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In conversation with MSTRKRFT

The EDM duo dishes on their latest album, Operator

In conversation with MSTRKRFT

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]STRKRFT is an electronic duo consisting of Toronto locals Jesse F. Keeler and Alex Puodziukas, better known by their monikers JFK and Al-P. Their iconic use of modular synthesisers and the Roland 909 drum machine has allowed them to produce several mainstay hits, such as “Heartbreaker,” released in 2009.

Since then, the pair have capitalized on the electro house genre stemming from the late 2000s. They have maintained their cult presence within the music industry and will release their forthcoming album Operator on July 22.

Few independent artists have the financial means to produce a record without the financial support of labels. The recording industry is a ludicrous business, and creative expression is reliant on budgets. For this reason, JFK and Al-P of MSTRKRFT funded the entirety of Operator through means of their own. 

“We were more concerned with making a record that we felt strongly about, that we wanted to listen to ourselves. I mean, between me and Jesse, we’re aware of what’s going on around us, and I guess maybe the stylistic direction that Operator took was just filling a gap of what we wanted to hear, but we weren’t hearing. Ultimately, the record was something we wanted to make for our own enjoyment.”

According to Al-P, “this record specifically, it had a self-imposed production schedule, and we financed it ourselves. While we were making it, we didn’t have to answer to anybody. That’s part of the reason why it took as long as it did, but I don’t regret it. We made the record before we had a record deal. We weren’t sure where it was going to end up. It allowed us to focus on the record itself, and not worry about responding to emails, wondering where the record was.”

The pair used a naturalized recording process throughout the production of the record. Traditionally, recording is done by tracking each instrument independently according to the predetermined arrangement of the composition. This leaves the majority of a track’s construction to digital production techniques, by way of editing and mixing. While it does allow for more experimentation and modification in the name of perfection, this mode is far less organic than live performances.

Each synthesiser in the duo’s arrangements fed audio into a mixer, which together created what listeners will hear on the record. “We needed to do that — that’s part of what kept us from making any records in the last couple of years. We were trying to figure out the best way to work. The thing we missed so much was playing instruments, and wanting to figure out how all these tools to make this music could really be instruments to play… This was the perfect way for us to work. Ever since we got into this mode, our output is just ridiculous. We just keep working.”

Working with a record label does not necessarily impose as many limitations as independent artists often imply. According to Al-P of MSTRKRFT, “it’s dramatic how much they can accomplish for you.” Record labels provide more than just the means to produce an album. Often, administrative tools that are lent to emerging talent can facilitate international recognition.

At the end of the day, Jesse reminds young artists that when it comes to the label system, “You don’t need it, really — ultimately those people will come find you anyway. We started a long time ago, and just ended up in the label system early on. Once you get in it, it’s hard to work away from it.”

In review: Luminato’s Unsound

Sonic abstraction and hallucinatory effects comprise this year's Unsound

In review: Luminato’s Unsound

[dropcap]U[/dropcap]nsound is an amorphous, genre-spanning festival that fractures the idea of what belongs inside a club.

While only in its second year in Toronto, Unsound began in 2003 in Krakow, Poland and has become an annual event. The festival marks an emerging sensibility in Toronto’s musical community. Sponsored by Luminato Festival, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, Unsound took place at the Hearn Generating Plant, June 10-11.

The various visual installations that were featured throughout the power plant sought to esteem the event beyond being a space where debauchery and delirium are encouraged.Interactive audiovisual accompaniments were paired with several performances to create a conceptual experience.

The fusion of technology and sound manufactured a multi-sensory environment for audience members. Several artists, including Roly Porter, presented strobe lights that produced borderline hallucinatory effects. During the pair’s performance, audience members were asked to close their eyes in order to “hear with them” — the intention being to hear with your eyes rather than ears.

Their strobe lights were almost blinding, deliberately so, in order to facilitate a “light show beneath the lids.” Later in the night, Evian Christ closed the main stage’s set. He paired his laser light show with fog machines to obscure audience members, and provide a more solitary environment in which audience members could experience club music.

The industrial setting augmented the nostalgic and authentic revival of rave culture. Despite being housed in a generating plant, abstract forms of electronic music, such as Tim Hecker’s noise, were tolerated by an audience whose palates have been limited to more conventional soundscapes.

Genres that were heard were not exclusively limited to sonic abstraction — rather, in the side room, audience members were invited to watch as Olivia Ungaro and Aurora Halal, among others, performed sets rooted in techno. That said, even these artists used technical finesse to deconstruct canonic genres, and manipulated their qualifying parameters into new forms. Aurora Halal produced a live demonstration of how analog performance can yield the same perfection as a digitally produced track.

The artists on the lineup ensured that the sounds heard payed homage to the traditions of their respective genres, while paving a path for the future of the clubbing experience.

Toronto is small enough as a music city to be monopolized by management and public representation brands. These brands not only own their talent, but own the spaces in which their talent will perform. The monoculture that emerges from this hinders the growth of more experimental ecologies of genres that could flourish in a metropolis like ours. Unsound is a step against this monoculture, and a step in the right direction.

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Breaking through barriers

The Breakthrough Film Festival showcases films made by women, for everyone

Breaking through barriers

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hy do female filmmakers make up only nine per cent of directors in 2015’s 250 highest grossing films? Because the film world is “comprised of 91 per cent men,” quips Maya Annik from The Gaze podcast. Breakthroughs Film Festival, Canada’s only festival dedicated to showcasing short films by new-generation female filmmakers, seeks to address this disparity. Its fifth annual festival, which ran June 10–11 at the Royal Cinema on College Street, featured 17 films from nine countries, including Canada.

“We’re trying to get far more of a balance compared to what has already existed,” says Gabor Pertic, Breakthroughs’ executive director and longtime programmer for TIFF and Hot Docs. “And it’s not only about saying, ‘hey everyone, here are a bunch of young female filmmakers and here are their films,’ but, ‘here is the world, this is what the world’s stories are, this is what these young emerging talents are able to showcase, and we can all benefit from that.’”

The first night of the festival started with the premiere of Stalingrado, a drama set in the beautiful countryside of northwestern Spain. Director Anyora Sanchez brings together an unlikely cast of characters — a rugged Spanish shepherd, an elegant Russian woman with whom he is in love, and his mother — to explore, with tender humour and sincerity, the challenges of a relationship that threatens cultural norms.

Emilie Mannering’s Star takes an honest look at Canadian culture’s pervasive hypermasculinity through the eyes of teenage boys living in Montreal. The film opens with a selfie video using Snapchat or Vine, and its shakiness draws the audience right into the heart of their hectic world. Here, they watch street fights online, write rap music, and struggle to find ways to connect with their peers or stand up for their beliefs. It’s a captivating portrait, right up to its haunting end.  

Childhood visits to Pakistan inspired Canadian filmmaker and photographer Zinnia Naqvi to return to her family’s roots and make a film out of a pre-existing photography project. Seaview is a visually striking exploration of identity, cultural differences, and artistic integrity.  

2016 Breakthroughs Jury Prize winner Edmond ended the evening on a reflective note. The animated short, written and directed by Nina Gantz, follows a young man embarking on a retrospective journey at a critical point in his life. The childlike spirit evoked by puppetry contrasts the bizarre, often troubling behaviours Edmond relives as he ponders his current desires. Gantz’s creative scene transitions lend the work a surreal tone.

Saturday night featured two other award-winners: Sunday Lunch, by French filmmaker Céline Devaux, won the Audience Choice Award for its portrayal of “a lunchtime gathering with family, complete with generational dysfunction and plenty of wine,” while Ryerson film studies graduate Jasmin Mozaffari received Jury’s Honourable Mention for Wave, which follows a man who has experienced a great loss and finds himself “struggling with his personal demons and anguish while having to maintain responsibilities he may not be ready to take on.”

The quality of Breakthroughs’ films shows that the lack of female representation in the film industry is not due to a lack of talent. On having a film festival devoted to women filmmakers, Zinnia Naqvi says, “It’s nice to have this platform; to be together and have that community.”

Scarborough transit plan costs soar by over $1 billion

Tory remains committed to plans that include LRT to UTSC

Scarborough transit plan costs soar by over $1 billion

Improved transit options for Scarborough will come at a higher price than initially anticipated, according to new information revealed by city staff.

New estimates released to the City of Toronto Executive Committee earlier this week show that the cost to build the one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth Line to Scarborough Town Centre will be nearly 50 per cent higher than previously estimated, rising from $2 billion to $2.9 billion. Additional plans to construct a 17-stop LRT line along Eglinton Avenue that would serve the UTSC campus are also projected to increase in cost, from $1 billion to $1.6 billion.

A more in-depth analysis of the outlined construction zones revealed that the Scarborough subway extension will necessitate deeper tunneling in some spaces as well as additional concrete to account for the higher water table in the surrounding areas. This would take the total project costs to nearly $1 billion beyond the initial $3.56 billion budget allocated for Scarborough transit development options in earlier discussions in 2013.

Despite the increased costs, Mayor John Tory reiterated his support for both projects in a press conference on June 17, speaking of his commitment to the transit plans in Scarborough, where he said there has been “chronic underinvestment in public transportation.”

“I am committed to building this subway extension and the LRT extension along Eglinton and Kingston Road in a cost-efficient, expedient, and responsible manner,” he told reporters. “We should have expended extended the Bloor-Danforth subway line 10 years ago.”

It remains to be seen how the project will be funded. While Tory insisted that he would liaise with third-party transit experts to cut overall costs as effectively as possible, the estimated funding gap of nearly $1 billion has led to a number of city councilors voicing concerns about the feasibility of the chosen transit extension plans.

Noting practical and financial restraints, some believe that the City should choose to focus on a single transit project rather than both either subway extension plans, developing LRT or other express transit options. 

André Sorensen, associate professor of Urban Geography at UTSC, spoke to The Varsity and weighed in on the issue. “There is a clear logic to extending the subway to Scarborough Town Centre both in terms of the larger transit network, and in terms of development potential at Scarborough Town Centre,” he said. 

“But if we take into consideration a constrained budget, it is clear that spending a similar amount building an LRT network in Scarborough will have a much bigger positive impact. Our research showed that LRT would serve more people, create access to more jobs, and will open up more development opportunities than the proposed subway to Scarborough Town Centre.”

The city council is expected to vote on the final subway alignment at a meeting in July. 

Alert issued by police after diseased coyote spotted in the UTSC area

Police request public to call animal services upon seeing coyote

Toronto Police are warning the public about a sick coyote that was seen near UTSC.

According to a Toronto Police report released on Wednesday, the coyote was last seen on Tuesday around Military Trail and Morningside avenue.

The coyote appears to be suffering from a skin condition called mange, which is transmissible to humans. Symptoms include severe itchiness causing hair loss and scabs. The coyote also appears to have an injury to the left shoulder area.

In light of public safety, police are requesting the public to call Animal Services upon any spotting of the coyote, and to avoid approaching the animal.