Pin It

Lo-Fi Revisited: The Bitters

Toronto-based ‘cave pop’ duo who persuade not just their lungs, but hearts and gut to holler in unison on stage and on record.

Can you please give us an idea of the DIY independent music scene  in Toronto?
Ben Cook:
I've toured with bands for the past 10 years of my life, but Toronto is my home and definitely has its own vibe. Like anywhere you live and do music or art, and try to remain somewhat inspired and involved I have a love/hate relationship with this town and always have. It’s full of some pretty talented and unique people, but they also lack ambition. They don’t reach out beyond the limits of their cliques or even bother to record their music sometimes. It’s all live shows and parties, which is cool but I like more. There are some really great venues, from classic spots to random illegal joints found by people who are looking to do something different. Some great promoters with great ideas, but I still get a half-assed vibe from it all for some reason. Maybe it's the crowds. I'm very spoiled and have played a lot of off the wall gigs in some off the wall places, but Toronto crowds could use some spicing up. People gotta let loose.

I'm a fan of out-put. Prolific artists constantly recording, and releasing music. Like rappers breaking out a bunch of mixtapes between albums because they're addicted to their studio and their craft. That is COOL. Toronto is a city of hipster slackers with awesome potential. Like snobs in the gifted program. There is still certain charm to this place though. I've had a lot of fun growing up here and making music and at the end of the day, after all my pissing and moaning is done, Toronto has some of the best people in the world and I always look forward to coming home. I really miss it when I'm away.

What do you make of this current resurgence of acts and labels making music and art on little-to-no budget? Do you feel any  association with this so-called lo-fi movement?
The lo-fi movement makes sense to me. I would like to somehow relate to it to the current state of the economy, musicians saving money by not using real studios anymore, but I think people make art and music on no budget just because they can. Everyone has a computer with garage band. Any idiot can hit record, and throw reverb over it. It's too easy! People are cheap and lazy, and thus you have a million cats recording LOFI. Some of these cheap and lazy cats, however, also know how to write a cool song. Some make the filthy fuzzy recordings really interesting, and work the sound to their advantage. I love that. I'm a huge fan of punk and DIY production. Shitty basement tapes. Demos and cassettes. Using whatever gear is lying around or left at my studio space (I share it with people and let them use it for free sometimes, just so I can use their gear). I'm even more of a fan of pop music and crafting a great song. Most acts in the lo-fi movement know how to make a sound, but not neccessarily a song, which is why I usually don't feel any association with it. I can see why we're lumped in there, of course. But the availability of low budget recordings only sets apart the true songwriters from the bored kids with a laptop. With the Bitters, it's all about the songs. Warrior! When Aerin put the vocals on that song, I was like "OK! sheeeeit, baby! People better step up their gaaame!" (haha). The production isn’t made to fit a movement, it’s because personally I come from a punk and hardcore background and have always preferred tapes and recordings that sound a bit like ass…
Ass, it's the best. The Bitters, we have nice asses.

Has this lo-fi movement been there always or have you noticed a  resurgence of late?
People have always made garage tapes, and basement recordings. I guess even more so now people aren't paying attention to ANYTHING that sounds like it could be played on a radio station. The more shitty and obscure, the more elite and rad you feel, right? Thats how it is, I guess!

You make music with 3 different bands – is making music an escape  and also a compulsion for you?
Yes, both I guess. Fucked Up obviously takes up most of my time. The Bitters and Young Governor were initially just recording projects. At least, for me anyways. But once you start something and it takes form and develops a consistent style, it becomes special and you want to do it more. You get curious to see where it could go, and what it could sound like. I'm also clearly just straight up obsessed with making music and recording it, so I just make the time for it. It's a compulsion more than an escape, and sometimes it almost feels like a chore. Seeing a song go from simple chords, to a recorded song, to holding a record in your hand, thats the best feeling. Everything else is just amazingly delicious vanilla icing on a really dry and boring cake. Haha.

Please name some musical inspirations and who do you see as a  musical forefather to this lo-fi scene.
I'll always make music that stems from Nirvana, the Beatles, and the Ramones. I know that’s pretty boring and common, but whatever!! They were obsessions of mine when I first picked up a guitar, and it’s frustrating because I'll try to write something as different as possible from what I usually write, but it always ends up sounding like one of those bands to me. Oh well.
I love being inspired by other people around me though. The people in Fucked Up (although I think we're suppose to hate each other or something?) Aerin (The Bitters). Collaborations with people who really get it. It's awesome, inspiring, and really encouraging.

What do you think will be the future for independent music?
People will quit being scared of the simple pop song. The kind you remember forever. Eventually they will embrace it again. They won't cover it up as much, and be insecure or embarrassed about it. Music will be exciting. Vinyl will never die. Singles will be the common format again. The perfect format! Labels will exist to press the records and do the nerd work. Nerds will run the labels. Nerds are the future. They've always been the future!!!

If this so-called lo-fi scene burns out, what would you like kids to take away from all this?
The simple lesson that taking bad ecstasy before you play a big show maybe isn't the best idea (wait til after?), and I hope it all burns out really fast so boy bands can come back and everyone can start having fun again. And hey, maybe I'll join one!
What do you have coming up?
the Bitters - 12" LP/CD (Woodsist)
the Bitters - East single (captured tracks)
the Bitters - 10" ep
the Bitters - 7" (true panther sounds)
the Bitters - split cassette w/ Little Girls
Young governor - english tim 7" (static shock)
Young governor - 'hidden love' 12" E.P (parts unknown)
Young governor - call me when the cat dies 7" (criminal iq)
Young governor - the cutter 7" (tic tac totally)
Young governor - Guv Luv Mixtape Volume 1 (drone errant cassettes)
Subscribe to the Dazed newsletterGet the day on Dazed straight to your inbox