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The Borderline: 'An explosion of creativity online'

The Borderline internet radio is on a mission to make local arts and culture front and centre in the community

As the expression goes, timing is everything.

For new arts and culture start-up, The Borderline (theborderline.ca), a local internet-based radio site, the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge and an opportunity. After almost two years of planning and preparation, the station “stealth launched” on Feb. 29.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

“Not everyone understands the benefits of the arts until something like COVID-19 happens,” says Adrian Vilaca, program director at Borderline Radio.

“Then you suddenly have this time on your hands and say, ‘Thank God for the music and Netflix.’ Which of course means that you are actually saying, ‘Thank God for the arts.’ Otherwise, what are you doing? You are going literally stir crazy when self-isolating. Hopefully, the importance of the arts is not forgotten after this ends.”

He says the current environment helped to reinforce the reason he started an internet radio station that focuses on locally produced music.

“It was about giving local musicians and local arts exposure. Getting the arts front and centre and giving these local artists the proper attention.”

Vilaca recognizes the current trend of artists performing music online from their homes is a way for people to stay connected and be entertained

“On Facebook, artists began putting on their own concerts. Typically, in a situation like this pandemic, you would have an actual physical concert to raise money. This is something we have done locally in the past. As an example, I worked with Red Cross to organize a concert at the Bondar Pavilion to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief. It is something I’ve always done. Obviously we can’t do that in this case. So how do you do this concert in a pandemic? It didn’t take long to figure out that we can probably do something using our platform while we are locked down.”

Vilaca and the team at The Borderline organized an online concert called Soo Music Against Covid-19 (otherwise known as SMAC-19). The event took place on Wednesday, April 1.

“I decided to write a letter [about the idea] and sent it out to eighty plus musicians. If there was instant interest, I would go ahead and organize it. If there wasn’t, it was worth a try. The response was instant. We ended up with 21 musicians immediately so we went forward with the plan. It really was spurred on by the musicians themselves.”

From a virtual stage, the musicians performed and encouraged the audience who were streaming to donate to the Sault Area Hospital Foundation.

“We ran a pseudo-simulcast and created studio sets that ran concurrently. The audience was encouraged to go to the Sault Area Hospital Foundation button on our homepage to donate to our front lines workers.”

Vilaca notes that although The Borderline is not a news site, the COVID-19 story was so huge it needed to acknowledge it.

“I needed something to direct to the Sault Area Hospital Foundation without overplaying the whole SMAC-19 thing. It has been positive.”

In general, the community’s response to The Borderline has been favourable.

“The reaction and buzz has been tremendous,” said Vilaca. “The musicians of course are behind it, instinctively get it and know this has been needed for a long time.”

Vilaca notes that the real challenge moving forward is bridging the gap to the local audience.

“Does the audience want to hear local music? I’m from the Sault and I know the challenge. There is a type of thinking that says if it is local, it can’t be any good. You are always up against that …But the quality level is amazing. The music we have been able to collect since we started this project has been so incredible.”

Vilaca highlights a new double CD by Danny Mott that was recorded with Grammy winning Cuban artists as an album that recently impressed him, as well as the Jacob Quarrell album that was recently released.

“The stuff that Dustin Jones is recording too…some amazing voices like Hannah Nicoletta and Hannah Rausch…How many local radio stations can say they play all local music? In the research I’ve done, there are very few. I can count them on one hand those who are doing it. And of those, you can count on one finger those who have the number of local artists that we have on our roster.”

Vilaca believes that many communities just don’t produce the same number of high quality albums that are produced here.

“You have to have the talent in the city to do it. We have about 400 artists so far in our library. These are bands and musicians from the Sault or with a strong Sault connection. That number grows daily.”

Sault ex-pats are some of the early adopters of the site.

“Sault people are everywhere,” he laughs. “The Sault travels well. We go all over, but we love our city and reconnect. They go to SooToday, Sault Star, Sault Online and they check from wherever they are and they up every single day.”

Aside from local music programming, The Borderline streams special programming and podcasts.

Vilaca describes some of them:

  • The Taxi Passenger Review: “I love Mike Robillard’s podcast. What a great concept.”
  • Rock and Roll Heaven: “Brian Tremblay sounds awesome and his show is as good as any show anywhere.”
  • Mystical Visions and Cosmic Vibrations:“Christopher Shoust is doing a very interesting show on Sault music history that takes more of a journalistic approach.”
  • The Soundking Podcast: “We have a couple of young guys from Algoma University, OG Spaceman and Beatz by Eman have The Soundking podcast. They are both from Nigeria and they do a show about African music, Afro-fusion and Afro-pop. They are both musicians and students and do their research. Their show is fabulous.”
  • The Book Cover: “Lisa Tucker, who works at the library, interviews all these local authors, there are hundreds.”
  • Community Leadership/Sweet Change: “Frank Sarlo, who needs no introduction, is talking to the community leaders, the Mayor, counsellors and other big names in town.”
  • The Doc Talks Soo Greyhounds: “Dr. George Shunock has a show about the Greyhounds, who are probably the glue to the community in many ways.”
  • For the People Radio: “It features hip hop, groove, funk and R’n’B and features DJ Seith and Kodex."

“I knew The Borderline would be different than traditional radio sounded, but I didn’t completely know how. It’s still evolving. There were certain things I knew I wanted and those things are happening, but there is a lot yet to come.”

The next steps for Vilaca are to grow the site’s listenership and, like everyone else, get through this pandemic.

“There is not much you can do right now other than isolate, wash, and do what the experts tell you. In the meantime, spend your time as creatively as possible. Despite the serious concerns about COVID-19, there have been positives that are coming out of this. And those things are in the arts. You are seeing an explosion of creativity online. It’s emboldened and encouraged a lot of people to do it, which is positive.”

Listen to The Borderline here.