Halifax has emerged as an East Coast pop music hub, exporting artists with danceable hits with spots on the charts alongside Canadian heavyweights Justin Bieber and Drake.
The region's artists will be recognized at the East Coast Music Awards gala on Thursday in Saint John, N.B., and Halifax pop hit-makers are leading the pack for nominations.
Ria Mae said her hometown — best known for giving birth to rock-radio staples like April Wine and Sloan or singer-songwriters like Sarah McLachlan who moved west to become stars — is nurturing pop musicians like never before.
"For the first time, Haligonians have a presence on pop radio," said Mae, who is up for seven ECMAs.
Mae's latest album glitters like a top 40 chart-topper, but maintains some folk grit. It's a product of Halifax being a music incubator, she said.
"We've always had a strong singer-songwriter community... And I think that right now in the world of pop music, people are craving real things again — real topics," said Mae, who maintains her local roots but also tours widely.
"It doesn't have to be shiny and polished — it can just be unique. So maybe that's why artists on the East Coast are getting a bit more recognition than usual."
Mae's self-titled 2016 record features "Clothes Off,'' which became a smash hit on the Canadian radio charts and grabbed a Juno nomination for single of the year — a category based on sales — alongside songs by Bieber, Drake and the Weeknd.
The electro-pop mashup has been certified gold in Canada with more than 50,000 sales, and its music video has garnered more than 2.4 million views.
The album is nominated for Pop Recording of the Year at the ECMAs and was produced by Classified, a Halifax rapper who is himself up for nine awards.
And while Classified's hit "No Pressure" — nominated for Song of the Year — features Snoop Dogg, it also samples a song from emerging Cape Breton-born, Halifax-based singer-songwriter Dave Sampson.
It's indicative of what Mae describes as Halifax's musical family — a support system of artists that collaborate rather than compete.
"As soon as someone shows a bit of talent, they're kind of taken into this family and we all want each other to do really well," said Mae.
Another member of that family is Corey LeRue, a songwriter and producer who makes up one-fourth of the electronic dance music band Neon Dreams.
LeRue said the pop music scene in Halifax is "stronger than it's ever been."
"People used to say the music from here sounded a certain way or had a certain feel, but that's not the norm anymore," said LeRue in his downtown Halifax recording studio with his Neon Dreams bandmates, who performed their song "Marching Bands" at the Juno Awards earlier this month with Toronto rapper Kardinal Offishall.
"I think we're on a swing back from the over-produced. It means more live instrumentation and just more music happening instead of shoving a melody down your throat. And Halifax knows live music."
Waye Mason, who in 2001 founded the Halifax Pop Explosion Association — despite the name, it started as an indie rock festival — said the East Coast's relative isolation has meant it has always had a vibrant music scene, from punk rock to Celtic to folk.
"There's always been an element of having to entertain ourselves," said Mason, who is now a Halifax regional councillor.
"But I think right now, we have a really important conjunction of really great artists and a lot of energy around that kind of pop music, and there's also a really willing market out there that wants to buy it."
The ECMAs will be handed out on Thursday.
Newfoundland electronic band REPARTEE have racked up five nominations, while New Brunswick-based the Motorleague, Paper Lions of P.E.I. and Halifax homegrowns Ben Caplan and Erin Costelo each received four nods.
Francophone musicians also saw acclaim in the nominations — with Acadian artists Caroline Savoie and Les Hotesses d'Hilaire each picking up four.
The gala will feature Classified and David Myles, Mae, Lisa LeBlanc, Jason Benoit, and many others.
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press