A night out with the Arctic Monkeys

@ the Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?

A night out with the Arctic Monkeys

Going to your first alternative rock concert is a life changing experience you won’t regret. Going to an Arctic Monkeys concert, however, is an experience that cannot be put into words, or even an Instagram story.

On August 5, I went to the Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Tour at Scotiabank Arena. It was a concert that brought fans back to the band’s early days, while also combining new elements to showcase their new aesthetic.

After four very long years, the beloved English indie rock band made their awaited return to Toronto following the release of their new album.

You’ve probably heard of the British indie rock band through a mutual friend or at least recognize their AM album cover in an old blog post. I fell in love with the Arctic Monkeys as an angsty 16-year-old, after an old boyfriend introduced me to their third album, Suck it and See.

I recall replaying “Piledriver Waltz” for days and obsessing over the band on artsy Tumblr blogs. Three years later, I am still in love with the band and relive those days every time I hit ‘replay.’ Their ‘70s punk rock influences, compelling charm, and poetic lyrics seem to still resonate with indie music fans after all these years.

I stood in the second row of the arena floor in awe of the epitome of cool that was frontman, Alex Turner. At the same time, I tried my very best not to fall into the growing mosh pit as lead guitarist, Jamie Cook, played the opening riff of “505.”

The group had returned from a hiatus in 2014 after their AM tour, which followed the release of their fifth studio album of the same name. During that time, members pursued individual projects.

Alex Turner worked with the group, The Last Shadow Puppets, releasing an album in 2016, and also with the LA indie pop band, Mini Mansions, who opened the Monkeys’ Toronto concert. The group played hits from their 2015 album, The Great Pretenders, opening the concert with “Freakout!” and “Creeps,” a melancholic indie pop tune of a former romance.

 The Monkeys took the stage at roughly 9:00 pm, opening with “Four out of Five,” the sixth single in Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Of the songs included in the setlist, only five were taken from the band’s latest album.

While the band tried to change their music style to the likes of artists such as David Bowie and indie folk-rock artist, Father John Misty, it was a risky move. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino received many polarising reviews from fans, commenting on the band’s experimentation of lounge and psychedelic pop and use of ‘70s style synthesizers rather than the prominent guitar riffs, a staple to the band’s unique sound and image.

Much of the songs in the tour’s setlist were older fan-favourites from albums including AM (2013), Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007), Humbug (2009), and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006).

The hardcore guitar riffs of songs such as “Brianstorm” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” combined with the flashing lights and fog made for a great performance reminiscent of the band’s earlier days as an alternative rock band in the mid 2000’s.

Turner sported a new buzzed cut, saying goodbye to his signature coiff. Alternating between lead guitar and keyboard, Turner’s stage presence added to the band’s ‘cool factor’ and edgy aesthetic.

After 10 minutes of the concert’s supposed end, the Monkeys returned to the stage for an encore performance following the audience’s never-ending cheers. The group performed “Star Treatment”, “Snap out of it,” and finished with “R U Mine?”, an alternative rock-pop song of unrequited love and obscurity in a budding relationship.

After a packed house and a ‘lovely’ subway ride home, I’d like to say I learned to look good on the dance floor, without falling into the drunken mess that is the mosh pit. The Arctic Monkeys proved to be a unique experience and the ultracool, indie vibe of their concerts are indescribable in any way.

In conversation with Gabrielle Aplin

Toronto was the first stop on the British musician’s 2018 North American tour

In conversation with Gabrielle Aplin

The lineup for Gabrielle Aplin’s concert at the Velvet Underground wrapped around the block, while a second line of fans clambered for last-minute tickets to her sold-out performance. Last Wednesday’s show was the first stop on Aplin’s 2018 North American tour, also featuring John Splithoff and Hudson Taylor.

Aplin first gained popularity by posting videos to YouTube in the early 2010s. Since then, she has topped the charts at home in the UK with multiple hit singles and has toured internationally. Most recently, Aplin released her AVALON EP. A third album is in the works, which she hopes to release later this year. 

The Varsity caught up with Aplin before her show for a quick Q&A.

Aplin met up with The Varsity at Early Bird Coffee & Kitchen for a quick pre-show interview. GRACE MANALILI/THE VARSITY

The Varsity: How do you like Toronto?

Gabrielle Aplin: I love Toronto. I feel like I need to do more Canada as well. I only ever come to Toronto, and it’s only ever been when I’ve been going to the States. I would love to come back and just do Canada in isolation… The people are so cool. I’m from Brighton, and it’s really kind of independent and cool and quite a multicultural quirky place, and really creative. I feel like there are a lot of similarities between the two places.

TV: You sold out here!

GA: Yeah, this is the second time I’ve played here. The last time I played here, it was my first time here and my first show here. I was really nervous, actually, and the crowd was amazing. Usually I get really nervous, but I’m pretty excited for tonight.

TV: I saw that Hudson Taylor is touring with you. I thought that was very exciting because I remember back when you guys were in the YouTube days, and it was the whole group of you just jamming together. How does having that background, with an entire group of friends of musicians, affect your songwriting?

GA: I don’t know if it would have impacted my songwriting because that is kind of an insular thing, though I feel like it’s made us all great musicians and it’s made us learn how to play with people on the fly, and that’s what is really fun. I think it’s just really nice to have a musical community as well, groups of artists doing things together.

It’s something that happened for a bit in the ’60s and ’70s, and it kind of went away in the ’80s and ’90s most recently. And now, it’s kind of happening again — these clumps of musicians bringing each other up.

TV: Something I find very interesting about your songs is that you always capture the grey in relationships — like in “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” or even “Hurt.” It is a very different kind of relationship that you cover, and I think people can connect to that. What inspires your songs like that?

GA: Yeah! I’m just really nosy. I go into my friends’ relationships and write about them because I’m pretty solid and comfortable. I never really have anything crazy going on, so I really draw from my friends.

TV: I read in a past interview where you talked about how you like the other parts of your business, not just the music part. I have noticed that your music videos have gotten increasingly high in production quality. Could you talk more about your vision for your music videos?

GA: I love all the things that come along with a project. In a campaign, I think it is really important to have music but also the artwork for the music. When you look at it you have to know what the artwork is for it to be cohesive. I love it. I really get involved in my artwork — even my press photos and my press releases. Especially with the videos, they never got more expensive. They’ve actually gotten cheaper.

I guess I got more comfortable with experimenting and trying to put a different spin on things as opposed to just literally making a narrative that goes with the song. I try and do something fun. I love to play with colour and fashion and eras as well.

TV: Can you name a time or anything specific that inspired this change? The second “Home” video is very different from the first, and “Miss You” is very different from that.

GA: The first “Home” video, I was kind of making it on my own. Me and my friends, we did it for 50 quid. It was, ‘What can we do for £50?’ That is amazing. It doesn’t look like it was done for £50.

I think those funding limitations can actually push your boundaries to create an idea. Even “Miss You,” for example. I really like Wes Anderson, his less recent films, his analogue camera tricks, things he uses to create these weird distortions. I love doing that and using analogue things like prisms to put in front of my lenses to create something dreamy. I really like it being really DIY.

TV: It doesn’t look DIY at all!

GA: It’s really DIY; it’s just a really high res camera!

TV: You were a YouTube star and you broke into the mainstream. Do you find that things are a bit different, being someone who came from YouTube?

GA: No, not necessarily. I think I didn’t make it my only thing. Maybe. As much as I love it as a platform, I didn’t want to be a YouTube artist, I wanted to be a commercial artist. So as well as YouTube, I was using MySpace when it was still happening, just the tail end.

In the UK, we have BBC Introducing and they are amazing, so I used BBC resources for younger artists. They’ll get you playing at big festivals like Glastonbury on their stage, they will get you on their radio station — it was definitely a collaboration of all those things really. I don’t feel like [YouTube] pigeonholed me, and it allowed me to have success outside of it. I never lost opportunities.

TV: What do you think you did differently from people who did get stuck on YouTube?

GA: If that is what they want to be, then great! That’s amazing. I think for me, I never intended to be a YouTube artist. I put some videos up, before there were loads of YouTube artists that I was aware of, just thinking that I was going to share some videos because I didn’t have a way to record them just audio-wise. Otherwise, I would have tried to make them look a bit more professional; I didn’t try to be famous on YouTube.

TV: Following off the tangent of YouTube, now you have Instagram, Twitter — how has audience engagement changed for you?

GA: I think it has gotten a lot more quick, actually. The internet is just so fast. I think Twitter is amazing; it’s instant reaction and connection, and I think it is really important to say thank you to the people that are listening to and buying your music. I feel like Facebook has kind of tailed off a little bit. It’s become harder for artists to reach out to fans on Facebook because there are things like, you have to pay to reach your fans, even though they follow you. It’s made it less genuine in that sense.

TV: One last question. As a woman in music, have you found that more difficult?

GA: I like to think I’ve never been not given an opportunity just because I am female, but I don’t know if that is because it’s been hidden from me or not. I always have a great time. I work with lots of older men who I’ve gotten on with, who don’t talk to me like I’m a young girl — they talk to me like I’m the same as them, and that is great. I know that isn’t the case for everybody.

I would say I’ve worked with at least 40 or 50 writers and producers, and two of them have been female, in my whole time I’ve been doing this. So I definitely think there is a disproportion between male and female producers or writers, but I don’t think that’s because there are less of them; I just don’t think that they’re getting the opportunities that men are, maybe.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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The real ticket masters

Ticket bots are banned in Ontario, and sellers have upgraded their technology to fend them off ­— but is this enough to win the arms race against the software?

The real ticket masters

I was literally refreshing my page from 9:58 to 10:01,” wrote user AdmiralRR on the U of T subreddit. “Still didn’t get a spot.”

Dozens of similar complaints cascaded on Reddit after tickets to Bernie Sanders’ October 29, 2017 health care talk at Convocation Hall sold out within seconds.

AdmiralRR speculated as to why the tickets were gone so quickly, pointing fingers: “Too many bots,” they wrote. “The eventbrite site has no anti-bot systems. For all we know, one guy could have gotten all of the tickets and might end up selling them.” Another user promptly debunked this notion: “They can’t resell them. They’re using the system to simply register names. If you don’t have ID that matches the name of the person who booked the tickets, you can’t get in.”

Whether or not ticket bots — software that can quickly acquire large amounts of tickets online, most of which are usually later resold at a price significantly above face value — had a role in the Bernie Sanders event, the topic itself has received much attention over the last few months. On December 13, 2017, the Ticket Sales Act was passed in Ontario. The act formally banned ticket bots and implemented secondary measures to reduce reselling incentives. Additionally, Ticketmaster has made significant upgrades to its technology to fend off the bots. Will these measures really be enough to win the arms race against ticket bots?

21st century scalping

Scalping has always existed in some shape or form since ticketing has existed. However, it has reached new dimensions with the shift to selling tickets online. Experts estimate that the global scalping industry is currently worth $8 billion.

It’s hard to believe this revenue was generated by scalpers sitting by their computers and buying their tickets one at a time. Rather, bots are snapping up huge amounts of tickets online by filling in the seller’s dropdown prompts in mere milliseconds. Many of these bots use a software called Optical Character Recognition — which is designed to recognize and input numbers and characters as a human does — to bypass CAPTCHA. CAPTCHA is the distorted text users must decode when purchasing tickets to verify that they are human.

However, a lot of ticket bots’ success comes from the grunt work that is completed before the software is written. Many scalpers study the underlying architecture of the Ticketmaster website, research presale passwords, or enrol in presale-specific credit cards.

This effort is rewarded by an ever-growing demand for tickets and resellers themselves. According to a recent CBC News article, StubHub, a ticket reselling website, offers attractive benefits to high-volume resellers, including “reducing its 10 per cent cut on each ticket sold” and providing “special software to upload and manage” large inventories of tickets.

Given the inherent unfair nature of ticket bots, what is being done to undermine these efforts?

JULIEN BALBONTIN/THE VARSITY

Stop the bots, stop the resellers

Legal officials in Ontario have taken steps they believe will curtail the use of ticket bots, the most significant of which has been the Ticket Sales Act. The legislation caps resale prices at no more than 50 per cent above the original price. Essentially, the act seeks to not only outlaw ticket bots but to remove the incentive to use them in the first place. It also forces sellers to disclose the maximum event capacity, the distribution method of the tickets, and surcharges up front. Violators of this law could face jail sentences of up to two years and fines as high as $250,000 for corporations or $50,000 for individuals, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of the Attorney General.

The Ticket Sales Act was originally announced by Attorney General Yasir Naqvi in June 2017 in response to The Tragically Hip’s farewell hometown concert in Kingston selling out in minutes. Two thirds of the fans turned to online scalpers to get tickets, with fans paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a ticket originally priced at $50. It is estimated that resellers made between $25 million and $30 million in markups on the final tour of the iconic Canadian band.

The spokesperson from the Ministry of the Attorney General said that the proposed change seeks to give fans a “fair shot” at getting their preferred tickets and that the resale cap of 50 per cent, although meant to disincentivize resellers, doesn’t seek to “eliminate the resale market altogether.”

On the other hand, criticism has not been sparse regarding the legislation. In a recent CBC News article, Steve Tissenbaum, a mobile commerce professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, expressed concern regarding the legislation’s inability to address scalpers who may be operating outside of Ontario and hiding their identities using proxy IP addresses. Progressive Conservative MPP Jim McDonell, a critic for Government and Consumer Services, called the act “a band-aid solution at best.”

Critics of the legislation also believe the cap on resale prices is problematic. “If you don’t provide a platform for people to sell for more, they’ll simply go to underground sites, because there will still be a demand… there’s never going to be enough tickets,” said Catherine Moore, an adjunct professor of Music Technology & Digital Media at U of T.

StubHub echoed Moore’s sentiments; in a recent Global News article, Laura Dooley, the company’s Senior Manager of Government Affairs, stated that the cap would “expose fans to higher instances of fraud” as fans go underground, where there is “non-existent customer service.”

Broadly, Canadians are unsure if the government should control ticket bots. A recent poll published by the Angus Reid Institute illustrated that, although eight in 10 Canadians supported making ticket bots illegal, they were split down the middle on whether changing the ticket marketplace should be the responsibility of the government or the industry.

If half of Canadians feel that the ticket bots should be handled by the industry, what have they done so far to reduce ticket bot attacks? It seems that there isn’t an industry standard: each seller has their own defence plan.

Eventbrite uses an “algorithmic approach” that consists of weeding out scalpers in three stages: before the purchase is finalized, within a few minutes of completion of purchase before the tickets sell out, and after all tickets are sold, conducting a “paper scrape” in the days that follow.

Ticketmaster, in contrast, uses a wider range of techniques to stop ticket bots. According to a spokesperson from the company, these techniques include IP blocking; behavioural identification, which is when nefarious users are blocked; paperless ticketing, which requires fans to present the credit card and photo ID to gain access to the event; and “over the limit” sweeps, cancelling orders of persons “who exceed ticket limits imposed by a venue or artist/event management.”

Scalpers have easily circumvented the latter two methods. In an interview with Vice, legendary scalper Ken Lowson stated that with multiple credit cards and multiple addresses — thus appearing to be several different people — a careful scalper can easily beat the over the limit sweeps. Paperless ticketing is also not an issue according to Lowson. Wiseguy, the scalping company run by Lowson before his arrest for wire fraud charges in 2010, would request its wholesalers to ask their clients for their credit card numbers, before entering the credit card numbers when paying, just like any other client.

But Ticketmaster is evolving. Most recently, the company launched the Verified Fan program, where ticket buyers are screened to confirm their authenticity as fans of the artist prior to getting first dibs on tickets. In the case of ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s most recent tour, which used a version of the Verified Fan program, fans were measured as authentic by their participation in ‘boosting’ activities such as buying her new album, watching videos, and sharing links on social media. Nonetheless, given the sophistication of many scalpers, fans who spend a considerable amount of time boosting Swift may not even get tickets.

In addition, there is also “dynamic pricing,” where ticket prices are not set but fluctuate according to demand. This was the approach used in ticket sales for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, which was successful in reducing the price of tickets on reselling sites. However, doubt has been expressed as to whether this measure will translate into more tickets for the average fan. “[Ticketmaster] will simply BECOME the scalper, eliminating [the resellers] from the mix,” wrote Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor on the band’s messaging board.

Show me the tickets

If the most recent measures taken by the ticketing industry seem to favour sellers and artists and in some cases make it easy for resellers to circumvent them, then is the industry really looking out for the fans? Dean Budnick, co-author of Ticket Masters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got Scalped, in an interview with Vice, may have given the answer: “Ticketmaster’s job is to sell tickets,” said Budnick. “They want to sell as many tickets as they can, and if they want to sell to thousands of people who are going to resell them, they have a right to do that. That’s what the laws are.”

Last year, the New York Attorney General’s office released a “comprehensive” report on the ticketing industry. They determined that “the majority of tickets for the most popular concerts are not reserved for the general public.” With an average of 46 per cent of tickets on sale for the public, the rest of the tickets are acquired in presales, put on hold for promoters, or “sold directly to scalpers by the venues themselves.”

In between bots, legislation, and a reduced number of tickets available to the public, typical concert-goers like students looking to decompress after midterms or fulfill their long-held wishes to see their dream band in the flesh will have to shell out more money than ever to do that. This makes listening to your favorite music live a luxury.