Exclaim! cover stars Neko Case (March 2000, plus August 1996 with Maow) and Destroyer's Dan Bejar (March 2006). Last year, Newman reminisced in an interview, "Exclaim! put us on the cover. That helped. That was probably the first big piece of press we got, so that got our foot in the door in Canada."

On the cover: August 2003

When discussing the hotbeds of Canadian indie music, many people jump to the big metropolises of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax, but Guelph certainly had a heyday in the early '00s, centring on Three Gut Records. Constantines were the scene's crown jewel, bringing their thunderous riffs to Sub Pop and beyond for four albums between 2001 and 2008. They've made sporadic appearances since going on hiatus in 2010, and remain impactful — the releases of guitarist Steven Lambke's You've Changed Records still regularly appear in Exclaim!, and the Cons were mentioned in our most recent issue by Cancer Bats' Liam Cormier as his answer to the Exclaim! Questionnaire question "Who's a Canadian musician that should be more famous?" (in a tie along with their friends and frequent tourmates Ladyhawk).

On the cover: October 2003

We called Peaches a "gender-fucking sexual conduit" in her 2003 cover apperance, and one can't help but think that today's far more genderfucked-friendly atmosphere is, in part, thanks to the sex-positive electropop from the artist born Merrill Nisker. Before adopting the Peaches persona in the late '90s, she was already a fixture of Exclaim!'s pages and live events as she transformed from underground provocateur to bonafide pop star collaborating with P!nk and Christina Aguilera. Her daringness to spit in the face of conservative gender politics has gone from radical to trailblazing, and the success of early collaborators such as Feist and Chilly Gonzales has inspired a new generation of arty Canadians looking to Europe to sow their seeds. 

Broken Social Scene
On the cover: December 2003 / January 2004

Only founding members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning appeared on BSS's sole cover appearance, which completely underplays the project's scope and eventual impact on Exclaim! and Canadian music at-large. Plenty of members and affiliated projects have appeared on the cover since, including Feist (twice), Stars, Metric (twice), Apostle of Hustle and Jason Collett (plus, Canning and Feist had already appeared with By Divine Right in 1999). The band took the Toronto music scene to the world, and Exclaim! was there every step of the way — an early iteration of the band played Exclaim!'s ninth anniversary party in 2001, as they were evolving from a two-person post-rock outfit into the ever-expanding art rock crew they are today.

Arcade Fire
On the cover: September 2004, December 2010

Arcade Fire woah-ed their way into our hearts right from the beginning, as we put them on the cover of our September 2004 issue, the same month debut album Funeral came out. They helped to kickstart the Montreal indie rock boom of the aughts, and they have remained a fixture of Exclaim! for nearly two decades. When we picked the best Canadian albums of the 2010s, their 2010 album The Suburbs claimed the top spot. The group's orchestral mastermind, Owen Pallett, has also been on the cover twice (June 2006 as Final Fantasy and February 2010 under his own name).

On the cover: May 2005, March 2020

Whether working under his dance alias Daphni, his prior moniker Manitoba, or appearing on the cover of Exclaim! twice as Caribou, Dan Snaith makes electronic music with a detail-oriented precision that you'd expect from someone with a PhD in mathematics. His two Exclaim! cover appearances have come a whopping 15 years apart — a testament to his longevity, the incredible consistency of his output, and the breadth of his catalogue.

Wolf Parade
On the cover: October 2005

When Wolf Parade emerged from Montreal's mid-aughts musical heyday, the members had already put in their dues as members of Atlas Strategic, Frog Eyes and Hot Hot Heat, so the band's quick ascent to indie rock stardom was a longer time coming than their scant discography made it seem. And though equally prolific frontmen Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner have stayed just as busy in the years since with Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs, Moonface, Divine Fits, Operators and more, the only member of the band to grace the cover multiple times is now-former bassist Dante DeCaro, who appeared with Hot Hot Heat in 2002.

Cadence Weapon
On the cover: February 2006

Rollie Pemberton first appeared on the Exclaim! cover just a couple months after the release of his debut album, Breaking Kayfabe — an album that was short-listed for the 2006 Polaris Music Prize, then in its first year. Since then, it's been a delight watching him go from fresh-faced rap newcomer to central player in the Canadian music world, a journey that culminated in him finally winning Polaris in 2021 with his fifth album, Parallel World. With the memoir Bedroom Rapper set to come out this spring, we're excited to see his breadth continue to widen.

Fucked Up
On the cover: October 2008, October 2018

What a difference a decade makes — when Fucked Up graced our cover the second time around, exactly 10 years after their first appearance, we followed up on our 2008 question "Will Fucked Up Kill Each Other?" by declaring the band's latest era as "The End of Fight Club." Though that didn't stop Fucked Up's Mike Haliechuk from lobbing a lengthy, now-deleted critique of our story accusing us of focusing too much on frontman Damian Abraham — though the band appear to be getting along, they're just as aggressive as ever, on- and off-stage. (Also, people still got in touch to complain about us putting "Fuck" on the cover, as if people didn't call us "Fuck Magazine" when all we had to identify ourselves back in the day was our !*@# wordmark.)

On the cover: July 2009

Nearly a decade before forming shoegaze band No Joy, Jasamine White-Gluz wrote a glowing review of Alexisonfire's 2002 self-titled debut for Exclaim!, proving then and there that the St. Catharines post-hardcore outfit were already irresistible to artists, critics and fans alike. One of Canada's heaviest exports, their inimitable mix of dirty and clean sounds propelled them to instant cult status. They appeared on the cover for 2009's Old Crows / Young Cardinals, which, as of this writing, is still their most recent album, but time has proven their epithet of "the only band ever" to be true — we put Dallas Green on the cover a decade later as City and Colour, and the reaction to their announcement of upcoming album Otherness has been nothing short of seismic.

Tegan and Sara
On the cover: November 2009

Over Exclaim!'s 30 years, pop music has increasingly found a home in our pages — a shift that reflects the broader cultural trend of "poptimism," as critics have finally woken up to the brilliance of radio-friendly pop. No artist reflects this shift better than Tegan and Sara Quin, who have risen from indie folk upstarts to full-blown synthpop stars over their 24-year-career. They appeared on Exclaim!'s cover for their album Sainthood in 2009 — right around the time they started to embrace glossier sounds, but before they fully made the pop transition.

On the cover: June 2010

In 2007, we made the bold declaration that "Shad Is Hip-Hop Royalty" in the headline of our feature on the then-Vancouver-based rapper's sophomore album, The Old Prince. Since then, he's kept proving our point as one of Canadian music's most dependable fixtures, popping up every few years to deliver a quality album and blow minds with his honest, affable and charming lyricism, even beating Drake for the Rap Recording of the Year at the 2011 Juno Awards (while the Degrassi star was hosting, no less). Soft rockin' alter-ego Your Boy and stints hosting CBC Radio show q and music doc series Hip-Hop Evolution show that his kingdom is vast and plentiful. Long may he reign. 

On the cover: October 2011, June 2017

You've probably figured out by now that this list is in chronological order, and so you're probably surprised that Leslie Feist is so far down —  despite becoming an international phenomenon sometime between 2004's Let It Die and 2007's The Reminder, we waited until 2011's Metals for her to grace the cover, long after the rest of her BSS associates (as listed above), not counting her 1999 appearance with By Divine Right. She thankfully didn't seem to take it personally — when speaking with her last year about live performance series MULTITUDES, she let us break the news that she had recently become a mom.

The Weeknd
On the cover: December 2011

When the Weeknd appeared on the Exclaim! cover in December 2011, he hadn't even released a proper album, just two-thirds of his buzz-generating mixtape trilogy. Despite still being at the beginning of his career, a time when most artists are hungry for press, he wouldn't talk to us; he had never granted an interview at that point, and we wrote a cover story about the hype and mystery that surrounded Abel Tesfaye. A decade later, he's a lot less mysterious and a lot more famous, but his millions of followers haven't forgotten where he came from — when he first graced the cover of TIME in 2018, a fanmade image of all the Weeknd's magazine covers to that point featured Exclaim!'s in the top-left corner as the earliest one.

On the cover: March 2012

It's hard to think of a single Canadian artist whose trajectory has been more unexpected and astounding than Grimes's. When she appeared on our March 2012 cover, she was a nascent artist still finding her voice. Her then-new album Visions was an enormous level-up from her rough-around-the-edges prior albums — although it too was a low-budget effort created with GarageBand in three weeks. Flash forward a decade and it seems like every new week brings an update about her tabloid-ready personal life, controversial views on artificial intelligence, or trippy music and visual art.

On the cover: December 2014

When we put Alvvays on our 2014 year-end cover, it already felt like a victory lap for the fuzz pop band, who released their self-titled debut in July of that year. Alvvays remained close to our hearts; a few years later, we named sophomore LP Antisocialites the best pop and rock album of 2017. Alvvays guitarist Alec O'Hanley had already appeared on the Exclaim! cover once before, as a member of East Coast indie rock band Two Hours Traffic in September 2009.

Coeur de pirate
On the cover: September 2015

Béatrice Martin is undoubtedly one of French Canada's most successful crossover artists, becoming popular in English-speaking Canada (and making a splash in France as well). Since appearing on the Exclaim! cover in 2015, her status within the industry has continued to grow: in 2021, she purchased the label Dare to Care Records following allegations that the prior owner had fostered a toxic work environment, and she rebranded the company Bravo Musique with an emphasis on inclusivity and respect.

On the cover: June 2016

PUP's The Dream Is Over had one of those stories that instantly became a piece of Canadian rock lore: lead vocalist Stefan Babcock developed a cyst on his vocal cords that threatened the band's career, but they soldiered on to deliver a pop-punk classic. Staying anchored to their DIY roots — they were the first band Hollerado signed to Royal Mountain Records, and now operate their own label Little Dipper — despite their vastly increased profile, PUP have quickly become the new face of Canadian punk.

The Halluci Nation
On the cover: October 2016

Originally formed under the name A Tribe Called Red, the Halluci Nation brought a whole new perspective to the EDM boom. Their Electric Pow Wow party nights in Ottawa were famously a total blast — but the Halluci Nation aren't just about turning off your brain and having a good time. Their combination of traditional Indigenous music with thundering beats (a style referred to as "powwow-step") has been an enormous crossover success, and they place inclusivity and social justice at the front of their message. Group member Bear Witness told Exclaim! in our 2016 cover story, "People have gotten over the surprise of what we're doing. How can we continue to push our ideas as artists, and also audiences', as far as what we're trying to show them?"

Tanya Tagaq
On the cover: November 2016

A lot of people (herself included) have used the term "angry" to refer to Tanya Tagaq, but perhaps a better term is "indignant," as she takes aim at hundreds of years of colonial violence and simply encourages everyone to be better and, y'know, less racist and hateful. And she's just as iconoclastic on the mic as she is off stage, as she transplants throat singing into modern, avant-garde musical settings. Her impact was immediate — only four years after her groundbreaking 2014 Polaris Music Prize win, the term "Indigenous renaissance" was firmly part of the world's cultural vocabulary.

Jeremy Dutcher
On the cover: December 2018

Speaking of "Indigenous renaissance," the term gained widespread popularity after Jeremy Dutcher's Polaris Music Prize acceptance speech in 2018. His debut album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa blended his classical music training with the traditional music of the Wolastoqiyik people, a piece of music that matches its stunning musicianship with its concept of breathing new life into its songs, making him perhaps the most prominent neoclassical artist in Exclaim!'s history.

On the cover: September 2020

For Exclaim!'s first issue fully produced in the pandemic, we put Backxwash on the cover and asked, "Will Montreal's metalhead rapper reshape the music industry?" With the industry in complete freefall, it was just as much a cry for help as a hypothesis, but her staunch DIY approach, unique blend of influences and refusal to be put in any boxes made her our best bet for a better future. Her Polaris Music Prize win later that year and the resulting international attention and immeasurable growth has shown that she's already made just as much of an impact as some of the veteran artists on this list.

Daniel Romano
On the cover: Fall 2020

The Ontario troubadour first appeared on the cover in August 2007 as a member of Attack in Black, and that band's mix of rock, punk and folk foreshadowed Daniel Romano's remarkably prolific and varied career to come. Following Attack in Black's breakup in 2010, Romano quickly got to work on music under his own name, and has released at least an album a year most years since. Whether making music, visual art or poetry, whether solo or with a variety of collaborators, whether folk, country, rock, psych or punk, whether releasing one album a year or 10, Romano's tireless ethic manages to hit the sweet spot between quality and quantity. As he told us in his 2020 cover story interview, "I'm always making something … It's not necessarily music, but yes — I wake up every day and I work."

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
On the cover: never

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are the only act on this list to never appear on the cover, and not for our lack of trying. The Montreal post-rock giants have been notoriously press-averse — when NME put them on the cover in 1999, the British mag had to superimpose an excerpt from a spoken-word passage on top of an ominous photo of storm clouds because there were no usable press shots — and our attempt to put them on the cover in 2002 and subsequent feature article about the runaround was met with an antagonistic 5,500-word rebuke by their label, Constellation. But over time, the band's mythos has largely dissipated to reveal what's been there the whole time — good players, passionate artists and thoughtful provocateurs. Founder Efrim Menuck has even spoken with Exclaim! via longtime contributor Vish Khanna.

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