Paul Lawton Rightfully Slagging Off the Canadian Music Industry

About a month ago Paul Lawton of The Ketamines started a then-anonymous tumblr blog called Slagging Off: Death to the Canadian Music Industry (go read the whole damn blog) on which he, and eventually others, attempted to critique in alphabetical order all the bands invited to Canadian Music Week.  It was a worthy exercise, though as he says himself in this interview with Vice

Do you think the Canadian music press is lacking in criticism?”

“There’s no heavy lifting in pointing out that a band sucks, I’ll agree to that. I know how much work it takes to critically evaluate a record, especially something you don’t like. But at the end of the day it’s telling that this blog went viral and none of the hundreds of Canadian indie blogs ever do anything.

“Look, this is a fucking Tumblr. It’s unedited, it’s poorly thought out, it’s highly problematic—but at the same time, it scratched an itch. If you’re a music writer and you like a band, then I think it’s really important that you express that love. But if you have that golden rule mentality of “if I can’t say anything nice,” you end up creating this stagnant pool.”

That interview came after Lawton had been outed as the founder of Slagging Off, and after he had posted this piece called The Trouble with Factor detailing what he sees as problematic about FACTOR, a Canadian non-profit foundation claiming to have a mandate of “providing assistance toward the growth and development of the Canadian music industry.” Lawton included with his piece on FACTOR a downloadable spreadsheet of FACTOR grants and which labels, agencies, and bands those grants went to.

Lawton’s voicing of his opinions (and he himself rationally and reasonably points out they are his opinions, and that his taste is no less subjective than those of other people) has a created a minor tempest in the tiny teapot of Canadian music. An open letter was written to Lawton by a guy named Dan Mangan, whom I’d never heard of before this stuff was brought to my attention the other night at the music bar (Baba’s Lounge in Charlottetown) where I work as a doorman. (And honestly, having looked up and listened on youtube to some of Mangan’s music, I’m not holding my breath till the next time I hear him—your taste may vary).

Knocking around the internet today, following threads of this story, I get the impression that Mangan is thought of as a nice guy, even-tempered and intelligent. That may be so, but in his letter to Lawton he comes across to me as self-righteous, over-sensitive, and defensive. For instance, Mangan says about the Vice interviewer and about Vice

“It’s probably worth mentioning that I was referred to pejoratively by the dudette who interviewed you for VICE. In all honestly, it might have been the proverbial straw that encouraged me to write this letter.

“VICE used to be awesome. About a half-decade ago, they cut through a lot of societal BS and gave a seemingly backwardly moral message based in unabashed starkness and “we don’t give a shit-ness”. They were like the Adbusters of youth culture. Unfortunately, VICE is now nothing more than another fashionably and vapidly self-loathing ad-merchant attempting to stay relevant by trying to be the loudest and most annoying asshole in a pack of online assholes. VICE jumped the shark of pop culture long ago and are now repeating a more hollow, more thoughtless and less insightful version of their previously creative brand of apathy. I’m not surprised that they jumped on your controversial story like ambulance-chasing predatory lawyers on a car accident.”

Here’s what the interviewer said,  along with Lawton’s response

Yeah, but just because I think Dan Mangan’s music sucks doesn’t mean he hasn’t created a successful business strategy.”
“I would never argue that Dan Mangan shouldn’t be able to make a living. But if you want to make any effective change in this system, you can’t make a difference until you can stop the tide of the thousands and thousands of bands that will step over you for their chance. For example, I have a personal rule that I will never put my band in a pay-to-play venue but there are thousand bands behind me that will. I’m really against CMW, and in retrospect I should have said no to playing the festival.”

It seems to me it was really this mild expression of distaste for Mangan’s music, which he took very personally, that got him to write a patronizing, derogatory, defensive, and therefore ultimately hypocritical open letter to Lawton rather than Lawton’s actual criticisms of FACTOR and the Canadian music industry.

Lawton actually responded in a measured and reasonable tone to Mangan’s letter. Read the response here.

I’m behind Paul Lawton in all of this, he’s being reasonable and bolstering his arguments with facts. And others are lining up with him. The Canadian music industry—Canadian arts culture in general, as I touched on briefly in my Stompin Tom post a while back—has long needed to be dragged out of its self-defeating parochialism and insularity.

Go Lawton!

About John MacKenzie

I'll mumble for ya. Poetry, plus most things quantifiable: science, neuroscience, memory, epistemology, baseball. And so on.
This entry was posted in Art, Canadian Music, Music, Stompin' Tom Connors and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Paul Lawton Rightfully Slagging Off the Canadian Music Industry

  1. Peter F. says:

    The first time I heard of Mangan was a couple of years ago at an ECMA seminar on how to promote your music in Germany. Although I’m not a big fan of his music, I’d hardly call him parochial – given the definition that you’ve previously referenced in your Stompin’ Tom post. Mangan is successful largely because of his success overseas, not in Canada. Like so many artists before him, it’s the ‘hometown boy makes good’ paradigm that I think bumped him into the upper echelons of Canadian music. A quick look at his last eleven tour dates in 2012 (November & December) will provide some evidence. There are countless examples of this.

    I won’t disagree with the stagnant status of Canadian music. I agree with panning CMW, and for most musicians like myself who have played that festival a number of times, it’s common knowledge that it sucks. That’s why I find it strange that Lawton is presenting this as new information or something that people are unaware of. There has always been a perennial argument of NXNE Vs. CMW. CMW always loses.

    Also, the thing I’m wary of is that by starting with the premise that there are no bad reviews for Canadian music, Slagging Off creates an illusion that it is the only blog that is really telling the truth. If you’ve never received a bad review, you’re probably not working hard enough. I’ve received lots of bad reviews and several good ones. At this point Lawton has become the Simon Cowell of independent Canadian music. We love to watch a good car accident and revel in the destruction.

    Finally I’ll say that I listened to the Ketamines, Paul’s band. Their song ‘Kill Me Now, Please’ is awesome. Way better than most stuff out there now. I think he should stop looking to Canada and shitty music scenes to define his success. This quote – “you can’t make a difference (in the system) until you can stop the tide of the thousands and thousands of bands that will step over you for their chance” is so wrong-headed in my opinion. There will always be people who are willing to sell out – should we wait until they stop in order to move forward with our respective arts careers?

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  2. John MacKenzie says:

    Thanks for the prompt response, Pete.

    As for parochialism, on a reread I think you’ll notice that I was applying that term to the Canadian music and arts culture generally, not Mangan specifically. My point about Mangan was and is that his response seems more rooted in a sense of personal injury than in reason.

    As to bad reviews or reasoned critiques of bands and musicians, I personally can’t recalll ever seeing any before now but not being a musician might have something to do with it. I’d be happy to read any you can point me to. Especially to any place that publishes such on a regular basis.

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