Three Days Grace. Serena Ryder. Thousand Foot Krutch. C.S.S. The Strumbellas. Royal Wood. Ronnie Hawkins. I Mother Earth. The Lonely Parade.
… Neil Young?
“Wow, that’s a great list of musicians, Tyler,” you say. “You have a great music taste.” Thank you, I respond, taking credit with my usual hubris, but these bands actually have something in common, other than my impeccable taste.
Well, what is it?
Believe it or not, they all have connections to, have played in, or explicitly came from Peterborough, and its arts and music scene.
How can that be? How is it that a small city, barely surpassing a population of 80 000, has produced so many famous and talented acts?
Well, a new project from filmmaker/producer Michael Hurcomb and producer Ryan Lalonde explores this phenomenon. Their exploration is entitled, ‘The Radius Project’, and attempts to answer the question of how such a broad wealth of musicians have come out of the radius of our small city.
Throughout the film, Hurcomb and Lalonde sit down with many of the acts listed above, in one-on-one interviews, to try and interrogate and tease out the answer to Peterborough’s music-making prowess.
Setting up the interviews, Hurcomb says, “was really just a process of reaching out, where somebody knows somebody.”
Somewhere within the Radius Project’s 94-minute run-time, there is a funny and interesting scene where filmmaker Michael Hurcomb has spliced together a gentle montage of the many musicians interviewed for the film, uttering the phrase, (or something close to it), “There’s Something in the Water.”
Looking back on the list at the beginning of this article, it’s apparent that Peterborough produces acts with national and international fame, and acclaim.
But is it really so simple of an explanation, likened to a coincidence, to say “there’s something in the water”?
The Peterborough Music scene. It’s easy to see how vibrant it is; however, this place doesn’t exist randomly. A major emphasis of the film, other than the very entertaining and enlightening interviews with artists regarding themselves, is also the focus on what makes Peterborough such a special hub for music.
In many ways, this is the crux of the film. It’s not just a celebration of artistic fame, but also the celebration of a music scene that values artistic expression, and allows for open experimentation and performance.
The film touches on the many venues that have been a core for creativity in this town, such as the now-defunct Trasheteria, The Montreal House, and The Spill. Without giving too much of the history away, the Trash and Moho were long-standing establishments where local legendary bands The Spades and The Silver Hearts played regularly, sometimes on a running weekly basis, allowing for a consistent musical landscape to be put in place.
This landscape, which was continued and furthered in many ways by Dave Tobey and The Spill, allowed for experimentation, appreciation, and performance. Each of these places opened the door for young musicians to gain experience, which is crucial to the cultivation of artistic talent.
The film also briefly reflects on the Trent University connection, reflecting on the fact that having an academic institution within the radius of Peterborough provides and brings with it open-mindedness, and in regards to the beauty of Symons Campus, an opportunity for constant inspiration.
The locals know that this place is special. But it’s not only the locals that realize the impact that this small town has had. In an incredible demonstration of insight and analysis, George Stroumboulopoulos also sat down with the filmmakers. As Hurcomb reflects, “he knows so much about music, the details too, sort of in the same way that Ron Mclean knows about Hockey.” Strombo being a part of the documentary process, to me, feels like a significant inclusion, and an incredible nod towards the Peterborough scene, and its history.
Hurcomb explained at the premiere, and in a chat with me, that this film is only one of the ways to explore the Peterborough scene. He remarked, “The problem with Peterborough is it has too many bands. This [film] could’ve been about bands that came from Trent, bands that came out of Champlain, bands from Don Tapscott’s generation.” This couldn’t be closer to the truth. When I heard about the film, I wondered what the depth and breadth of the film would be. While it is true that the film does focus more on the broad strokes of the scene, the in-depth interviews, and interesting insights by the many people interviewed are a fantastic watch for those with any level of investment in the scene, be it minute or massive.
The final minutes of the film look ahead to the future of the scene, showing that while the history of Peterborough music is rich, the future could even be richer.
What is important, however, is to keep the openness that has influenced the scene available for those just starting out in music. Not to continually mourn, but as Hurcomb reflects, “The Spill was a great incubator. Dave would allow anyone to play.”
The allowance for experimentation and innovation is very important, which I worry is being eliminated with the closure of important venues in town. But as Hurcomb comments, “Music has a great way of popping up where it needs to be.” This comment shines a light through the worries of the past year. Peterborough music has been strong in the past, and will continue to be strong.
One interesting and final point that Hurcomb makes is that, “The future of the scene here is female.” Many people watching the documentary might think that the history traced from the late 90’s is specifically male, and that’s because that’s exactly how it was back then. However, as the film and Hurcomb look towards the future, we can see with bands such as The Lonely Parade and Crossdog, as well as the many female singer-songwriters in town, that the gender discrepancy within musical acts is being made up for, and even exceeded by the many talented female musicians performing here.
An Encore screening of the Radius Project will be presented at Market Hall on March 3. Tickets are on sale now.