Monday, September 28, 2009

Coastal Pride

Dan Mangan and Hey Ocean perform Wintersleep's song "Weighty Ghost" at the Western Canadian Music Awards.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freshly Squeezed

Hello friends! I have had a long, but very interesting and rewarding week, complete with one thing I feel is worth reflecting on- the value of a democratic system of media production in this country (and everywhere...but I'll try to narrow my focus for the time being). Last year, I had the supreme pleasure of working with an organization called the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver, a not-for-profit cinema appreciation and education group that screens "essential cinema," hosts vibrant discussion groups and allows young people access to the world of filmmaking through numerous education and outreach programs. A few classmates and myself were put in touch with the head of the education department at the Cinematheque as part of a project that worked to increase media exposure of the organization among primary-school aged children, elementary teachers, parent organizations and community institutions such as the Vancouver Public Library. Being quite new to the world of not-for-profit business and grant funding, I jumped into the project with big ambitions and even bigger britches. Quickly, I realized that this was no easy world to operate within. Budget constraints are a constant battle, and where money is available, it is subject to the whims of grant requirements, private donors and governmental restrictions. The upside of this challenging structure is that, wherever struggle is present, innovation flourishes. The Cinematheque relies on unorthodox labour and promotion solutions such as heavy use of new social media like Twitter and Facebook, and volunteer staffing. Nonetheless, working with a non-profit arts organization is an exercise in perseverance and optimism, constantly striving for more in the presence of less and less.

I feel that there is a sense among many, many people in this country that cinema is "just cinema," that music is "just music," that the publishing industry is "just magazines." So when push comes to shove in the production of cultural artifacts in this country, the people and organizations invested in them, always seem just shy of total success. This is, of course, excepting the large, powerful corporations such as CanWest, that can afford to produce media and enter into acquisition deals with American and international firms. Independent media production in Canada, while vibrant, diverse, and absolutely worth cherishing not only for it's beautifying properties, but for it's economic benefits (I won't go into them here, but they are many, to be sure). As a result, we end up in a situation where media selection becomes less and less democratic. That is, the principle of 'voting' with one's dollars on which media products to consume and which to pass by, becomes baseless. What does dollar voting matter when we are ultimately voting for the same party, over and over again, regardless of what ballots we cast? In a 500-channel universe, we are presented with a multiplicity of media products, not a true diversity. How many reality television programs are continually among the most popular shows on the tube? How many of them are ostensibly and functionally the same?

This is where the concept of media democracy becomes crucial to maintaining a vibrant cultural community in Canada. Media democracy is a vision of cultural production that looks to redirect it toward diversity, and away from homogenized multiplicity that has become tied to large-scale, industrialized chains of media manufacturing. It is a vision fought for and promoted, in large part, by the very non-profits and volunteer-based organizations that struggle so consistently with funding and the structural biases of a marketized cultural industry. In many places in Canada, this vision has come to fruition. The Polaris Music Prize, for example, an annual music prize given out to one Canadian album (based solely on artistic merit and the opinions of a massive panel of music journalists and cultural figures), selects its nominees from the enormous and diverse cultural landscape that this nation has to offer. One need simply look at this year's shortlist of nominees to discover the value of cultural products from beyond the bastions of the corporate multitudes. The list celebrated art-punks Fucked Up (winner), hardcore bluegrass trio Elliot Brood, Francophone dream poppers Malajube, Somalian-born rapper K'Naan, avant-garde multi-instrumentalist Chad VanGaalen, and folk singer Joel Plaskett's brave, high-concept triple-disc tribute to the open road, Three, among others. By contrast, this summer, I switched between four radio stations and heard nothing but Lady Gaga. Regardless of whether or not you enjoy this music on an aesthetic or artistic level, there is something important in the divergence between industrially produced music, and that music made by amateurs and self-producers. They are two aesthetically and functionally different spaces, and speaking as a musician of sorts myself, I can attest to the sense of support and community, and the explosive creative energy that exists within the realm of the amateur. There is something to be said for true choice, not just mutiplicity, for energy as opposed to forumla, and it must be said.

Luckily, there are many people in this country devoted to screaming it from the rooftops, despite funding and staffing challenges. Celebrate them and help them out which ever way you can.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Internet is Great

Because, despite being filled with lots and lots of crap, it allows me to receive wonderful messages from wonderful people, such as this one, from a friend:

"Distance is the worst, but time knows best."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Is supposed to make the heart grow fonder. And I guess it kind of does, occasionally. Mostly, though, it's just kind of rains on my parade.

Self-Pity ftw!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


So I was just going through my photos from France and came upon this one that I took just outside Versailles, and have a question to pose to you about it.

Was anybody, anywhere, aware that this is how sheep eat?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Departures and Recoveries

I return triumphant! I write this entry not from the Starbucks down the street, nor the campus library, but from the comfort of my very own bedroom in my new home. Our cable has been successfully hooked up, and I am now full of food after a weekend away with the family, grinning after watching Burn After Reading with the roommates, and looking forward to the next couple of weeks as classes reconvene and the fall tours pile up. Speaking of tours, I promised I'd give some thoughts on the Dan Mangan CD release party at The Cultch which rocked my world on the 29th of August.

Its no secret that I love Dan to the ends of the earth- both as a musician and a genuinely nice, endearing and heartfelt kinda dude. But driving to the venue this particular night, I was flush with pride and excitement for him. Postcards and Daydreaming, Mangan's first full-length release, while darkly pretty and commendable for a spectacular sense of honesty, was on its last legs, having been released more than four years ago. The follow-up to that album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice has been received with critical acclaim and dump trucks of love and praise heaped upon the demure performer by his devoted fans. The CD release event was spread over two nights- Friday the 28th, opened by an excellent singer-songwriter, Aidan Knight, and Saturday the 29th, opened by experimental pop orchestra, Meatdraw. Both nights sold out in an awful hurry, and from experience, the will call line at the box office was a race for first place. It's nothing short of astounding to see how quickly Mangan's career and momentum have increased from a slow burn to raging inferno, seemingly overnight.

The excitement at the venue was obvious. Many in attendance were friends of Dan or of his family, and that electricity made the already excellent hall feel that much more inviting and intimate. The show began when Meatdraw (or rather part of Meatdraw) took the stage. A shy-looking woman, dressed in a rather va-va-voomy red dress took to the empty stage entirely alone, ukulele in hand, and stood in silence, occasionally indicating that she was waiting to hear something from off in the distance. After a good while, the quiet and wheezy sound of an accordion began to rise out of the audience, followed by woodblock, stomping feet, chains clanged on ketchup tins and tambourines. The remaining members of Meatdraw emerged from the house and made their way to the stage where they launched into an astoundingly energetic set that successfully merged Decembrists The, The White Stripes and Neil Young into pure entertainment. Loosely costumed and shredding instruments as diverse as a saw, a ukulele and a chain and bucket, the 6-piece rollicked through southern soul, Appalachian hymnals, pure indie pop, and dreamy, wide-eyed shoegaze. I was supremely entertained, as was the whole room. Every foot was stomping and every head was pounding out the beat of the kick drum. There probably couldn't have been a better way to capitalize on the excitement in the room, and no better way to prime a jazzed audience for something they've all been waiting for.

After a (mercifully) brief intermission between sets, the house lights were dimmed, and applause spread out over the audience like swine flu. Only awesome. And without the unfortunate smell of Purell that accompanies it. And not flu, but happiness. So, in the end, applause spread out over the audience in a way not at all similar to swine flu. I'm so sleepy. Anyhow, amid the cheers, Dan Mangan and his immensely talented backing band took to the stage and warmly greeted the room with smiles and a sense of giddy excitement as genuine and honest as I've ever seen. You could tell immediately upon seeing Dan that this was, as he continually mentioned throughout the night, the true realization of his dreams. He was energetic and endearing and loved every single second of celebrating the dedication he's shown to his craft. After the formalities had been exchanged, the band opened their set with the foot-stomping, fist-pumping anthem to change, "Road Regrets." All around me, feet were stomping, hands were in the air, and as the song ramped up toward its climax, hollers and hoots burst out of the audience. Soon after, Dan's set wound down a bit, I suppose one could say, into performances of the more contemplative, introspective and, at times, somber, songs that form the real heart of NNVN. Tunes like "Pine for Cedars," "Tina's Glorious Comeback," "Fair Verona," and "You Silly Git" swelled with a spectacular kind of passion that left the room absolutely silent in moments of retreat. I've always found that one thing that Dan can do as easily as breathing is silence a room, and fix every bit of attention on the heave-hoes of his emotional tug-of-wars, and when backed by a swirling string section and a three-piece brass ensemble, that power is only magnified. "Pine for Cedars," in particular, left me quite astonished. Granted, it happens to be my favorite track from the album, but there's something about hearing the build and feeling the the foot stomps shake up through the legs of your seat that make this piece of mournful nostalgia a massive pleasure to experience.

Dan's set concluded with a stirring and (as always) devastating performance of "Basket," accompanied by the throaty bass of a cello and the sharp delicacy of a violin, and with the always memorable and lovely "Robots." The latter once again found Dan atop a chair in the audience, unplugged, and singing his lungs out to the smiles of a packed house. As is to be expected, though, this was far from the end. This room was let letting Mangan go without a fight. He was quickly cheered back onto the stage and invited, for the second time in the evening, Vancouver beat poet Shane Koyczan to the mic to help him perform the arresting "Tragic Turn of Events/Move Pen Move" from the Roboteering EP, released early this summer. Just as a note to anyone who knows Dan's music (speaking to BunkleLife, in particular), if you think 'Basket' is a toughie to get through with dry eyes, just you wait until you get the chance to experience this- a nearly 8-minute spoken word/sung tribute to those people taken from us too soon by forces beyond our control. This heart-felt performance was followed up by a sing-along party on stage to "So Much For Everyone" which found Dan accompanied by Meatdraw, members of many other Vancouver bands, and the whole audience. Another wonderful moment.

Yet again, the evening happily refused to end, with Dan (clearly overhwelmed) being cheered out to centre stage once more for a performance of a tiny little song called "Petunia" which goes like this: "Petunia, my daffodil/Petunia, my rose/Please find my 'tulips' in the dark/And let yours be my home." Nuff said. I left overjoyed, proud and massively excited for this young musician's future. It was a bit of a sad show, knowing that he will likely never have to play small rooms again, but also thrilling in that we were all witness to the first step towards very, very big things for someone very, very deserving. A perfect show, in my eyes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Moving In: An Itinerary

Step 1: Pack up all belongings in a frantic rush in between shows, work, and tying up loose ends at home.

Step 2: Depart

Step 3: Get stuck in construction traffic in such a way that you add over two hours to the first leg of your trip. Don't forget to make sure the sun is blazing and the air is still.

Step 4: Arrive at overnight pit-stop

Step 5: Attempt to contact landlord (unsuccessfully) regarding key transfer so that you have access to your home and can avoid dumping all the furniture on your front lawn

Step 6: Depart half-way stop over.

Step 7: Continue to make feeble attempts at contacting landlord as you speed through the mountains in a vain effort to beat the movers to your front door.

Step 8: Drive faster than the speed of sound out of stress

Step 9: Arrive at your house without keys, make numerous phone calls to what appears to be an absentee landlord and become convinced that you have been scammed. Learn later that the keys were hidden on the exterior of the house all along, and you simply didn't get the email informing you of this fun fact.

Step 10: Drink

Step 11: Cancel movers, intercept mattress in transit from another part of the province. Drink.

Step 12: After locating keys, attempt to move in what you have in your car. Return to hotel. Drink.

Step 13: Reschedule movers for the next day, sit around the house most of the day waiting for everything to arrive. Make multiple trips to IKEA and find yourself hunched over a half-built desk, drowning in a sea of alan wrenches, bamboo pegs and ramshackle tools. Weep.

Step 14: Welcome roommates with vigor. Snuggle. Hug. Make more trips to IKEA

Step 15: Wait for four days for your internet provider to arrive to hook up your modem only to realize the cable connecting your house to the city's cable service has been severed and left in a coil on your deck.

Step 16: Walk to Starbucks because it has free Wi-Fi for two hours a day. Blog, lose yourself in fussiness and caffeine. Hopefully do not repeat.

Step 17: Hope for better luck tomorrow.