Toronto indie band-cum-sandwichers Neon Windbreaker. Photo courtesy Joe Fuda.
When anyone with an internet connection can download the entire Flipper discography via BitTorrent for free in thirty-seven seconds, selling records can be tricky. The industry’s need to fix the problem has spawned a myriad of half-measures, from including download codes with special edition translucent-colour vinyl releases to Radiohead’s fleetingly ground-breaking decision to let fans decide how much they wanted to pay for their 2007 album In Rainbows.
The problem is compounded in the Toronto indie scene, where local bands are forced to aggressively vie for the attention (and pocket money) of their audiences. Eric Warner, a concert promoter and vocalist of Toronto noisemakers Neon Windbreaker, came up with a novel solution to move his band’s latest EP: make audiences eat it.
Ramping up to Neon Windbreaker’s EP release party—which is Thursday night at Rainbow Palace in Kensington Market—Warner decided to sell sandwiches, fruit, and mixed drinks that will come packaged with a code for downloading their record. “Eric just brought it to us one day and said, ‘Okay, this is what we’re doing. We’re releasing an EP with a sandwich,’” explains guitarist/bassist Pat McCormack. “It kind of made sense. People aren’t buying records anymore, but people will always buy food.”
The idea is at least novel, and maybe ingenious: appeal to cash-strapped concertgoers by feeding them, while also selling them your record. It’s also a way for Neon Windbreaker to get noticed in Toronto’s rock scene, which seems to grow by forty bands every time you reload MySpace. But even amid a sea of gimmicks—where groups may package their album in a plastic bag full of confetti, to be tossed in their air during their set—this may be the best yet. “People are trying to get more and more creative with what they do,” says McCormack. “It’s cool in the respect that you have to get creative and get fun with it, and get people engaged enough to buy.”
“It’s definitely easier [nowadays] to put out your own music and get things to audiences,” adds Warner. “But at the same time, how do you create dialogue? I hadn’t heard of anything like this being done before and I thought it would be fun.” Warner, who considers himself a “pretty good cook,” is making all the sandwiches from scratch: ten meat (roasted chicken with lettuce and tomatoes on challah) and ten veggie (peanut tofu with lettuce, tomato, and sprouts on “probably a grain bread”). Anyone who misses them can pick up a piece of fruit stickered with the album download code, or a mixed drink called “the Neon Windbreaker” (vodka, mango juice, and bar lime). He’s even considering making cupcakes iced with instructions for procuring the record.
The album-as-perishable food concept also seems like a clever response to bands who package their albums with some kind of collectable widget, like a limited edition photo, screenprint, or keychain. When all the sandwiches are gobbled down, it’s the tunes that remain. “It’s not important so much that you have some sort of silly trinket so much as that you have the music,” says McCormack. “It’s the anti-trinket, because it’s entirely disposable. We’re very anti-trinket.”
It may be a one-off of gag (nobody wants to play guitar in “That Band With the Sandwiches”), but it’s a fairly cunning one. Neon Windbreaker’s so-billed “Sandwich + Fruit” show gives Toronto music listeners more of what they want, while further distinguishing the band in a market of music fans who either want everything for free, or a boutique release replete with all manner of bells and whistles.
“We’re doing it classy,” laughs McCormack. “People will be like, ‘Oh I like that record, where did you get it?’ Well, you can’t. It came in a sandwich.”
Neon Windbreaker plays with Child Bite and Les Frauleins on Thursday February 3. Rainbow Palace (213 Augusta Avenue—last door on the left-hand side of the alley); doors at 9 p.m. and bands at 10 p.m.; $5.