Baby it’s a Wilde world

For Hart House Theatre, 2007-2008 was characterized by humour, mythology, and the occasional murder. Stephen and Mr. Wilde provides a fitting conclusion by combining all these elements into one sprawling tale.

Based on Oscar Wilde’s night in Toronto on his 1882 North American lecture tour, the plot is driven by the two title characters: Wilde (Jonathan Schuster), and his African- American valet, Stephen Davenport (Drew Ngomba). Their relationship is profoundly tested when Torontonian journalist Edward Hawthorne (Thomas Gough) uncovers evidence of Stephen’s potentially shady past.

At first, the interaction betweeen Schuster and Ngomba makes it seem as if they are occupying completely different stages. Schuster’s Wilde starts out flamboyant and overacted, calling to mind a cross between Boy George and Carrot Top. By contrast, the rest of the characters seemingly fade into the background.

However, this grows riveting when Ngomba subtly and expertly begins to reveal the workings of his character’s mind. The chemistry between Schuster and Ngomba quickly comes to drive the show, with the actors playing off one another brilliantly. As Stephen and Mr. Wilde debate passionately on topics ranging from revolutionary politics to alcohol, the rest of the plot feels unnecessary.

Without question, Act I is the play’s strong suit, delivering an enjoyable mix of witty banter and controversial opinion. Wilde’s sexuality becomes an obvious target for wisecracking, as race relations are explored with an almost “too soon” quality. For example, in a bordello scene, matronly prostitute Louise (Roxann Lee) informs former slave Stephen, “I would never abuse a black man…unless he wanted me to!”

The second half of Stephen and Mr. Wilde falters though, growing too morose with its contemplation of truth and violence. Although ample opportunities are provided for conflict and dramatic tension, the suspense never hits a boiling point. The silence of the show’s most charged encounters seems to fill space, rather than engage the audience. And the ending, which could have descended into turmoil, finishes the story on an overly sappy note.

A dialogue in which Wilde chastises the evil spirit of fact-obsessed Hawthorne has the scribe declaring, “Truth comes from the human spirit, which is why you’re not familiar with it!” Indeed, the truth of Stephen and Mr. Wilde delves exclusively from the human interactions and the well-developed characters— not from an overdone, cumbersome plot development. And how often can a sitting room conversation prove to be more exciting than an alleged assassination?

Cadence Weapon is locked and loaded

“I am THE afterparty baby,” declares Rollie Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon). He’s been neck-deep in promo for his new record Afterparty Babies (Upper Class) for the last week, and has probably had to explain the album title three times per hour.

“My Dad used to call me an afterparty baby. He would tell other people, ‘Oh Rollie, he’s an afterparty baby,’ and I would ask ‘Oh, so I’m an accident?’ But it turns out I’m not an accident. I was planned, I was just conceived after a party.”

At 22, this fresh-faced electro rapper came straight outta Edmonton, busting onto the indie scene in 2005 with a mix tape demo, Cadence Weapon is The Black Hand. Later that year he dropped his debut, the Polaris Prize-nominated Breaking Kayfabe to widespread critical acclaim.

As he describes it, Pemberton learned a lot from his first recording experience, namely what not to do this time around.

“The first album, Breaking Kayfabe, I recorded in seven hours, but the actual production of it took a few years. It’s such a convoluted process, I was losing stuff, I was missing parts, I couldn’t get it mixed properly, everything was fucked up. This time I got everything streamlined, everything was mixed properly, I had all the separate parts of the beats mixed individually, everything was popping. It’s far and away more focused than the last.”

Pemberton is much more than just the voice of his songs. In a genre where routine practice pairs a talented rapper with an experienced producer, Pemberton functions autonomously in both capacities, both conceiving of and programming the music, while writing and performing his lyrics.

“I’m a control freak like that, I have a very specific vision. That’s why I don’t have other people rapping on it. Like, I’m not going to have Ludacris rap on it because Ludacris is not going to be able to do a song about Rousseau properly.”

In terms of subject matter, Pemberton brings an intelligent, unpredictable mix of stories and cultural references to his lyrics.

“It’s a record about being youthful, making mistakes, and having fun,” he says, “A lot of the songs are about the mistakes people I know have made, it’s a coming of age record.”

His lyrics focus on criticisms of everything from club-culture, to politics, to how text-message etiquette is emptying our lives of real meaning.

In “Your Hair’s Not Clothes” he rhymes, “Now sit, it used to be, I wanna be your dog, now it’s who let the dogs out, you wanna crawl out.” This comparison of Iggy Pop to Baha Men is a good example of how Pemberton’s lyrical content both reflects and recognizes the fact that his hip hop music is actually situated as a subgenre of indie culture, which has a separate history and set of cultural touchstones from straight-up rap. This is probably the only record where you can hear rhymes about Ryerson, The Dandy Warhols, Ian Curtis, and the Edmonton Oilers all in the span of a few minutes. While at times it sounds like he could be reading posts off of “Stuff White People Like,” his unabashedly nerdy side is a large part of his honest, laid-back appeal.

In between Afterparty Babies and a recent jaunt through Europe, Pemberton has somehow found the time to remix fodder for locals Camouflage Nights, Sally Shapiro, and Ireland’s Super Extra Bonus Party. “It’s another cathartic thing,” he says. “It’s making music in a completely different way than I’m used to.” But even talk of remixes finds him repping west coast indie rock, “I’m a big Destroyer fan, I listen to his music constantly, and I would love to make a dance tune out of one of his songs.”

While he seems to focus on the Canadian music scene (dude’s an encyclopedia of Canadian electro), Pemberton (a dual U.S./Canadian citizen) pays close attention to the American Presidential primaries.

“I’m a Democrat,” he admits. “It seems like the only logical thing to do at this point. In a perfect world I’d like to rep for the Greens, but I don’t think that there ever will be enough people to make them viable.”

So who does he like in the current democratic contest?

“I actually like the leadership qualities of Barack Obama. I think he’s a really smart dude, and he seems less politicky than a lot of people. He’s a more regular dude. I feel like Hillary Clinton is a lizard woman, it creeps me out like crazy. She’s like a reptoid from the centre of the earth, and in 2010, she’ll reveal her true self.”

Like all indie artists awaiting the imminent release of a new recording, Pemberton is readying himself for the onslaught of online criticism, mainly from his former employer, the feared and revered Pitchfork.

“Yeah, I got fired,” says Pemberton of his former life as a Pitchfork music scribe. “I was bad with deadlines, I started sending in reviews that weren’t finished. Back then Pitchfork was not the hot shit that it is now. I didn’t realize that it would become the all-mighty goliath of music criticism— whoops.”

But their parting ways didn’t leave a chip on Pitchfork’s shoulder. Back in 2005 they awarded Breaking Kayfabe a stellar rating of 8.0. I ask him if he dares to speculate what they’ll give Afterparty Babies. “Well, they gave my last record an 8.0, and I think this record is a lot better, so for the sake of consistency I’d say they’d have to give it an 8.7.”

Afterparty Babies hits store shelves tomorrow, and Cadence Weapon will be back in Toronto, April 24.

Editor’s Pick – Crystal Castles – S/T (Last Gang)

The first time I saw Crystal Castles play, back in the summer of 2006, they neatly divided a small crowd at Sneaky Dee’s in half. About twenty people up at the front thought that their shrill blips, lo-fi beats, and manic screaming was the coolest sound to come out of Toronto since Broken Social Scene, while an equal number huddled in the back, unable to make any kind of musical sense of the electronic cacophony. While the duo have had their unique sound—described as “8-bit terror” and “Gremlin dance music” by blogs ad nauseum — and controversial antics both praised and derided in the indie spotlight for well over a year now, its seems as though the local mainstream is moving fast in their direction.

This debut LP, released by Last Gang (Metric, Death From Above) comes at a moment when Crystal Castles are enjoying much more success in the UK, France, and Germany than they are here at home. Correctly hailed by foreign critics as one of the most challenging and exciting bands of this decade, could it be that long before Ethan (keyboards) and Alice (vocals) are rocking “Air War” at the Air Canada Centre, posing for the cover of NME and Rolling Stone?

The 16-track LP compiles selections of their work dating back to their inception in 2005, including hits like “Alice Practice,” “xxzxcuzx me,” and “Untrust Us,” that are already well-known to electro-webcrawlers, as well as new material like “Through the Hosiery,” “Black Panther,” and “Love and Caring.” The fact that this LP is essentially an un-premeditated collection of singles and b-sides speaks to the decline of the album as an art form—many fans will download their entire Crystal Castles collection one song at a time from mp3 blogs. However, that the same rebellious duo, known to flake on big shows and treat the media with a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek scorn, are even submitting to the album format at all speaks to a mean conservative streak in the Canadian music industry that still feels fans need to buy songs in bundles of at least ten to feel like they are getting their money’s worth.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to shell out for this particular record—even if you’ve already hacked their MySpace player. Versions of “Alice Practice” and “Air War” have been updated and extended to include awesome new parts, and “Crimewave,” their colab/remix with California’s HEALTH now features an innovative coda of cool, filtered drum beats. “1991,” (formerly titled “1983”) contains addictive artifacts of their brilliant-but-still-unreleased remix of Soho Doll’s “Trash the Rental,” albeit slowed down and in a minor key.

What also makes this an excellent record is that it isn’t top-heavy. In fact, if you’re already a fan I would recommend listening to the record back to front, as the final three songs are all new stand-out tracks. “Black Panther” delivers a driving, club-ready beat beneath a ridiculously melodic synth line, peppered with Alice’s trademarked cut-up-and-processed vocals, while “Reckless” borrows the bass line from TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” and soaks it in groovy, downtrodden electro.

The album’s closer “Tell Me What to Swallow” deserves special attention. Conceptually, this acoustic guitar-driven ballad could be taken to be part of their project to fuck with everyone’s collective expectations—sonically it’s the most unique material they’ve ever produced, more shoegazer than electro—but that’s only half the story here. In its own right, this is the highlight of the record. Just as dark as the rest of their catalogue, the dreamlike “Swallow” swells between pretty verses and two haunting choruses, the last of which is enveloped by a wash of hopeful synths. This is the first song in a while I’ve listened to on constant repeat, and is a fitting (if unexpected) conclusion, to one of the most important avant-garde releases to hit the Canadian indie-mainstream to date.

Freshly Pressed

Hot Chip – Made in the Dark (astralwerks)

I like Hot Chip for a lot of reasons, many of them having to do with the concept of stiff Brits indebted to Prince and brilliant, electro-castrophies with keyboards that were probably stolen from your brother’s bar mitzvah. But on Made in the Dark, the dance nerds’ third in a line of Beta Band-meets-Bangers and Mash-sound, there are seriously some tracks that verge on a Flight Of The Conchords-type MIDI ridiculousness.

Take the instrumental break of opener “Out of the Pictures,” shrieking like a baboon in punctured frenetic beats. Or “Shake A Fist,” featuring a sly Texan’s description of the sounds that can be made in the studio. (Apparently, sonic robots that probably induce seizures.) “Bendable Poseable” takes a ragga reggeton beat with a DJ that oscillates between a falsetto Brit accent, and a faux-rastafarian, repeating the phrases “Bendable/ Poseable,” “wanna knee slide up and down,” and simply, “time delay—time delay,” as bass lines loop around like lazy skipping ropes.

But in Hot Chip’s frantic, text-message-like, jangle of beats, there’s sweetness in their slow-jamz. “One Pure Thought,” “Whistle For Will,” and “We’re Looking For A Lot Of Love” have a modernism that can only be articulated in Phillip Glass keyboards, choruses of “oohs and ahhs,” and spindly backing vocals, barely textured into the mix. On these tracks the lead singer will often adopt a bruised female perspective—an awesome rock n’ roll technique that hasn’t been copped since Whitetown’s “Your Woman.” This record knows its references, including Living Color metal heroics, and glittery-rock pleas for lost love (“Made in the Dark”). Not to mention my favorite irono-lyric, playing up the relation between half—and Willie—nelsons (“Wrestlers”), as wind chimes and U2-single guitars collide in the sweltering blaze.

There are some musicians who are worried that laptop wielders are becoming the new rock stars. Hot Chip takes it one step further: they don’t even want to be at the same parties. Not that they’re invited.

—Chandler Levack

Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree (Mute)

Goldfrapp’s latest album of whimsical melodies opens with a lilting, acoustic criticism of breast implants, an unexpected subject in a song titled “Clowns,” but naturally, the London duo pull it off. As usual, Goldfrapp’s sensual electronic sounds caress the listener with seductively ethereal sounds and lyrics that run from simple to poetic, to socially conscious to just plain pretty. Perhaps a little too pretty—the sound of this CD is soft and airy throughout, with little if any variation, lacking the intensity of some of Goldfrapp’s previous recordings. But if Alison Goldfrapp (vocals) and Will Gregory (synths) can be criticized for a lack of tonal variation, they’re congratulated for their consistency—at moments, Seventh Tree feels less like a collection, and more like a single song punctuated with pauses, and the occasional tease at a strong beat or change in pace. An excellent album for a romantic evening, or the world’s most relaxed intellectual party, but little to fi nd yourself humming afterwards.

—Rae Matthews

 

Climbing Black Mountain

In a world of technological blips and computer-manipulated voices, Black Mountain just seems to want to go back. The Vancouver quintet gained notoriety for their 2005 self-titled debut, as part of the 21st-century prog movement that eulogized an era when the smoke was thick and the tracks were heavy. But rather than stare at the past, Black Mountain always looks forward.

Flash forward to the release of their sophomore LP, appropriately titled In The Future. Full of dense grooves and keyboard solos, it harkens back to the glory days of King Crimson and Rush. But keyboardist Jeremy Schmitd maintains that Black Mountain has more than one sound.

“[In the Future] builds on what we established with Black Mountain,” he says, “but it doesn’t stick to any one genre. We have denser arrangements, and the songs are more fleshed out.”

Schmitd is wary of the post-prog label. “I like the tenets of prog rock that were established in the ’70s,” he admits. “I like the wealth of ideas going on then—stretching out the length of songs, divided into more than just verse and chorus.” Still, Schmitd is uncomfortable being grouped in the same genre as other prog-influenced groups like Tool and The Porcupine Tree. “I don’t like contemporary prog rock,” he says. “A lot of bands that have taken on the prog torch are into the virtuosity of it, the busy playing. We aren’t inclined that way.”

The diversity on In The Future proves Schmitd’s point. While the initially murky “Tyrants” is as prog as it gets, vocalists Steve McBean and Amber Webber jerk up the intensity with battled vocals. The stripped down “Stay Free” appeared on the Spiderman 3 soundtrack. Back in 2005, the band was selected by Chris Martin to open for Coldplay.

“We felt a bit out of our element,” Schmitd admits. “It was fun, but it wasn’t our world.” These days, Black Mountain is comfortable playing smaller gigs for an active audience. Their live shows have garnered widespread acclaim, and the band always makes sure to enjoy themselves. “There’s enthusiastic crowds at all our shows,” Schmitd says.

Yet despite their onstage energy, Schmitd claims that overpowering the audience with wicked solos was never their goal. “We never set out to be a heavy rock band,” he confesses. “I think of us as more ambient, with melodic moments strewn through. Heavy music doesn’t always have to be muscular.”

The diversity of the band’s musical taste has also influenced their unclassifiable sound. Schmidt, a fan of everything from Pink Floyd to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood duets, tries not to get boxed in by genre.

“There’s a wide range of musical influence among the five or us that gets filtered into the mix,” he says. “I do like a lot of old prog and psych stuff, but sometimes I want to hear some disco or Sun Ra.” As for current artists, he cites chanteuse El Perro Del Mar, and new wave kids MGMT.

And while Schmitd and his bandmates are flattered by comparisons to legends like Yes, they try not to take it seriously. “We could never be as technically skilled as Yes,” Schmidt admits. “We’re more like No.’”

Whatever they are, critics are eating In the Future up with a spoon. The hype for tracks such as the almost 17-minute-long “Bright Lights,” led to a rush for tickets to their soldout March 5 gig at Lee’s Palace. Next up, the band will continue their tour across Canada with folkies Bon Iver. While they are on their way to rock stardom, Schmidt admits that they are still a bunch of music fans who travel in a van and get excited about highway deer sightings.

If the cost of their buzz has them on the road for a while, Schmidt isn’t complaining. “It can be arduous, moving around a lot,” he admits. “But I’d rather be doing this than working behind a counter.”

Hot Ironside strikes Blues

The Varsity Blues took home the silver medal at Varsity Arena as the powerhouse Laurier Golden Hawks defeated the home team 1-0 in the OUA women’s hockey championship. The Hawks, losers of only two regular season games, needed two games to clinch the title in the best-of-three series, beating the Blues 2-1 in overtime in the opening game. Third-year forward Andrea Ironside was the hero for the Hawks, netting both game-winning goals en route to Laurier’s fifth consecutive women’s hockey title.

No one should be surprised to see these two teams in the final. They finished 1-2 in the regular season standings and went undefeated in the playoffs until the championship. “We’ve had lots of U of T-Laurier finals,” said Blues head coach Karen Hughes. Both squads boast potent offence, tied for a league-high 3.59 goals per game, while allowing very few goals thanks to strong defence and goaltending. A combined total of four first and second team all-stars were dressed for the final.

OUA first team all-star goaltender Stephanie Lockert had another outstanding game for the Blues in the final tilt, and faced almost twice as many shots as her Laurier counterpart, second team all-star Liz Knox. The only goal came in the second period when a Toronto defender blocked a shot by OUA player of the year Lauren Barch and Ironside picked up the loose puck, firing a high shot past Lockert.

The Hawks carried the play for most of the game, allowing few scoring opportunities. It didn’t help that the Blues were handed almost twice as many penalties, which Hughes felt was a trend in home games. “We get all the penalties here,” she says. Toronto did not allow a power-play goal in eight times shorthanded, but it’s still difficult not to be hurt with so much time spent in the penalty box. Forward Annie Del Guidice had a few breaks, but there were no other Blues players to pick up the rebounds. Rookie Amanda Fawns set up some scoring chances but the Blues couldn’t bury them. The team’s best opportunity came late in the third period, when the puck squeezed through Knox’s legs and dribbled towards the goalline, but the Hawks’ defence scooped it away.

Laurier was able to stifle Blues offence in both games, allowing only one goal in the series. “They’re pretty aggressive and physical so that worked well for them,” said coach Hughes about the Hawks’ ability to shut down her team.

While an enthusiastic crowd equipped with noisemakers made for an exciting atmosphere in the final game, Hughes was disappointed in the behaviour of a few rowdy Laurier fans who taunted Toronto’s players from behind the bench. “That’s pretty bad sportsmanship,” she said. “It’s unfortunate to have that in a university game.”

In game one, played at Laurier, Brenley Jorgensen opened the scoring for the Blues in the second period from Laura Foster and Emily Patry, but Kaley Powers evened things up in the third period. Ironside potted the overtime winner 2:16 into the extra frame, assisted by Barch and defenceman Kate Psota. The shots were nearly even in periods one and three, as each team registered only one shot in overtime, but Laurier outshot Toronto 13-6 in the second and held a 34-14 edge overall.

While the Blues would have liked to claim the top prize, their season has still been a success. “[It was] a good season as a whole, so I think there’s nothing to be ashamed of. We did well,” said the coach, who also had praise for Lockert, graduating forwards Laura Foster and Emily Patry, and rookies Lindsay Hill, Karolina Urban and allrookie team defenceman Kelly Setter. It was also a good year for Janine Davies, who won the OUA scoring title. “It’s great for Janine Davies to win the scoring. We haven’t won the scoring in years,” said Hughes.

Lockert, who played her final game on Friday, also had a positive assessment of the season. “As a whole, what you want in a season is to peak at the right time, and I think we did… We were always making progression,” she said. “I thought we let [game one] slip away, but I went home and I thought about what I wanted to end my career on, and that was a good game as a team. We struggled putting a team game together in our game one, but we accomplished that today,” she added.

Next year’s edition of the Varsity Blues won’t look a lot like this year’s team, since a number of the team’s core players are graduating. Coach Hughes is hoping that younger players who showed improvement this year will be able to continue to progress next season. “The younger girls are going to carry the team,” said Lockert.

Stop the presses?

McGill university has forced its student newspaper, the McGill Daily, to defend its existence, asking students whether they want to continue supporting the paper financially. The Daily and its French-language counterpart the Délit receive a student levy that accounts for roughly 56 per cent of their funding. Though the levy has existed for years, the university’s board of governors is enforcing a three-year-old decision that all such student fees need to be “reaffirmed” by the student body. If students vote not to continue paying the $5, the school will scrap it.

“The Daily is independent of Mc- Gill as a corporate body and independent of McGill’s administration, faculty, and staff, but it is not independent of the students,” said Morton Mendelson, the school’s deputy provost of student life and learning.

The Daily operates independently of McGill, under the terms of a fiveyear memorandum of understanding, which is set to expire June 1. Other independent, levy-supported groups at McGill include the Quebec Public Interest Research Group and campus radio station CKUT. Only these institutions are being required to reaffirm their levies.

“McGill will renew [our agreement] with a campus-wide student activity only if students indicate that they want the group to continue and that they are willing to continue paying for the service,” said Mendelson.

“If students really have a problem with the newspaper, there are [mechanisms] in place that allow them to bring this to referendum. It’s a little presumptuous and petty of McGill to force this to happen,” Drew Nelles, the Daily’s coordinating editor, told the Montreal Gazette.

The Daily’s demise is by no means immanent, as the paper has widespread support throughout the Mc- Gill community.

First-year biology student Aaron Esterson said he can’t imagine life without the Daily. “I’ve read just about every issue since September,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere though.”

Mendelson agreed, telling the Montreal Gazette he “couldn’t imagine students would not affirm their interest in maintaining the Daily.”

Event listings for week of March 3

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ON-CAMPUS

ART NIGHT AT ST. MICHAEL’S COLLEGE

Celebrate the U of T arts festival by channeling your inner Picasso.

MARKETS: FROM THE BAZAAR TO EBAY

Symposium sponsored by the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies.

ENVIRONMENTAL CAREER DAY

Interactive cooking demonstrating with practical tips.

REEL CHANGE: INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S WEEK

Free film screenings all week long!

WISE: LIFE AFTER GRADUATION FOR ENGINEERS

Learn from leaders about how to find your career path.

MOSAIC RE-BOURNE MULTICULTURAL SHOW

Music, dance, and food from around the world, presented by New College.

  • Sat. March 8, 7pm. Free!

  • William Doo Auditorium (45 Willcocks Ave.)

  • ncrc@utoronto.ca

DYLAN MURRAY CONCERT

Soulful reggae with a relaxed, positive spirit.

ATOM EGOYAN LECTURE

Renowned filmmaker launches the U of T Festival of the Arts.

  • Tues. March 4, 7-10pm. Free (tickets required).

  • Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles St.)

  • www.uofttix.ca

FREE FRIDAY FILMS: CASINO

1995 Scorsese masterpiece about mobsters and greed.

OFF CAMPUS

CANADIAN MUSIC WEEK

Over 500 Canadian bands in 4 nights. Can you do it?

GROWNUPS READ THINGS THEY WROTE AS KIDS

Silly readings in front of complete strangers.

THE GUERILLA GIRLS AT RYERSON

Guerilla artists promoting women and people of colour.