Black Panther is already revolutionary

Marvel's new film is the result of massive cultural collaboration in the Black artistic community

<i>Black Panther</i> is already revolutionary

Kendrick Lamar said it best on the opening track of the soundtrack to Black Panther: “Sisters and brothers in unison, not because of me / Because we don’t glue with the opposition.”

The sticking point across the entire production of Black Panther is unity. The making of the film, comics, and music represent a mass confluence of mainstream artistic participation.

The soundtrack, curated by Lamar and released on February 9, mixes hip hop, rap, and R&B. It features SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Khalid, The Weeknd, Future, and Lamar himself, among many others. According to Complex, Lamar decided to produce the soundtrack upon watching scenes from the movie.

At first glance, the reason for the total cultural push behind Black Panther seems obvious. It’s the first mainstream superhero movie with a Black protagonist, taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has been meticulously crafted with numerous blockbuster hits. The film’s namesake, the supremely cool T’Challa, the Black Panther — played by the previously relatively unknown Chadwick Boseman — is a warrior and leader unlike any other.

The production became something of a star-scape of world-class Black talent. Aside from Lamar and the soundtrack artists, the film stars Michael B. Jordan and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o alongside Boseman, and it is directed by Ryan Coogler, the director of 2015’s incredible Creed, which also starred Jordan.

Preliminary reviews are glowing. The film has a 97 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising its direction, performances, and screenplay for delivering a charismatic and powerful movie. The soundtrack has been described as “beautiful, propulsive, and spacious” by Rolling Stone, which noted the significance of many of the lyrics: they allude to “age-old African diasporic dreams and 21st Century politics.”

The film is a symbol of empowerment for a marginalized group. Hopefully, the movie will succeed in provoking a thoughtful discussion of racism and racial identity in our collective cultural conversation.

What’s behind the rise of Brockhampton?

'The Internet's first boy band' is set to perform in Toronto on February 8

What’s behind the rise of Brockhampton?

“Me llamo Roberto — y me gusta bailar.”

With these seven words — meaning “My name is Robert, and I like to dance” — that open their music video for “Boogie,” Brockhampton, a self-described boy band, herald the coming of their latest album, Saturation III.

With this latest addition to their discography, Brockhampton maintains their fresh brand of youthful and bold hip hop while moving forward in terms of intricacy and musicality. But the quality of their music is only part of their allure.

Rappers and other artists release hit songs and records all the time. What makes Brockhampton special is that the group is redefining what it means to build an artistic brand. Now, following the release of Saturation III, they have become a unique, independent, and creative powerhouse.

Formed in San Marcos, Texas in 2015, the founding members of Brockhampton first met online on a Kanye West fan forum, where they began sharing tracks and collaborating with one another. In 2016, they decided to move out to Los Angeles together.

All 14 main members of Brockhampton live together in one house in south central Los Angeles. They include the regular performers you see in Brockhampton music videos, as well as producers, a photographer, a graphic designer, and a webmaster.

In this small house, Brockhampton has become a self-sufficient machine, churning out three albums in one year, filming enrapturing music videos, and crafting their absurdist aesthetic. They’ve self-funded most of their creative output and founded their own label, Question Everything.

Living together like a boy band has allowed the group to dive headfirst into their artistic pursuits and create a cohesive product, one that has surpassed similar projects like the hip hop collective Odd Future.

The devil is in the details. Brockhampton’s video thumbnails use an all-caps font in bold, bright colours, against a black and white background photo. Every music video begins with Robert Ontinient, the group’s web developer, delivering the latest edition of the ‘me llamo Roberto’ statements, an odd Hispanic prologue to the subsequent events of the video.

What usually ensues is a whirlwind of incredible storytelling, lyricism, and infectious beats, as well as surrealist sequences and the band’s typical absurdist comedy.

Brockhampton lyrics have a wide scope, addressing issues of homophobia, racism, and domestic abuse, coupled with recurring themes of inadequacy, anarchist nihilism, and brotherhood.

On Saturation II’s “JUNKY,” Kevin Abstract, the band’s leader and arguably most recognizable member, raps about coming out to his mom and the dangers he faces living as an openly gay Black man.

In the “JUNKY” video, sitting in the backseat of a car with his face painted gold, Abstract is flanked by knife-wielding, baby mask-wearing men in a film sequence that evokes the stylistic influences of Salvador Dali and Quentin Tarantino. In the same video, Merlyn Wood takes a bath in Froot Loops.

On “RENTAL,” Dom McLennon raps about his fear of “being everybody else.” On “GUMMY,” the group samples Veronica Petrucci’s “Star Against the Night,” a soft orchestral interlude, and then they abrasively interrupt it with an image of Ameer Vann with a llama on a leash.

It’s these sorts of idiosyncrasies that have endeared Brockhampton to their fans and given them such massive success thus far. Even as an independent collective, they’re on the bill for the Governors Ball, a massive festival in New York. They’re slated to play at Coachella, and they’re selling out shows across North America.

Brockhampton has managed to churn out content that is tuned to mainstream issues, albeit in an increasingly countercultural way. They operate as their own creative and stylistic directors. They don’t use ghost writers. They don’t have the backing of massive publicity firms and labels, and they have virtually none of the usual sex appeal of a manufactured boy band.

Despite all of this, they have over a million monthly listeners on Spotify. They are masters of style, and they use the personalities, stories, and beats that surround them to tap into collective consciousness with ease.

Perhaps their relatability is why the band is enjoying increasing celebrity. Brockhampton are frank and real to the core.

Brockhampton will perform at Rebel on February 8.

Tafelmusik Orchestra’s series brings together DJs and baroque

The next instalment of Haus Musik takes place February 1

Tafelmusik Orchestra’s series brings together DJs and baroque

Tafelmusik, the critically acclaimed Canadian baroque orchestra best known for its thrilling yearly sing-along of Handel’s Messiah, is widely appreciated for its classical style, flawless choir ensemble, and enchanting period instrumentation.

On February 1, however, Tafelmusik’s Haus Musik series will return, targeting a different demographic by removing its formal attire and rows of seats in favour of DJs and a bar. The immersive concert, boasting music that defies genre, will feature a rare combination of baroque style and DJ sets from Noble Oak, a fitting name given the event’s advertised theme of “bringing the great outdoors inside.” 

The Varsity corresponded with Anna Theodosakis, U of T alumna and a guest director for Haus Musik, about the upcoming event.

The Varsity (TV): Haus Musik events are described as “atmospheric” and “immersive.” Can you elaborate on what this means and what people should expect from this event? How does this differ from other Tafelmusik events?

Anna Theodosakis (AT): Haus Musik strives to provide audiences with an immersive experience that enhances the music presented. All the added visuals like sets, lighting, and movement are directly inspired by the music thus creating a cohesive journey for the audience.

Unlike other more traditional Tafelmusik concerts, the audience is encouraged to wander through the space, relax at the bar, and interact with the actors and set installations. There is no separation between the performers and audience like a stage, the entire space is part of the show and so are you.

TV: In addition to excellent music, this event promises aesthetic appeal, including “imagery and dance” and an exploration of the theme of “bringing the great outdoors inside.” How is this visual aspect woven into the rest of the event, and what does it add to the overall effectiveness of the evening? Is there a set, or is the atmosphere more evocative of a bar?

AT: We are creating a mystical forest within the Longboat Hall complete with an interactive, majestic tree. There will be a series of video projections and we’ve paired the musical numbers with nature soundscapes. Our dancer is a deer/human hybrid who will interpret both baroque pieces and electronic music, bridging the two musical worlds.

There is still a bar, of course, and the audience is encouraged to compare the contrasts and similarities between indoors/outdoors, music/nature, and baroque/contemporary.

TV: The music at this Haus Musik event features both baroque and DJ music; how will these different forms of music complement one another? Is the music still played on traditional period instruments, or does it take a more modern form?

AT: Noble Oak, our DJ and electronic music composer, has a background in classical piano and understands what to pair with the baroque sound. In both the baroque and electronic set there’s an emphasis on long lines soaring over atmospheric ensembles. It’s amazing that when compared with contemporary music the baroque pieces can somehow seem just as radical and progressive. The baroque set will be performed on traditional instruments including the rare Viola d’amore.

TV: The target demographic of this event is clearly younger than that of other Tafelmusik events. What makes Haus Musik appealing to a young adult crowd? Is the ultimate goal to draw younger people to more traditional Tafelmusik concerts, or it is simply to expose younger audiences to classical music and different concert experiences?

AT: Haus Musik draws in younger audience members who maybe aren’t as familiar with baroque music as they are with the contemporary offering. The hope is after being exposed to the baroque genre they may choose to attend a more traditional concert or continue to attend the Haus Musik series. Regular Tafelmusik goers are also being exposed to something new with the addition of the electronic artist and visual impact. Whether someone attending is new to baroque music or an expert, the real goal is to provide a new and exciting concert going experience that will enrich their listening experience.

Tim Crouch, Senior Manager of Marketing & Audience Engagement, told The Varsity that Thursday’s event is the sixth Haus Musik event, with the next one planned for April 26. Each one will showcase unique DJs and artistic directors and thus offer a different experience from the last.

Advance tickets are $20, with $25 tickets offered at the door. Doors open at 8:00 pm at The Great Hall at 1087 Queen Street West. Be sure to check out what promises to be a concert unlike any you’ve been to before.

How rap, R&B, and lo-fi artists are crossing the east-west divide

Exposure to Japanese, South Korean, and Chinese artists is enriching North American music

How rap, R&B, and lo-fi artists are crossing the east-west divide

For many western listeners, exposure to East Asia’s complex modern music culture has come through Korean pop, and Korean pop alone. It’s no wonder why — the genre’s catchy tunes, clothing, and intricate choreography come together to form the complete entertainment package.

However, this is an association that will soon start to change. Last year saw a rise in rap groups and R&B artists across many Asian countries’ music scenes.

Such growth can only be excellent news for music fans, regardless of nationality. Eastern reinterpretations of traditionally western genres, such as R&B and rap, with their roots in African-American culture, are vital to music, emphasizing the best aspects of both traditions.

The bloating of R&B has become a plague in recent years, with flat, stunted projects like Drake’s Views and XXXTentacion’s 17 trying to manufacture the emotional resonance that great R&B artists establish with their listeners.

However, fresh perspective from Asia has arrived to help reverse that trend. Artists like the half-Japanese Joji, with his debut EP In Tongues, have provided a welcome antidote, eschewing vague, commercial lyrics in favour of lines with tangible impact.

It’s Joji’s focus on tactile songwriting that has become arguably his greatest strength. “Will He,” a bitter love letter from an ex-boyfriend, asks a former lover, “Will your tongue still remember the taste of my lips,” and, “Will your shadow remember the swing of my hips?”

The songs aren’t very long, and repetition is frequent, but — reminiscent of some tracks from Frank Ocean’s Blonde — they prey on your senses, using your sense of taste, smell, sight, and touch to pull you into stunning places.

Joji builds a visceral connection with his listeners that has mostly been lost with artists in the modern day. Hopefully more artists will build on projects like these, which focus on the elements of R&B that make it stand as its own art form, and hopefully they cross over to western audiences.

Joji’s instrumentals reveal evidence of a notable trend. Rarely featuring more than a piano, a guitar, some trap-style hi-hats, and a simple bassline, they mirror his songwriting in their simplicity and surreal melancholic vibe.

Compared to the synth-heavy R&B that has gained popularity in recent years — think of The Weeknd’s Starboy or 6LACK’s Free 6LACK — Joji’s tracks are startlingly unique. Here, though, Joji is only building upon another genre of music in which East Asian influence has been key — lo-fi hip hop.

Historically, lo-fi rap was characterized only by its low-fidelity recording quality, hence the name. Modern lo-fi has taken on some additional hallmarks — tracks are superbly relaxing, and their dreaminess is nearly unparalleled in other musical genres.

Saib, a popular Moroccan artist, samples Japanese vocalists on tracks like “in your arms.” and draws inspiration from Asian locales in songs like “Shinjuku Metro Line,” named after Tokyo’s busiest train station.

Matatabi, an up-and-coming Japanese producer, makes great use of a sample on his song “Walking in the Moonlight,” while Brazilian artist Digital Waves brings back the infectious funk of ’80s pop artists such as Tatsuro Yamashita on tracks like “Talkin.’”

Iconic western songs in the field of hip hop, like “Who Shot Ya” by The Notorious B.I.G, have always been defined by an ability to enrapture the listener with simple beats that set a unique mood. Lo-fi artists, breathing life back into forgotten eastern songs, are one such example.

Perhaps the most surprising musical development of 2017 was the continued growth of quality rap from musicians like South Korean rapper Keith Ape and Chinese hip hop group Higher Brothers. Dressed almost exclusively in brands like the Bathing Ape, their aesthetics bear a striking resemblance to American groups like Migos. They draw on trap beats that any Atlanta- or Florida-based rapper would be happy to work with, and they even carry western vocal techniques across linguistic barriers. In the absence of English, anglophone listeners pick up on the importance of vocal delivery by listening to these artists. In English tracks, listeners might be swept along by a particular line or verse, not understanding the finer vocal details that separate it from mediocrity.

By contrast, Keith Ape, stepping on the track “Achoo” with Ski Mask the Slump God, delivers a performance in Korean that makes you want to bob your head from start to finish. Even without any knowledge of his songwriting ability, it’s easy to pinpoint his strength in pacing — as with his 2015 hit single “It G Ma.” Ape constantly manipulates the tempo of his rhymes, slowing down and speeding up with precise timing.

The Higher Brothers also help underscore elements of rap that western consumers enjoy, even if they might not be able to articulate why. Really, it’s because the Higher Brothers have adopted the triplet flow used by American rappers for their use in Mandarin. Dividing each beat into three notes, they’ve ensured that songs like “Flo Rida” and “Young Master” will stay stuck in your head for days.

When the listener can’t get caught up in the lyrics, they’re forced to pay conscious attention to the artist’s sound. Listening to songs like these can force music connoisseurs to think critically about the reasons why they like the music that they do.

Western artists haven’t been oblivious to this development either. Florida natives like Ski Mask the Slump God and XXXTentacion collaborated heavily with Asian artists throughout 2017, while rappers such as Famous Dex and 21 Savage made brief cameos on the scene.

This crossing of the east-west divide is absolutely necessary. The refreshing perspectives regarding songwriting, instrumental focus, and lyrical delivery provided by elements of different East Asian music scenes will add immeasurably to the richness and complexity of the global music industry as a whole.

Dorval takes home the gold at Winterfest’s Battle of the Bands

The band competed Wednesday night against Newcomer, Rocket Bomb, and Basset

Dorval takes home the gold at Winterfest’s Battle of the Bands

Once again, Battle of the Bands was a Winterfest highlight, with four bands competing to take home $500 and a gig at University College’s Fireball dance.

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act I: Newcomer

The night opened with Newcomer filling out the Lee’s Palace stage, and an early crowd reluctant to move too close. After the first song, lead singer Matias Gutierrez invited the crowd to “dance or bounce around,” and bassist Joshua Sofian did his best to fuel the hype by jumping up and down himself. 

They played a few new songs, including a particularly catchy number called “Rushed.” Marty Camara stood out on drums, especially during lead single “Zeitgeist.” Gutierrez also caught the crowd’s attention when he threw in a ‘ting goes skraah, pap, pap, ka-ka-ka’ from Big Shaq’s “Man’s Not Hot.”  Despite the band’s best attempts to pump up the room, however, only a few brave souls danced beyond the invisible barrier.

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act II: Rocket Bomb

It wasn’t until Rocket Bomb came on and lead singer Jagger Cleeves called out people for “still sitting” that the audience began piling to the front of the stage. Playing popular covers of songs like Bruno Mars’ “Locked out of Heaven” really got the crowd dancing. 

Drummer Daniel Kiss kept up audience interaction by asking everyone to turn on their phones’ flashlights for a slower, original song, in which Cleeves sang poetically, “This is my uncomfortable place.” 

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act III: Dorval

As the ‘redemption’ band competing a second time, Dorval was definitely the most prepared for Lee’s Palace. Their use of stage lighting drew attention to different band members, topping last year’s performance. Dorval’s stage presence had also matured even more — perhaps it was the added presence of bassist James Yoannou, perhaps simply another year of experience. 

Daniel Lewycky’s vocals were on fire, bringing to mind blues-rock artist Barns Courtney. Midway, Yoannou announced that it was Lewycky’s birthday, and the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to him. Dorval’s energy was unstoppable for the whole set, with drummer Adam Moffatt actually standing up to play. 

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Act IV: Basset

Basset rounded out the night with a softer indie folk set. Yasmine Shelton immediately captivated the audience with her powerful voice in a rendition of “Feeling Good.” The rest of the set alternated between original songs and unexpected rearrangements of classics like Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” 

Watching ensembles perform is quite different from watching rockers. Basset was not rocking out per se, but their shared smiles let the audience know they were enjoying their performance, making them a delight to watch. Musician Sam Clark was proof of their versatility, slinging his mandolin over his back in order to pick up his violin during seamless transitions from one instrument to another. 

Notably, Shelton was the only woman to perform at the event, and the first woman to be part of a competing band since 2015’s Battle of the Bands. Even the emcee, Kaitlyn Ferreira, noted that there were “a lot of men performing” at the event. Last year, The Accolades had a female guest singer join them, but for the most part, male artists have dominated the event.

Shelton said that at U of T at least, she rarely sees women in bands, though she is not sure why this is the case. She encouraged women and non-binary people to join ensembles, saying that she does think “there are people who are open to having them there.” 

“Maybe it’s just not their first instinct to reach out, but I think having the courage to go out there and find people, maybe that’s what’s lacking,” said Shelton. “But I think it’s worth it.”

“I would say if you are going to join a band with men, make sure they’re great people because the music industry isn’t necessarily known for being particularly great for women,” she added. “The further you go, in a weird way, the fewer options you have in terms of picking your people based on character as opposed to skill level.”

At least on Wednesday night, everyone on and off the stage appeared to be having a good time. The night ended with the judges announcing Dorval as the winners, to the sound of cheers from the audience.

WENDY WEI/THE VARSITY

Live at Lee’s Palace

Winterfest's Battle of the Bands to take place January 10

Live at Lee’s Palace

Winterfest’s annual Battle of the Bands takes place this Wednesday, with four bands competing for $500 and a gig at University College’s Fireball dance. Each boasting a diverse set of influences from funk and blues to classic rock and indie folk, this year’s lineup promises enough energy to give the new semester a proper kickoff.

The 19+ event takes place at the legendary Lee’s Palace at 8:00 pm and, as usual, cover is free for U of T students who are of age. For non-U of T attendees, cover is $5.

Here’s a look at the groups competing for the grand prize this year.

STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Newcomer

Appropriately named for the youngest band competing, Newcomer’s four members all met at U of T and started playing as a full band together last September. Lucas Ratigan and Matias Gutierrez both play guitar, with Gutierrez also on vocals, while Joshua Sofian plays bass and Marty Camara plays drums.

Despite their relative newness, Newcomer has already signed onto Mississauga-based record label Coin Records. They describe their sound as similar to alternative rock, citing The Strokes as a major influence, but they describe their writing processes as feeling “for the vibe.” They love performing, but their standout trait is their dedication to producing music they love.

“Whenever I feel like the rest of the guys are really vibing to the song, when we’re all vibing together, that’s a good Newcomer song,” said Gutierrez.

“We understand each other musically,” explained Camara. The band said that the audience can expect to “definitely connect” to their lyrics because they are widely interpretable. So far, they have two singles out, “Maternity Leave” and “Zeitgeist,” but all agreed that they are currently the most hyped about their unreleased songs. Be sure to come on time to hear a preview of their upcoming album.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ROCKET BOMB

Rocket Bomb

Rocket Bomb’s guitarist and lead singer Jagger Cleeves and guitarist Josh Papa are childhood friends who moved to Toronto about two years ago. They began recording an unreleased EP in November 2016, which helped them recruit their drummer, Daniel Kiss, and bass player, Jerry de la Cruz, last summer.

Although they are all alternative rock fans, the band aims to produce pop music with a funk edge. It is refreshing to hear from a band so ready to entertain yet still focused on writing solid tracks, citing DNCE and Bruno Mars as influences for their collective sound.

“It’s kind of an effort to write pop music, but it’s so much more fun and more satisfying because it leads to people who are surprised by it,” said Cleeves. “In the end, they are like, ‘Whoa, you really went out on a limb here and made something cool.’”

If you are not a fan of pop, don’t worry. According to the band, their performances are an experience, comprised of not only visuals, sound, and the feel of the show, but also the natural chemistry of the musicians. In other words, you don’t have to love their songs to love their shows.

Photo by TIM LEYES PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of BASSET

Basset

Previously called Sheepishly Yours, the almost year-old Victoria College band comprised of Yasmine Shelton, Sam Clark, and brothers Aaron and Noah Philipp-Muller is now Basset. Primarily an indie folk band, their collective classical training gives them a unique grasp of technical musicality, as seen through their diverse instrumentation and three-part harmonies.

For Wednesday’s performance, they will most likely stick to strings, with Clark switching between the mandolin and violin, Aaron on guitar, and Noah on cello — but each member plays multiple instruments. All of them offer vocals on one track or another. Shelton’s lead vocals are especially versatile, easily adapting to different styles.

“Especially in Toronto, there aren’t a whole lot of bands that use mandolin and then have a cello as their bass instrument — that’s kind of unusual,” said Aaron. Unsurprisingly, they noted The Punch Brothers as a major influence on their sound.

While their acoustic instruments might not line up with the rockability of Lee’s Palace, the chemistry between the four and the effort they put into workshopping each song should make for a tight show. Expect to be pleasantly surprised by unique rearrangements of popular songs and to hear some original tracks.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DORVAL

Dorval

Those who attended last year’s Battle of the Bands should remember veteran band Dorval’s stunts and theatrics, which they promise will continue at this year’s show. The band formed at the end of 2014, but now bass player James Yoannou joins the original duo of guitarist Daniel Lewycky and drummer Adam Moffatt, allowing them to produce a fuller sound. Yoannou and Moffat are U of T alumni, while Lewycky is still a U of T student.

Moffatt described the band as “alternative experimental blues.” Although they have rock and roll similarities, Lewycky emphasizes the climax of a song as much as possible, which he said is “a very bluesy thing to do.” Despite the clear blues influence, they pride themselves on the uniqueness of each of their songs.

“It’s when the three of us come together; we start making the songs more progressively interesting than one of us could have done alone, which I really like,” explained Yoannou.

They are currently working on a second EP and will play some of their new songs at the show. Their first EP, A Match Made in Toronto, was released last March. Live shows are one of their greatest strengths, and their blues-inspired tracks are “more danceable than you might think,” so prepare to get up and groove.

Honors is so over Down With Webster

Former DWW vocalist Cameron Hunter speaks with us about the new band

Honors is so over Down With Webster

Many Canadians can easily remember Down With Webster songs playing on their car radios, but it might have been a while since you last heard anything by the band from The Beaches neighbourhood. On June 2, 2017, having gone a few years without releasing new music, the band announced they were taking a break. But former Webster members Cameron Hunter, Patrick Gillett, Tyler Armes, and Andrew Martino recently announced the start of a new project: Honors. Hunter, one of the band’s vocalists, spoke with The Varsity about transitioning from Down With Webster to Honors, what’s next for the band, and what to expect at their Toronto show on December 21.

The Varsity: What is Honors to you? Is it a sequel to Down with Webster, a continuation, or a complete reset?

Cameron Hunter: For me, it feels more like a reset. We’ve always been a group of people who write and make a ton of music, ever since we were 14 years old doing this. When we got into the studio and made a bunch of records that didn’t sound like Down With Webster, it was sort of what we were naturally gravitating towards. We thought it didn’t really sound like the old project, and it didn’t make sense with the old project. We’d rather put it out as something different. A couple of us had dabbled in doing some side projects; I did my own solo rap thing; our guy Tyler had done a songwriting collective, more of an EDM thing. Those projects sounded different, so we branded them differently. This time, we all came back together and wrote this body of music that sounds like something else.

TV: Down With Webster was formed back in middle school. Now that it’s just you, Gillett, Armes, and Martino, how is it different that you don’t have Martin Seja or Dave Ferris next to you?

CH: I mean, I think it would be a lot weirder if the only thing we’d ever done had been Down with Webster, and we were coming off of that. For me, it was so weird when I did stuff on my own. Like, ‘Wow I’m the only one up here.’ I think after that, everything felt more normal. So it’s not ‘crazy crazy,’ but it definitely is a different thing. Even with the music, it’s more of a chill thing, it relies more on the sonics of it. Down with Webster was this insane ball of energy. When we did live shows, I remember jumping until I thought I was going to die. This is a little bit different than that, where it’s a little bit moodier, a little more chill. It is a different energy, and with that different energy, the makeup matches that.

TV: Honors has a new energy. You can call yourself electronic pop, but you also have Pat’s rock guitar riffs and your experiences in rap. You also teased a couple videos where you’re recording in a church or with a choir. How do these acoustic vocals come into this mesh of genres?

CH: We’ve always been people who don’t think about the genre necessarily when we’re making the music. We tend to make whatever we think sounds good at the time, [and] afterwards we have a difficult time putting a label on it. Because we aren’t a rap group, we aren’t an EDM group, we aren’t a rock band, it’s always tough. With this stuff, we got in on a couple songs and were like, Hey, a choir would sound really cool on this.’ For no deeper reason other than we thought it would sound great. Everything fell into place organically, I guess. It always starts from the music for us, and that informs everything else.

TV: Because you are so immersed into many different kinds of genres, what is the writing process like?

CH: All of us write music independently. We all write songs, and we send them around to each other. We always share what we’re working on. If something jumps out, a couple of us will be like, ‘Yeah, let’s work on that one.’ You can get into a room with everyone and start to write from scratch, but I think the best ideas usually come out from one person. It might be an instrumental, might be a lyric, an idea, or a chorus, sometimes it’s a full song. That’s how it usually starts. We’re very lucky to be a band where everyone writes and everyone has the capability to pitch those ideas. There are a lot of groups out there where it’s one dude who does it, [and] everyone else is just there to play their part. For us, it’s always been that every single person is that guy. There are a lot of ideas to sift through, which is nice. I definitely have moments where I write a bunch of stuff, but I’ll also go through periods where I don’t have any ideas. There is always someone there with ideas, who can help spark it in you.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more of this interview, visit var.st/honors.

TV: Honors has more of a mature sound than Down with Webster. Do you think your experiences have taught you something, or was it the reset that helped bring this change?

CH: The reset only came because we wrote these songs, and we were feeling a certain way. Whether you’re making music or not, that happens with most people. No one will always stay the same, no one will feel the same year to year. For us, it was a different way of exploring some different things we were thinking, feeling and expressing. It’s tough, when you have a project that does really well, oftentimes people will start to expect a certain thing out of you. They love a certain body of music, and they want you to make that music again. There’s a pressure to do one thing. We didn’t want the pressure to feel that this has some preconceived ideas of what it’s supposed to be. This is different and we want to make it different. This is the way we’re feeling right now, and it doesn’t match up to how we were feeling five years ago, but this is normal.

TV: Your song “Over” just exploded onto the scene with over 11 million plays on Spotify and counting. What does that mean to you, to have a project that you’ve worked on for years, and when you decide to start something new, you release that first song, and it goes viral?

CH: It’s a crazy feeling. It really helps with [our] confidence as songwriters, knowing that this didn’t happen to us as a sheer mistake. We’re capable of writing songs that people love, it doesn’t really matter what the incarnation is. For whatever reason, when this core group of people gets together and writes songs, special things happen. If anything, it fast-tracked things. It’s a good boost, right off the bat. All of us have done this in the past, we’re not under any illusion how long it can take before you get any real traction. With Honors, we didn’t want to come out immediately and try to switch over our fan base. Just because they like Down with Webster doesn’t mean they’re going to like this. We didn’t want to tell anyone, we put this out into the void, we didn’t want to put our faces on it. We wanted to see how the music does on the strength of the music. For it to go that well, without any of those other things, it was a big thing for us.

TV: December 21 at the Velvet Underground, you’re playing your first hometown show since Honors first formed. What does it mean to go back to where it all started and rock the stage?

CH: I love it. This is where I’ve grown up, I’ve lived basically there [in Toronto] my whole life. That’s where all my friends are, that’s where my family is. It’s a very cool thing to get to do that for all the people that have supported you and have been with you this whole time. Definitely a really cool feeling.

TV: So far you’ve released three songs, with a few on the way. What can people expect to see when they do come to an Honors show?

CH: We’ve only done six or seven shows, so I’m kind of learning myself what to expect at an Honors show. What we hope is that it’s the records that people have heard and really liked, just represented in a much bigger way. It brings a different dimension to the actual records themselves, because when you start putting live drums and live instrumentation over those tracks, it really brings it to a different place.

TV: What can fans expect from you in the future? Are you working on an upcoming album, or will it be a one-step-at-a-time process, releasing singles?

CH: That’s a good question. For us, I don’t know if the album thing really makes sense these days, especially with how music is being consumed. Oftentimes, the albums can get lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t end up getting the right exposure for enough people to hear all the songs. For this upcoming show, we’re playing 10 songs. It definitely feels like this is working, where we’re dropping them slowly, but our plan is to keep making music that we love and keep putting it out. I think it’s as simple as that, and along the way, doing videos for it and doing art work for it. Playing as many shows as we can, keep it moving. That’s really what the model is.

Honors will be performing at Velvet Underground on December 21.

Newcomer: how we got a record deal

U of T student Matias Gutierrez writes on his band's upward trajectory

Newcomer: how we got a record deal

Newcomer — a band of misfits that recently decided to dip our feet in the music industry. Our group is made up of four musicians: Josh Sofian, a bass player from Beijing, Martin Camara, a drummer from Brazil, Lucas Ratigan, a guitarist originally from New York, and me, Matias Gutierrez, a vocalist and guitarist from Mississauga.

We’ve been officially playing together since last September, and early in October we signed with Coin Records, a Mississauga-based record label. All of us met as U of T students from a variety of different fields. Martin is an engineering student, Josh studies statistics, and Lucas and I are in the social sciences.

Together, we’ve attempted to balance academic life with our music careers. As a band comprised of full-time students at UTSG, managing our time while allotting space for creativity might seem difficult.

Often, student bands will dissipate or remain forever as the stuff of a hobby — stuck playing covers and trapped by their members’ external commitments. There is nothing wrong with student bands remaining exactly what they are. The trouble comes when student musicians wish to further explore the possibilities of their own sound but find themselves confined by their busy schedules, assignments, or lack of awareness of the opportunities available to them.

Our guitarist, Lucas, says that it requires a change in perspective to see university life as an opportunity for inspiration. “University experiences are so diverse and compelling, it’s easy to write,” he says. Josh adds that music can also serve as an escape from school. “If I’m having a hard time, music helps me release some of that in a productive way.”

Our band’s members share the feeling that student life is able to enhance our music and creativity. It can be easy to write a song when you’re experiencing so many strange new things as a university student. Your remaining task is to manage your time wisely to rehearse, record, and publicize.

In this sense, we’ve been somewhat lucky in our own journey as a band. For a variety of reasons, students often lack the resources to record and publish their own music. Without a studio, or the knowledge of how best to publish music, student bands hardly receive the kind of exposure they need to break into the music industry.

My own recording studio, which I built in my basement while in high school, serves as the location for all Newcomer recordings, made with a variety of old and new equipment assembled over the years. It’s there that we recorded our first single, “Zeitgeist,” and released it on social media using an online song distributor.

If you listen closely to the sounds of “Zeitgeist,” which is available on all major streaming services, you’ll hear audible shouts and crooning that respond to the lyrics like echoes. It was this single that drew the attention of Coin Records.

We became a band when Josh, Lucas, and I were in first year and met at a U of T music club event. It wasn’t until a full year had passed that we saw our first successes in the form of getting signed and booking our first gig. Getting the attention of a label required consistency and persistence.

Newcomer will perform on November 19 at Horseshoe Tavern.