In Photos: The U of T Campus Philharmonic Orchestra fall concert

The orchestra for every musician

In Photos: The U of T Campus Philharmonic Orchestra fall concert

Over the past few months, I have been the photographer for the University of Toronto Campus Philharmonic Orchestra’s (UTCPO) spring and fall concerts, which is conducted and run by U of T PhD candidate, Lorenzo Guggenheim. I was first introduced to the UTCPO by a friend, a cellist in the orchestra, who asked me to photograph the spring 2019 concert. Being a violinist myself, how could I turn down such an opportunity?

For their fall 2019 concert, which took place on December 2, they performed: “Unanswered Letters,” a new piece by Matthew Emery; The Swan Lake suite by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and “Piano Concerto No. 2” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, featuring Alexander Panizza on the piano.

Lorenzo created this orchestra to encourage students who wished to make music but did not have as much time to continue doing what they enjoy due to their studies. I approached him with a few questions in the hope of sharing his message with a broader audience.

Lorenzo Guggenheim, doctoral candidate at U of T and the conductor of the UTCPO.

The Varsity: What is the UTCPO?

Lorenzo Guggenheim: The orchestra is a space for members of the university to make time to play music in a low-stress environment with a positive atmosphere, and with the objective of enjoying playing music. I want it to be a space for everyone that plays an orchestral instrument and is interested in devoting some time from their week to focus on something other than their main duty at the University of Toronto, but still on campus. 

TV: Why did you decide to create this orchestra?

LG: I decided to start this orchestra when I realized that there wasn’t such an orchestra with these characteristics in a university so big. My Master’s degree is from the University of Washington, where there are around half the amount of students that U of T has, but still it managed to have two campus orchestras, two campus bands, and the main symphony orchestra had a lot of string players that were not music majors.

I realized in cities so multicultural, like Seattle and Toronto, there are a lot of people that have devoted years of their life to learn an instrument and then at some point, other activities take over and it prevents them from continuing playing. We had so many members playing who told me they were just looking for an opportunity like this to get back to it!

TV: What do you enjoy most about the UTCPO?

LG: Even though the performance is not the ultimate goal of the project, seeing everyone ready and excited to perform for a large audience of people who are there to support them, it is just hard to describe — walking on stage and seeing so many smiling faces and realizing that if this orchestra didn’t exist most of the players wouldn’t be making music at all.

TV: What do you see this becoming in the future?

LG: I hope it can become an orchestra with a huge community of players and audience. My dream is to make this orchestra an official offering of the Faculty of Music, where non-music majors can get credit, and make it a platform for future graduate students in orchestral conducting to hone their craft. 

It is of vital importance for a conducting student to have real experience with an orchestra, and there is no better learning tool than managing an orchestra in its totality, from picking the music to be performed, printing the parts, preparing the programmes, managing publicity, and every other aspect of putting on a performance.

Matthew Emery, the composer of “Unanswered Letters,” which premiered at UTCPO’s fall 2019 concert.

Jonathan Wong, assistant conductor of the UTCPO, conducting “Unanswered Letters.”

Guggenheim and Alexander Panizzo, pianist, applaud the orchestra after the concert.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Disclosure: Samantha Yao is a photographer for the University of Toronto Campus Philharmonic Orchestra.

Concert Review: BROCKHAMPTON’s Heaven Belongs To You tour

The boyband bounces back

Concert Review: BROCKHAMPTON’s Heaven Belongs To You tour

In 2019, hip hop collective and self-identified boyband BROCKHAMPTON returned with studio album GINGER, along with their Heaven Belongs To You tour. Despite founding member Ameer Vann leaving the group due to sexual misconduct allegations, BROCKHAMPTON have greatly progressed since they emerged as stars in 2017.

Tellingly, GINGER was introspective and touched on sensitive topics, which provided fans with insight into the lives of the band. Sonically, the project was vastly different from their other studio albums, innovating upon BROCKHAMPTON’s traditional sound. It focuses less on hard-hitting songs and catchy hooks, and more on ballads and melodies.

The accompanying tour was also innovative, with BROCKHAMPTON redefining how they perform. Their tour stopped at Toronto’s Coca Cola Coliseum, a fitting venue for the band. There were two openers: the first being 100 gecs, a duo that makes music even more experimental than BROCKHAMPTON. Their intriguing style of music mixes the autotune-heavy nature of today’s hip-hop with the strong guitar chords and drums of metal music. Despite being unknown to a vast proportion of the audience, there was definitely genuine fascination and appreciation.

The other opening act was rapper, slowthai. slowthai has recently evolved from  a UK buzz to a global sensation. Most of the crowd was well aware of his stage persona, echoed his ad libs and matched his energy.

Shortly afterward, BROCKHAMPTON took to the stage. The crowd watched in awe and harmonized along as the band delivered enchanting melodies with articulate rhymes. The most interesting aspect of the show was how many focal points there were on stage. Of course, the attention was placed on the members who were singing and rapping their parts. However, it was obvious that there was so much talent on the stage.

The audience was just as excited seeing Kevin Abstract’s verses as they were seeing one of the best qualities of the band: the guitar solos of Ciarán McDonald, better known as bearface. Despite having around six regularly performing members, each of them have their own significance in the group and its sound. It never felt like there was too much or too little emphasis on a single member.

This tour also saw BROCKHAMPTON innovate their stage antics through a reimagined set design. The entire stage was lit beautifully. There were strobing crosses surrounding the group, colour coded areas, and a raked floor with LED strip lights going down it. Fans were there to listen to the group, but BROCKHAMPTON’s beautiful use of their stage made this show an amazing visual experience as well.

The atmosphere of the night was incredible and added to the performance that much more. BROCKHAMPTON’s entire brand has been based off including ‘outsiders’ in their fanbase. The band members are Black, white, and Asian. They have different sexual orientations and they are all very open about their sexualities. Their fans also come from different ethnic and personal backgrounds. It was beautiful to see so many different people coming together and united in their appreciation for this band.

The Heaven Belongs to You tour was ultimately a great experience and showed fans that the group still has plenty of talent to share with the world. Constantly innovating and constantly redefining themselves, it will be interesting to see what 2020 brings for BROCKHAMPTON.

UTSG: Faculty of Music — To Hold Off Winter’s Chill

To Hold Off Winter’s Chill


The Women’s Chorus, Women’s Chamber Choir and Men’s Chorus offer a winter-themed concert of music by Sirett, Schubert, Daley and Vivancos.
U of T students admitted free with a valid TCard, space permitting.

Do you even listen to Drake?

Seven Toronto R&B artists you should listen to instead of Drake

Do you even listen to Drake?

This was originally published in our print issue on April 1, 2019.

In the realm of artistic and cultural expression, Toronto is one of the cities that never sleeps. In particular, this city’s up-and-coming R&B artists have proven themselves to be some of the most talented and unique musicians in the industry. With sounds ranging from classical soul to the newly popularized lo-fi, various styles of melody can be found across the spectrum of this genre.

But while alternative R&B artists showcase smooth vocals that float over unorthodox tempos, it seems like they haven’t received the attention they deserve at the forefront of Toronto’s R&B scene. This city’s culture is intertwined with the influences of Drake, The Weekend, R&B duo Majid Jordan, and even Daniel Caesar, who’s currently paving his way to becoming one of Toronto’s stars. And while these respective artists are undoubtedly talented at their craft and deserve all the hype, I think it’s time to support budding Toronto’s R&B musicians as well.

We’re grateful that Drake had a part in putting us on the map — but what’s the point if we aren’t going to show love to the rest of Toronto’s homegrown talent? Let’s not get too caught up with this city’s big names. Instead, we should start shifting our focus to the deserving Toronto R&B artists, some of which are listed below. Whether these artists arrived on the scene fairly recently or have been working on their craft for a while, they’re definitely worth a listen.

Rochelle Jordan

Top tracks: “Lowkey,” “Return to Sender,” “Follow Me.”

This UK-born, Toronto-raised artist has been in the underground R&B scene for a few years now. Her album, 1021, is reminiscent of the late-’90s sounds of Aaliyah, with smooth, soulful vocals over 808-drum beats.


Top tracks: “Let Her,” “Broken Telephone,” “The Reminder.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Allie’s exposure to different cultures translates into her music, which caters to a wide variety of sub-genres within R&B. Her debut record, Nightshade, includes an eclectic range of soulful ballads, or what she calls “experimental soul music.” If you’re into slow jams for late night drives or a night in with your girls, be sure to check her out.

Adria Kain

Top tracks: “L.I.M.B (Liquor In My Brain),” “True Love,” “Colours,” “Ocean.”

I stumbled across Adria Kain’s music on Spotify a few years back, and I don’t get why her nostalgic sound still isn’t recognized in Toronto. She’s opened for BJ The Chicago Kid and performed alongside Daniel Caesar and another one of Toronto’s up-and-comers, Sean Leon. She also landed a voice replacement on “Thirsty” by PARTYNEXTDOOR. Her dusky vocals and lyricism beautifully capture the essence of her experiences with depression during her hiatus in 2017.


Top tracks: the whole EP.

M.I.BLUE’s soothing vocals not only set off a super relaxing and jazzy vibe, but also make you want to listen to them when you’re all alone ­— engaging in deep thoughts with yourself. Her EP, Black Tea and Mint, came out about three years ago and consists of three songs that she said are “meant to be listened to in an isolated environment with a spliff in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.” I haven’t had much luck finding any other projects she’s been a part of, but I do hope she comes out with more.

Lou Val

Top tracks: “Float,” “Mi Amor,” “Bold,” “We Live Fast.”

This OVO-affiliated artist made his debut last May with his album, Lonely in Paradise, which highlighted both the intense highs and lows of being in a teenage relationship. He’s another sultry vocalist who we can expect late-night music from.


Top tracks: the whole album.

If you don’t have any MorMor in your playlist, I don’t really have any words for you. MorMor’s become one of my favourite artists to listen to literally anywhere and anytime, so much so that I’m just going to recommend the entire Heaven’s Only Wishful album — which is only five tracks long. He writes, plays, and produces almost everything you hear in his songs, and his piercing falsetto over those chord progressions can seriously get you out of any funk, even if it’s only for a little bit.


Top tracks: “Natural Feels,” “Caution,” “Bad Habits.”

Desiire is a Congo-born, Toronto-based artist whose creativity knows no bounds, especially with his tendency to blend R&B and Afrobeats to deliver layered melodies and instrumentals. His EP, As I Go Along, only came out last year and offers a range of emotional perspectives and intimacy through heartbreaking vocals and unique beats.

The winter blues call for a drink

Here are 10 tunes to thaw the ever-encroaching ice and snow

The winter blues call for a drink

1. “Let It Play” by lilcobaine

Don’t try to deny it, we have all been drunk and missed that person. It’s just… complicated. This is that emo rap, the Lil Peep-esque track that starts playing and subsequently makes you miss them at 2:17 am. You’re not hungover yet, but if you’re about to text your ex, you probably will be tomorrow. You pull out your phone and open your messages. It’s cuffing season, so it’s up to you to hit send on that “shawty come through” message. Please note the music video is not family-friendly.

2. “Moodna, Once With Grace” by Gus Dapperton

Okay, so maybe things didn’t work out with your crush at the house party last night. You wake up, hungover and lovesick, unable to tell which of the two is the cause of the pit in your stomach. Reaching for your phone on your nightstand, you scroll through last night’s activity. Oh yeah, you Shazam-ed that song. You hit “play” and the vaguely familiar guitar and synth fill your bedroom.

3. “Only Trying 2 Tell U” by Puma Blue

Caressed by a sweet falsetto and a slow melody, this sweet jazz tune may be your remedy for that big headache of yours. This is a slow and steady track that makes you feel like you are caught in a memory. It’s bittersweet, yet ever so repeatable.

4. “Flirting in Space” by Brad Stank

This smooth jam will make you want to sink into your bed as your headache is slowly eased. It’s for those cozy moments where your bed is at its most tempting, enticing you with a fluffy duvet and a warm pillow, and although your head is pounding, your mind is currently being transported into space by way of Brad Stank’s smooth guitar and dreamy synth.

5. “Downers” by Greentea Peng

Sometimes you just need some tough love — or maybe just some chicken soup for your R&B soul. Greentea Peng delivers an omnipresent perspective on taking downers and drowning out the world around us. Heartfelt and powerfully delivered, her live performance in a COLORS show is especially impressive.

6. “Bounce Back” by Big Sean

This one may be an oldie, but it is definitely a goldie. Big Sean’s track is supported with motivating lyrics and a catchy beat to help you bounce back from taking an L last night. This track is for the hungover hustler whose mantra is work hard, play hard. After a night of partying, you best believe they will be grinding it out the next day.

7. “Different State of Mind” by Kid Bloom

This track has a dream-pop sound to autopilot your mind down a stream of consciousness. Where will it take you? Maybe you’ll sink right into your bed? You’ll just have to listen to find out.

8. “Time” by Sebastian Mikael

You wake up hungover in the morning after a wild Saturday night party next to your bae. This song gives you all the imagery of a perfect Sunday. It’s smooth, sensual, and loving. Sunny side up eggs, unmade beds, and nothing but time to spend with that special someone. On a cute note, the artist filmed the music video with his girlfriend.

9. “Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune (a Modular Reflection)” by Ann Annie

This song is a prime example of déjà-vu. It is obviously something everyone has heard before. This cover of the famous piece has been completely transformed via soft synths and a harp-like melody. Though digital, the familiar notes still exude an overwhelming feeling of tranquility to the listener.

10. “Mint Jams” by Casiopea

This wildcard album is for the person who needs something upbeat, funky, and easy to listen to. Casiopea is a Japanese jazz fusion band,  and this song is from is their 1982, perfectly named, Mint Jams album. The music is like a more chill and complex version of old-school Sonic the Hedgehog music that is being emitted from your Gameboy Advance.

Sure, Jesus is king, but did Kanye miss the beat?

A Kanye West film and album review

Sure, Jesus is king, but did Kanye miss the beat?

One night before releasing his ninth studio album of the same name, Kanye West treated his fans to JESUS IS KING, a 38-minute IMAX film which enjoyed a limited theatrical release worldwide. Despite being advertised as “A Kanye West Film,” his presence is barely felt throughout; instead, its cinematography and unique setting take precedence. Although pretty to look at, the film is otherwise an unnecessary contribution to Kanye’s once-visionary canon of work, and while this does not detract from the quality of the film, it did cause many audience members to leave the theatre expressing feelings of frustration and boredom.

Those looking for a documentarian insight into West’s born-again Christianity will be disappointed. Lacking any narrative or non-musical dialogue, JESUS IS KING is just a concert film.

The movie follows a series of 2019 summer performances by West’s new band, Sunday Service, a group of all-Black musicians that performs gospel renditions of West’s classic songs, alongside new material and traditional gospel. The film is directed by Nick Knight, who’s best known as an acclaimed fashion photographer for high-end brands such as Issey Miyake and Christian Dior, and for directing music videos for Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” Björk’s “Pagan Poetry,” and 2013 Yeezus-era Kanye.

Performances in the film range from the anthemic to melancholic — one particularly moving and stripped back performance of “Street Lights,” off of West’s 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak, brought much of the theatre, myself included, to tears.

However, the most illuminating qualities of the film come from the presence of visual artist James Turrell’s “Roden Crater,” presented here in stunning, IMAX clarity. “Roden Crater” is Turrell’s large scale art installation and architectural marvel which is housed inside of a volcanic crater in the middle of the Painted Desert in Arizona. While construction on the site began in 1977, the work has not yet been completed, nor is it open to the public.

With 21 viewing sites and six interconnected tunnels which, according to the Roden Crater website, serve as “a naked eye observatory of earthly and celestial events that are both predictable and continually in flux,” this grandiose piece of land-art promises to amaze. Turrell’s towering structures and winding tunnels of light, while stunning, are in stark contrast to the beige and brown YEEZY-uniform-clad performers.

The greatest musical moments in the film come during evening performances, at which point Turrell’s walls and towers become muted as the spotlight shines down on the performers. The inclusion of this observatory as the principal setting for JESUS IS KING comes as no surprise, as West donated 10 million USD to the site’s construction earlier this year.

Despite running through some reworked West classics such as “Say You Will” and “Ultralight Beam,” JESUS IS KING ultimately feels less like the advertised Kanye West film, and more like a passion project that is desperately trying to convey the beauty of these three-dimensional, Turrell spaces through two-dimensional medium. In the end, JESUS IS KING is first and foremost a James Turrell movie, a great exercise in IMAX filmmaking second, and “A Kanye West Film” last.

Then there’s the album. 

On Friday, October 25, after several weeks of delays, JESUS IS KING, the ninth full-length record from Kanye, was released. Clocking in at 28 minutes spread over 11 tracks, this is West’s weakest album to date, something that is in no part due to the religious lyricism or gospel genre dives that the record takes on, but rather due to a lack of substantial arrangements.

The Sunday Service members are missing from most of the songs here, instead replaced with cringe-worthy raps that bring — in classic West fashion — a narcissistic take on the often selfless concept of faith. Whereas the film highlighted the humanity and beauty present in gospel and the human body, the album is instead rife with sub-par raps, poor audio mixes, and underwhelming production choices.

this song is a sobering reminder of what West is capable of if he continues to exercise the same perfectionist work ethic that brought us almost 20 years of masterpieces

While the opening track “Every Hour” is a stunning choir piece, other tracks like “Selah” feature the choir only in small flourishes, such as the refrain of hallelujahs that make up the track’s outro. The best songs on the album are those where West embraces the gospel sound wholeheartedly and uses hip-hop’s trademarks to accentuate them, rather than the other way around.

Some songs also come off as unfinished, a strange occurrence considering the various delays surrounding JESUS IS KING’s release. The closing track, “Jesus Is Lord” features a booming horn arrangement and a lovely hook, but lasts only 49 seconds. The song ends before it even gets a chance to reach a satisfying cadence.

The Pi’erre Bourne-produced “On God” is similarly sparse, consisting of a looped-arpeggiator, thin synthesizers, and cliché, braggadocio bars like “I’ve been tellin’ y’all since ‘05 / The greatest artist restin’ or alive / That’s on L.A. Reid, that’s on Clive.” Furthermore, while the penultimate track “Use This Gospel” features the reuniting of the legendary hip-hop duo Clipse, it also features a poorly-mixed, blaring saxophone solo courtesy of Kenny G, as well as a verse from Clipse’s Pusha T that still has the studio’s room-noise present in the mix.

In his most recent interview with Zane Lowe for Beats 1 Radio, West discussed his past struggles with a pornography addiction accompanied by some bizarre tirades on how this addiction was often fueled by Instagram. At one point he claimed that other married men also struggle with this addiction because “social media prompts women, in particular, to put out [sexual] content,” thereby projecting his problems onto other men and women.

This man’s anxiety surrounding women’s agency and social media is immortalized on the track “Closed On Sunday,” which features one of the worst verses in the artist’s discography, instructing the audience to “Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away / Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray / When you got daughters, always keep ‘em safe.

The verse continues on, “Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate / Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A / You’re my number one, with the lemonade.”


On the other hand, track eight, entitled “God Is,” might be the record’s most powerful. Devotional to all the things that West’s reignited faith has gifted him, “God Is” best exemplifies the gospel and rap sound promised with this record. A pleasant mix of 808 bass, sample chops, and the Sunday Service, this song is a sobering reminder of what West is capable of if he continues to exercise the same perfectionist work ethic that brought us almost 20 years of masterpieces. An entire album in this vein could have been one of his best.   

Although 2018 was plagued with similar unprofessional album delays and came at the peak of West’s Pro-Donald Trump advocacy, it at least brought fans some of West’s most powerful music, such as his track “Ghost Town,” and the revelatory collaborative album with Kid Cudi, KIDS SEE GHOSTS. However, 2019 has been a different monster altogether.

Quite simply, West in 2019 has lost the laser focus and keen attention to detail that brought us years of masterful work. From the moment West promoted Trump, to when he said slavery was a choice on TMZ, it has been startlingly clear that the ‘old Kanye’ is long gone.

To be a fan of West once meant being a fan of yourself, to be confident yet embracing of the positivity around you. Now, it’s more like a chore. Being a Kanye West fan, in fact, means being a Kanye West apologist. So, while the man may take himself very seriously, he needs to realize that we aren’t laughing with West, or even at him. The sad reality is that we don’t care.

Fifteen sonic slices of September

For sipping martinis on your balcony alone, or for surfing with tears in your eyes

Fifteen sonic slices of September

I won’t waste your time. If you’re reading this, you aren’t here to talk. You’re here because you need end-of-September jams so sizzling that you’ll be able to fry breakfast on your turntable, or at least warm a small child’s hands with your earbuds. And you need them now.

I hear you already: “Hold it right there, Jacob. Not that I know who you are, exactly, but I don’t have time to waste. Every moment I spend not enjoying the glorious heat of September is another moment closer to midterm season and my fast-approaching deadlines. If I’m not so relaxed that my limbs atrophy, then so help me God. What’s on this list?”

Well, here are 15 scorchers hand-picked — with oven gloves — from humid climates all over the world. Be sure that the hot classrooms of U of T are empty before you plug in your headphones.

João Gilberto, father of Brazilian music style bossa nova, is on this list because his tunes would make even Brian Wilson call a waiter over and say, “Whatever I’m drinking needs a tiny umbrella in it, stat.” Sora’s recently re-issued Re.sort will have you dabbing at your eyes with your Hawaiian shirt.

You may recognize “Riot!” by Hugh Masekela from last year, when Earl Sweatshirt, his nephew, sampled it. You may also recognize the voice in Makeout Videotape as that of a young Mac DeMarco. But are you here for names, or are you here to attain catatonic levels of chill?

These tunes speak for themselves, but for best results, you’ll want the 1961 Village Vanguard performance of “My Foolish Heart” and the Mandarin single version of “Moonset.” What? Are you trying to do this halfway? Listen, if you can hear Bill Evans’ keys flutter delicately like a feather between your toes at sunrise and not be instantly reduced to half-waking bliss, maybe summer just isn’t your season.

I know what you’re thinking: “You’re still talking, Jacob. We’ve been over this. Do you have my jams or not? Where are the jams?” And to that I say that I’m at my word count now, so here you go:

1. Bill Evans Trio, “My Foolish Heart,” live at the Village Vanguard

2. Ryo Fukui, “Early Summer”

3. Lamp, “A都市の秋”

4. IU and Oh Hyuk, “Can’t Love You Anymore 사랑이 잘”

5. Little Simz, “Selfish (ft. Cleo Sol)”

6. Tyler, the Creator, “A Boy Is a Gun”

7. Taeko Ohnuki, “4:00 AM”

8. Cléa Vincent, “Château perdu”

9. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, “Are You Real?”

10. João Gilberto, “Brigas, nunca mais”

11. Elephant Gym, “Moonset月落”

12. Makeout Videotape, “Heat Wave”

13. The Kinks, “Waterloo Sunset”

14. Hugh Masekela, “Riot”

15. Sora, “Rayuela”

Why cutsleeve are the next band you should fangirl about

Cutsleeve: unapologetically female, queer, and Asian

Why cutsleeve are the next band you should fangirl about

It’s 2:00 pm on a Sunday. I’m speed walking through Alexandra Park, feeling anxious and a little wired because I’m both late for my interview and I just took a Prozac. I find the five-piece band cutsleeve at a picnic table by the skate park, after initially mistaking a group of teenage boys for them. The spot was chosen because it’s close to the band’s practice space at the Rehearsal Factory — and because I didn’t think we could find a coffee shop with a table for six people.

The first thing I notice is how they’re all wearing darker colours, like punk rock vampires. I’m immediately intimidated. One after another, they introduce themselves: drummer Lian McMillan, lead guitarist Hannah Winters, bassist Hillary Fong, lead vocalist and keyboardist Chanel Fu, and rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Amanda Wong.

Finding inspiration from artists such as Paramore, Le Tigre, Moaning Lisa, and Wolf Alice, cutsleeve describes themselves as alternative rock but clarified that they’re “still trying to find [their] sound.” Moreover, even though cutsleeve’s members are all indisputably talented in their own right, their personal backgrounds in music are still diverse. Their experiences vary from the classically-trained McMillan to the self-taught Winters, who says she got her start at 14 when her dad bought her a guitar for Christmas.

“I’d sit in my room after school, just going through the pages, playing those old songs like ‘On Top of Old Smokey,’” she said, “and I felt like I had a Joan Jett moment where I was like ‘I don’t want to play these nursery rhymes, I want to play rock ‘n’ roll.’”

Evidently, the girls of cutsleeve are a self-possessed and badass group of young women. As such, they have an appropriately badass name, the origin of which, I soon discovered, has its roots in an East-Asian legend.

“I found out about this Chinese folklore story,” Fong explains, “about an emperor who was sleeping with a partner, and he wanted to wake up and get water or whatever — you know, go to the washroom, self-care.” At that they all laugh, and, smiling, Fong goes on to explain how the emperor noticed his lover sleeping on the sleeve of his robe, and, not wanting to awaken him, cut the sleeve.

“It became a euphemism for queerness,” she says, “and it’s just a reminder that queerness is always in our history, no matter what.”

And this is a history that is important to cutsleeve, since their music stems from their shared experiences of being queer and Asian in Toronto. They are all familiar with alienation from the white male bands that dominate the Toronto music scene.

As McMillan explains, “When I was playing with guys specifically, especially white guys, I just felt super alienated and intimidated, and a lot of imposter syndrome, so I specifically went out seeking these lovely people.” She motions to her bandmates, “especially queer people as well, because that’s been a really big part of my life, and I was like, I don’t really know that many queer Asians and I need to go find them, and now I think I know every single one.”

If you’ve got durian eyes / I’m tired of being fetishized

“Once you find a few you find them all,” Winters said, laughing.

This message that queer people have always been  — and continue to be — an integral part of both the East-Asian and punk community is something that the members of cutsleeve find important to convey in their music. Moreover, cutsleeve uses their music as a tool to express their discomfort with discriminatory behaviour toward them. For example, their songs “Durian Eyes” and “Yellow Fever” address the fetishization of Asian women.

It seems as if being East-Asian and queer is the perfect double-whammy of fetishization.

“The key lyric [in “Durian Eyes”] is ‘If you’ve got durian eyes / I’m tired of being fetishized,’” says Amanda, a testament that holds true for many East-Asian and queer women, myself included.

I remember the anime-loving white guys who told me they only like Asian girls — one of whom pointed to a Japanese schoolgirl outfit in a store window and said, “Damn, you’d look good in that!” — and the guys who yelled, “Yo, you give head?” at me on the street, and after I responded that I did but “not to men,” yelled back: “I like that! Get over here.” It seems as if being East-Asian and queer is the perfect double-whammy of fetishization.

cutsleeve satirizes the objectification of East-Asian women specifically in their song “Yellow Fever,” the chorus of which goes: “Yellow fever / yellow fever / the doctor diagnosed her with yellow fever / and I don’t think I can be the cure for her.”

As McMillan explains, this song was more about “dating expectations and being fetishized and just kind of noticing a pattern in terms of people’s dating history… like when I’ve hung out with my guy friends and I’ll be like ‘who’s the new girl you’re talking to?’ and I’ll just notice a pattern. I mean, I’m not going to say anything, but… you’ve got yellow fever.” McMillan continued, “When you want to take an East-Asian studies class at school, and you go in and it’s just filled with white guys like trying to like, you know…” She trails off, but we all know exactly what she means.

However, it would be wrong to presume that cutsleeve’s music is just a reaction to prejudice, as it is also an exploration of identity. As Wong explains, “Durian Eyes” was inspired by a friend’s art installation of a giant durian, and that song came together through their multiple perspectives and shared feelings of being lost in the Asian diaspora.

“It’s kind of like you’re in this in-between place,” says Wong, “where you’re not technically from here [or] there, and it’s just kind of like trying to figure out who you are around expectations that the world from both sides have on you, but that’s not necessarily indicative of who you are.”

This refusal to be defined by stereotypes is what makes cutsleeve a truly unique and valuable new addition to the Toronto music scene. By committing to the ownership of their identities, they are making space for queer East-Asians in Toronto, like myself and many of us here at U of T.