By Joseph Mathieu
I’m not a musician, I don’t even live in Ottawa, but Ottawa Showbox changed my life.
Can you see it in my eyes, at Jackpine’s Earliest Christmas Party in November 2013? I’m planning to quit my 9-to-5. The “I’m Hog Wild For Reading” pin might be a clue. The writing bug got me. I’m about to throw away financial stability for romantic reasons because I’ve been bewitched by these two infuriating and fetching men behind me. The duo better known as the brains behind OSBX: Matías Muñoz & Eric Scharf.
“Well, they didn’t pay me anything. They paid attention—which was enough.”
Did they know then that I loved them? Even as I constantly ripped their reviews to shreds, as I fixed their sloppy copy? Deep down, they must have known. They didn’t pay me to love them, they paid me to be their copy editor. Well, they didn’t pay me anything. They paid attention—which was enough.
Matías was then music editor of Herd Magazine when we met that summer. He read my first review, said “I like what you got, show me more.” I doubt he wanted to build a comprehensive music resource when he started his blog, but he was always into the idea of a community strengthening around music, of local bands getting some press, of loud and late parties. I can’t say if the lives of artists have changed because of his five-year-old endeavour… But I think the life of Muñoz definitely has.
When he grabbed hold of that Twitter handle in May 2012, year-end lists were but twinkles in his eyes and his contributor list counted only one. Tí, originally from London, met Ming Wu early on, who introduced him to many artists and bands. Possibly the most prolific contributor of photos the blog has ever had, although the productive Elizabeth Durnford is on a roll to catch up.
In the early months of 2013, Matías took on a writing contributor named Eric Scharf and found in him a captain. He quickly earned the nickname “la Máquina” for an astounding output of reviews. With little sleep and zero coffee, Scharf would go to more shows than Matías and I combined. Not that anyone was counting… Although Eric was definitely counting: cataloguing his nights out with as much zeal as he put into his vinyl collection. The Throwback Thursday series burst from Eric’s deep well of concert experiences.
“With little sleep and zero coffee, Scharf would go to more shows than Matías and I combined.”
As the output and contributor list grew, Tí began to envision what Showbox could be. Putting on shows became a passion, and Bar Robo, where he works to showcase and host bands from near and far, is quite simply a dream come true. But it took a while to get here. Mugshots, where we had a good monthly thing, shuttered its doors due to noise complaints. Our third show back in 2014, and our first at Babylon, coincided with the surprise (and free) opening night of House of TARG… Among many other venues, Raw Sugar was a willing participant in our wing-stretching. The owner, Nadia Kharyati, was patient and kind enough to let the show happen even after one of the performers joked online, days before the concert, that the fire code would be shattered by the size of the audience.
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In 2014, a redesign of the website was imminent (props to senior technical officer Chantale Streeting), Daniel Bordage’s Thirsty Thursdays beer-themed playlists were as of yet unpitched, and Showbox Presents events took place around a record player in someone’s living room. We sold no ads, we had no style guide. But we wanted to support the scene, to have fun in exploring a city’s sound, and to connect listeners to tunes. As Matías stretched his poster and design skills and Eric continued to pound out interviews and Throwbacks, a contemporary history of music in Ottawa took root. It can’t be called music criticism, more like interpretation, but it filled a gap.
“We sold no ads, we had no style guide. But we wanted to support the scene, to have fun in exploring a city’s sound, and to connect listeners to tunes.”
And the timing was right. When Xpress, that 19-year-old alt weekly that set the bar for Ottawa music journalism, folded the same month that OSBX fired up, listings took a dive. Luckily, many blogs and papers have taken up the cause alongside Tí & Eric, from Eventful Capital to Small Talk, and now the Ottawa Beat and the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition are streamlining support and coverage for emerging and established artists.
So where will OSBX go from here? I’m just a friend now, no longer a collaborator, but I see that inclusivity has a central role in everything OSBX does. Diversity of choice, of genre, and of cultures is more important to the scene than any publication or resource. The editor in me wants to see those 2015 & 2016 local release lists get built, because the 2014 list is lonely! The reader in me wants to see more writers experimenting with arts journalism.
Not one to be boxed into a definition, I sense that writer, editor, show promoter, and now Executive Director Matías is dabbling with the idea of becoming a label, a publisher, an app developer, and maybe a venue owner. As Eric would say, “we’re still not where we want to be.”
Perhaps not. But I like what you got, show me more.
Ottawa Showbox is celebrating 5 years with a weekend festival May 26–27 at The Record Centre (1099 Wellington W). Among the performers are G. Grand, Claude Munson, Keturah Johnson, and Nightshades. Tickets cost $8 online and $10 at the door. The event is all ages and dry. For more details visit www.ottawashowbox.com.