Bright Lights, Big City: The Bid To Rescue a City’s Window to the Universe.

toronto_planetariumPhoto by Sean Decory

Some things are set in stone at an early age for some people. My grade three teacher must have recognized something significant in me for better, or more likely; for worse. On my annual report card she wrote in perfect blue ballpoint script, the way only grade three teachers can, the following summary of my tiny 8 year old brain. “Colm est un bon étudiant, mais il est toujours dans la lune.” Meaning; Colm is a good student, but is always on the moon. The die had been cast. The point of no return had unceremoniously been passed.

1984 The author, top row, second from left, pictured in 1984. Bold fashion choices and decidedly lunar ambitions.

There were two subsequent childhood experiences that began my lifelong love affair with science and space. The first was going to see James Cameron’s 1986 summer blockbuster film, Aliens. My mother took my friends and I one rainy summer afternoon, after being bamboozled by three unrelenting, hyperactive children. Against my mother’s better judgement, and despite it’s 18 plus restricted rating, my life was irrevocably changed that day inside our local cinema on Avenue Dorval in Montreal. The premise of the sci-fi/horror film incorporated marines in the future fighting off these incredible, seemingly indestructible, horrific H.R. Giger designed aliens. The film both terrified and repulsed me. It was fantastic.

aliens_movie

The second thing that made me fall in love with space was the McLaughlin Planetarium. It was a kind of junior astronomy course for tykes I took the first year after my family and I moved to Toronto. The scene of the crime was the Royal Ontario Museum on University Avenue. For my parents, it was a way to keep my twelve year old self busy, I knew. Still, as there seemed to be not much else to do, having left my life behind in a city six hours by car away, I gave in.

Although there was a classroom element to the after school program, I have a vivid memory of the first day I was ushered into the planetarium’s main room and casting my eyes on the monstrous projector placed in the center of it. Huge, dark and menacing with big black eye balls in every direction, it looked to me like a giant robotic insect. It was straight out of the movie Aliens. I expected it to shoot acid or laser beams at me, incinerating me at any second. Petrified, I was sweating profusely in that darkened theatre, glad that it was so dark, so no-one could see how scared I was. And when I saw that night sky appear above me for the fist time, I was mesmerized. I didn’t understand how they did it. I still don’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZeiss Planetarium Projector in Montreal, courtesy of Wikipedia. Similar to Toronto’s. Acid not included.

I revisited the planetarium in my teens, this time with far less educational ambitions in mind. This time it was to check out the Laser Floyd and Laser Bowie shows. The concept of these laser concerts, designed by a Florida based firm called Audio Visual Imagineering, was to showcase iconic music with an incredible, state of the art light show courtesy of the projector. Both shows literally blew the collective brains of my friends and myself.

I was thinking about both those two early memories when I first heard that they were going to demolish the building. It’s always in the presence of losing something forever, that you remember why it held so much value to you in the first place.

The planetarium first opened it’s doors October 26, 1968 thanks to a grant by Colonel R. Samuel McLaughlin, who founded one of the first car manufacturers in the country. It featured a thirteen foot, Zeiss Jena Projector designed in East Germany. It remained open for 27 years, allowing all of five million people a chance to gaze at stars and learn about the universe.

Ultimately, despite it being one of the only profitable North American planetariums in operation, it fell victim to one Mike Harris. The former grade seven math teacher and ski instructor turned Premier of Ontario had developed a so-called Common Sense Revolution; a platform styled after Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. This resulted in many cuts, among them the historic planetarium. It was swiftly dismantled. The historic projector was reportedly sold to York University for the sum of one dollar.

The planetarium for me was the first time I was presented with a world outside of my own. It provided an escape and a sense of wonder that are such an important experience not just for children, but for people of all ages. In a city whose skies are obscured daily with fresh, rectangular towers of concrete and glass, and a world divided by politics, religion, and greed, shouldn’t we save a small spot where we have a chance to dream of something larger than ourselves?

The University of Toronto, which bought the building in 2004, are planning on razing the planetarium and erecting a cultural center. If you’re interested in helping out and signing a petition to prevent the McLaughlin from being destroyed and restoring it to it’s former glory, go here.

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The Troubled Ghosts of Motown’s Past & The Lonely Death of a French Street Artist.

Fredrick_Douglass_Housing_Project_Towers_2010Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

It was cool and cloudy in Detroit that day. There was a light rain that dusted the city’s cracked sidewalks with a wet sheen an hour before another body had been found. There were a total of four murders that day, all by gunshot. Even though the city had been enjoying a slow decline in crime; a strong 17% reduction in homicides since the year previous. The numbers certainly appear promising, but a close look at the details behind cold, anonymous crime stats, and that same glimmer of hope almost vanishes. On Monday, July 29, 2013, a 65 year old man was robbed at gunpoint while mowing his lawn. He got shot but luckily, survived. Later that night, a 46 year old male asked his neighbour to turn down his stereo. The resulting retort was a barrel of a gun, and a bullet that snuffed out another life.

brewster1Photo courtesy of Steve Neavling of Motor City Mudracker.

A few hours before, an unidentified young man was found lying on the ground unresponsive at 2:50PM at the corner of St. Antoine and Alfred, an area bordered by overgrown vacant lots, once housing a baseball field, and empty, windowless, graffiti sprayed towers and 2 story homes, boarded up by a combination of faded plywood and lost dreams. The Major Crimes report cited his body having sustained “major trauma”. The truth was that he had been shot in the face. This was the second John Doe found murdered on the mean streets of Detroit that day. Without any identification on his person, he would remain unclaimed and unidentified for several long months, before a determined investigator noticed his european footwear and ran his fingerprints through an international database.

The intersection of St. Antoine and Alfred would have been a lonely one in July of that year, but it wasn’t always so. Known as the Brewster-Douglass Projects, the area was once the largest residential housing project owned by the city, with a long cultural history, beginning with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on hand to signify the first federally funded housing development for African Americans.

supremes The Supremes re-visit the Brewster Projects. Photo courtesy of the Maysles Institute.

Less than 2 decades later, in 1951, the development expanded with the creation of 4 identical, 15 floor towers. It was home to several huge Motown legends including Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson and screen actress Lily Tomlin. But as time passed, poverty, drugs and crime spread throughout the complex, forcing many of it’s residents to flee. By 1990, the Brewster projects were 64% empty. The towers, looming high over the I-375 highway, had become a symbol of failure for a city desperate to bury the past and build a future for itself. In 2012, they were slated for demolition. But in 2013, the same year that Detroit filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history, some were still standing…attracting scrappers, graffiti artists, urban explorers, and of course, the gangs and criminals that still roam the area.

bilal_berrani Photo courtesy of Berreni Family.

Bilal Berreni was a quiet, thoughtful artist with boundless energy who also went by Zoo Project as a moniker. He first broke ground on the street art scene in the 15th Arrondissement in Paris, close to where the 23 year old was born. Partially colour blind, he preferred to get his political and social commentaries across with stark black ink. His work took him across Europe all the way to Siberia, but his career really blew up large when he traveled to Tunisia and painted life size portraits of the victims of a revolution, then onto a refugee camp near the Libyan border. The work drew the attention of international news. He later traveled throughout the US, first sleeping in parks and working at a Pizzeria in New York, then hopping trains and finding himself in Detroit. He had spent his final days painting, writing and collecting building materials. According to his father, he was determined to find what could be born out of chaos.

zoo project A work by Zoo Project AKA Bilal Berreni, on the streets of Paris.

Some of that chaos unfortunately found it’s way onto Bilal’s path one day. On Wednesday, September 3rd, four young men were charged with his murder. One of them, a 14 year old boy.

‘One day, I saw him drawing in Paris’, Bilal’s father (Mourad Mourani) remarked. He said, “Look, Daddy,” and he remained silent,’ he also said. ‘He was painting a bunch of guys typing on computers all connected one to another to say that they are all dependent, an absurd society. That was Bilal.’

Sources: Detroit Police Department, Wikipedia, Historic Detroit, Detroit Free Press.

Other DG Longform Reads:
Pinball Wizards & Hardcore Gamers :: A Love Letter to Video Arcade Days Gone By
Punk: Chaos 2 Couture :: Lessons Learned From The Show at the Met

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Fallen Leaves & Fresh New Vibes :: Genius + Mr Lies.

mister lies - flood you

I just headed up north to cottage country for the last weekend of the summer. Yesterday, I got up just after dawn, and eased myself into the cold, clear lake water for the last time, my feet slipping on smooth stones before I dived in completely, swimming quickly out to the small moored wooden dock about a hundred metres out. I climbed up and sat there with my feet in the water and looked out onto the lake. I knew it was going to be the last time this season. But for once, I wasn’t sad about it. As you get older you realize that without change, things get stagnant. They get stale. As humans also, we need to try new things; we need to evolve to stay relevant. So in the spirit of change, here are two recent submissions that signify new directions from artists.

Mister Lies – Flood You/ Medusa
Nick Zanca AKA Mister Lies has been working on a new album for some time now. It should be out October through Orchid Tapes. It’s called Shadow, and you can pre-order it here. Although Flood You/Medusa (mastered by Warren Hildebrand) is a self-release, it’s been cited as a teaser to the new album. Orchid has also dropped Deepend, a track off the new record. The whole thing is more ethereal and dreamy than False Astronomy days, and it’s still very, very good.

Genius – Vowels
Just off the heels of his debut album, Genius is already hard at work, diversifying from his re-edits and remixing and onto creating fresh material. It’s a departure that’s sometimes tricky for other producers, but not this one. Genius went back to school and he’s already aced his A,B,C’s and is onto vowels and conjugation. The results are delightfully offbeat irreverance and left of center bouncy beat goodness. Change can be good.

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Snakehips :: After I Met U :: Dopeness Re-Defined.

snakehips

(UPDATE:: Snakehips have recently revealed an upcoming Fall US/Canada Tour. For dates & venues, go here. In celebration of this occasion, they’ve also dropped a sick new mix via Hypetrack aptly titled Coming To America. Check it Below.)

After I Met U is a track that has been a crowd favourite (and rightly so) at live gigs by producer duo Snakehips. They’ve finally made it available online just over two weeks ago. It’s a song that samples heavily from Cheri Dennis’ I Love You until 2 minutes in when they drop some JLo in there from Get Right. Of course, all of it comes with some added fresh beats and a sprinkle of that trademark Snakehips glitch on top. Does it work? Unbelievably so. This is dopeness re-defined, homie.

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Yousef :: A-Minor Remix :: Float Away.

a_minor4

After hearing the latest A-Minor remix for Float Away, I realized something almost immediately. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew something just wasn’t right about it. So I listened to it again. And again. After about the sixth time, I realized what the issue was. It’s just too perfect. Too smooth. Too slick. But it’s hard to hate on something for being too perfect though, isn’t it? Better to just give in, and let that warm, gentle current take you where it wants to, and surrender. It’s easy to see how Yousef has identified this version as his favourite remix out there.

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Winson Clink :: Brand New Track :: Shank Leane.

winson

Tracks like this one are best delivered wrapped up tightly and inside a plain manila envelope. The meet is at an old underground garage somewhere on the East side of downtown. It’s 3:15 in the AM. A car flashes it’s high beams at you and you advance slowly, suddenly aware of the smallest sounds around you, your senses heightened by the threat of imminent danger. Despite your many fears, a racing heartbeat and the sweat trickling all over you, the exchange goes smoothly. You return to your custom Delorean ride, reach into the envelope and insert the cartridge into your futuristic 8 track player.
You press play.
(Ps. debut album for Winson Clink coming soon.)

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Bondax :: New Bad Tune :: Newer, Badder Remix.

bondax_Fb

I’m still working on a super sweet side project, and I will have an update on that soon.
But in the meantime, I’m still behind on tons of stuff which serves as a great excuse like
missing out on a new Bondax joint. All I See may have dropped over a month ago, but I only got around to it now thanks to a recent discovery of an entirely badass, deep and disco infused house remix from Darius. Written by MNEK and Becky Hill, and featuring blistering, hair raising vocals from Tanya Lacey. Look out for a brand new album from the Bondax boys this September. Check out the original tune, followed by the remix below. Both are well worth a listen.

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