The DG Guide to Becoming an Artist.

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“It was all a dream,  I used to read Word Up magazine. Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine. Hangin’ pictures on my wall. Every Saturday Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl, I let my tape rock till my tape popped.”  – Notorious B.I.G,  “Juicy”

 

Let’s face it. The Walking Dead isn’t just a TV show. For many people out there, it’s reality. There are tons of zombies that wake up every day, spend half of it in traffic, and the other half at a job they hate. They see their family for less than an hour, then pass out.  Only to repeat the exact same motions the next day.  Caught in a seemingly infinite loop of mortgage paying mediocrity.

If you’re an artist, you are in touch with a kind of greatness and magic beyond this world of cookie cutter pressed, assembly line zombies.  Toiling away inside a cubicle, behind a desk, seated in front of a computer, inside a giant factory all day.  Lots of people mistakingly think that artists are starving mimes wearing black & white, horizontal striped tops and berets on their heads, collecting loose change on the streets.  The truth is, art is all around us, everyday.  It doesn’t just hang in galleries.  Fortune 500 companies depend on artists to sell their products.  Politicians count on artists to help get them elected.  Art sells dreams to suburban housewives in Nebraska.  Art is a necessary currency that our society runs on.  Art challenges conventions and explores new ideas.  It’s also often misunderstood, and occasionally dangerous.

Barack_Obama_Hope_poster Shepard Fairey’s  poster – arguably instrumental in the ultimate success of Barack Obama’s campaign.

 

1. Are you an artist?

Being an artist isn’t a career path. It is not a choice. It is a calling. If you feel something within that needs to come out, you should channel it. I believe that people have a responsibility in them to follow their calling, especially if they have a unique talent. The world needs more beauty in it. Art is a rare gift, and an important commodity.

2. What kind of artist are you?

I began my career as a graphic and web designer. I worked for many different places. I tried my hand at freelancing. I was busy enough, and earning good money, but I was not happy. I did not feel fulfilled as an artist. I ended up branching out into photography and film, and deciding that I would rather work on my  own material in my own time.  The decision was a difficult one – especially from a financial standpoint, but I remain content in my decision. The best way to figure out what kind of artist you are is by trial and error. Experiment. There are no limits to the type of art you set out to do.  You will find that many different mediums are closely related. They just employ different tools.

3. Go to School. Or, don’t.

If you are self-motivated and master of your own domain, you can save yourself a ton of cash by learning stuff from the interwebz. There are many places you can learn things for free; whether it’s an online course from a university or college, or a simple, informative youtube video. That way, the only thing you can save for are the tools you need for your trade.  If, on the other hand, you need a bit of discipline and structure to guide you by, and you have the time and money, then school can be a great option. Try and find one where the teachers have practical experience in the field you are pursuing. The other benefit from schools is all the great people you will meet.  The bottom line is that there are many paths to becoming an artist, and you have to determine which one works best for yourself.

4. Learn the Rules. Then Break Them.

I went to school for Graphic Design many years ago, in a galaxy far away. One of the beginner level courses was a class in Design Fundamentals.  It was taught by a real, crotchety old British dude. A bit of an asshole, to be honest. But he had this fantastic catch phrase which was, “You have to know the rules, to break the rules.”  I always hear it in a British accent, which makes it somehow sound way more awesome. It’s also very true. Most great art out there comes from someone trying to do something different. If no art got pushed, challenged, or broke new boundaries, we wouldn’t have any Picassos.

 

5. Stay True To Yourself.

Try to make art for yourself, and not your audience. You will never be able to please everyone, so find a result that satisfies you. This is sometimes difficult if you are creating work in a professional capacity with a paying client or employer. However, if you feel strongly enough about something, you should be prepared to defend your work.

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The masterpiece of Dickbutt. Unfortunately, often the butt of many a joke. 

 

6. Be True To Others.

Always be honest. The world really is a small place, and artist communities are pretty tight. Be friendly and respectful to people.  Even if they are working on something that isn’t exactly your cup of tea.  It takes courage for people to work on and display their art publicly. For many, it is like baring their soul. They should always be commended on some level, even if it is a depiction of a dickbutt.  Lend them a hand and pass on your best advice if called upon it. If you are asked to critique something, always be as diplomatic and constructive as possible. Don’t be petty or mean.  Don’t steal other people’s ideas. Everybody knows that everything is a remix. If you got inspired by someone else’s work, be upfront about it.

 

8. Surround yourself with positive people.

Everyone should be surrounded with people that love and respect them, no matter what field they are in.  For some reason, many people look down on artists.  Avoid these types of people. More often than not, they are people that wish they had an ounce of your talent, and lack the cojones to follow the path less travelled.  They are also the first ones to critique a book, band or movie.  They are the ones that spend time in discussion forums, making nasty comments.  It is easy to criticize, while sitting on a couch downing bags of Cheetos.  It is not so easy to create.

cheetos Cheetos. Admittedly delicious, but with possible links to procrastination.

 

9. The Key to Success.

The unfortunate reality is that success to the everyday, average person translates into financial gain in our current society. The larger a figure on your bank statement, the more “successful” you are.  On a personal level, I strongly reject this ideal. To me, a successful artist is an an artist that is happy and content with the work they produce; wether they sell no paintings at all, or a thousand paintings.  Art is all about self-expression.  It’s about conveying a thought, feeling or idea to an audience. The audience can be one person, or many million.  If you want to get rich, then you may be better off going into a career as a banker or a lawyer.   To sustain themselves, many artists have day jobs to support themselves. I am one of them. But this isn’t a necessity.  There are many different ways you can monetize your passion. You just need to figure out the way that works best for you. Just remember that many so-called “successful” artists would gladly trade in that success for anonymity, or more time for themselves and their families. There is a price for everything we pay for in this world.

10. Turn off the phone.

Whenever you can find time to yourself, take some time to unplug. That’s how you get to truly observe your surroundings and the universe around you. When you are free from distractions, you get inspired by ideas. I almost never have my headphones in when I ride public transit for this reason. I sometimes regret it when the occasional person high on bath salts staggers on the bus and rails about their missing goldfish, but I would rather be present, and in the moment than cut off from the rest of the world, and lost. There is much we can learn from this time and space.

11. Get Linked.

Surround yourself with other people doing other creative stuff. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in your specific field. If they are fellow artists, they will “get” you.   You can bounce new ideas off each other,  blow off steam, and get inspired.  On a more practical level, you can also share resources, equipment, and help each other out on your respective projects.

12. Go Public.

Start a blog, or self-publish a book.   Find a way to showcase your work; wether it’s applying for a showing at a gallery, or a screening at your local pub.  Maybe you want to hire an agent to help get your work out there. Even if you don’t have original material of your own to showcase yet, you can write about the things that inspire and motivate you.  By beginning this process, you can build a collection of the content that you can aspire to. When this dialogue gets initiated,  you can connect to a wider community with similar interests, and build relationships which can lead to all kinds of collaborative possibilities down the road.

13. Research & Develop.

Always keep researching your fields. If you shoot or paint, go to galleries, watch movies. If you’re a bedroom producer or budding musician, don’t rely solely on Soundcloud. Go to shows, meet people in real life. If you’re a graffiti artist, go explore those alleyways and rooftops.  If you’re a tattoo artist, check out those conventions when they happen.  Keep an open mind. Practise, practise, practise your craft.  Remember to come up for air. Don’t burn yourself out. Spend time with your family and friends. Take a walk in the park. Keep in mind that creativity is about having fun.

14. Innovate & Disrupt.

Find the style and content of other artists that you dig & identify with. Then build on that content and make it your own.  Try to have a fresh and original approach. Do this by tweaking it with your own narrative. Bring something to the table that noone else has.

15.  Be Cool.

The best thing you should do is stay positive. The world is full of suckers who will tell you that your ideas suck, that you are a failure, and that you will never get anywhere in life. It could be a teacher, parent, sibling, or even a friend. Don’t succumb to negativity. Most of those people are just projecting insecurity about their own life choices.

 

The eye wear, jewelry and clothes we all exhibit daily are constructed and designed by artists. The music we listen to, the furniture we sit in, the homes where we sleep. The planes, trains and automobiles we ride.  The paintings, comic books, video games, novels, photographs, movies, we enjoy. Without art, our world would be a bland, dark place. Don’t sell yourself short. And don’t listen to the haters. Life is way too short not to follow your dreams.  You have an important gift to give to the world. Just try to branch out from the dickbutts, if possible.

 

 Top photo of Banksy mural courtesy of Chris Devers

Dickbutt photo courtesy of Camron Flanders

 

Posted in art, Culture, graffiti, Ideas | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Coffee, Cats & The Pale Blue Dot.

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Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

As the years roll by, I wake up earlier each morning. I used to think that it’s a kind of instinctual strand of DNA kicking in, harkening back to an ancient Irish ancestor somewhere, hard wired to rise at the crack of Dawn and milk the cows before tending windswept fields of sugar beets or wheat or whatever. Then again, it could also be Captain Cheezburger.

Captain Cheezburger is a cat that likes to announce when she feels the time is right for her meals. She is a cat that knows what she wants. And it’s usually far too early in the morning. My irritation soon passes as my early rise affords me the opportunity to take my time making coffee in the french press tradition. My wife, on the other hand, prefers the new gadget thingy that makes coffee out of tiny individual capsules, but you need a masters degree in physics to operate the machinery. I do coffee the old school way. After it’s been carefully perculating for some time, I walk up to the office every morning, clutching the steaming cup like a patient clutches an IV drip, dependent on it’s life giving properties.

capt.cheezburgerCaptain Cheezburger, on right, post Chef’s Dinner.

When I was around eleven or twelve years old, during my horrid pre-caffeine days, I started reading the daily newspaper in the mornings. We used to get the Globe & Mail delivered to our door. My father and I would read the paper together. Back then, it was my first glimpse into world affairs. And what a world it was!

The front section was a testament to everything wrong with our species. Airplane bombings, hijackings, crooked politicians, vegetarianism; the world seemed like a terrifying place indeed. I soon gravitated towards the Comics section, followed by the Arts & Entertainment segment, where I could focus on more easily palatable portions of information, like music and film. Little did I know then, that I would eventually devote my life to those very things. I still like reading the paper, but it’s now generally over a pint or two at my local drinking establishment. I think the only civilized way to digest world events is with an alcoholic beverage.

Nowadays I also consume world events on the home computer connected to the interwebz, like much of the rest of the planet. The difference is, instead of a newspaper being thrown at our door by some pimple faced kid, this contraption lets me seek out what information I want. What an invention. We now have all of the information in the world at our fingertips. It’s a tad overwhelming. That’s probably why most people stick to pornography or pictures of cats. The world hasn’t gotten any less scary. In fact, now there’s more high definition pictures and video to go along with the scariness.

Maybe that’s why I like to look up at the sky so much. My affliction first began in those glorious early summers of my youth spent at my cottage. There was a community pool where I spent entire days lying on beach towels with my friends, staring up at the cobalt tinged sky. Making shapes of the clouds that would drift by. It was a seemingly unending theater of possibility. Fast forward 30 years later, and I’m still there. A ten year old kid fascinated by the sky above, dreaming of a life much larger out there.

Last weekend I finally got around to checking out the new Hubble movie. The Hubble telescope is our best window we have to the greater universe. A life outside of our own planet. A life beyond social media. Beyond Kim Kardashian. The movie not only features jaw dropping visuals of the greater universe in IMAX wonder, it also offers some fascinating footage of the brave astronauts that ventured into the stars to help service the telescope. A telescope that offers us a glimpse into a world greater than the sum of us.

Ever since watching that film, I keep thinking of that pale blue dot photograph, taken by the Voyager space craft on February 14, 1990. The pale blue dot is Earth, from 6 billion kilometres away. I think about that tiny dot, and then I think of the kind of day I had. I think about all those times throughout the day I was disappointed by something. About not having enough time to do something. About all the things I wanted to do, things I regretted doing, or saying in the past. I should read more books. Lose some weight. Exercise more. Spend more time with family and friends. Start volunteering somewhere. Run a marathon. Be accomplishing more things. I worry about the past, almost as much as I fret about the future. I am human. I live in a constant state of anxiety.

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“That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot.

I think of that little dot, and I think to myself, does any of it really, actually matter?

We spend our entire lives chasing stacks of coloured pieces of paper made out of trees and cotton. We spend most of our days alone, inside metal cubes powered (mainly) by fossil fuel. Our nights are spent inside ant hills. We judge people on the size of the ant hill they call home. We judge people on the shininess of tiny rocks dug far below ground, that people adorn themselves with. We judge people on the fabric they cover their bodies with.

That pale blue dot terrifies as much as it soothes. It comforts me because most of the things that pain me melt away when I realize that none of it really matters in the great scheme of things. But it also terrifies me for the very same reason.

All of us seem to be chasing things invented by ourselves to give meaning. Money, jobs, religion, possessions, giving rise for wars to wage. Every second of every day, about two of us will get our caskets topped with flowers and lowered six feet under, while four brand new babies will open their eyes for the first time to the brave new world around them.* Millions of us will fall in love for the first time at any given moment. Millions of others will get angry over something like a parking spot. We need things to inspire, to motivate, to worry us, to activate something inside us on an emotional level because, well, we need to believe that it all matters. This life, at least as we know it, is finite. Maybe that’s why it’s so important to make it count.

This pale blue dot may be infinitesimally small, but it’s all we have. At least until Elon Musk finds our way to Mars. Maybe today is the day I will finally pick up that book I’ve wanted to read. Right after this next cat photo.

You can still catch the Hubble movie this month, during it’s 25 year anniversary at the Ontario Science Center.

* Source – Population Reference Bureau & The World Factbook (Central Intelligence Agency)

Posted in Science, Space | 5 Comments

Champagne, Croissants & Pressed Vinyl: The Rich, Satisfying Legacy of French House.

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I’ve been to France about 2 or 3 times. Each of those times, the journey took place in the summer months. And each time marked one of those travelling errors in judgement you don’t find out about until you make the mistake yourself. So I’m going to tell you now. Don’t go to Paris in the summer. It’s full of tourists. All of the Parisians, are acutely aware of this fact, so they leave town. The architecture and food remains, but not the vibe. France is the place that gave us baguettes, croissants and champagne. But it’s also the birthplace of cinema. It’s an epicenter for fashion. There is a thriving art and music scene. I was hoping to find the real Paris. Like in Killing Zoe*; one of my all time favourite cult movies.

Well, maybe not exactly like in Killing Zoe. I could probably do without the heroin, bank robbery and subsequent blood bath. But you know, it would have been pretty sweet to have discovered an underground jazz bar filled with unwashed, unsavoury characters. Instead, it was long lines of trigger happy Japanese with small cameras and Americans with oversized waistbands and baseball hats featuring various sports team franchise logos. When I finally came home, I still enjoyed French culture in many forms. Including music. Who can forget that first bit of imported sunshine in the form of polished, re-worked disco, brimming with funk positivity and steeped in coolness?

Two years before Cassius had released the above track, French House didn’t really arrive on the scene so much as it exploded thanks to Daft Punk‘s revolutionary Home Work album, first released in 1997.

Another iconic album had, in fact arrived a year earlier than the robotic duo’s. In 1996, Dimitri from Paris‘ debut album Sacrebleu dropped. The playfully titled album featured tons of campy, fun samples from classic lounge, bossa nova tracks and films. Listen to it today and it still sounds fresh.

After a long struggle with bland, and decidedly nauseous Eurodance, producers like Dimitri from Paris and Daft Punk made continental dance music cool again. The wave of French House was no flash in the pan either, it lasted into – well, it’s still around isn’t it? It’s now an established genre with labels like Ed Banger continuing to press records resulting in some international hit makers like Justice.

But it wasn’t all too cool for school, slickly produced stuff. There was some deliciously weird material coming out too. Who could forget Mr. Oizo’s Flat beat? That signature, peculiar bassline is still unmistakable and catchy.

Nowadays, there’s plenty of talented up and comers like Cherokee, Zimmer and Darius off relatively newer label Roche Musique.

If you consider yourself a French House afficianado, Cuepoint’s Ben Cardew has a piece that outlines some of French House’s many original creators, their respective legacies, and where they ended up over the years. It’s an excellent, in-depth piece with lots of content. Check it out here. In the meantime, I remain convinced that the real Paris exists somewhere, and one day, I intend to find it.

* Ironically, the film was shot almost entirely in Los Angeles, with the exception of the opening and closing credits.

Above photo pictures artist Zimmer, courtesy of Roche Musique on Facebook.

Posted in electronica, house, Music, Music Videos | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From Genetically Modified Apples To Plain Old Oranges: Hemingway’s Early Life & The Science of Experience.

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“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s life came to a brutal and explosive end one early July morning in 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho, with a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the back of his throat. With his tragic death came the end of legend. Hemingway had lived. He had traveled, fought in a war, pontificated on bullfights. He had loved, he had drank, he had lost. He had done many things, and filled entire books with his life experiences and imagination.

It’s interesting to read about Hemingway’s early years, before he wrote all those great classics that made him famous. Before he became a celebrated author, he was just another hack reporter at the Kansas city Star, then in Toronto for the Toronto Star, before becoming a foreign correspondent in Paris for a time, which helped define him for years to come. Hemingway had famously remarked; “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

What happens before people get famous is seldom talked about, because it might not be as exciting for some. But it means everything. What happens before is the science of experience; that culmination of ingredients that metabolizes into something real, something concrete, and in some rare instances, something magical. This is the birth of one’s character.

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In 1922, while Hemingway was in his second year in Paris, Quaker Oats gave us a one minute solution to make breakfast. It was called Quaker Quick Oats. Modern culture means an accelerated culture. It means faster than fast. That’s why, twenty years later, it became Instant Oatmeal. Now we have the instant celebrity. Buy a lottery ticket, become an instant winner. Go on a reality television show or better yet – make a sex tape, get famous. The idea of working hard for years seems as far fetched as a brown apple getting sold. One wonders what he would think of the world we live in today. What would Hemingway think of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, or American Idol?

The concept of becoming an accomplished artist after having lived a cultivated life has been lost. We’ve become a culture obsessed with youth and perfection. Many of the famous pop stars that dominate the charts are technically good to be sure; they can sing, they can dance – but there’s no soul behind those shiny bright eyes. Soul isn’t something that can be bought and sold. It is something you earn. And the only way to earn it, is through experience.

Another thing that’s increasingly on our cultural radars is safety and security. Helicopter parenting is the new norm. Bike helmets. Shin pads. We’re even pushing pills for our toddlers now. Prozac. Ritalin. A slightly alarming study just released in Australia concluded that one in every five parents admit to drugging their children on road trips. Protective gear for the body, and psychiatric drugs to pacify and dull the mind. But in a bubble wrapped culture where kids don’t fall down or hurt themselves, what war stories do they have to tell?

I’m not advocating for a total abandonment of safety equipment and pharmaceuticals. Concussions should be avoided and severe mental illnesses (such as Hemingway’s own) need treatment. But surely we’ve gone too far trying to create a false sense of security for children. How do we grow as individuals without experiencing sadness, pain, loss – even boredom? Boredom stimulates creativity. Tragedies define us. As painful and heartbreaking as they are, the sum of our tragedies make us who we are today, and stronger for them. As Jane Austen wrote in Pride and Prejudice, “Our scars make us know that our past was for real”.

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There’s a new apple out there now, thanks to the latest in human technological advances. It’s called the Arctic apple. What makes it so special? It doesn’t brown with age. It doesn’t get ugly. When you slice it open; it won’t look any different with time. Devoid of imperfections, nothing will ever make that apple stand out in a crowd. It will look beautiful, to be sure. But it will never be remarkable.

The Arctic apple is a reflection of where we are in terms of values as a species. Not only do we expect objects to look perfect, we expect people to appear flawless as well. This is the age of Botox. People will gladly trade in their abilities to demonstrate facial expressions for tighter skin around the eyes and forehead. Washboard stomachs and perfect teeth are no longer the exception. They have become the rule. Is the age of Hemingway dead, now that we’re drowning in a sea of selfies? I hope not.

If you cut me open, you’ll find all kinds of bruises, scars and imperfections. Would I change any of them? Not on your life. They made me who I am today, for better or for worse. Otherwise, I’d be just another shiny apple, identical to everyone else.

All photographs courtesy of Wikipedia. Middle image of Ernest Hemingway is from his 1923 passport.

Posted in books, Culture, Ideas, Toronto | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Ed Piskor’s Family Tree: Beat Street Movie Gets Greenlit.

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Anyone that’s tried to fulfill a personal dream knows how difficult a journey it can be. There is no road map to lead your way to the buried treasure. There is no compass to point you in the right direction, and no barometer to guide you past stormy weather. All you have is the idea itself, and perhaps, more importantly; the belief that your idea can succeed. Without that belief, you burn out, you give up. Belief, confidence, insanity, whatever you want to call it, that’s the fuel that keeps you going, when all those suckers slam phones in your ear, and doors in your face. Belief in your idea – that’s what gets you out of bed, and what propels you to lace up your favourite pair of breakdancing kicks, ready to battle your way through another day.

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In his latest instalment of Hip Hop Family Tree, Ed Piskor illustrates Steve Hagar’s struggle to get his 1984 Beat Street film made. The film would eventually go into production, shooting entirely on location in NYC and featuring Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force and the Treacherous Three.

To read the rest of the instalment, head over to Boing Boing.

Interested in ordering a book? Two of Ed Piskor’s comic books are also available for purchase: Volume One and Volume Two.

Posted in Comics, Culture, Hip Hop, Movies | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

10 of the Very Best Club Tracks from Toronto’s Twilight Zone.

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The Twilight Zone first opened it’s doors in 1980 in the nearly empty, factory filled, garment district of Toronto’s downtown, which years later became zoned as the city’s Entertainment District. During it’s incredible nine year run, the Zone became a mecca for a dedicated, eclectic clientele that included a solid mix of straight and gay; a multi-cultural movement where only the music mattered.

Saturday nights at the Zone featured co-owners Albert and Tony Assoon on the decks, along with some of the world’s biggest disc jockeys spinning funk and house records on a now legendary sound system to a religious, cult-like following, laying the underground foundations for many to follow. Guest writer and Toronto area DJ Mitch Winthrop graciously fires up his DeLorean to take us back into time and smack dab in the middle of the Zone’s crowded dance floor, one more time.

1. Strafe – Set It Off
The first time I ever heard that record was on the Zone’s legendary sound system. Those hi-hats and the kick from the b-side mix before the vocals were played was like hearing God’s heartbeat.

2. First Choice – Let No Man Put Asunder
As was often the case, the club would be pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face… all the lights were out. And I couldn’t see who was in the booth. For a few seconds there’d be dead air, so the assumption was there was a technical problem, but then the acapella would ring out “I’m surprised to see your suitcase at the door!” – the crowd would go insane. And whether it was Tony or Albert Assoon playing, they’d play this part of the record over and over, teasing everyone who by now is in hysterics until finally playing the actual full version with all the lights finally coming on. At the time this was pure magic. (for the Frankie Knuckle remix go here.)


3. Marshall Jefferson – Move Your Body
What can you say? The record was produced like a DJ was playing it. Just put it on and stand back. Let the crowd go mad, at a time when people were just starting to realize house was something to take seriously. This was our House Music Anthem.

4. Hanson & Davis – Tonight
Nothing quite shook the building like this record did. I often found myself in the back parking lot or on the roof when this came on and the way the plate glass windows of the warehouses across the street from the club would vibrate to this song was as much a part of the Zone experience as being in the middle of the dance floor was.

5. Master C&J – Dub Love
The wail of the synths in this record, on many nights, was outdone by the wail of the crowd. This is very much a Zone record to me. It epitomizes the dark, often scary vibe the club had on nights just before the peak, before the music would turn over to become more of a celebration in the later hours of the morning.

6. Sequal – It’s Not Too Late
Some of the best years and best experiences at the Zone happened before the house music explosion, when the club’s music featured a lot more freestyle, electro and funk.

7. Phyllis Nelson – I Like You
Speaking of… another big record from the pre-house music days at the club. The truth is, everything sounded good on that sound system.

8. Nu Shooz – I Can’t Wait
A lot of commercial hits were played at the Zone months if not years ahead of radio and Muchmusic. And I’m including this to illustrate that the music at the Zone was not 125 beats per minute all night long. When this record came out no one knew anything about the band. We just knew the bass alone was perfect for the Zone, and when it was played the room blew up.

9. Beastie Boys – Cookie Puss
It’s often noted that Keith Haring painted the Paradise Garage. The Twilight Zone’s décor was courtesy of the Beastie Boys, who went to town covering the walls with graffiti after they were in town to perform there. I’m not sure if that had anything to do with “Cookie Puss” being featured in the middle of some sets, but the song is nuts and a lot of nutty records were played either for their sound quality or their strangeness. File this one under “Planet Claire” by the B-52s too.

10. No Smoke – Koro Koro
For me nothing had me screaming over the system like a great tribal record. The vocal grunts and chants rang out around the room as if Tony and Albert were controlling which of the horns hanging over the dance floor would play them, all while the percussion shook the floor loose from the support beams. Sometimes you felt like any night could be the night the place came crashing down from the vibrations of the sound and the footwork, but no one cared because what a way to go!

Mitch Winthrop is an internationally recognized producer, dj and radio host for several notable shows, including The Rhythm Method, which is largely credited as Canada’s first dedicated House music show. Look out for his new podcast coming soon called The Boogie Politix Show. Mitch will also be featured in the upcoming film, Back To The Zone; a documentary about Toronto’s Twilight Zone nightclub, and the birth of House music culture in Canada.

The Twilight Zone’s former owners, the Assoons, have recently opened up a new club called Remix, located in the city’s West end.

For more on Toronto’s club history, check out Denise Benson’s Then & Now series, soon to be available in book form.

Top photo from Back To The Zone, dir. by Colm Hogan, Footage courtesy of Marla Rotenberg.

Posted in Culture, dance, electronica, Music | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Startling Truth Behind Toronto’s Tunnel of Terror.

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To him who is in fear everything rustles.
– Sophocles

The intersection of Jane and Finch is well known to most Torontonians. It’s not a place the majority of it’s citizens have actually lived in, visited, or in fact, even driven by. Most Torontonians know it from news reports. It’s the place that people get shot or stabbed. Where drug gangs control the streets, and everyone else around cowers in fear.

Yet, if you go there, on the surface at least, it looks like any other neighbourhood. Albeit, with it’s large looming apartment block high rises, and low lying strip malls below featuring Money Mart and McDonalds franchises along with the increasingly ubiquitous Dollarama – it’s not exactly Rosedale; the tony neighbourhood just North of the city’s downtown, and about a million miles away in the minds of Jane and Finchers. There are similarities though. Adults go to work. Children go to school. Babies are pushed in carriages. It’s not exactly the pictured war zone that the newspapers seem to paint.

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But complexity doesn’t sell papers. Fear does. Fear quickens the pulse, and boils the blood. These are the emotions that make for compelling viewing on cable news networks.

And so, the flavour of the day is terrorism. But it wasn’t always so. Before terrorism we had global warming, AIDS, killer bees, satanic cults, heavy metal, nuclear war, gangsta rap. McCarthyism. The Salem witch trials. The list goes on and on throughout our cultural history. Now it’s terrorism. To be more specific, Muslim extremism. Al Quaida, ISIS, beheadings, jihadi brides, radicalization, suicide bombs, terror plots. These are the stories shoved down our collective throats on a daily basis.

It’s only a matter of time. That’s what paid security experts say. That’s what politicians that want to get elected will tell you. That’s what defence contractors and law enforcement officials, looking to have their budgets increased, will echo. They, like the terrorists themselves, and in fact, even the media organizations that report on them, like it or not, are all in the business of fear. Fear, it would seem, is good for business. It gets politicians elected. Fear sells handguns to housewives. Fear sells security alarms to suburban families. Fear sells personal parachutes to executives that work in office towers. Fear builds prisons. It gets fighter jets built. It rolls out tanks. It drops laser guided bombs, and then launches counter defence missile systems to blow up those very same bombs.

When the authorities discovered a tunnel situated nearby a Pan American games venue, there was a brief moment of tantalizing wonder. In the age of Google, it’s rare to uncover a bonafide mystery. Who dug this tunnel? Where did it lead? Why was it built? By whom? Then, almost immediately after that moment, everyone automatically assumed the worst. When we are conditioned to obsess over fears of terrorism, it’s easy to see why we all freaked out. Our collective imagination kicked into overdrive. This was a 24 inspired plot that surely involved terrorists with elaborate head scarves wrapped around dead, crazy eyes and wild, unshaven beards. A suicide vest, maybe a kidnapping or two, there would definitely be several AK 47s and large, gleaming, impressive ammunition belts involved. Someone was bound to be shouting Allahu Akbar at any given moment.

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It turns out the tunnel was the work of a young man from the mean streets of Jane and Finch. As a child, he had played in the nearby Black Creek ravine for fun. For Elton McDonald, nature offered solitude and peace, a welcome alternative to the perils of inner city, urban living. He worked hard on the tunnel for two years, determined to finish his personal slice of well constructed paradise. But once the authorities had made it’s discovery, the media circus rolled out instantly. It’s easy to imagine how reluctant he was to come forward. Remember Richard Jewell? Sometimes simply telling the truth isn’t enough ammunition to win the war against the 24 hour news machine.

Lucky for Elton, his story had a happy ending. When he came forward with the truth, he decided to harness his temporary newfound fame and initiate a plan of action. Elton’s Tunnel Vision Plan wasn’t related to a terrorist agenda, much to the disappointment of some, I’d wager. His proposed project focused instead on launching a construction company to employ at risk youths from his community to plant trees and mow lawns. He asked for $10,000.00. To date, Elton has raised almost $12,000.00 from well wishers across the country.

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Maybe we were all a little too quick to rush to assumptions. Maybe the world isn’t out to get us. Maybe there is hope after all. I’m not saying that there aren’t bad people out there that want to do bad things. It’s just that there are also alot of good people out there doing good things. We should probably spend more time hearing about those guys.

It’s nice to know that some stories have happy endings after all.

Top photo courtesy of Metro Police, photos of Jane & Finch area by Colm Hogan, Elton McDonald photo courtesy of Facebook.

Posted in Crime, Culture, Ideas, Toronto | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments