If there’s one cliché that emerges time and time again when talking to music obsessives about their formative years, it’s the older sibling who routinely passed down pieces and parts of their own record collection. These audio breadcrumbs often served as a shortcut past the mainstream, opening up the door to bands and artists that otherwise would have stayed hidden until later in life.
But what if, like me, you WERE the older sibling? Although both of my parents loved music, and it was constantly playing in the house and the car, they listened mostly to country and older hard rock—two genres that I love, but still only a tiny slice of the overall spectrum.
I did luck out with a close friend whose big brother wasn’t just a source of new music, but also jammed out with us on a regular basis on drums and guitar, but again, his tastes looked backwards more than forwards. While I received an education in the ways of Blue Oyster Cult (which I am grateful for to this day), I was still stuck in a very specific sonic bubble.
Becoming a DJ at my campus radio station changed all of that. Suddenly, instead of longing for the musical guidance of an older family member, I had inherited a huge extended family just as obsessive about music as I was. Not only that, since I started at the station so young—I was 16 or 17 when I first went on the air—most of the other DJs I interacted with were in their early 20s, which is a cavernous gap in terms of musical education at that stage of life.
This was how I became indoctrinated in the ways of goth (Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees), indie (Local Rabbits, Superfriendz) and Canadian hip-hop (Dream Warriors). If it wasn’t playing over the airwaves while I hung out in the DJ lounge, or over the monitors in the booth while I listened with hungry ears, it was blasting from the stage at any of the many Canadian rock and pop shows that the station sponsored on campus and in town (including memorable evenings with bands like Pluto and Tricky Woo). And of course, there was always the massive, and neglected, vinyl library filled with bizarre and new-to-me tracks that filled in the gaps in my internal old school rock and country database.
Finding new music today is much, much different. There’s a fire hose of new acts aimed directly at your face, 24/7, which is amazing, but picking your way through what the algorithm thinks you’ll like to discover a handful of true gems to fall in love with has perhaps never been more difficult. There’s a lot to be said for curation when your tastes are just beginning to form, particularly if it comes wrapped in new friendships with people who are just as excited about sharing their discoveries with you as you are about hearing them.