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A member of Mumford and Sons performs with the band at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto in 2011: But are they indie? (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
A member of Mumford and Sons performs with the band at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto in 2011: But are they indie? (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Music

Toronto radio 88.1 FM goes indie Add to ...

What we know is that Toronto has 88.1 Indie Toronto, a new FM radio station dedicated to indie rock. What we don’t know is what that means exactly.

Strictly speaking, indie rock refers to music made by artists not signed to major record labels. In practice however, indie rock is more of a genre of music than a firm definition of the business affiliations of bands and artists. For example, on the web site of 88.1 – the station is currently streaming its programming, with hopes to go terrestrial in 12 months – acts such as England’s Mumford & Sons are promoted. Now, that red-hot band is not comprised of any siblings, nor is it signed to an independent label. But those anthemic arena-fillers, on the giant Universal Music Canada label in this country, play an earthy brand of folk rock that appeals to dorm-room iPodders. The band makes music in what might be called an organic manner, and does not do polished rock or production-line pop.

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There are commercial stations across the country which dip into the indie-rock bag – 102.1 The Edge (CFNY-FM) in Toronto, for example – but for the most part, music by Stars, New Pornographers and Joel Plaskett is broadcast by college radio outlets. That will now change.

“People don’t want to hear the same-same,” says Doug Bingley, president of ROCK 95, which operates two stations in Barrie, Ont., and now owns 88.1 FM. “What’s going to drive this new station is the avant-garde aspect.”

In granting the approval for the application over the 21 other hopefuls, the CRTC noted that Rock 95 had proposed an innovative slate of programming, described as “an eclectic, indie music format FM station focusing on emerging, independent artists from Canada.” The station began streaming online in April. The first song was Arcade Fire’s Wake Up.

“It’s exciting,” says David Tysowski, who markets a roster of high-profile indie acts to Canadian radio stations. “The new station will breed competition in the market. It’s a win-win for music fans in Toronto.”

The new 88.1 FM will promote emerging artists, which includes acts not signed to any label, indie or otherwise. Also, the Toronto station is committed to 126 hours of local programming per week. The promotional opportunities for local acts, especially those artists that otherwise fly under the radar of commercial radio, will increase by leaps and bounds.

According to Bingley, the new station won’t centre its playlists on a few select songs. “Balance is the key,” he says, explaining that the “heavy rotation” model will not be employed. As well, playlists will be broadened by the inclusion of college-rock icons such as REM, who represent the roots of indie rock. “We expect to be playing double the amount of songs being offered by other rock stations,” Bingley says.

Shows will be dedicated to indie-music sub genres – everything from alt-country to urban to beard-folk to indie-electronica.

Adhering to its indie aesthetic, 88.1 FM will encourage its listeners to participate in the decisionmaking process when it comes to programming. A “you pick the music” element is part of the station’s website. Mainstream commercial stations, on the other hand, program their content with a sharp eye set to the sales charts.

The station’s slogan has not been made public as yet, but something along the lines of “the alternative to alternative-rock” would get to 88.1 FM’s indie-loving mission.

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