Rock Geography

Rock Geography
Music is a community proposition, and often like-sounding bands emerge from common geography. A great city scene is built on the foundations of good music industry structure — dedicated (often indie) record labels, open-minded concert venues, spirited sharing, and of course, luck. These cities exploded when these various factors converged, but their best-known sounds are often only the surface of a healthy music scene.

In 1992, record scouts followed the grunge buzz on Halifax quartet Sloan to Halifax, but while fuzzy guitars and flannel did abound, Halifax proved less Seattle grunge than Pop Explosion (its so-named music fest celebrates its tenth anniversary this year). In its heyday, Halifax best exemplified the mid-‘90s Canadian independent music explosion — hooky rock bands who fuzzed their pop through British Invasion-era influences, often sporting multiple songwriters that enhanced the diversity of their sound. Sloan's legacy extended beyond their radio-friendly success — their Murderecords label also provided the blueprint for current indie labels like Brobdignagian to follow.
Key Recordings: Sloan One Chord To Another (Murder, 1996); Jale So Wound (Sub Pop, 1996); Super Friendz Slide Show (Murder, 1996); Rebecca West Burners On (Cinnamon Toast, 1995); Joel Plaskett Down At The Khyber (Brobdingnagian, 2001)

Northern England's working class city Manchester became the dominant force of Britpop in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with its fusion of acid-house dance beats and melodic, psychedelic pop. Familiar ‘60s touchstones in song structure and hooky choruses fused with modern arrangements and attitude in this "baggy" scene (named after its dominant style of dress). Led by the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, the so-called "Madchester" scene was also marked by its leaders' eccentric personalities, chronicled religiously in the controversy-mad British music press. The Stone Roses' well-documented inability to follow-up on their debut and the drug-fuelled thuggishness of the Mondays led to the scene's collapse, but their influence can be heard in most contemporary Britpop. Director Michael Winterbottom's new film 24 Hour Party People, due this summer, follows the evolution of Factory Records and the Madchester scene.
Key Recordings: Happy Mondays Pills ‘n' Thrills & Bellyaches (Elektra, 1990); Stone Roses The Stone Roses (Silvertone, 1989); Inspiral Carpets Life (Elektra, 1990); Charlatans UK The Charlatans [UK] (Beggars Banquet, 1995)

The last decade of thriving Chicago experimentation in sound fusion can be attributed to two musician/producers: John McEntire and Jim O'Rourke. McEntire was a drummer for an early incarnation of O'Rourke's sound experimentation in Gastr Del Sol, but it's his work in avant-rock collective Tortoise, and as a collaborator (drumming, engineering, producing) for acts as diverse as Eleventh Dream Day, the Sea and Cake, Trans Am, Stereolab, the Red Krayola, Smog and Richard Buckner, and with his Soma Electronic Music Studios that McEntire has made his mark – refreshing pop, reinventing post-rock and slicing rock music into scattered, innovative beats. O'Rourke has arrived at a similar place of adult pop from the opposite direction, an avant-gardist whose work with the likes Derek Bailey and his experimentation with Gastr Del Sol was more musique concrete than radio-friendly. As a producer, however, O'Rourke has recently assisted in the reinvention of Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), Sonic Youth (whom he joins on their newest, Murray Street, due in July) and most interestingly himself, through a series of excellent pop-oriented solo albums.
Key Recordings: Tortoise Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey, 1996); Sea and Cake Nassau (Thrill Jockey, 1995); Gastr Del Sol Camofleur (Drag City, 1998); Jim O'Rourke Eureka (Drag City, 1999).

Detroit has maintained several musical identities since the Motown explosion, merging black and white communities with a strong rock, R&B, punk and garage spirit that has thrived since the late ‘60s. The psychedelia-tinged garage of bands like the Amboy Dukes and ? and the Mysterians, the blue-eyed soul of Mitch Ryder's Detroit Wheels, and the proto-garage punk of the Stooges and the MC5 led its underground, while mainstream bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper and Bob Seger made their mark on the world. The so-called rock revival has revived Detroit's underground spirit with the candy-cane White Stripes and fellow garage rockers the Von Bondies.
Key Recordings: MC5 Kick Out the Jams (Elektra, 1969); Stooges Raw Power (Columbia, 1973); White Stripes De Stijl (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2000); Von Bondies Lack of Communication (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001)