Editor’s Pick: Apache Beat – Tropics

In existence for barely a year, NYC’s Apache Beat first caught my attention back in March when they played an impassioned set at Keith Hamilton’s Pitter Patter Festival. Since then, the quintet has received praise in the British press, toured Europe and—just last week—dropped their first record, the Tropics seven-inch.

Founded by stylish and commanding front-woman Ilirjana Alushaj and dapper guitarist Philip Aceto, Apache Beat came together with the addition of drummer Neil Westgate, bassist Mike Dos Santos, and Christina Aceto on synthesizer to create music that they describe as “dark, destructive and beautiful.” Without a doubt, they do that here on A-side “Tropics.” Apparently-disjointed percussion and guitars are artfully melded by oozing synths, writhing bass riffs, and feverish vocals rapt in lament and wide-eyed admonition. To reclaim my own label, which was shamelessly lifted by NME to describe Apache Beat, “Tropics” is storm pop at its definitive best. But it doesn’t stop there. Flip the beautifully designed single over, and discover the equally praise-worthy B-side “Your Powers are Magic.” Less spastic than “Tropics,” this track retains the band’s signature popnoir aesthetic and introduces it to prepossessing, almost-orchestral, delay-heavy guitar work. From it a number of awe-inspiring moments arise: the introduction of the synth line in the second verse, the rising and releasing tension in Alushaj’s vocals, and the amazing, almost mathy interaction between the percussion and guitars make me think that their powers are magic. The result is a very unique song that melodically could actually pass as a dark, modern, Christmas carol. It’s not often that veritable creative forces and pure musicianship are this in-step with each other. Buy Tropics and add Apache Beat to your favourite music before they breeze through their way-too-limited pressing of 500 copies.


Lecture Theatre

Hannah Moscovitch is not your typical English specialist. While daylighting as a student at U of T, she has also managed to cultivate a stylish and cerebral body of theatrical work. The Ottawa native—who originally trained as an actor at the National Theatre School—has a busy year ahead of her. Her latest play, East of Berlin, is currently enjoying a successful run at the iconic Tarragon Theatre, and in the new year, Factory Theatre will present a double-bill of her two past Summerworks hits, The Russian Play and Essay. The Varsity slipped into a vacant UC lecture hall to hear what this fascinating writer has to say about her first season-programmed production, what it’s like to watch a play evolve in rehearsal, and which U of T classes have made her think.

Settling into the back row of molded-plastic seats in UC161, Moscovitch apologizes for seeming a little tired. It’s no wonder: last night was the opening of East of Berlin after weeks of rehearsal. “Well,” she says sheepishly, “we went through most of a bottle of Scotch during the show—so maybe that has something to do with it.” Despite this admission, her green eyes are sharp as a tack, as are her answers.

“It’s fantasy-fulfillment,” she says when asked how the whole page-to-stage process is affecting her. “It’s been a really positive experience. You often hear that when you move to an established theatre that there are a lot of compromises the artist has to make. That hasn’t been my experience at all at the Tarragon. There were many writing discoveries that were made during the four-week rehearsal process—it really was such a collaboration between all of us. For instance, there’s a scene on the ramp at Auschwitz done in total silence. That was something that myself and the director, Alisa Palmer, had to figure out together.”

Developed within the 2006-2007 Tarragon Playwright’s Unit, East of Berlin has been a year in creation, from first draft to the production onstage now. “I pitched something completely different to [artistic director] Richard Rose.”

So, what is East of Berlin about, and where did it originate if not from the initial pitch?

“What led me to the topic was a series of interviews with the children of Nazis. One book was called Legacy of Silence, and the other was called Born Guilty. It wasn’t just the content that interested me. What got me was that the interviews were conducted by Jews. The context was fascinating. Often these children of Nazis had quite specifically wanted to do the interview because they knew the interviewer was Jewish. That became the subtext, and often, the text of the interview.”

Hannah goes on to explain about how broken by their parents’ guilt the interview subjects seemed. As she talks about these cases, it’s hard to imagine children being born in Germany, 1941. Obviously, in the midst of all the destruction and “resettling” of Hitler’s Germany, there would be birth. It seems like that paradox is what led Hannah to this unsettling material and inspired her to shape it into a cohesive story.

East of Berlin is a three-hander, presented by a young man raised in Paraguay after the Second World War. His father was not only a Nazi, but also a doctor at Auschwitz whose “treatments” were the stuff of nightmares. The other two characters are a childhood friend, Hermann, and a Jewish woman named Sarah Kleinman.

“Half the play takes place in Paraguay, and then shifts to West Berlin in the 1960s. The phrase ‘East of Berlin’ is a euphemism for Auschwitz, and that euphemism went into the language of Berlin Jews during the war—‘to go east’ became a code for going to your death.”

The research necessary to support her subject matter was daunting, but Moscovitch found herself up to the task. “Once I started, I realized there was so much I didn’t know about. What it would have been like to live in a Nazi enclave in 1960s Paraguay? Then there was the equally difficult task of returning to the other side of the story, which has taken on almost mythical proportions. I read about myself—because I had to—my history with regard to the Holocaust. That’s the backdrop.”

The comfort Moscovitch found from reading about the suffering in the concentration camps is remarkable. “I would end up on the streetcar reading The Nazi Doctors, or Psychology of Genocide—y’know, one of those books with huge letters on the front.” She laughs, describing the looks commuters gave her. “But I’ve certainly had moments, when watching it up on stage where I’ve thought ‘what possessed me to write about this?’”

Currently, Moscovitch is taking a semester off so that she can concentrate on her writing. Still, I’m interested to know which U of T courses may have informed her creative work.

“The education here is so astonishingly good. One of the best things is just being taught to think critically. The grounding in great systems of thought—like the first-year philosophy survey course, or contemporary literary criticism, and particularly the American literature course with Professor Paul Downes—I found that really influenced my thinking. There were lots of them—but those ones really stand out. It’s amazing how your mind just will not do things unless you’ve trained it to. We call it intelligence, but I believe it’s really just training our minds to work a certain way. In that firstyear philosophy class, reading David Hume— the need to take responsibility for your beliefs. That was definitely important for me.

“I think that if anything, coming to U of T as an artist already, you bring a certain irreverence that makes things a bit more accessible. There’s something about being an artist in the presence of art—you recognize that Shakespeare is unfinished. The director finishes it. It’s finished by the production. There’s a different angle into it. You bring that to the classroom.”

East of Berlin continues at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until November 25, 2007. Student tickets are available for $18.

Freshly Pressed

Black kids – Wizard of Ahhhs (Independent)

While their name has prompted people to label them everything from genius to controversial, Black Kids certainly didn’t settle on their moniker to slip past the mainstream. First noticed at the Athens Popfest in Georgia back in August, the young quintet from Jacksonville, Florida have been catapulted into the indie-rock strato-blogosphere on the strength of their energetic live show and this lo-fiEP, which is available for free on their website (blackkidsmusic.com). Comparisons to The Cure, Arcade Fire, and the Go! Team are certainly evident here, but there are also fl ashes of Hard-Fi, Hefner (“Hurricane Jane”), and New Order (“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You”) on Wizard. In fact, “I’m Not Gonna Teach” is the centre of the EP. Its insanely catchy melody and start-and-stop choruses exemplify the Black Kids’ sound and will be stuck in your head, screaming for another play day after day (seriously). While all four tracks have the hooks to qualify as potential hits, the production still leaves something to be desired— and hopefully something to be fulfilled once these wiz kids hit up a real studio.—JB

Rating: VVVV

Soulive – No Place Like Soul (StaxRecords)

After almost 10 years in the music business, New York’s Soulive is still going strong with their eighth album, No Place Like Soul. Originally a trio, the band has undergone some major changes since their last record, which have resulted in the addition of a new member and the introduction of vocals into their instrumental repertoire. The result: a brand new sound and energy from one of the most original soul-funk bands out there. Blending a variety of genres including soul, reggae, rock, and even a little Motown, this album is truly indicative of a group that loves making music through and through. On the upbeat side, tracks like “Don’t Tell Me” and “One of Those Days” refl ect a talent for creating a feeling of liveliness and energy in the studio, whereas slower tracks “Mary” and “Callin’” open up a more mature and smooth side of the group. Overall, No Place Like Soul not only proves the credibility of Soulive as a band, but also keeps the genre of soul alive and refreshed. -Barbara Kowalski

Rating: VVVV

Jay-Z – American Gangster (Roc-A-Fella)

Jay-Z is back, again. Only a year after his much-publicized “comeback” (translate: big letdown) album Kingdom Come, Jay-Z is trying to get his street cred back with American Gangster, a concept album inspired by the film of the same name. When it was announced about a month ago, Hova assured his fans this would be up there with Reasonable Doubt, his first, and best, album.

Is it that great? No, but nor is it terrible: it’s merely decent. Diddy and the Hitmen handle the bulk of production—which is both good and bad. Their beats have a consistent ’70s blaxploitation sound that fits the theme of the album, but some tracks are clearly better than others. The desperation of “Pray” bangs, but the celebration track “Party Life” finds the crew bored and listless. Much better is the exuberance on the Just Blaze-produced “Ignorant Shit,” which features a better-than-average verse from Beanie Sigel. Also good is the price-of-success track “Fallin’.” Unfortunately, the over-amplified organ beat on “Success” ruins the goodwill of an awesome Nas verse.

But how does Jay-Z stand up to all of this? He’s OK. His fl ow has deteriorated to the point where it will never measure up to his Reasonable Doubt high-water mark, but he does get some good lines in. He can go from almost great (“Chef, guess what I cooked? / Baked a lot of bread, but kept it off the books”) to broken and irritating (“If it wasn’t for the crime that I was in / But I wouldn’t be the guy that rhymes it is that I’m in”) in a single song. The worst part of the album by far is “Hello Brooklyn 2.0,” the ill-conceived collaboration with It Rapper Lil’ Wayne, which is just awful on all accounts. While the good outweighs the bad most of the time, it would be better if Hova actually, you know, wrote his lyrics down every once in a while.—Bartholomew Richards

Rating: VVV

Making a killing with kindness

“If you’re looking for a business opportunity, here’s the most under-served market in the world,” said Craig Kielburger, founder of the charity Free the Children. Absolute silence.

That market: “People who live in desperate poverty and need,” said Kielburger, who was, for the remainder of lunch on Saturday, keynote speaker at the Impact 2007 Leadership Conference, billed as “Canada’s premier entrepreneurship event.”

The crowd is a bunch of young entrepreneurs itching to put what they’ve learned over the past day and a half to good use in their fi rst, second, third, or maybe their fourth business venture— and some of these people aren’t even out of high school.

Kielburger defi nes an entrepreneur as “someone who brings an innovative model to create social change,” and claims Mother Teresa as “the quintessential entrepreneur.”

Throughout the conference, the organizers tried to break the stereotype of CEOs as suits (despite the formal dress code).

On Friday, George Roter, CEO of Engineers Without Borders, spoke about applying business principles to a charity. According to Roter, “entrepreneurship is an approach, not an end.”

Such Zen-like business philosophies were common over the two days. Successful CEOs were treated like gurus. Admittedly, conferences, whether for entrepreneurs or Star Trek afi cionados, can be a surreal experience for an outsider. Business conferences are no different for having their own cultures, their own celebrities, their own lingo. Business schools have their own cheers.

“Man, if this were West Coast…” said one of the Albertan delegates after the banquet. West Coast biz conferences are known, surprisingly, for being more laid-back and booze-soaked. Here at our East Coast conference, everyone’s heading back to their rooms to work on case studies.

Kielburger put social responsibility in an economic context. Last year, the world population spent $15 billion on perfume—three times as much money as it would take to provide universal literacy, he claimed. We spent the same amount on makeup as would take to eliminate hunger. Stopping the spread of AIDS? Less than Europe spent on ice cream in a single year.

Kielburger isn’t arguing that we stop buying these things, but that we do have the resources to solve the world’s problems. Throughout his speech, he returned to his refrain that such a change can only be effective if expressed at the ballot box, the cash register, and the boardroom.

To a packed house of aspiring CEOs, those that many would consider at the forefront of me-culture, the co-author of From Me to We argued that “helping others is good for the bottom line. What’s good for the heart is good for the wallet.”

Is he trying to redefine selfishness?

“More than that,” he said when we sit down for an interview—he’s trying to “redefi ne the self.” There’s a myth in North America, argued Kielburger, that we’re more independent than those in developing countries, but “we don’t grow our own clothes, we don’t make our own food. We’re more dependent on others here than [they are] anywhere else.”

In his keynote remarks, the recent U of T grad provided examples of charitable businesses and charities with business principles. Take Participant Films—which produces socially responsible films, such as North Country, Syriana and Nobel-maker An Inconvenient Truth—and the Institute for One World Health, what would strike most as an oxymoron: a not-for-profit pharmaceutical company.

“It’s a charity,” says Kielburger, “it’s non-profit, but it brings in those business principles.” The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is hiring, first and foremost, MBAs.

For some, the greatest challenge comes not in the form of case studies or, for that matter, taking over the world, but over dinner Friday evening. The occasion: a banquet at the Westin Harbour Castle, where Michael Lee- Chin, the major donor to the ROM’s Crystal renovation is giving his keynote address. Two delegates’ vegetarian option arrives. Looks good to me, but—

“Omigod, what is that?”

“I think I just got served a bowl of rice.”

“Try it. What’s it like?” Some tentative poking at with fork follows.

“It’s kind of mushy, but kind of grainy, and it tastes really cheesy.”

Opined the other vegetarian at the table: “It’s like they were trying to make Indian food.”

The first vegetarian picks up the sprig garnishing her plate. “And what’s this?”

“I hate it when food is decorated,” pipes in one of the high schoolers.

The next morning, as I’m riding the escalator on my way to a breakout panel hosted by the Ontario Centres of Excellence, I catch the tail end of a conversation between two older delegates, one of whom had just attended the Social Etiquette in a Business Setting workshop.

“It was a good reminder,” I overhear the woman say. “I went to the banquet last night and some of the kids didn’t have a clue.”

Oh well. Today we take over the world. Tomorrow, risotto.

Ontario under siege: purple loosestrife

Aggressively invading Ontario’s wetland regions, purple loosestrife’s damage is beautiful, yet devastating. Although admittedly an aesthetically pleasing plant, its destructive and dominant nature has earned it a spot on Canada’s top-five invasive species list, making the flower a significant biological priority. This one- to two-metre tall “marsh monster” leaves a trail of destruction with serious consequences for the local environment—and we may already be unknowing accomplices.

Native to Eurasia, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria, from the family Lythraceae) was introduced to North America from European ships in the 1800s as a medicinal herb, used to treat bleeding, ulcers, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Upon arrival, the plants spread quickly across Canada, populating their preferred habitat: freshwater lakes, river shores, and marshlands. As a result, dramatic growth of these purple-pink pests is causing water flow disruptions and drastic declines in biodiversity in many of Ontario’s wetlands.

Identified by its uniquely-shaped square stem, each purple loosestrife plant can produce as many as 30 rigid stalks from a central, woody root mass that grows 8.5 inches each year. Surrounded by clusters of leaves and ravishing pink and purple flowers, this weedy species makes for an attractive ornamental garden plant. Garden strains of purple loosestrife—commonly known as Morden Pink, Morden Gleam or Dropmore Purple—are usually sold in packets of wildflower seeds. Unwitting gardeners may grow this invasive species in backyards and contribute to its survival and spread.

Strains originally thought to be sterile may not be, according to recent scientific research. An experiment in Manitoba showed that after six months of cultivating the strain known as Morden Pink, each plant produced an abundance of “garden escape” seeds in ideal condition for germination.

Purple loosestrife has the remarkable ability to produce approximately three million small, light seeds that can be easily dispersed long distances by wind, rainfall, and wildlife. Both rural and urban settings also provide pollination by bees and butterflies.

Growth of purple loosestrife has caused far-reaching ecological damage in the wetlands of southern Ontario. The loss of native flora and fauna through competition, and the reduction of natural food and protective habitats for wildlife results in the disappearance of a variety of rare animal and plant species, many of which play critical roles in maintaining wetland ecosystems.

Many researchers are looking into control and preventive measures to eradicate the growth of this obnoxious weed. Some suggest that hand-removal and proper disposal of purple loosestrife from gardens is a helpful strategy. The approved release of four natural purple loosestrife predators may help. Two beetles (Galerucella calmariensis and Galerucella pusilla), a seed weevil, (Nanophyes marmoratus) and a root weevil, (Hylobius transversovittatus) feed on the purple loosestrife plant while posing no known threat to other species.

Despite these measures, purple loosestrife continues to remain a number-one threat to Ontario’s wetland habitats.

U of T falls through the ranks

U of T’s prestige endured a withering assault last week from the international ranking of the Times Higher Education Supplement, which knocked the university to 45th overall in the world, down from 27th in 2006. The THES, based in the U.K. issues an annual report of the top 200 universities worldwide. One of the most watched publications on higher education, the annual survey is heavily reported on throughout the world.

It uses the following weight distributions to assign scores: peer review score (40 per cent), number of citations earned in research papers (20 per cent), review of graduates by employers (10 per cent), proportion of international faculty members and students (5 per cent each), and faculty/ student ratio (20 per cent),.

As are many school ranking schemes, this system has been critized heavily for aggregating dissimilar data (combining research citations with international complements, for instance), and boiling down each university’s performance to a single number. For this very reason, U of T’s administration has refused for the past two years to participate in Maclean’s magazine’s Canadian university survey (which nonetheless recently rated U of T fourth overall in its category).

Professor George Luste of the University of Toronto Faculty Association commented on the large fluctuations in rank seen by some of the schools on the list, and how it is difficult to derive any significant meaning from the report. U of T’s 18-spot drop was not the only precipitous decline: UC Berkeley also fell drastically from last year. It went from eighth place in 2006 down to 22nd. Luste, like many university members, views the survey with a critical eye.

“To me it says there’s something screwy about their measurement process, university reputations and quality do not just change on that time scale from year to year that much,” Luste said.

Ontario Under Siege: European frog-bit

The story of European frog-bit’s introduction and spread in North America follows a pattern common to many invasive species: intended for cultivation in a controlled setting, they escape and spread rapidly at the expense of native species.

European frog-bit is an invasive aquatic plant that grows in stagnant or slowmoving bodies of water, infesting lakes, marshes, swamps, and streams. It has become a dominant species in many wetland ecosystems in eastern North America.

Found widely in Europe and certain parts of Asia, European frog-bit was first imported into Canada from Switzerland in 1932. It was cultivated at the Arboretum of the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. By 1939, the plant escaped the Arboretum and wild populations were spotted on the Rideau Canal. By 1952, it had reached the Montreal area, and was observed on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie by the 1980s.

Invasive species are successful because they possess traits that give them a competitive advantage in a new environment. European frog-bit has submerged roots and horizontal stems called “stolons.” Rather than embed in the sediment at the lake bottom, the roots intertwine underwater, allowing the plants to aggregate in dense, free-floating colonies. This ability for dense growth is the plant’s main advantage. Unfortunately, the thick layer of foliage formed on the water’s surface reduces the amount of light, nutrients, and dissolved gases available to native plants growing under the surface.

Besides monopolizing vital resources, European frog-bit is also able to spread rapidly due to its reproductive strategies. Typically, the species reproduces asexually as new plants grow out of the tips of the stolons. This mechanism allows entire colonies to establish when pieces of stolon— which naturally break off—are carried to new locations by water currents. This kind of reproduction, also known as “vegetative reproduction,” is a characteristic of many invasive species. It offers a competitive advantage, allowing new individuals to produce at a much faster rate compared to sexually reproductive plants.

In the autumn, European frog-bit also uses a variation of asexual reproduction specific to aquatic plants, in which specialized buds known as “turions” are formed. The turions fall off the plant and sink to the sediment below, where they spend the winter in dormancy. Once spring arrives, the buds float back towards the surface and start developing into new plants. Since up to 100 turions can be released from a single adult individual, turion production contributes to the species’ high reproductive rate, helping it quickly take over a particular area.

Currently, there are no known control measures to combat the European frog-bit invasion, and it is extremely difficult to destroy an established colony. The most effective way to stem the spread of the species is to prevent the extent of new populations. Like zebra mussels, European frog-bit can reach new locations by attaching itself to boats and other watercraft. Cleaning watercraft before moving between bodies of water is an important tactic used to control outbreaks. Waterways and wetlands should also be monitored regularly for new population outbreaks, and any frog-bit that appears should be quickly removed and correctly disposed of, ideally before autumn, so that turions do not have the chance to form and disperse.

Now screening at York: Noam Chomsky

The famous intellectual Noam Chomsky enjoyed a warm welcome at York University on Friday, even though he was there as a disembodied torso. Unable to attend in person, the linguist and sometime political theorist spoke to a packed auditorium for over an hour via video conference.

He spoke without notes, hunched in front of a nondescript wall somewhere at MIT. Students, though, were enthused: so many wanted to come that the event had had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate the demand.

Event organizer Jennifer Rego was effervescent. “It was completely a success to have a packed house of approximately 600 people,” she said. Rego had reason to be happy—it took her and two other York students several months of emails and a trip to Boston to convince Chomsky to speak. “Persistence was our friend,” she explained. “He was enamoured by our initiative and he agreed.”

“I thought it was really interesting,” first-year U of T law student Brendan McCutchen said. “He’s just a really important voice in our society.”

Second-year students Isabel Medel and Tania Lukacsovies made the trek from St. George campus for the event.

“I know he’s an anarchist—I wonder how that will filter into his talk,” Medel said beforehand.

Sadly for Medel, anarchy lost out to the energy crisis in Chosky’s speech. The lecture stuck to three topics the organizers had asked Chomsky to discuss: nuclear weapons, DNA and biomass.

Chomsky listed the virtues of biomass, or organic byproducts, as a viable alternative energy source. He supported the idea in theory, but was quick to condemn the current U.S. pursuit of corn-produced ethanol, which he called “unfeasible economically” and likely to bring high tariffs against cheaper corn from other countries. According to Chomsky, this would ultimately drive up the cost of agricultural products and harm poor countries, with major agricultural companies as the only beneficiaries.

Energy policy provided a segue into Chomsky’s discussion of the socalled “DNA revolution” that brings the possibility to design energy-creating organisms. Modified organisms could have benefits, but the consequences could be dire, leading to, for example, bioweapons used by subnational entities.

The bulk of Chomsky’s talk concerned nuclear proliferation. He repeatedly stressed the “enormous gulf between public opinion and public policy.”

The treaties in place now are so widely violated that even today the “threat of something close to terminal destruction by nuclear war is very high,” said Chomsky.

He ran through a list of examples of how U.S. policy undermines global nuclear stability, such as a hardline approach to the newly-nuclear Iran and North Korea from the Bush administration.

Chomsky ended on a hopeful note, preaching public action on environmental degradation, corporate tyrannies, and government bullying.

“Students have played a leading role in protest and activism, and movements to progressive social change,” he said.