Where there are no streets to be named

People | Scary Bear Soundtrack’s musical style may be out of sync with the Nunavut community they live in, but their indomitable spirit is unmistakably Northern

Panty hose removed for promotional purposes only

Elías Thórsson

High in the Canadian North, as far north as you can go in fact, on the shores of the Northwest Passage, is Cambridge Bay. Just over 1,000 people call the isolated Nunavut community home, yet it was this cold, remote place that inspired the formation of the indie synth-pop project Scary Bear Soundtrack, which, it is safe to assume, is the northernmost band of its kind.

Cambridge Bay is not the kind of place you would expect to find the likes of Scary Bear Soundtrack. The duo’s jovial genre of synth-pop belongs some other place. Some other time. And the band readily acknowledges that they – and their sound – hail from elsewhere.

“So, basically I lived in Ottawa,” says Gloria Guns, 29, the band’s lead singer, “and the band started there as an all girl band, but then two years ago I moved to the Arctic and decided to start up again here. I met Christine at the gym and we started to play music together.”

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Christine is Christine Aye, 26, the band’s other member, and a Myanmar native.

This spring, ‘The Longest Night’, one of their catchier numbers, made the top ten of CBC Music’s Searchlight Contest for Canada’s Best New Artist. That, in turn, gave them the national airplay they needed to make it on to the national scene. On September 8, the band, together with Avid Napper, an Ontario-based musician, released a full album with the same name as the single.

As immigrants to the North, Scary Bear Soundtrack takes a lot of inspiration from the world around them, and many of their lyrics deal with the difficult social issues facing Nunavut communities, and about the resilience required to survive the harshness of nature.

“It is a very small town, and there are no bars, no concert halls, and not really any restaurants, so a lot of times we have to play in each others homes,” says Guns (whose real name is Gloria Song, and who is a solicitor). “The only events we play involve moving stuff out of our living rooms, and then local bake sales and fundraisers.”

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Playing people’s lounges is a tried-and-true method for venue-less bands, but for Scary Bear Soundtrack, the DIY spirit goes further. A lot further.

“You have to be inventive in the North,” Guns says. “We record in my second bedroom, with my laptop and we have a sound engineer in Ontario who we send the tracks to. We once got an e-mail from him telling us to place a sock over the microphone to fix the recording, so I cut out some pantyhose and put them over it. This made Christine pretty mad because I had forgotten to wash them before hand.”

Cambridge Bay is not connected to the rest of Canada by roads. That makes touring something of a non-starter. Fortunately, the internet opens up the international airwaves to their sound, but even this has its limitations in the North.

“We have a really good on-line presence and that is what got our music picked up by the CBC, so what we do would have been impossible just 20 years ago,” says Guns. “It is already hard enough; our internet is very slow and our bandwidth is very limited. We are not from the North, but people have been able to make things work up here, and we try to pick up the local culture that way.”

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Many of the band’s lyrics deal with the social issues facing Nunavut’s isolated communities, and the band tries to use its upbeat melodies to bring awareness to some of these problems.

“There is a very high suicide rate up here, and in small communities suicides affect everybody, and our songs ‘On the Land’ and ‘Longest Night’ are about supporting each other, and the importance of talking about these issues,” says Guns. “Another of our singles, ‘Fault Lines’, is about sexual violence, which is a big problem up North, and everywhere.”

Aye, though, interjects that although their songs often deal with weighty topics, they do serve a simpler, if equally noble, purpose.

“Even though we want to talk about important social issues, we also want to make people happy, which is why our music is so upbeat,” she says. “We want to raise awareness, but also to send a positive message.”

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The new album is out. All the local bake sales booked for the next good long time. And today they will release a mash up remix of one of their songs. But even with the seeds of success sewn and the winter already beginning to set in, Guns and Aye say they have no plans of slowing their tempo in the months to come.

“In many ways we have already gone further than we expected this year. We were a no name band and now we have an audience all over Canada. But we want more people from the outside world to learn about this place,” says Guns. “A lot of people don’t know that people live this far north, and we want people to be aware of us, and how it is to live in the North.”

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

The Rasmussen’s People articles are interviews or profiles of the individuals who shape – and are shaped by – the region.

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