Connective Tissue

Photos of archivists Ben Lines and Arif Ansari taken in front of their various and extensive music collections.

Connective Tissue

How punk archivists in Calgary Preserve the fabric of music from the past

By: Reina Cowan | Art by: Michael Rancic

Decay is the natural process of destruction. It will happen to your teeth, your body, and plant matter. Eventually, your physical possessions—including art and music—will decay, too.

The average shelf life of cassette tapes is around 30 years. For vinyl, that number ranges between two and 100 years, depending on the level of meticulous and loving care. But regardless, most analog formats break down easily either naturally, through time and wear, or through human negligence: getting knocked around in moving vans or broken by friends you lend your belongings to.

Taking conscious steps to prevent breakdown is a habitual process. Every day, we take care to maintain our bodies, lives, and relationships. Ben Lines extends this same effort to preserving music. When he’s not studying or working part-time, the 21-year-old Calgary resident is running CanadianWasteland.

At its core, CanadianWasteland is a love letter to the zeitgeist of hardcore scenes past, though Lines founded the archive as an ode to Calgary hardcore after spending a summer immersed in record stores, poring over used punk records from the early- to mid-’90s and feeling the continued resonance of the creativity and political ideals expressed by the obscure bands he uncovered.

Across CanadianWasteland’s Blogspot, YouTube, and Instagram pages, Lines’ archiving habit has generated a treasure trove of lovingly ripped FLAC files, strange vinyl covers, album insert scribbles, and 1990s zine remnants. Over time, the project has become more comprehensive, highlighting some American and French music, but Lines remains focused on Calgarian and Western Canadian hardcore punk.

In 1990s Calgary, Lines notes, the hardcore punk scene was largely do-it-yourself. Accessibility to the albums that he uncovered and resonated with was very limited. 

Many albums Lines discovered risked being lost to time. The vinyl began showing its age, warping on the surface. On top of that, he says, no one seemed to be holding onto the weirdest of the weird records—the ones he thought were truly cool and emblematic of the DIY ethos of building your own scenes, staging shows, and distributing punk music through zines and word of mouth.

Hardcore as a genre is born of political struggle. “There are so many good informational booklets in some of these releases that talk about issues that are still prevalent today,” says Lines. His archiving efforts give new generations an opportunity to discover the political takes expressed by these hardcore obscurities.

“There are so many good informational booklets in some of these releases that talk about issues that are still prevalent today,” says Lines. “There are so many good, refreshing takes on it.”

So how do you archive a record, anyway? 

“It’s a process,” Lines says.

An initial transposition from analog to digital poses the challenge of how to make a new format feel like home to someone with an attuned ear. It’s a labour of love.

“Your record’s an analog format,” says Lines. “When your turntable plays your record and breaks down the signal, it’s completely different from what you’d listen to on your phone, listening to a digital track.”

“But it just feels really fulfilling to me. Even if not a lot of people look at my blog posts or anything, I just know that this artist, this record that I was looking for for the longest time, that I listened to every day—it’s out there in good quality and people can appreciate it the way I do.”

Lines includes a web disclaimer that any band’s materials can be taken offline at their request. But generally, the bands Lines features are so obscure that copyright isn’t an issue. 

In fact, the response to CanadianWasteland has been overwhelmingly positive. Lines’ passion has led him to connecting with the people behind the music. 

Post-hardcore outfit Joule, who were part of the Calgary scene from the late ’90s to early aughts, is one group that took notice. 

“They put out a lot of cool stuff that basically was wiped from the internet,” Lines says. “I was kind of the first person to bring [them] back.”

Joule’s vocalist, Devin Van Buuren, reached out to Lines about his work. 

“He was just kind of blown away that I even cared about it. He was really excited about it. They have some unreleased material that I might help them put out in the near future,” Lines says.

Archiving, at least within the hardcore and alternative scenes, can be a way to fight against the stagnancy of music that is doled out on modern algorithm-based platforms, like TikTok and Spotify. You’re able to uncover things that are still unique to your region, or to a specific scene. 

The Calgary Cassette Preservation Society is another organization dedicated to conserving old, unique, and funky projects. Helmed by Arif Ansari, the society is now formally registered as a non-profit with the government of Alberta.

Ansari’s musical obsession came from working in radio. He cut his teeth at Calgary’s CJSW campus radio station and also played in a few bands in the 1990s. His work naturally expanded into tape-collecting. Since hard-copy tapes were out of vogue, Ansari decided to start putting them up on the internet in digital form. What first started out as a lark became serious once others latched onto the value of Ansari’s work. 

“At some point, friends of mine—or people I kind of knew—started contacting me and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got some more tapes for you,’ and it pretty quickly snowballed into this large community project where it wasn’t just about me putting out the tapes,” Ansari says. “That’s when it started pivoting from me not really taking it seriously to me saying, ‘Oh, wait—this is something that people value.’”

For Ansari, the music of the ’90s was just a starting point. His collection now spans back as far as the 1950s. 

What’s unique about Calgary as a music city, he notes, is its relative distance from other major cities. In Eastern Canada, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montréal are all within six hours’ drive of one another. Calgary’s next closest big city is Edmonton, three hours away and smaller than Calgary itself. “There’s an interesting commingling in Calgary, being as isolated as we are,” Ansari says. 

That lets Calgary artists develop unique scenes and sounds less influenced by other regions. “You get this interesting dynamic here. It’s maybe not as connected to other cities as it could be,” says Ansari. This is especially notable in the growing “Nashville North” label for Calgary as a country-music city, but the unique regional sounds extend beyond that tag. “There’s a strong history of folk music because of the folk clubs that have been in the city for decades. And then there’s the punk and metal. There’s all that stuff.” 

Both archivists’ work centres around quantity over quality. Since many of the projects they revive weren’t recorded using high-tech equipment or ever properly mastered, sometimes making an old record or cassette sound great, by today’s standards, is impossible. Holding on to the memory, or capturing the spirit of an era, for Ben and Arif, is the more important element. 

“As much as those tapes might be unplayable, they’re important artifacts that need to be collected somewhere,” Ansari notes. 

In Ansari’s vision of the future, his collection sits in the National Library and Archives of Canada—in a space where the public can admire and learn about the music’s history. 

“There’s a physical archive that I need to figure out what to do with as well. I have all these tapes and records and posters, all sorts of stuff that I need to one day find a home for,” Ansari says. 

“As goofy as they are, these old records represent someone’s art. They represent someone’s time and effort and passion, and it’s important to keep that preserved.”

Self-Cut Bangs – Self-Cut Bangs

Self-Cut Bangs
Self-Cut Bangs
Calgary, AB
RIYL: Swearin’; Wares; Crayola zig-zag scissors

2020 may have been filled with a lot of regrettable at-home haircuts but you won’t regret listening to Self-CutBangs. The debut LP from Calgary duo Cayley O’Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom) overflows with fun rock tunes, delicious guitar riffs, and a sweaty energy that will make you crave seeing these songs performed at a basement show with a bunch of your pals.

The joy that fueled the making of Self-Cut Bangs thrums consistently on each track but there are a few specific moments that make me grin with every listen: O’Neill’s inspiring line on the Friday night anthem “Perfect Posture,” which reads like a positive Co-Star notification: “Chin up, chin up, it’s time to stand tall”; the howling guitar solo on the baseball-filled tune “Ace”; the playful vocal layering in the repeated line “You can’t (catch me, baby).” But my biggest grin happens during “After All” when O’Neill tells us what Self-Cut Bangs is all about: “Gonna make it. After all we got rock and roll.”

Laura Stanley

Hermitess – Celestial

Calgary, AB
RIYL: Weyes Blood; Wallgrin; staring at the night sky and feeling like something’s staring back

Jennifer Crighton wraps existential questions in viscous harp melodies on Celestial, her second EP as Hermitess. Like last year’s Tower, these four songs are loosely based on one of the Major Arcana, the trump cards in tarot. This time, she’s chosen the Star, a harbinger of despair and disappointment, but also inspiration, hope, and opportunity.

Celestial finds Crighton feeling small on Earth while contemplating the vastness of the universe. You can feel her anxiety rise on “Artificial Stars,” where Aria Janzen’s synthesizer effects blow like milk across the sky. Pedal steel is widely considered an earthy instrument, due to its prevalence in country music, but Wayne Garrett uses it to push the lonely, ponderous instrumental “Spacewalk I : Spooky Action At a Distance” farther up towards the infinite. “Celestial Bodies” offers tranquility, as Crighton’s harp melody pools around Melissa McWilliams’ percussive raps.

Like the Tower EP, Crighton has expanded her creative universe on Celestial – fed up with abusive treatment from male producers, she sought femme collaborators she’d never worked with before, specifically sound engineers. Although the big questions about life and existence still swirl in her head, she can find comfort among the new collaborators she’s pulled into her orbit; finding her footing in an unpredictable, mysterious world has become less lonely, more inspiring, and more opportune. This star is just beginning to shine.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Sarah Davachi
Cantus, Descant
Late Music
Calgary, AB / Los Angeles, CA
RIYL: Kali Malone; Grouper; sailing through endless skies

On the first release for her Late Music imprint, Sarah Davachi holds a mesmerizing pipe organ séance. Cantus, Descant was recorded in various sacred spaces throughout Vancouver, Los Angeles, Chicago, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. There has been an influx of similar projects in the past decade, with keyboardists recording in churches until only the cleaning staff are there to keep them company. Yet the prolific Calgarian composer has always done things a bit differently than her peers, adding ghostly pop elements to contrast the divine stillness. 

In an interview for Tone Glow, Davachi explains how the pipe organ in Amsterdam that’s most prominently featured on Cantus, Descant was recorded over several hours of playing and experimenting, then later edited into short snippets. After returning to her home in Los Angeles, she added electronic touches such as the melodramatic sound of a Mellotron’s orchestral samples. The album’s most stunning moments occur when Dacachi weaves her own voice into this haunting tapestry, such as “Play The Ghost,” where she borrows a watery effect from Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan.” She has hinted at a future release of all vocal songs in this vein, yet no matter where she brings listeners next, it’s sure to be spellbinding.

– Jesse Locke

How EEJUNGMI Found Closure in Creativity

How EEJUNGMI found closure in creativity

On her debut EP, electronic pop artist Katie Lee forgives and forges on

By Jesse Locke | Photo By Fatine Violette-Sabiri

Two years ago, musician and DJ Katie Lee spoke out against her former bandmates in the group Braids. In response to an essay written for Pitchfork by singer/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston called Why I Fought The Sexist Gear Community (And Won), Lee posted on social media about how “the performative allyship reads everywhere,” based on how the band had publicly defamed her and silenced her voice. CBC Music’s Melody Lau then published an interview with Lee, providing a platform for her to talk publicly about her experiences for the first time since leaving Braids in 2013. 

This article is not meant to rehash those events, but instead focus on the resolution that has followed them. In 2019, the three members of Braids flew Lee to Montreal, where they engaged in a mediated conversation. In Lee’s words, that meeting allowed her to forgive them and move on, finally empowering her to return to making music. Nearly a decade after her departure from the band, Lee has released a debut solo EP under the anglicised Korean name EEJUNGMI

The experimental electronic pop of EEJUNGMI’s Contribution EP shimmers with a beautiful sparseness that both surges forward and freezes time in its tracks. Pulsing beats, undulating synths, and Lee’s airy voice weave into the mix, while allowing its grooves to ride for as long as 10 minutes on the EP’s bonus track, “Yearning.” Inspired partially by her experience hosting a dance-music-focused radio show on, Lee cites a unique list of influences that includes the late Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, prolific producers Omar-S and Galcher Lustwerk, and the boundless creative trajectory of Björk. Whether she’s confronting the feelings that emerged from her time in Braids and reflecting it inwards on the EP’s title track, or simply including the sound of her breath on “Breathless,” these songs have a powerful intimacy.          

Since moving back to her hometown of Calgary to pursue a career in architecture, Lee has maintained involvement in socially conscious grassroots organizations such as A.A.S.K. and the Unreal Life Initiative. She remains vocal about the ongoing systemic issues faced by both small communities and the industry at large. We’re all lucky to have her music contributing to these conversations as well.  

Jesse Locke: After all this time away from music, what inspired or empowered you to start working on your new EP?

Katie Lee: Honestly, it was after my conversation with Braids that I started feeling like I could finally move on from that part of my life. The year after the CBC article came out, Braids flew me to Montreal so we could have a mediated conversation. It was a really productive and positive conversation for me, and also for them. From that time forward, I felt a lot more empowered to write music again. Part of it had to do with the fact that before that, any time I sat down at a piano, I went back to my time in Braids. It just brought up a lot of pain and insecurity. There wasn’t ever closure, so that conversation represented it for me. I was finally able to move forward on my own.

JL: Has it felt even more healing to release the EP now?

KL: Definitely, 100%! After making this I feel like I can move on to work that has nothing to do with that time. I needed to do this to address what happened. Now I can actually move forward and make other things. I’m excited to let this go and start writing other stuff.

JL: Lyrically and conceptually, are these songs about that time?

KL: Yes. I would say half of the EP is about that time, while the last two songs are more about self-reflection or where I’m at now with regards to thinking about those experiences.

JL: What do you think about those experiences now?

KL: I’ve just learned so much about myself after going through all of that. I gained a lot of knowledge and tools for moving forward when it comes to conflict, standing up for myself, empowerment, and working within a group. It’s brought me closer to a lot of people that I continue to work with today and that I trust. I was also able to connect with people who experienced similar things. My story isn’t a new one. Even though it was one of the more painful experiences in my life, the comeback from it has been worth all of that pain.

JL: Oh wow, I’m so glad to hear that!

KL: Yeah, that’s how I see it now. The healing put me in a place that’s way better than it would have been to continue working in a toxic environment. I brought a whole bunch of wisdom with me, and with everything I’m doing now I’m able to apply what I’ve learned.

JL: When did you first start working on these songs?

KL: “Contribution” was written in 2014, very shortly after I left Braids. I wrote it as an attempt to understand what they were thinking at that time, and how they were thinking about me. I guess you could say it’s a bit salty because there are a few jabs in there. After looking back on it when I started working on the EP, I rewrote some of the lyrics, but the essence is still there. It can also be read as something I said, so now I see it was also an attempt to understand that what I thought they were doing to me was also something I was doing to them. Even though I was critical of them, there were aspects of my behaviour that might have been reflected. We were just so close.

JL: You grew up together, right?

KL: Yeah, exactly. I feel like we were always bouncing ideas back and forth, and how we were treating each other was very similar. Reading back on it, the criticism I had for them was also criticism of myself. Those things blur together.

JL: So you wrote and recorded the rest of the songs since you’ve been living back in Calgary?

KL: Yes. I started writing everything in September of last year and went full on recording in the fall. All the production, post-production, and mixing took place from January to March. I was supposed to release it that month but then COVID happened and everything was delayed.

JL: What sorts of sounds or musical directions were you interested in exploring? Were there things you did with these songs that you had never done before?

KL: I feel like why I started feeling more confident in writing, beyond my conversation with Braids, was DJing more. That allowed me to approach music with more of an openness. As a DJ, you’re always looking for things and really listening to what you’re playing. That brought a sense of curiosity back for me to start writing again. Obviously DJing pushed me towards dance music, and I just love dancing in general. I appreciate the community in the culture of raving, which is why I originally loved being in Braids. That aspect of openness is something I was really missing. You can definitely say my new EP is influenced by a lot of electronic music, house, and techno. I want people to be able to dance to this music for sure.

JL: There are definitely some moments where you just let the groove ride.

KL: Yeah! That was a challenge for me because I’ve never written music that’s this danceable. Even just writing very minimally in terms of lyrics was an interesting way to pare down what I was trying to say, while also focusing on the vibe.

JL: On your radio show, you’ve talked a lot about your teachers. Is that part of the concept behind this EP too?

KL: I wouldn’t say so because this EP is such a personal one, but a lot of my influences are in there. Part of how I’m expressing myself is the way in which these amazing musicians express themselves. In the Jackie McLean documentary, there’s a scene where he mentions how Sonny Rollins wrote all the names of the people who inspired him on his album. For my next release, I’d like to make that more of a conceptual thing. All artists should be doing that because music is history. It’s always taught by someone who was taught before them. 

JL: I’ve learned so much over the years from reading liner notes or checking out things people mentioned in interviews. Is there anyone else you want to mention as influences on this EP? 

KL: Ennio Morricone for sure. There’s just something about the mood and the vibe he created. I always go back to him. Omar-S is such an important influence for me, and almost every other electronic musician I listen to. Galcher Lustwerk is another big one because of the way he expresses himself through singing or speaking his lyrics. I think he needs to be mentioned more. He’s expressed that people always erase him from their influences for some reason, or steal his work.

JL: I’d say Omar-S has expressed similar things by calling his album Fuck Resident Advisor.

KL: These people are important players who continue to do amazing things but never seem to get the platform that they should. Even visibly just seeing people like Yaeji do her thing has inspired me to start writing my own music. Björk has always been huge for me since the beginning. Listening back to her older albums I realize that everything I do comes from something she did before. I think she’s just so giving, sharing her wealth of knowledge and talent with everyone.

JL: Even this year, Björk re-released her albums on Bandcamp with all of the proceeds going to Black Lives Matter. She’s explored so many different genres and featured so many different artists. For example, the first time I heard Tanya Tagaq was on her album Medúlla.

KL: Right! She just knows. In terms of how to operate as a musician, Björk is just amazing.

JL: You’ve mentioned that you had hoped to write an opinion piece in response to the one Raphaelle from Braids did for Pitchfork, but that never happened. Are there messages you would have written that you still want to get out to a wider readership?

KL: I’m disappointed in music media in general, but I was so thankful that Melody from the CBC interviewed me and gave me that platform. I feel like I’ve learned so much even since doing that last interview. I don’t have much else to say besides the fact that I’m pretty disappointed that Pitchfork ran a review of Braids’ latest release and mentioned me as a way to prove their point on the criticisms of the album. I wrote to Pitchfork back when Raphaelle’s opinion piece originally ran, but didn’t receive a single response from them. It’s insulting. 

My belief is that [Pitchfork] didn’t want me to write an article after Braids sent their apology because I didn’t have anything juicy to report back. We had a really great conversation and I forgave them. It’s pretty exploitative, honestly, for them to continue using the story of our initial disagreements as an angle for their review. They’re profiting off my name but didn’t ever want to hear how I feel about things. There’s a fine line between me wanting to tell my story and other people gossipping about it. It’s a story to sit with, not one to just eat up. I’m happy about the CBC article because I thought it was very thoughtful and not just clickbait. But then Exclaim! also used quotes from the CBC interview to make their own article that was more juicy. 

One big thing, and I think I said this in the CBC interview, is that it’s not just about Braids as an entity of three people that I had conflict with. My perspective now is that what I thought of the music community at the time and people who were close to me, including Braids, is who failed me. There were other people in Montreal who never even asked me about it or asked what I needed. That’s the biggest thing I took out of the experience: how communities continue to fail the people who need support most. If I had a supportive community of people behind me, it wouldn’t have taken this long to write new music.

JL: I think people are just scared to live in a difficult situation, but that’s the only way you can work through it and move past it.

KL: Exactly. And I’m happy to say that I do have a real community now.

JL: Is that in Calgary, or is it spread across different places?

KL: It’s all over the place! Including Calgary for sure, but I feel like I’ve made some really solid friends across the country.

JL: The final thing you said in the CBC interview is that “it’s an easy thing to like a post or sign a petition, but how are you helping and empowering other voices that need to be heard?” Have you seen any kinds of real action like that being taken two years later?

KL: Interestingly, I feel like since the pandemic has started, I’ve seen more people not just share and like a post but show up to do work. The URL Initiative is a great example of that. It’s awesome to see how many people are interested and want to organize as opposed to just asking me what they can do. I will also say that after the CBC article was published, I was doing similar kinds of work with a bunch of people at that time, but got burned out. There was a lot of knowledge shared then, but maybe people didn’t know what to do until they sat with it. This year people have gone back to that time when they learned all that stuff. Since they’re being called to do things, they’re actually moving forward and putting it into action.  

JL: What I’ve been seeing is that since musicians aren’t touring this year, they have a lot more time to reflect and start volunteering on a local level. 

KL: Musicians are so good at bringing people together. The sense of community is way stronger in other quote unquote industries, like my background in architecture. I have architect friends who are so jealous and wish this kind of thing was happening there too. Clearly we have something special and it’s why we’re actually showing up and organizing right now. I think people are willing to do more things now. Maybe it’s a perfect storm because of the pandemic, but let’s use this time to build something up so it can last. 

JL: You mentioned that you’re planning to release a follow-up album next year. Have you started working on that already?

KL: I haven’t written anything yet, but I’m going to sit down at my piano to start thinking and writing again soon. I had a really amazing piano lesson with Nick Dourado about a technique they call the decolonial way of playing the piano. It blew my mind! I really want to practice that and write something new based on that idea.

JL: Can you tell me a bit more about it?

KL: The way the piano is set up with white and black keys forces you to think about it in a certain way. It’s as if the black keys are secondary to the white keys, which is totally racist. If you colour it differently, some of the black keys are white keys and vice versa. There is no hierarchy. There are 12 notes, so you can divide that up mathematically really easily. Nick was able to show me how you can think about that in terms of horoscopes, the stars, and astrology. I think it’s beautiful to think about music as if it’s connected to life instead of just this theory thing you have to memorize. 

I remember learning about scales through this really silly system: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle. I explained that to Nick and they were like ‘what the fuck? Get rid of that.’ It comes from the church and that’s why we think about music the way we do in the Western World. Nick says we need to start thinking about it in terms of life and mathematics. They’ve even started applying it to guitars, and there all of these beautiful patterns that look like DNA. Once you start seeing music in that way, you can really understand your instrument. If I had learned piano in that way, I would know how to play it so much better.

JL: So your next album might be more experimental?

KL: Maybe! It’s been really nice to self-release this EP and write it on my own. That gives you a lot of freedom to play with it and not feel so stressed about creating a product. I would love to always approach music in that way. It’s just something I share with people.

JL: I’ve started to think about writing the same way with all of the newsletters and other self-published platforms that are popping up. As opposed to just covering something that’s tied to a release schedule, with me trying to sell an article to a publication, I can write about it for fun or just because I want to share it.

KL: My belief is that language is poetry. The way you write about something is the way you express yourself too, and that’s beautiful. Everyone should be thinking about that in all of their industries. A lot of people write music to make money, and that needs to be reckoned with, because it’s not traditionally or historically why music is made. Just be generous with yourself and your creative practice. 

Wish Lash – Chaos Choir

Wish Lash
Chaos Choir
Glow Code
Calgary, AB
RIYL: Karen Gwyer; Corinthian; Laurel Halo

Kerry Maguire’s experimental electronic solo project Wish Lash returns with a stunning set of songs that breaks from the artist’s airy ambience for a hard-lined sound that is as engaging as it is unrelenting. 
Wish Lash’s 2018 debut, Altar of Doubt, balanced the momentum of its beats with a billowing, miasmic veil, which touched everything from its synthy textures to Maguire’s own voice. Whereas Chaos Choir feels of an altogether different mindset– it’s driven far more by rhythm and movement. That attention toward the corporeal is a result of the production values here, which are sharp and feel cinematic in scope, you can hear it from the ominous and seething “To The Hilt” to the jet engine purr of “Not Now.” There’s a certainty in the clarity of her compositions now and Maguire leans into it. The album arrives on Maguire’s own new Glowcode imprint, which if it’s anything else like the rest of her output (see also: Purlicue, Crims & FLow, Juice Box), is definitely worth following.

Michael Rancic