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'Good Art Does Prevail': Cindy Lee's 'Diamond Jubilee' Is Re-Writing the Rules of Breaking Through

Though it's not even on streaming services, the Calgary DIY artist's album has been blowing up in a refreshingly organic way, with concerts in Toronto and Montreal quickly moving to bigger venues.

Cindy Lee, 'Diamond Jubilee' album cover

Cindy Lee, 'Diamond Jubilee' album cover

Anyone who loves indie music has likely spoken these four words over the last month: Cindy Lee, Diamond Jubilee.

The new album from Calgary guitarist and pop experimentalist Pat Flegel, who releases music as Cindy Lee, has been the subject of immense online buzz.


The hype train started as soon as the two-hour album was released on March 30, with listeners praising Flegel's haunting, almost-otherworldly dispatch of '60s girl-group pop songs rendered in the style of '90s DIY recordings. Things picked up speed with the April 12 publication of Pitchfork's Diamond Jubilee review, which accorded the album a score of 9.1, the highest since 2020's perfect 10.0 for Fiona Apple.

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The album has quickly become a major story in the music industry, not just because of the rave reviews, but also thanks to the mystery with which it arrived. Diamond Jubilee seems to disregard all conventional wisdom in the contemporary music industry: the album is two hours long, and is only available as a Geocities download or a single YouTube video with no track time-codes. There's no Instagram ads, TikTok challenges or sponsored content to be found here, but most of Cindy Lee's upcoming tour dates are sold out, with Toronto and Montreal both upgrading to bigger venues.

In Toronto, Cindy Lee's May 17 show has moved from the 400-capacity venue The Great Hall to the 1200-capacity The Concert Hall.

"It's the most hype I’ve seen without anybody sending a press release out,” says Denholm Whale, who works with Transmit Presents, the Toronto promoter putting on the concert. Whale has been booking Flegel for over a decade, when the Cindy Lee project was first emerging out of the ashes of Flegel's revered post-punk band Women.

He says everyone he knows in the industry is talking about Diamond Jubilee, and the album's success seems like an indie rock throwback: a runaway album whose creator wasn't trying to have a runaway album. "Pat doesn’t really give a f--k about the industry — it's interesting to see the nostalgia for that," Whale explains.

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Normally, when Cindy Lee comes to Toronto, the room has about 150 people in it. When Diamond Jubilee came out, Whale noticed ticket sales went from a few per day to thirty-ish. "I was like oh, I think people just genuinely like this record and they’re gonna come to the show," he says. The Pitchfork review led to a huge bump, with 200 tickets gone in one day. (Whale says a Pitchfork Best New Music designation is one of the few reliable causes of spiking ticket sales in general.)

Ticketing platform Dice has a feature called The Waitlist that helps prevent resales and gives promoters an idea of how many fans still want tickets. After The Great Hall sold out, the Cindy Lee show still had 450 people on the waitlist. "It all pointed to: keep going," Whale says.

He moved the show to the Concert Hall, the last 1200-capacity venue available in the city, and sold 600 more tickets immediately.

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Online hype can help, but it's no guarantee

For Whale, the Cindy Lee show has been an exciting surprise. When promoters commit to a show, there's no real way of knowing how well it will do, Whale explains.

"It’s funny to me," he says. "I work with bands who have millions of streams and really great press and they sell like two tickets." Sometimes the opposite happens, with bands that have low streaming numbers but strong touring experience.

"It’s this whole picture," Whale says, of predicting sales. "Not one thing means anything, but as a sum you can actually make a good prediction of what’s gonna happen."

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Another recent success was the Belarusian band Molchat Doma. Whale had booked the post-punk act before the pandemic, and then they got big on TikTok, and tickets kept selling, even during lockdown. "They jumped from The Garrison [350 capacity] to a sold-out Opera House [950 cap] before they had even been here." But it's even rarer for a whole two-hour album to break out without any particular viral moment.

Flegel's breakthrough is moving for people who have worked with him and loved his art for years. Whale points to Flegel's influence as an artist, particularly in terms of Women's guitar tones, which have cropped up on countless post-punk recordings since 2010. "Credit is very much due."

The buzz around Diamond Jubilee indicates both the beauty of the album itself and a broader excitement at the possibility that branding and endless self-promotion aren't everything. In a period where artists and labels are struggling to figure out how to break through the online noise, it's refreshing to see an artist so whole-heartedly reject the imperatives of the streaming economy, and to see that artist lauded, instead of chided.

Whether Diamond Jubilee's success indicates a sea-change in album release strategies is a different, and arguably less interesting, question. But it suggests that there is a desire — amongst fans, industry members and artists — for music to find its audience in ways that prioritize artistry and community.

"Good music and good art does prevail sometimes, if the right people hear it," says Whale.

Download or stream Diamond Jubilee here.

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Jim Herrington

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The Black Keys Cancel North American Leg of International Players Tour

The rock duo's 31-date arena trek was scheduled to launch in September and included a date at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 11, 2024.

The Black Keys have abruptly canceled their upcoming North American tour.

The 31-date arena trek — which was scheduled to launch Sept. 17 in Tulsa, Okla., and wrap Nov. 12 in Detroit — quietly disappeared from Ticketmaster’s website without explanation on Friday (May 24).

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