Tag Archives: edmonton

Purity Ring’s “Shrines”: A review

Album review featured in the National Music Centre blog. Check it out, they are the jam.


For Those Who Like: Stars, Bjork, Gobble Gobble, Flaming Lips, Lakeside Cottage Country, Braids, Beach House

Shrines, Purity Ring‘s first LP, carves out a strong sound and presence – a genuine summer release. Originally from Edmonton, where Megan James and Corin Roddick first began to play together as two of the four-piece Gobble Gobble, they relocated to Montreal and formed Purity Ring in 2010.  Label mates on 4AD with Blonde Redhead, Atlas Sound and St. Vincent, their release is in good company. Through their recent singles and splits, they have built up a following and this LP doesn’t fall short of expectations.

Shrines is shiny and bright electro pop – though it doesn’t fall entirely within that. With catchy synth hooks, hip-hop inspired beats and smooth breathy vocals, Shrines comes close to being just another catchy favourite, but there is something unique about James’ voice over slick arrangements where Roddick plays with everything he can. From the mellow and shimmery “Crawlersout”, to the darkly poppy “Obedear”, and the synth and auto-tune heavy “Amenamy”, the balance is maintained clear through the album. There are plenty of summer memories to create alongside this album and it fits handily in any number of backyard bonfires or warm nights.

Its fuzzy, somewhat smoggy sounds rings of the wave of garage rock coming out of small record labels now, especially those crafted throughout the Canadian landscape. Still, Shrines distinguishes Purity Ring into a new class, something a little different. Purity Ring could just as easily channeled lighter shimmery electro-pop but there is something darker. You can hear the heavier sounds from Gobble Gobble coming through, though if anything it gives it a stronger edge. Changing it from usual to something unexpected.

There is something though that detracts from this album. It is short and sweet, but it is clear that Purity Ring works best in small batches: stellar 7” and 7” splits.  Fat Possum’s 7” split with Braids was a natural fit, for example. However, those sweet summertime moments eventually blend together and Shrines will likely not be immune from that. A solid album, hopefully one that shows even more potential growth for the next release from Purity Ring.

You can stream Shrines now on NPR’s First Listen.

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Welcome to Queerberta: a review of “Queering the Way”.

Queering the Way: The Loud & Queer Anthology by Darrin Hagen

(Brindle & Glass, 2012; $19.95)

Queering the Way, an anthology of pieces performed as part of and written for the Edmonton-based Loud and Queer (L & Q) Cabaret, showcases Albertan artists that are varied and as controversial as the language used to cue identity. The anthology is edited and in a sense, curated, by Darrin Hagen — a founding member and long time of host L & Q, and knows of that which he speaks we it comes to queer theatre culture in Alberta. He is one of the first self-declared queer artists to debut in a major theatre festival, the Edmonton Fringe Festival, as well as an outspoken artist and activist in the Edmonton scene.

Hagen allows the pieces to not only reflect on the struggles LGBTTQ communities in Alberta have faced, but also the personal stories of those community members. The L & Q has been out in full force since 1991 and in this anthology’s introduction Hagen eloquently, without sparing feeling or impact, describes the genesis of this community driven theatrical outlet. From its humble beginnings of a one-night, eight-act show — giving a home to the many artists who were very much marginalized as “queer” artists, to its present day: a full two-night cabaret celebrating not just pride and equality activism, but also in the progression of artistic expression in Canada.

In the 22 pieces Hagen chose to be part of this anthology, there are representative of the diverse experiences and personalities of the many artists that have graced the L & Q stage. As with all artistic expression, these pieces not only represent a moment or a collection of moments for the artist — they also pull something out of the collective memories and experiences of their respective environments.

Many of the pieces — acutely so in acclaimed Canadian filmmaker and musician Trevor Anderson‘s “The Island,” deals not just with the sexual identity and finding a place in a community but also the collective conscience of the environment that the community exists in. “The Island” directly explores the oft muttered off-handed comment of sending “them” to an island. “A homo utopia,” as Anderson puts it. This theme is echoed in many of the pieces — the other’ing that takes places without thought or consideration by members inside and outside of any given space. In Susan Jeremy‘s “Touring and Scoring: Tales of a Stand-Up Comic” — this other’ing took place within her professional community, but also within herself. “Comics don’t get on TV shows unless they appear straight. That’s what I do on the road: let the guys flirt with me while I fantasize about the girls…”. The search for self-identity, for a reasonable idea of who and what is wanted.

Queering the Way reveals the depth to which queer artists have taken the art forms they have chosen to express and reflect their own reality. In T.L. Cowan‘s poetic monologue, “This is a picture of me,” a new literary exploration emerges. Pushing the boundaries of spoken word, Cowan explores the simple act of growing up. Not excluding the driving force of discovering sexual identity — but merging it and letting it unfold with each new moment of discovery. Another particularly striking inclusion is a written version of Beau Coleman‘s video installation “continental divide.” A difficult piece to translate to paper and ink, yet it unfolds with ease and allows the reader to view each page — in a similar fashion as a viewer would take in each component of an installation.

There are also pieces of great humour throughout this anthology. Rosemary Rowe‘s “Anne and Diana Were TOTALLY DOING IT” leads the reader to titter knowingly as they imagine the beloved hometown heroine’s engaged in passionate lesbian embraces. For anyone who grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series, this new insight into the “bosom friendship” of Anne and Diana leads the mind to wonder about other childhood hero and heroines. “STANDupHOMO,” Nathan Cuckow‘s fantastic semi-monologue explores what the public perception of what a “gay” man is with wit, grace, darkness but also a great deal of humour.

Throughout this anthology Hagen pulls together the disparate and diverse cultures, perceptions and experiences that have formed queer artistic expression in Alberta for decades. Sadly, there has been few decades where this artistic reflection has been publicly out. The works presented in Queering the Way represent a multitude of works from the past 20 years of the L & Q. As Hagen acknowledges — to narrow down such a body of work is a difficult task, however this anthology well represents the evolution of artistic expression as well as the diverse formats these expressions took.

You can order Queering the Way here.

First published online at rabble.ca, June 15th, 2012.

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The Sounds of Unification

Sled Island has developed into a full fledged cultural hot spot, drawing people from the farthest reaches of Alberta, across Canada and around the world. Acts such as Calgary/Toronto’s Feist and Japan’s the Boredoms on the same bill as Lethbridge’s Fist City, Vancouver’s Korean Gut and Edmonton’s Travis Bretzer shows the diversity of the program. This year, Sled Island is also featuring a full film lineup in the week leading up to the music festival and several visual art exhibitions that will run for the entirety of the festival.

Drew Marshall, the Marketing and Communications Director of the Sled Island administration, is also rather excited about the “green island” initiative that will see multiple bike racks placed at venue sites and a bike rental program.

Marshall initially become involved in 2007, Sled Island’s inaugural year. “Part of the reason I was attracted to it, it definitely was something that didn’t exist prior to Sled Island, ” he recalls. “There has always been a lot of great music out of Calgary and Alberta and overall in the region, but there wasn’t any big event that was bringing that whole community together.”

While Sled Island was initially the brain child of Zak Pashak who was inspired by the Pop Montreal festival and is still involved as the Creative Director; the festival now is organized with the help of over 400 volunteers and, in Marshall’s experience, “has always been a real collaborative effort to make this whole thing happen.”

“There is a community that exists in Calgary and surrounding the festival,” he explains. “It might be something where not everyone is connected, or not always represented. During Sled Island you have this flourish of activity with all these great bands, performing at all these venues—small, intimate unconventional venues, large outdoor ones—and it really becomes obvious that there is this incredibly vibrant music scene going on in Calgary, in Canada, in North America.”

In Marshall’s view, Sled Island changed things. “For the first time there were these big international acts that for the most part would never come to Calgary,” he says. “The first year we had the Boredoms from Japan play, and it was one of the most mind blowing shows for anyone that was in attendance. We had Cat Power in the first show she had played at in a church in Calgary—that was just a beautiful show. Sled Island represented all these things coming together.”

For people like Paul Lawton, a central member of the Lethbridge garage-rock scene and co-owner and founder of Mammoth Cave Records, Sled Island offers something different than SXSW or NXNE, which are “very industry centred.” Lawton believes Sled Island has created a new kind of multi-venue festival, that is very artist focused. The industry presence has been very small for the most part. It has engendered a very DIY spirit and community.”

For Lawton, Sled Island not only provides the opportunity to expose hundreds of people to the bands hosted on Mammoth Cave, the label he co-owns, but, as with many regional musicians, the impact of getting to meet promoters and booking agents and to play a showcase every night—especially being from a smaller city in Alberta—is worth a great deal.

“There was a long time where it was hard for Alberta bands to book outside of Alberta,” he explains. “It took a lot of time and work to get people from the bigger centres to care about music happening in other parts of the country. Sled Island I think is the key player in that.”

Aaron Levin, founder of Weird/Wyrd Canada and a former music director for Edmonton’s campus-community radio station CJSR, believes Sled Island’s success has everything to do with the way the festival was initially set up.

“Sled Island is a very interesting case of a festival with a very large mandate and goal,” says Levin. “It has both embraced the fringe DIY while managing to attract a huge massive audience. This is what separates from some of the festivals, say, I do, and some of the festivals where this doesn’t happen—like the Edmonton Folk Festival, for example.”

For Levin, what is truly special about Sled Island is how it embraced the DIY culture of the local music scenes in Alberta right away. “SXSW (a festival Sled Island is oft compared to), for example, has definitely embraced that, but they didn’t start embracing that. When all the showcases started there was actually a negative reaction from the leadership of SXSW. Being bold, and embracing the indie local music scene was very important for their success.”

Levin, like Lawton, recognizes the avenues Sled Island has created to connect bands to promoters to booking agents to bands. “The opportunity for having a large part of the west coast music community under one roof and talking to each other is something that doesn’t happen,” Levin points out. “Sled Island has really provided for that by embracing all this fringe DIY music.”

Levin’s own music site, Weird Canada—named by CBC Radio 3 as the “Best Indie Music Website in Canada” and his travelling Wyrd festival benefited from Sled Island simply because “they were so open armed when it came to working together. (They were) incredibly encouraging for any sort of creative idea I had. That helped Weird Canada get a larger voice out of the city I was working in.”

Lawton and Levin, as festival attendees and programmers, clearly see Sled Island’s biggest strength in its commitment to the local and regional acts. One thing they do very right in Lawton’s eyes is that “every year after they do Sled Island, they send out a questionnaire to all the bands and it is very clear they have listened to the local and regional musicians who have given input. Every year gets a little better.”

For Marshall, that community building is what Sled Island is all about: “Bring together all these people for these four days and really create all this momentum and placing spotlights on the incredible music community that exists here. Really, in Calgary and Edmonton we are removed from so many parts of the world or even North America that sometimes we are off the radar when it comes to live music and touring bands and that kind of thing.

“The resource of talent in Alberta is so vast and there is so much potential that Sled Island is essentially a small group of people that work in this office doing our best to connect these communities that already exist.”

Originally published in VUE Weekly, June 14th 2012, issue #869.

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ChangeCamp: a better plan…

It has been more than a month since ChangeCamp Edmonton, and since then, I have has ample time to reflect on ChangeCamp and why I choose to participate.

As a student, my life moves from one deadline to the next. Self absorbed out of necessity, I often lament the time constraints which excludes me from many of the social and community activities that happen around Alberta. I am fortunate in that my (amateur?) professions throughout last three years have allowed me to make community work a priority, but as my last year in my undergraduate degree slips through my fingers, I now am forced with that all important question.

What the hell should I going to do now?

I know I love political engagement, and I love media. To an obsessive level. To prove: I am in the midst of writing a paper on social media’s impact on political engagement, #nerdfest, amirite?

The biggest challenge I see is connectedness. Society has embraced social media in the mainstream consciousness. Facebook is used as a marketing/advertising tool, and press releases are disguised as personalized message. Twitter is used by a demographic which had yet to be tapped into, the educated well established professional. Blogs are widely read, and they are able to capture the collective consciences in a way that mainstream media has failed to do in the last five or so years.

ChangeCamp first captured my attention with its broad appeal. Completely format free, yet structured enough to be conducive to open and somewhat organized discussion. What impressed me especially was the quality of the discussion, the willingness of individuals to bring forth opinions and the openness with which they were received.

I am fortunate to be well acquainted with a few of the organizers and the level of commitment and the amount of effort being poured into this event impressed me. I wanted to be part of this movement, to be a member of this Alberta wide community, active in promoting a change,  a re-visioning of our current societal norms and processes.

In any city, ChangeCamo gives any citizen who has the cahones the chance to come forward and propose a topic, question a pre-existing norm, and offer a collective solution.

Recently, I have felt delighted and overwhelmed with the different paths in front of me to engage the democratic process in Alberta. Resistance Alberta, this blog, Twitter engagement, and the many circles of friends who see a need for a change in Alberta, and in our own communities.

Democratic engagement is not really Alberta’s strong suit any longer. Everyone has an opinion on something here, and a way to do it better, especially government spending and regulations; but all too often we allow ourselves to be placated by the lack of efficacy and empowerment many rural and isolated communities feel.

What does it matter to be progressive, if being progressive leaves you out of the process?

This is why I went to ChangeCamp. To meet these people, to interact with the same bloggers who I have followed to gain insight on such activities as Bill 44, Resistance Alberta, and the Alberta’s governing party, and the minutia which really does mean so much when put into context. Writers and analysts I have come to admire because of their willingness to criticize the status quo, while offering citizen based solutions.

Four others from Lethbridge accompanied me, and our discussion afterward revolved around the same basic issue we all had. How does this level of open discussion spread beyond the activist capitol who attend such events? How do we, or I, take everything heard and discussed here past this room.

Southern Alberta can often feel disengaged from the rest of Alberta. From the many involved tweeps I connect with, I hear of meetings carried out to continue the change they felt was needed. Whether it be open access, direct engagement with our representatives, or even a challenge to the current Albertan democratic process it seems that there are things happening, but they are very much centered in Alberta’s captiol city.

Stillthough, this gives me heart, but I wonder how this level of activism can be disseminated through the rest of Alberta. ChangeCamp should be more than just one day in one city center, it should reach out to inspire everyone to change what they can in their own communities. Be it the music scene in a smaller center, the way you connect with your political representative, or bigger changes such as running to be a representative yourself.

To enter into the system, the challenges are there and they are fierce. Compromise is necessary, but many of the individuals who take that opportunity to act as a community leader have been truly exemplary in leading through example and initiating progress. There were several political representatives participating in the ChangeCamp event, from multiple levels of governing and it was fantastic to be able to address them as people, not as politicians. Just as another person who is interested in something more, finding the common ground of active community involvement.

While my change may be as simple as inviting four others to be a part of this community, I know that it will ripple out. ChangeCamp should not start and stop with me or with anyone else.

I hope to hold a ChangeCamp event in Southern Alberta in early 2010. I hope to see people affected by this idea, and bring forward their own ideas for progress, and address the challenges they see and face.

One person can accomplish a great deal when they allow themselves to be heard, one community can accomplish even more when we allow ourselves to listen.

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You say you wanna stage a revolution?

Edmonton Fringe Festival is upon us here in the Capital City and let me tell you what, it is worth every minute of your time and every traffic inconvenience.

In another life I was very much involved with theater which has put me in an excellent position to inform your decision on which shows to check during this years fringe.

Below is just a list of suggestion of shows I think are well worth checking out, if you would like further information or a more “review” type description I recommend checking out Vue’s Fringe reviews or The Edmonton Journal’s reviews. Both are fairly objective although I belive a caveat to my endorsement is needed. All reviews are subjective and all are only one viewing of one performance from one person, so ensure you keep that in mind and try to ignore the personal rave/distaste and look for the plot description and not the opinionated review of the design/acting/writing.

Full disclosure: I have a great many pals who are involved in the majority of shows mention in the below, however as I give you my word these recommendations come from a genuine belief in quality and creative integrity.

Transalta Stage at the Westbury Theater

The Year of Magical Thinking, Pobbie Productions: an adapted screenplay from Joan Didion, so you know it will be entertaining at the very least. Length: 80- minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

The Laugh Shop

The Big Stupid Improv Show, Rapid Fire Theater: improv is a hard thing to do, even if it looks like actors are just making an idiot of themselves on stage for cheap laughs. Ok, so that is what improv is sometimes, however laughs are always good cheap or Crystal. RFT has failed to disappoint this season, and they are local so this little taste will have you itching for their next season to start up, and then you can scratch that itch, scratch it good. Length: 75 minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over, Gemma Wilcox: I worked the front of house for this show on Friday night, full house and nothing but good things heard from those in line. Length: 70 minutes. Place of Origin: Boulder, Colorado USA.

Acacia Hall

Excuse me: This is the TRUTH!, Break the Wall Productions: @Paulatics gives this show some serious love, and you know she knows what she is talking about. Length: 45 minutes. Origin: Edmonton, Alberta

Fringe Cabaret Lounge

El Dorado, Surreal SoReal Theater: I actually went to high school with the writer/director/actor and have been in several productions with him in our younger days. Excellent actor and I believe this is his first self written, self directed, and self acted show so I am keen to see what comes of it. Based out of Edmonton with loads of local talent from this city to support the show, I am genuinely looking forward to seeing this. Length: 70 minutes.

Between Tosha and Boleck, Aether Bag Theater: A two person show written and directed by Bohdan Tarasenko featuring Ukrainian accents. Length 60 minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

NGGRFG, Guy Un-Disguised & Small Brown Package: I got a glowing recommendation from a designer who’s opinion I trust entirely. This creator has a longer track than the combined characters from Trainspotting. Length: 60 minutes. Origin: Edmonton.

Catalyst Theater

Bashir Lazhar, Wishbone: Translated from Evelyne de la Cheneliere by Morwyn Brebner, toured in Munich, Dresden and Innsbruck. Vancouver Sun fell all over themselves for this production and from what I hear the praise is well deserved. “… raw physical impulse and muted desire.” Length: 90 minutes. Origin: Edmonton/Calgary, Alberta.

Old Strathcona Performing Arts Collective (OSPAC)

Edmund, Mur- Man Productions: Three actors I highly respect, including one I have the opportunity to work creatively with, hold this show down. The director and stage manager are incredibly talented and from the rumours, in high demand. The show was named best of Saskatoon Fringe and was sold out here in Edmonton for its opening night. Length: 75 minutes. Origin: Edmonton, Alberta.

Telus Building

Excess Unwanted Growth, Hey Haggard, Take Heed! Productions: Written and Directed by David Owen a well known director throughout Alberta and an excellent professor. I am lucky enough to have had the experience to be in one of his productions, Faustus at the University of Lethbridge, and have seen an excerpt from this play done for a class at the UofL. Itching to see the full piece. FTWL: interesting, thought provoking and sometimes obtuse theater with a genuine creative force that is refreshingly original. Length: 50 minutes. Origin: Calgary/Red Deer, Alberta.

Planet Ze Design Center

Cadaver, Digestion Theater: A troupe of Edmonton Theater students came together to write, produce and stage this show and from what I hear this is some of the best of Edmonton’s up and coming talent. Length:60 minutes. Origin: Edmonton, Alberta.

BYOV’s (Bring Your Own Venue)

This experiment in found theater space has changed the face of Fringe in the last few years. The idea of putting a production together in a custom found space, a space beyond a traditional stage forces both the actors and the director to interact in an environment alien to the traditional form that theater takes.

Avenue Theater: RAUNCH: The Rise of the Female Chauvinist Pigs!

La Cite Francophone: Reunion Tour, George Orwell is Not My Real Name, Pinters Breif’s

Strathcona Public Library: The Pumpkin Pie Show, Filling in Our Bones

Varscona Theater: LoveHateKill, Die-Nasty

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The butterfly effect

(Edmonton has served up some rich treats as of late)

Long ago, in a time not so and yet oh-so very far away, a dancing partner made some dashing moves.

That was a different city, in a different place.

Chaos theory: everything affects the other, there is no choice, butterfly effect. Life being a series of pre-determined and unavoidable pathways. Being there only led me to being here, which is probably true but almost impossible to prove.

That fateful dance floor, and everything in between, somehow accumulated to an Edgar Allan Poe romance story.

Nevermore: The Brief, Tormented Life of Edgar Allan Poe.

“I think now we’re starting to be confronted with the falsity of the myth that we can control our own destinies. I think it’s a very deep kind of human impulse to do whatever we can to keep at bay that sense of mounting chaos that could at any moment overtake our lives. I think Gothic material really subverts that sense of control, and confronts us with our deepest anxiety with being out of control. It reminds us first of all of how delicate and fragile our hold on life is, and maybe in the process of doing that make us feel that much more alive and appreciative of what we have.” (Taken from Berry’s Vue Weekly article on Nevermore…, as linked above)

Catalyst Theater’s production, housed and staged in a mock silo on Gateway ave in Edmonton, Alberta and various other theater spaces across the country. A macabre musical, dark and fantastical.

The events of this unorthodox poet’s life are twisted and woven into a tapestry where much is missing but the whole is more then the sum of its parts.

References dribbled here and there, some more obscure then others, though don’t make the mistake of assuming all theater goers have an extensive knowledge of Poe. The Tell Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado were particularly thrilling for myself.

Is it gaudy to give a review? I feel that way. Though the impression I hope to leave here not one of a critical eye but one of longing, a desire to express what I saw and felt, how my heart jumped and dropped, how my palms became moist and my mouth dry.

There is much unexplained in Poe’s life, much which was said and then swiftly discounted. Much that had been rumored although likely untrue and much that happened seemingly out of bad luck, terrible luck.

The truth is only that Poe, like so many of us, suffered from a case of destiny control. To try and manipulate one’s environment around them, rather then manipulate themselves to their environment.

A consistent theme: A Poe is a Poe. But what if a Poe became a Plaskett? Or an Atwood? Would a Poe be a Poe? Is there a life line to a family or is your character your own? Will six months ago change what is now happening? Or will it only make it that much more likely?

Or is it all, in his own infamous words “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe runs Friday May 1st to Sunday May 17th.

Saturday Matinees May 9, May 16 @ 2pm  Pay-What-You-Can

Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays @ 8pm
$30/$25 for students and seniors

Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm
$35/$28 for students and seniors

*No performances on Mondays or Tuesdays

Contact Catalyst Theatre at 780 431 1750 for further information.

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Down for the cause.


Moving on?

I recently left my lovely and very comfortable niche in Lethbridge Alberta. My home for the past five years. Where I have done very well for myself. Where I have formed my own little family, a family that supports me and criticizes’ me  as much as my natural family. Where I have attempted scholastically,with  mixed results. Where I have discovered those parts of me I quite like and learned to live with those parts I care less for.

Home to Red Dog, Blueprint, CKXU, Coulee’s, the river bottom, illegal fires, dry summer days and amazing summer nights.

I don’t miss it at all.

I will return to LA in a not very long time from now, and that is only further impenitence to discover every gem here in Edmonton that I can. While my days are filled with as much post-secondary research as I can wrap my greedy nerd brain around, my nights are these endless opportunities stretched in front of me.

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