Getting ‘weird’ in uptown

Weird Canada’s Marie LeBlanc Flanagan discusses music that normally doesn’t receive attention

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

Music often reflects the diverse influences that helped shape the country it originates from. The impact of cultural and social surroundings can greatly shape how music is created and explored. Canada is no exception to this mentality.

From coast to coast, Canada has as much diversity to its music as to the varying cultures that exist within it. The promotion of such music often falls on artists being promoted locally and nationally, by state corporations like the CBC to monthly magazines like Exclaim! While such publicity can sky rocket a band from local favorites to national stars, many bands can still be left unnoticed.Weird Canada set out to change that.

2009, it originated as a music blog for music directors and campus media members to celebrate Canadian music that wasn’t getting much coverage — experimental or different music that didn’t have a home anywhere else.

Weird Canada has since grown into something much larger. In 2011, they were nominated for the CBC Radio 3’s Searchlight competition for best Canadian music site. Much to their surprise, they ended up winning.

“These contests can be a bit uncomfortable because they can be seen as a marketing ploy. But what I found was this resounding voice that people wanted to vote for us,” said Marie LeBlanc Flanagan, executive director at Weird Canada. “There was this whole uprising and thousands of people said this was the sort of thing they wanted. We ended up winning the whole thing.”

Flanagan has been executive director since 2010, and in that time has incorporated Weird Canada into a non-profit organization, transitioned the website towards bilingualism and oversaw the recruitment of over 300 volunteers. Following the win as the best Canadian music website in 2011, Flanagan established the Wyrd Arts Initiative.

One of the primary goals Flanagan has for Weird Canada and the Wyrd Arts Initiative to be is something that stands out as different and special, she said. Following their mission statement, it “exists to encourage, connect and document creative expression across Canada.”

“They are very personal and serious, carrying strong intent behind them. I wanted to create a space where it was about exploration, encouragement, excitement and discovery,” she said.

Originally based out of Edmonton and later Toronto, Flanagan and her partner Aaron Levin relocated Weird Canada to Waterloo two years ago.

While the number of artists submissions to the website varies, Flanagan said she believes they receive around 15 every day. While she admitted it can be daunting to manage that volume of artists, she said she sees a lot of value in connecting people to the experimental bands of Canada.

“One of the benefits is that it brings people back to the idea that they can create things themselves,” she said. “I really think it is critical for a strong arts community that people know they can make art; that they are allowed to, Connecting people with these DIY and experimental bands reminds them.”

One of the prime tenets of Weird Canada is their sole focus on Canadian music —something they said they believe sets them apart from other arts initiatives.

“The [United States] is this bright light that shines on everything and white washes out everything else, blocking out other countries. When you look only at one geographical country, those shadings and nuances [that make it unique] really start to come out and you start to see it closer,” Flanagan said.

The most important thing Flanagan stressed is the feeling of belonging that resonates throughout the entire initiative.

“I do feel that a lot of artists in the community and artists we do work with feel ostracized and isolated from mainstream culture,” she said. “I think sometimes ‘weird’ might be thrown around as a slur, so it’s nice for them to reclaim that word ‘weird.’ ”


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