Winterfest’s drag show showcases a vital form of expression

Though drag has been embraced by the mainstream, recognizing its origins is important

Winterfest’s drag show showcases a vital form of expression

The University College Literary and Athletic Society’s Equity & Outreach Commission held the third annual Winterfest drag show on January 11 in University College’s Junior Common Room. The event was pay-what-you-can for entry.

Mira Al Hussein, the former Equity & Outreach Commissioner, hosted the show.

Drag king Devin Queen, dressed in a boy band-chic ensemble very much reminiscent of NSYNC, opened the show with a surprisingly sensual and emotionally charged dance to a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Style.”

Delia Nyx, another performer, said of the freedom of drag, “You get to explore another side to yourself. A different personality, you get to be dramatic.”

Amber St. Claire, who emphasized her older age and experience, appeared on stage three times during the evening, which was more frequent than any other performer. St. Claire’s performances were clearly inspired by stars from the golden age of Hollywood.

Interludes between performances allowed the crowd to join in with an ongoing lip sync battle. Members of the crowd were selected to come on stage to improvise lip syncing, and to dance to chosen songs. Those selected wowed the stage with their intensity at providing some truly grand performances.

Although drag in many ways has been embraced by the mainstream, it is important to recognize the origins and significance of these performances to the LGBTQ+ community.

Performer Ella Une Bite came from a small, conservative town growing up, which was not welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. Her move to the city provided her with the opportunity to try out something she had always been curious about.

“Within the community, it’s specifically women of colour, and I don’t want to use the term, but also gender-bending — with drag women and trans performers especially of colour,” said Une Bite on the history of drag. “They’re the ones that really got the queer rights movement going.”

“I want to recognize that as much as possible… a lot of the times, like with white queens, they don’t know the history of it being founded with people of colour,” added Une Bite.

While providing much entertainment, the show also provided needed insights into tensions surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. The honesty provided through drag as a form of self-expression is undeniable, and something vital to a community that has often been repressed.

Winterfest and Frost Week events kick off second semester at St. George

Events ranging from pub nights to LinkedIn profile reviews among welcome-back festivities

Winterfest and Frost Week events kick off second semester at St. George

 

Students at UTSG were in for some frosty fun last week when the St. George Roundtable hosted Winterfest. The festivities are set to continue this week, with the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Frost Week events taking place January 15–19.

“Winterfest is… [a] week of events meant to welcome U of T students back to school, reminiscent of Orientation. We hope to give back a little to the community,” wrote Winterfest co-chairs Albert Hoang, Yolanda Alfaro, and Samantha Douek.

Winterfest kicked off on Monday, January 8 with an open mic night. On Tuesday, students were able to attend either a screening of Norwegian Wood, an adaption of a movie by Haruki Murakami, or a pub night at Supermarket in Kensington Market.

Wednesday’s highlight was the Battle of the Bands at Lee’s Palace, featuring local bands Basset, Newcomer, Rocket Bomb, and the ultimate champions, Dorval. Thursday’s events were a drag show and board game night. Winterfest closed on Friday with another pub night at Tequila Jack’s. Throughout the week, students had the opportunity to eat free pancakes, which were served at individual colleges.

At Frost Week, students will get to decorate donuts on Monday, attend a LinkedIn profile review on Tuesday, sing with Choir! Choir! Choir! on Wednesday, see Young MA in concert on Thursday, and eat a free vegan breakfast on Friday.

“Most of the time, the programming is similar to Orientation,” wrote UTSU President Mathias Memmel of Frost Week. “The idea is to help ease students into the new term. Still, next year’s team should consider re-imagining Frost Week. Whenever an event becomes a ‘tradition’, opportunities for growth and improvement are lost. It’s good to start from scratch every once in a while and invite in collaborators.”

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.

In photos: Winterfest Battle of the Bands 2016

4 UofT bands competed for the top spot at Lee's Palace on January 14th

In photos: Winterfest Battle of the Bands 2016

Northern Riot:

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Northern Riot. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts:

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

Spaceship Thoughts. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers:

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Fallers. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications:

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The Implications. Mashal Khan/THE VARSITY

The battle is won

Four bands delivered lively performances at Lee's Palace for battle of the bands

The battle is won

Winterfest’s annual Battle of the Bands has always been a treat for U of T’s musically inclined, and this year was no exception. Four bands brought a myriad of sounds to the table, providing a night of music, dancing, and free drink tickets. In the end, there could only be one winner to take home the $500 cash prize. Here, we’ve supplied a rundown of each band’s set.

Act I: Spaceship Thoughts

The first act to hit the stage was the mysterious and newly formed Spaceship Thoughts, comprised of out-of-this-world members Spoon Johnson (a human), Sky Casket (also a human), and Lump the Potato (also a human; not a potato). Lacking any online presence and playing for an audience only once before — it was to audition for this show — the self-described acoustic rap outfit seemed to have intentionally created a veil of intrigue around themselves.

With little notice, a heavy drumbeat kicked off their performance, commanding the attention of attendees still casually floating around the venue. The group’s frontman, questionably dressed in bling and a tie wrapped around his head, captivated the audience with fast and energetic verses on top of drums and acoustic guitar. Self-referential and clever lyrics caught my ear and made it clear why Winterfest’s audition team was impressed by the eccentric trio.

As the group’s 30-minute set progressed, the energy on stage began to fade. Since the songs were comprised of similar drumbeats, structures, and lyrical content, it became increasingly difficult to tell them apart. Still, clever lyrics and a unique style made for a solid start to the evening. 

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Act II: Northern Riot

Next to perform were the patriotic partiers from Northern Riot. “Rock and roll ain’t dead, it’s just asleep. So you’d better get loud to wake it the fuck up,” urged frontman Thomas Thurley near the beginning of their set. The band has been playing with their current five member lineup for about a year, during which they’ve made themselves comfortable in Toronto’s youthful music scene. 

Their sound is unmistakably ‘70s inspired, with an emphasis on crunchy distortion and beefy vocals. The group’s fast and heavy-hitting rock sound eliminated any concern that they could not live up to Spaceship Thoughts’ energy. Northern Riot occasionally simmered for slower numbers like “Expired,” a track that showcased Thurley’s impressive vocal range. 

Overall Northern Riot provided a solid soundtrack for a night of heavy drinking but offered little else. Groups like Kings of Leon and Mumford and Sons take influence from the past and bring something new to the table, but Northern Riot failed to innovate in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, one particularly awkward instance did not go over well with the U of T crowd, when the rhythm guitarist held his water bottle to his pelvis, and squirted it in a phallic gesture. Classy.

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Act III: The Fallers

Fresh from a 22-date Canadian tour last summer, The Fallers are a group with plenty of experience playing on stages like Lee’s. Heavily inspired by garage rock like The Strokes, the trio delivers a live show that sounds as big, if not bigger, than their studio recordings. 

The Fallers began their set with “Left, Right, and Centre,” an upbeat yet composed alt-rock number that instantly marked their difference in style from the previous acts instantly. Lead singer and guitarist Garret Olson’s vocals were stellar and complimented by tight basslines from Alex Lakusta and the drumming of Mackenzie Read.   

The band flowed in and out of multiple styles, at one point resembling pop and at another point resembling punk. This made for an energetic and solid set, one that had many in the crowd wondering if they had already found the battle’s winner. 

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Act IV: The Implications

By the time the final band took the stage, the occupants of Lee’s Palace were the jumpiest they’d been all night. Perhaps it was the drink tickets catching up with students capitalizing on free booze, or maybe it was the contagious energy of the prior three bands to blame. But most likely it was in anticipation of the final band to take the stage: The Implications. 

Performing at their third U of T Battle of the Bands, this time having rebranded from The Turks to The Implications, their quirky pop-rock style was both familiar and welcomed by the crowd. The four-piece group offered a cohesive show that highlighted their ability to work together through carefully timed drum fills, bass and guitar solos, and sing-along sections. 

The band engaged with the audience on countless occasions: at one point they promised a free copy of their EP to whoever danced the hardest to their next song. Ultimately, it was this level of audience interaction and fun that propelled this set above others they have played in the past.

After roughly a 20-minute wait to make their decision, the judges took to the stage to announce that The Implications had won the 2016 Winterfest Battle of the Bands.

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Winterfest 2016 Battle of the Bands Pre-Coverage

We speak to the four groups selected to compete in this year's Battle of the Bands at Lee's Palace on January 14th

Winterfest 2016 Battle of the Bands Pre-Coverage