Though they call dollar coins "loonies" and come from the land lampooned by "Second City Television" Canucks Bob and Doug McKenzie, the boys of Sweatshop Union are not hosers.
The seven-member crew is part of Vancouver's burgeoning hip-hop scene. While no major stars have broken out of it yet, groups like Swollen Members and Sweatshop Union are driven literally to doing just that. The proof is in the miles they've logged touring.
Long road trips are a fact of the Canadian musician's life, says Mos Eisley, one of Sweatshop Union's six MCs. Canada is geographically enormous, with a lot of distance between cities.
"We typically drive six to eight hours between gigs, whereas in the States, you drive 12 hours and hit four or five major cities," Eisley says. "It's a big empty space, and we're going to scour it for fans and a living."
Canada's hip-hop scene may lag, but it does exist, even on the sparse prairies, says Eisley. And its style is evolving. Canadian rhymers and DJs are revamping ideas and practices from other scenes to create something original.
"I think that it's an approximation of American hip-hop in the same way Canadian culture, in its own way, is an approximation of American culture," says Eisley. "It started off not as an imitation, but as a reaction or a response to what we were hearing from the States."
Sweatshop Union's latest album, United We Fall, marries a wide range of musical influences. While there's plenty of obligatory bass-boomin', tracks like "Cut Back" and "Broken Record" sample drum lines and horns, digging into a retro as in 1940s groove.
"Hip-hop, in its essence, is a deconstructivist and a revisionist type of music," says Eisley. "Whether it's pieces from "Amos & Andy' or soul music from the 1970s, or a bass line from a classical song, you end up on one album with samples from the '40s, '60s, '90s, with new arrangements and new vocals. We try to make something new and improved."
Sweatshop Union with Swollen Members and Archetypes
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Sunday, Feb. 19, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10 in advance, $12 day of show; call 227-7625 or visit ticketweb.com.