Broken Social Scene

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Broken Social Scene

Rock group

Billboard once described Broken Social Scene (BSS) as "a new genre of music: symphcore … typified by soaring vocal croons, hushed keyboards, and delicate string arrangements," and praised the group's "otherworldly orchestral pop." The New York Times called BSS "a Canadian band that doesn't want to make its music too easy." Broken Social Scene could be called a supergroup, since its members have all had prior success in different bands and some still do. But the group consider themselves more of a collective than a supergroup. One of their publicity releases stated, "Broken Social Scene is, always has and always will be a group of friends and loves." "No one's going to take the music away," BSS founder Kevin Drew told Michael Barclay in Exclaim!. "Maybe they'll take the people away. Maybe people will leave. But in terms of why we did all this in the first place, that will never leave."

Torontonians Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning started BSS as a duo, but over the years the group's size varied, with their live shows consisting of anywhere from six to 19 musicians on stage for a performance. Their music was part experimental and part indie rock and pop. Their second album, 2002's You Forgot It In People, did well in United States and won the group a Juno award in Canada. Barclay described the essence of BSS as "the variety that comes with surrendering ego to a musical potlatch. The beauty of community. The belief that we should never settle for a compromised existence when it comes to the thing we truly love."

Where it Began

It was in Toronto in 1999 when Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning started laying the foundations of Broken Social Scene. Drew had recorded under the name KC Accidental and played with Do Make Say Think; Canning was known for playing in By Divine Right and HHead, among other prominent Canadian indie rock bands. Their music was experimental, long-winded, and improvised. December 17, 2000, marked the first official BSS show at Ted's Wrecking Yard in Toronto. The show was actually billed as John Tesh Jr. and the Broken Social Scene. During the show, Drew performed a solo song on guitar and synthesizer, improvising for 30 minutes.

During that winter and into 2001, Drew and Canning began to record the first BSS album. A handful of friends contributed to the album, including vocals by Leslie Feist (who had played in By Divine Right and had her own solo act under the name Feist), drums by Justin Peroff, and trombone by Evan Cranley (of the Montreal band Stars). On January 26, 2001, BSS played their first full band show with Drew and Canning leading a group that included Feist, Peroff, and guitarist Andrew Whiteman (who recorded under the moniker Apostle of Hustle). Canning and Drew finished up their album and released Feel Good Lost with Toronto indie label Paper Bag Records. Copies quickly sold out, so Drew and his friend, former Virgin Records rep Jeffrey Remedios, started their own record label, Arts&Crafts. They re-released Feel Good Lost to meet demand. The album was subdued and abstract, compared to their live shows that ended up full of vocal harmonies and orchestral choruses.

By now, the BSS core usually consisted of Canning, Drew, guitarist Charles Spearin, Peroff, and Whiteman. Each performance was different, depending on which friends joined them on stage. Feist, Cranley, Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric, and John Crossingham (Raising the Fawn), were most often on stage that year, with other friends contributing here and there. At the same time, Canning and Drew were working on their second BSS album with producer David Newfeld. Recording took place over a period of many months, and this time more musicians came in to record. Feist sang lead vocals on "Almost Crimes" and "Shampoo Suicide," while Haines sang the much-hailed "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl." While creating the album, BSS was itself becoming something else. In the fall of 2002 they released their sophomore album You Forgot It In People.

The communal atmosphere and dynamic sounds of the album reached the ears of a few critics in the United States, namely the influential indie Web site Pitchfork Media, which hailed You Forgot It In People as the best thing since sliced bread. Pitchfork 's Ryan Schreiber championed the album in a lengthy review in which he wrote that BSS "combines outright experimentation and strong hooks, something that engages us mentally while appealing to the instincts that draw us toward pop immediacy. Some of the best records ever have been ones that put these two seemingly disparate elements together. … This kind of music shouldn't be hard to come by; it's just that not many artists are able to perfect that balance." Pitchfork's glowing review gave BSS the American break they needed, and Arts&Crafts signed a distribution deal with EMI Canada and with Caroline in the United States.

Billboard called the album "not quite electronica, not quite indie rock and not quite a collection of ambient soundscapes," and added that it "occupies a unique dreamspace all of its own." To tour for You Forgot It In People, Drew, Canning, Peroff, and Whiteman enlisted guitarist Jason Collett as a permanent player for BSS. The group would often arrange shows around their other friends' schedules so that members of Metric, Stars, or Feist could perform at certain shows. "We want to celebrate every time we play," Drew told Barclay. "We're into making fools of ourselves and trying to make great music."

By the summer of 2003, Broken Social Scene was the "it" independent band in North America. You Forgot It In People picked up a Juno Award in Canada for Best Alternative Album. BSS's additional members were also hard at work with their own careers and bands, but always found time to work or play with the group. "I really enjoy playing the supporting part," Haines tric told the Guardian's Laura Barton. "It's a way to romanticize your friendships, because you don't have to put up with the day-to-day." In 2003 Metric released their first full-length record, and both Stars and Feist were working on their second albums. "I don't intend to keep everyone together at all. Anybody can come and go as they please," Drew told the Austinist about the band's evolving cast of players.

Fans Wanted More

Bowing to fans' demand for older material, in March of 2004 BSS released Bee Hives, a collection of old material and B-sides. The CD also included three songs redone, including Feist singing lead vocals on "Lover's Spit" (from You Forgot It In People). Broken Social Scene had also signed a deal with Mercury in the U.K. in 2003, but after mishandled tours the partnership fell apart. However, Canning and Drew never stopped working on future BSS material. With producer David Newfeld in Toronto, musicians came and went. There was no set recording schedule for a third full-length album, and it was recorded over a period of nearly two years. "There was never one … formal recording session," Drew told Schreiber. "Yes, we're this huge band, but there were only four people at most in the studio at one time. It was a beautiful and strange couple of years trying to put down this record."

Track after track for BSS's third album piled up in the studio (many songs had more than a few versions). "I think it's a big, gigantic, beautiful mess," Drew asserted to Schreiber, of the project. "We never really followed any guidelines on how we did things, but in the end it's more of an indie rock record than we ever thought we'd make. … And it's an experimental psychedelic record, and all the chances and craziness and all the rules we broke are only going to help us in the long run. I think this record is going to make more sense in years to come than right now, but I have a lot of respect for the risks we took. I think it represents our band."

For the Record …

Members include Ohad Benchetrit , guitar, saxophone, trumpet; Brendan Canning , vocals, bass, guitar; Jason Collett , guitar; Evan Cranley , bass; Kevin Drew , vocals, guitar, keyboards; Leslie Feist , vocals; Emily Haines , vocals; Amy Milan , vocals; Justin Peroff , drums; James Shaw , guitar, bass, trumpet; Charles Spearin , guitar, trumpet; Andrew Whiteman , guitar.

Group formed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, c. 1999, by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning; released debut album Feel Good Lost, Noise Factory Records, 2001; added additional cast of musicians to live act and recordings, ranging anywhere from five to nineteen people on stage; released You Forgot It In People, Paper Bag Records/Arts&Crafts, 2002; released Bee Hives, Arts&Crafts, 2004; released Broken Social Scene, Arts&Crafts, 2005.

Awards: Juno Award (Canada), Best Alternative Album, 2003; Best Alternative Album, 2006.

Addresses: Record company—Arts&Crafts, 460 Richmond St. W., #402, Toronto, ON M5V 1Y1, Canada, Web site:

In October of 2005 Arts&Crafts released Broken Social Scene in Canada and the United States. Originally it was to be titled Windsurfing Nation, but then the band chose to self-title the album because they felt it was the most personal album they had made. New York magazine's Hugo Lindgren described Broken Social Scene as "a sprawling flea market; a couple of gems in clear view, then a vast pile of odds and ends in which each piece shines a little brighter every time you rummage through the junk." Drew told the Austinist, "The next record that we're putting out, it's nothing like this record. Nothing."

The band that went out to promote Broken Social Scene was usually down to about twelve or fewer members, but during their travels, various friends sometimes joined them on the stage. Jason Collett, Stars, Metric, and especially Feist were increasing their own popularity, which ended up bringing BSS back to its core of Drew and Canning. "I don't know how much longer this idea of this collective can last, when other people are … starting to take responsibility for the success of their [own] bands," Drew admitted to the Austinist. "We don't want names, we just want friends to play in our band, screw around, have some fun."

Selected discography

Feel Good Lost, Noise Factory Records, 2001.

You Forgot It In People, Paper Bag/Arts&Crafts, 2002.

Bee Hives, Arts&Crafts, 2004.

Broken Social Scene, Arts&Crafts, 2005.



Exclaim!, December 2003.

Guardian, August 25, 2006.

New York, October 23, 2005.

New York Times, October 10, 2005.


"Austinist Interviews Broken Social Scene," Austinist, (January 25, 2008).

"Broken Social Scene," Billboard, (January 25, 2008).

"Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It in People," Pitchfork, (January 25, 2008).

"Interview: Broken Social Scene," Pitchfork, (January 25, 2008).


Additional information was provided by Arts&Crafts publicity materials, January 15, 2008.

—Shannon McCarthy