As Americans, we like to think that culturally, we’re fairly dominant. Our pop music exports achieve levels of global fame—for example, Gaga—that far surpass their foreign counterparts—like Jedward (yes, I’m equating Gaga with Jedward, and why shouldn’t I, it’s all performance art). Up north, however, Canadians aren’t taking musical sloppy seconds from the US or anyone else.
Although you may be able to name a few Canadian musicians—Neil Young, Alanis Morissette, Justin Bieber (even Canadians are ashamed of this)—you might be surprised to learn that Canada contains an entire musical world that doesn’t always cross over into the U.S. There are quotas put on Canadian national radio and TV stations which require a large percentage of their programming be homegrown, so Rihanna can’t dominate the airwaves no matter how much Canadian audiences might momentarily want her to. And that’s a wonderful thing; there’s a whole world up there filled with Quebecquois hiphop, Saskatoon banjo music, and PEI bootgaze (which could very well exist) that sounds utterly unfamiliar. When we do hear Canadian performers on our airwaves—like Avril Lavigne or Michael Buble—their sound is processed enough for the pop music market that it’s easy to forget they’re from a completely different place.
One genre where Canadian bands do sometimes cross over with their national identity intact is in punk and indie rock. In the '90s, at least, bands like Sloan, Eric's Trip and Zumpano (and to a lesser degree, Local Rabbits and Thrush Hermit) made the cross over, and since then, Fucked up and The New Pornographers (which includes AC Newman, formerly of Zumpano, as well as Neko Case) have continued to keep it real for Canada on American college radio.
One of the first things that music journalist Sam Sutherland points out in his history of the origins of Canadian Punk, Perfect Youth, is that a third of Canadians live in one of the country's three major cities—Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto—all of which are fairly distant from each other; between the large number of people in cultural centers and the isolation of those developing cultures, "punk," as Sutherland puts it, "was built for a country like Canada."
The earliest Canadian punk singles predate those from the UK, but the music that was being made wasn't just a Canuck version of what was going on elsewhere; sure, there were the same kinds of outrageous performers and DIY networks of venues and record labels, but these bands and labels had their own distinct character. The way Sutherland describes the Viletones' singer Nazi Dog, you wouldn't dare compare him to the Sex Pistols' John Lydon (who the Viletones predate, anyway).
More well-known Canadian punk bands, like DOA and the Subhumans, also get covered, but where some books like this are only fun if you know all the players involved and are reading for the gossipy tidbits, Perfect Youth seems more interesting the less you know about Canadian punk history. Given that most Americans couldn't know less about Canadian anything if they tried, it's a read your average US rock nerd will probably find worth reading.