With curiously coincidental timing, both the launch of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign and Amanda Palmer’s incredibly affecting and insightful TED talk about crowdfunding happened less than two weeks apart. For the unfamiliar, Amanda Palmer is the singer of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” (her words) group the Dresden Dolls, as well as a solo musician. In June 2012, Palmer’s record-breaking Kickstarter campaign reached its end having raised an unprecedented 1.2 million to record the album Theatre is Evil.
Most people didn’t have a problem with Palmer’s campaign. Where the problems really began was when she later asked for musicians in cities she toured to play in her group for free. The move prompted the legendarily cantankerous producer and musician Steve Albini to comment: “Pretty much everybody on earth has a threshold for how much to indulge an idiot who doesn’t know how to conduct herself, and I think Ms Palmer has found her audience’s threshold.” Palmer has since decided to pay the musicians who volunteered to play alongside her, though she contends that they never expected nor desired compensation. The experience and excitement of performing and getting drunk with a musician they adore was more than enough.
Palmer’s TED talk reveals that her crowdsourcing actually goes far beyond asking for money to record an album and for volunteers to become her backing band. It influences her entire approach to making music. She uses Twitter to ask her followers for instruments, on-stage props and places to stay. Fans often bring her food. She regularly passes out a hat to collect money, busker-style, before and after concerts. It’s an approach based fundamentally on asking how we can let (and not make) people pay for music. It’s a model for the music industry that brings fans and musicians closer than they’ve ever been. And when we really connect with people, Palmer says, we want to help them - we want to fund Kickstarter campaigns and cook dinner for bands and let them sleep on our couches. It all sounds pretty glorious to me. It sounds like a way for the music industry to finally work with instead of against illegal downloading and to find new ways that bands can make money.
Many of the debates about both Palmer’s crowdsourcing and the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign come down to one question: is it fair? I think it is.
In the case of the Veronica Mars movie, it initially seemed more than a little fishy that someone connected to a major movie studio would be asking for money. Certainly Warner Bros. has the means to do almost anything they want. If they don’t need Kickstarter to make the Veronica Mars movie, is Warner Bros. simply exploiting our nostalgia for a little extra free cash and an amazing marketing tool?
The thing about exploitation is that it happens when someone doesn’t get anything (or unfairly little) in return for an investment. While people who give money to Kickstarter campaigns receive gifts, I think the intangible rewards are even more significant. Would you watch a movie or listen to an album differently if you had a role in its creation? If you’re the sentimental type, I think you would. A greater personal connection to the movie or album or whatever it is surely worth the monetary investment. It might not be rational, but when it comes to art it doesn’t have to be.
While reviving an old series might seem like the opposite of creative, at least we will have sequels of the stuff we actually want rather than what some marketing executive thinks we want. If we’ve got “sequel-itis” anyway, at least Kickstarter lets us determine our own symptoms. And perhaps Kickstarter has the power to make really great sequels by providing significant funding from sources other than wealthy investors that might leverage money for creative control. Kickstarter’s limited accountability gives artists the freedom to do what they feel is best.
By: Nolan Matthews
I’m not sure how relatable this experience is, but during our family’s Sunday morning breakfast ritual I would quite often find my mom poring over the weekly paper’s obituaries. The image of my mom choosing to begin her day learning about the last of someone else’s is both deeply perverse and darkly humorous. To my cynical teenage brain it seemed to be further evidence that my parents were from an entirely different world.
Artist Erika DeFreitas’s own version of this strange scene of morning ritual subversion provides the inspiration for an exhibit entitled “Deaths/Memorials/Births” that’s currently on display at the Centre3 gallery on James Street North.
“I remember asking my mom why she was reading the obituaries section of the newspaper and she said it was because she never knew who she was going to find,” DeFreitas said. “So I thought it was a little creepy and a little weird. But then I started reading the obituaries myself.”
Though DeFreitas was drawn to the obituaries in the same way as her mother, she’s still not really able to understand why. “I don’t know how to explain it. I was just looking for someone, not knowing if they were going to appear or not,” DeFreitas said. “It’s not that I was looking for someone I know to have passed away, but it was just the act of looking for someone.”
Looking for someone in the death notices seems almost morbidly ironic, but it actually makes weirdly perfect sense. People are often defined in death notices almost entirely by their relationships to others – as loving father, devoted wife or adored grandparent, for example. It’s like the people who write death notices are looking to reaffirm and reach out to the relationships in their lives.
“As I was reading, any sort of word that was interesting to me or that resonated me I would write down,” DeFreitas said. “My feelings were attached to certain words. They described how I was feeling when I was reading.” After deciding on a few words, DeFreitas would cut out the obituary but leave the borders of the notice intact. She then reattached the words she had chosen in their original location on the page, creating a series of incredibly evocative almost-poems told using the words of many peoples’ lives.
“After a while the whole thing became very bizarre to me,” DeFreitas said. “The newspaper is something that comes into many homes and many subway floors, but something as personal as an obituary is placed in this object that is then recycled. I guess that’s where I’m a little too sentimental. This is so weird but I remember getting angered that on the other side of the obituary notices would be advertisements. I started to take things personally.”
I too had my own personal experience with DeFreitas work, though in a much smaller way. I didn’t see the exhibit until after its opening during this month’s Art Crawl, but I’m glad that it was after the busy crowds had come and gone. There’s something about the work that invites you to spend time with it, to imagine the stories of people whose lives ended up becoming defined by words like “corrugated” and “typewriter table.” But perhaps more than anything else it made me think about the mortality of our own relationships – how the connections we make fade into a few words when they were once the novel of someone’s life.
“I think that’s something you question your whole life,” DeFreitas said. “When we’re out with friends, we’re always asking, ‘why don’t we do this more often?’”
Deaths/Memorials/Births is currently being shown at Centre3 gallery and will continue until April 13
It was the time in between that the man hated the most. The waiting was when he worried about everything: why was he doing this? Was he running late? What would it be like when he got there?
These were the questions the man couldn’t answer as he waited at the bus stop. If only he could just get on the bus, he thought, everything would be fine. He could leave his questions behind. He decided to ride the bus for longer than he ever had before.
As the bus completed its loop, passing by his house yet again, the thought of sleeping in his bed crossed his mind. He pulled the yellow cord and the red “stop requested” light flashed at the front of the bus. He stood to walk through the open bus door but found that he couldn’t. Something held him in place. An older man angrily pushed past him.
The door closed and the bus continued on its route. The man walked back to his seat and as the next stop neared, again he pulled the yellow cord. Again the door was impossible to walk through. He wasn’t confused or upset; he sat down with a feeling of acceptance. At least he was going somewhere. He rode the bus well into the night.
“It’s the end of the line, you have to get off the bus,” the driver eventually said.
“I can’t,” replied the man.
The driver nodded. He understood as well as anyone how a person could become stuck on a bus. He left the man alone and walked off into the evening to find the car that would take him back to his family.
The next day would become the same as many others for the man. Each day he awoke to the bus starting the same route over again and each day he grew more used to it. Living on the bus had its perks. He found that hunger was easy to forget when he lived so much of his life inside his own head. During the day he met plenty of people, though every conversation was cut short when it couldn’t continue past the bus door. During the night he was stuck with only himself.
No so long ago the man couldn’t wait for bus rides to be over. Particularly when he was going to see her. He thought he’d never forget the first time he travelled to that strange new place and saw her through the glass in the waiting area. He wondered why the bus trips between them had grown so long.
By: Nolan Matthews
Mark O’Brien was a virgin until he was 38. He was a poet, journalist and activist; he also had a rare form of polio that completely paralyzed him from the neck down. The Sessions is based on O’Brien’s life, particularly a period of it he wrote about in a personal essay published in The Sun magazine entitled “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate”.
O’Brien writes that for most of his life he viewed his sexuality with a mixture of intense envy and guilt, and the emotion is perfectly captured in an early scene in The Sessions. Mark, expertly and subtly played by John Hawkes, is bathed by his attendant, and as she reaches his groin a look of disgust flashes across her face. A look of embarrassment passes over his.
The lightness with which The Sessions deals with its heavy subject matter is perhaps its greatest accomplishment. Despite Mark being confined for most of the day to a gigantic iron lung that allows him to breath, the balance between the heavy and the lighthearted is apparent from the start. The Sessions begins with a narrated poem written by O’Brien describing the sad irony that so little of the air all around him is actually useful. The poem is interrupted by Mark trying to figure out how to scratch an itch.
The iron lung defines Mark’s life, a reality he challenges by deciding to figure out his sexuality instead of accepting its non-existence. He decides to contact a sex therapist, someone who works through the psychological and the physical aspects of sexuality. Mark’s therapist, played by Helen Hunt in an Oscar-nominated role, informs him that her goal is for them to have sex. Her main rule is that the number of sessions they can have is limited to six, the implication being to prevent the emotional attachment of her patients. But of course it’s not that simple, and instead of shying away from complicated emotions The Sessions embraces them and tries to make sense of it all.
The scenes of intimacy between Mark and his therapist involve a lot of nudity and, at least initially, plenty of awkwardness. But they gradually become a powerful depiction of mutual love that is far more complex than sex scenes we’re used to seeing. It’s a reminder of the profound emotional experience that sex can be.
Director and writer Ben Lewin avoids any sense of over-dramatization or voyeurism in his portrayal of O’Brien. Despite the inevitable sad ending, the film lets us down easy, allowing the emotions to speak for themselves. The movie has drawn some criticism for depicting a much-simplified version of the end of O’Brien’s life, which in some sense is true. More so than the film, O’Brien’s writing reveals that his therapy resolved his fear of sex but did little for his fear of love.
A good documentary provides an accurate depiction of its subject. Good fiction, on the other hand, is something we can relate to. In pulling us close, The Sessions inevitably pushes O’Brien a little bit away, which actually helps realize what he wanted all along. To paraphrase O’Brien, stories about people with disabilities end up being about what they can or can’t do. The reality is that they’re simply human.
If the Oscars had a “most important film” category The Sessions would’ve won it.
Nolan Matthews, Senior ANDY Editor
Edgar’s posters have become the symbol of the No! Downtown Hamilton Casino group, a collection of activists, businesses owners and Hamiltonians that is extensively involved in raising awareness about the casino. Graham Crawford, owner of the Hamilton HIStory + HERitage storefront museum on James North, is a prominent member of the No! Downtown Casino group and has made a different poster opposing the casino every day for nearly the last two months.
“I’m almost embarrassed to say to people how little time it takes to make the posters,” said Crawford modestly. “I can’t draw, so the posters become my editorial cartoons because you don’t have to have much skill to make a poster.”
Crawford’s posters, which he shares through his Facebook page, make it clear that the result of the casino debate is something he cares deeply about. But the posters have convinced a lot of other people to care as well.
“My first ‘the new Hamilton’ poster focused on Supercrawl,” said Crawford, “and even I am social media savvy enough to know that when you get 236 shares in one day about something local that doesn’t involve cats it’s a big deal. The reach of the poster was probably tens of thousands. I’ve never had anything shared that much, ever.”
Everything that has changed James North over the last few years – the galleries, art crawl, Supercrawl – has done so slowly, deliberately and empathetically. Downtown Hamilton has showed us is that there’s a way for development to be good for everyone. Countless arts programs like Roots 2Leaf, the Urban Arts Initiative and Hamilton Artists for Social Change are dedicated to addressing poverty in many forms. What makes Crawford’s Supercrawl poster so affecting to so many people is that it puts into stark contrast Hamilton’s recent downtown development and the type of development that a casino represents - fast, less engaged with the rest of the city and harmful to at least some.
“A casino is completely inward facing by design, not by accident,” said Crawford. “Once they get you in there they don’t want you to leave. It’s why there are no windows. It’s why there are no clocks.”
Certainly PJ Mercanti, one of the main people involved in the proposed casino, is not evil. I’m sure he doesn’t see the city as just a source of income. It’s just that his vision and Crawford’s vision for the future of Hamilton are fundamentally different. One will probably never agree with the other, no matter how much debate. But even if a resolution will never be reached, at least there are people who care enough the city to see that it’s worth arguing about.
Politics and music go way back.
In the 1980s Public Enemy challenged the assumption that music should be a form of entertainment and, as writer Mark Fisher points out, instead saw music as a way to define a new revolutionary history. Even earlier the legendary folk musician Woody Guthrie gave a voice to the Great Depression as he travelled across America carrying a guitar that famously displayed the words “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
Though music’s grand promise of leading revolutions has faded, it seems that now more than ever we need artists to shake up our assumptions about how we see the world. That’s what the music of A Tribe Called Red is all about – subversion. But also dancing.
Based in Ottawa, A Tribe Called Red are a native-Canadian group that combine traditional pow wow and electronic dance music. “It started as a party called electric pow wow,” said DJ NDN, one of group’s three members. “We played for the crowd, which was First Nations students, and people went crazy for one track that sampled pow wow music so we thought we should try more of it.” People in clubs were so ecstatic that they cheered after the songs. Their first show to a mostly non-native Canadian crowd in Montreal even had people chanting the group’s name before they went onstage.
It seems like A Tribe Called Red have become really popular really quickly, but the members of the group have actually been at it for a long time. “I used to be in punk bands,” said DJ NDN. “I played drums with Canadian punk rock legends the Ripcordz and we got to open for the Misfits.”
“I was probably in 12 bands growing up and just killed the high school battle of the bands scene,” said DJ Shub.
“You gotta remember that he’s way older,” added NDN, “so he was the DJ in the metal bands when the Limp Bizkit thing was really hot.” Shub’s rap-rock (remember that?) abomination was called Flush Bucket. Flush Bucket. “It was the best battle of the bands ever,” said Shub.
“I found out really early on that I wasn’t going to play an instrument,” said DJ Bear Witness. “I got pushed into DJ’ing by my friends.”
A Tribe Called Red didn’t start out with any sort of political aspirations but quickly found that it was pretty much impossible to not be involved in politics. The group recently released a song called “The Road” in support of the Idle No More movement, and their music and live show often features clips of hilariously racist representations of native people.
“A really good example is a video made by Bear of Super Cat, a Jamaican dude, singing about Indians from all directions and a clip from a 1960s British variety show,’” said NDN. “You had these British white people dressed as what they thought Indians were supposed to be and a Jamaican singing about Indians – everyone’s showing you what they think Indians are but nothing’s native about it. Until we took it and decolonized it.”
The story of native-Canadians is so often something told by people who are anything but native. The “indigenizing,” as NDN calls it, of Native representations is about trying to make our understanding not limited to what we already know. “We see it as a very good way to subversively pass these messages on,” said NDN. “It’s better than if we sat down and said ‘this is racist’ because it gives people a chance think about it on their own.”
It’s about time we all tried to figure out the complicated thing that is the relationship between native and non-native Canadians.
Senior ANDY Editor
This year a whole bunch of bands decided that rock, in the traditional indie rock sense perfected by the Replacements, was cool again. But more than any of those other bands, I want to be Japandroids. I want to live the lives described in their songs – stories of being young, drunk and recklessly in love.
Celebration Rock, the Vancouver duo’s second album, is everything they used to do refined and pushed to extremes. Japandroids used to sing that “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” but now they actually sing about what that means. It means “that night you were already in bed, said ‘fuck it’ and got up to drink with me instead,” from album highlight and possibly the greatest Japandroids song ever, “Younger Us.” Even if you can’t relate to the kind of drunken adventures that singer Brian King describes, the music makes you want to. Japandroids want you to live, damn it.
King said in an interview with the Village Voice that he made every song on Celebration Rock “positive and uplifting” and that “on the whole record I think there’s nothing negative.” While it’s fine for a band to want to make an album that’s nothing more than a celebration of being young and having fun, King doesn’t give himself enough credit. “Younger Us” retells a spontaneous night as a memory - and with it comes the longing and sadness of all nostalgia.
Japandroids used to be “too drunk to feel it” but now they feel everything. “If I had all of the answers and you had the body you wanted,” King sings on “Continuous Thunder,” “would we love with a legendary fire?” I don’t know. But the expectation and desire for everything to be perfect and the importance and difficulty of accepting when it’s not is something that anyone in a relationship has experienced.
The intensity of the emotion on Celebration Rock is what makes it so great. Every song is never less than intense and exhilarating - except for one. Japandroids aren’t very good when they try to be menacing and aggressive on “For the Love of Ivy.” They are much better at being sweeping and epic. But the best part is that “For the Love of Ivy” is a cover. The only way for Japandroids to suck is if they play someone else’s song.
By: Nolan Matthews
I’m pretty sure I remember Fiona Apple saying in an interview that “if you create something, you should feel like you have nothing left.” This album feels exactly like that - like Apple has put all of the emotion and experience of the seven years since her last album into The Idler Wheel…
These songs are mostly just Apple and her piano, but this isn’t pleasantly forgettable singer-songwriter background music. This is an album to be played loudly. That’s when the quirky and difficult melodies become cathartic and Apple’s ragged and soulful voice raises hairs.
On “Valentine,” one of the many highlights, she sings “I love you” in a way that no one ever has. “I love you” becomes an accusation filled with anger, desperation and guilt. By the end of the song Apple instead sounds resigned and disappointed, describing the complicated emotions of being in a relationship.
Every song on this album was at one time my favourite, but that’s not just simply because I think they’re all great. There’s something to learn in every song about how humans work, though Apple is someone to relate to instead of someone who gives advice. There’s something powerfully reassuring about how she is able to describe the things that we all feel but have a hard time figuring out how to admit.
“How can I ask anyone to love me,” Apple asks, “When all I do is beg to be left alone?” She gets at the difficult question of how we are supposed to deal with feeling selfish in relationships when we’re supposed to be selfless. Even when she seems happy on “Anything We Want,” Apple still longs for love to be as simple and pure as when she was young. What makes this album so powerful is how Apple expresses complex emotions so directly and with a cutting wit.
After Apple was arrested earlier last year for drug possession, gossip sites turned their attention to relentlessly comment on her weight and appearance. She asked at a concert for the people incessantly writing about her to “please stop hurting my feelings, because it really fucking bothers me.” Apple was sincere, honest and vulnerable - just like her music. The Idler Wheel… is a call to feel everything.
Nolan Matthews, Senior ANDY Editor
Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary about independent video game developers, which admittedly sounds fantastically boring. But it’s not. The fact that this movie is even about video games pretty quickly becomes irrelevant. It’s instead about the pure act of creating something and the highs and lows of the flawed, crazy and isolated people who make their art their life.
In all forms of art a distinction can be drawn between the independent and the mainstream. Commercial videogames are made by huge groups of people for the purpose of appealing to as many buyers as possible, while indie games are instead made by one person or a small group. The film follows the stories of three games and the people who made them.
Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen develop and eventually complete a game called Super Meat Boy, and these two try to find a way to live with the drama that goes along with the enourmous expectations placed on them. Jonathan Blow is sort of like the wise war veteran who has lived through making the hugely important and popular game Braid, but he has to deal with the disillusionment that his success has brought. Phil Fish, who develops Fez throughout the movie, represents the slowing fading promise that his game will ever be finished. The range of emotions this film covers is amazing, especially considering what it’s about.
Indie Game tells a good story. Interesting and surprising stuff happens. There’s joy and there’s sorrow and because the developers essentially come to live through their games, the successes and failures are important and they are affecting. Through the personal relationship that Tommy, Edmund, Johnathan and Phil have with the videogames they make, they become something relatable. Videogames become something that matters. Even if we can’t exactly feel the extreme sacrifice and joy of the people who made these indie games, watching Indie Game comes pretty damn close.
First, the context.
About three weeks ago I wrote an article about art and Hamilton that argued the development of a neighbourhood does not do much to resolve poverty, and that low-income neighborhoods are a symptom for problems like unemployment, crime and poor health instead of a cause. I wrote that art should be used to express the full complexity of a neighbourhood, rather to simplify it, and that a neighbourhood should be something that every one of its members has the ability to change.
On the website where the article was posted, Jeremy Freiburger, the founder of a local non-profit arts service Cobalt Connects, left a comment saying he found the “article painful to read” and that the “distanced academic approach to understanding cultural community growth [is] as thin as the paper [the] article is written on.” So, naturally, I contacted Freiburger for an interview.
Part of what Freiburger’s organization does is figure out how buildings can be renovated and repurposed to best suit the needs of artists. Frieburger is almost like the poster child of gentrification, the process of a neighbourhood’s buildings being developed and increasing in price. In my article, I criticized the type of neighbourhood development that Freiburger is involved in as not actually being helpful to those in poverty. After speaking to him, I’m not so sure.
The Mulberry Street coffeehouse on James Street North is the result of work by Freiburger, and was also the place where he and I met. Before it was a coffee shop, Mulberry was Hotel Hamilton – infamously run-down low-income housing. I had seen the Mulberry coffee shop as the quintessential example of gentrification: a coffee shop for the wealthy took the place of housing for the poor, who ended up displaced.
“I’ve been involved in this industry for a long time – the idea of regenerating buildings – and I totally understand the conversation around displacement,” said Freiburger. “The gentlemen that lived at Mulberry, the owners actually found them better housing, on [James] street for the same price they were paying here.”
The stories of displacement are told often, and loudly. The stories of how that displacement is prevented? Not so much.
Though I saw Frieburger as a figurative poster child for gentrification, it turns out that this had literally been true - but it was by no means Freiburger’s decision. “Maybe about a year or so ago, there was a big push from a group out of McMaster that came out on an art crawl, and had made up stickers about gentrification and calling people ‘fat cats,’ me in particular, and a number of other people, but I was named specifically,” said Frieburger. “They stuck them to buildings, they stuck them to artists’ artwork, they went around stickering wherever they wanted. That caused a huge rift in the community, for sure.”
This sticker campaign was needlessly confrontational, and I’m sure that it didn’t help anyone better understand the reality of how gentrification is playing out in Hamilton.
“To be equally confrontational, I found out who was leading that group of people, in my view, and found out that the person leading it was actually a professor from McMaster University,” said Freiburger. “So I wrote a rather scathing email to her and to Patrick Deane and her boss, and was responded to by the legal department at McMaster, asking me to cease and desist my actions or face a lawsuit, because what I was doing was defamatory. Yet, putting stickers with my name on it throughout the community saying I was an evil fat cat who was displacing poor people isn’t defamatory?”
Before speaking to Freiburger, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What ended up happening is like when a character in a movie seems like a villain, but they actually end up being pretty good. Snape provides a perfect example. When talking about difficult topics like gentrification, it’s important not to dismiss anyone.
“I think Hamilton is still at a point where we can shape how we want to change this city,” said Freiburger. “But if we can’t find a way to have positive dialogue about it, no one is going to change their ways.”