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Independent bands in peak form for Canada Day

Photo: Handout

Published in the Vancouver Sun June 29, 2011


While those attending Canada Day festivities in and around Metro Vancouver will display their Canadian pride with red-and-white clothing, face paint and fluttering flags, this year’s Top 20 Peak Performance Project competitors are celebrating by coming together and singing their hearts out.

The independent musicians lucky enough to be in the current round of the Peak Performance Project — a seven-year, $5.29-million professional development program put on by Vancouver’s The Peak 100.5 FM radio station — will be meeting for the first time on July 1 in Surrey. All 20 groups are scheduled to perform live in front of the thousands of people who will flock to Cloverdale Millennium Amphitheatre for the day’s events.

Being shortlisted in the Peak Performance Project has been a “dream” for Laura Smith, of Vancouver-based indie pop band Rococode. She and her three bandmates can’t wait to play for an entirely new audience on Canada Day, and she’s also excited to connect with the other participants in the project.

“[The Top 20 Live] is a really great opportunity for us to get exposure to a new crowd of people. But it’s also an interesting day because it’s our orientation,” Smith says over the phone from Calgary, where her band just finished playing the Sled Island Music Festival. “That’s the first day we’ll all be together and we’re all going to meet and see each other play. I’m really excited to see all the other bands.”

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Interview: SebastiAn

Published online for The Block Magazine.

Interviewer Amanda Ash

Despite his 6 years working with EdBanger records, producing tracks, creating remixes for the likes of Kelis, Klaxons, and Uffie and working alongside French electro alums like Mr. Oizo and Sebastian Tellier, 30-year-old SebastiAn has been a bit of an enigma, granting few interviews or media appearances. But with the release of his excellent debut album Total, SebastiAn decided he was ready to talk, and The Block was lucky enough to score some time with the talented, engagingly personable artist (whose English is charmingly faltering).

The Block: Hi Sebastian. How are you?

SebastiAn: I’m good. Good. You?

TB: I’m great. Thanks for chatting. Congratulations on your debut record, Total, which was released this June. How do you feel?

S: I took my time to produce it, so now I’m starting to see what it’s going to be. I’m not exploding [with excitement], though. I just want to see what’s going to happen.

TB: I was doing some research on you, and it seems like you keep a pretty low profile. There aren’t many interviews with you out there. Why?

S: It’s not voluntary. I never wanted to say anything when I have nothing to say. For example, now I have an album out so I can talk about it. But before, if it’s just saying something to answer to some soft work [remixes], I was never into it. I can talk about the album right now, but talking about what I am thinking during producing was not very [right] to me before having something to really show. That’s all. I don’t talk when I have nothing to say.

TB: Did you have a lot people wanting to talk to you about your remixes, or any previous work?

S: Yeah. They wanted to, but most of the time I try not.

TB: Tell me a bit about the album. Has it been a long time in the making?

S: I took my time. The songs everywhere [sounded] the same to me, so I took my time to find a different direction. It also took me a while to finish the album because [French director] Romain Gavras, the guy who did [the music video for] M.I.A’s “Born Free,” he asked me to make the soundtrack to his movie Our Day Will Come. I was finishing my album at the same time. I thought the soundtrack would take one or two months, maximum. In fact, it took way more time, because it’s different to work with a lot of people on a movie. That’s why it took so long, because I was working on two or three things at the same time.

TB: In all, how long did it take to make the record then?

S: The album was almost finished in less than a year, but it took way more time because of all the other projects. I’m not a big calculator, so I can work sometimes without [worrying]. I didn’t have any plans. I was just working and working. And so some people may judge [me for taking so long].


Rihanna review: She wasn’t the only girl shedding her worries at Rogers Arena

Published in the Vancouver Sun June 24, 2011


Rihanna knows how to throw a party — a sexy, steamy, tight-and-bright bash where yesterday’s troubles are crushed beneath mile-high stilettos and drowned by intoxicating club beats.

As the Grammy Award-winning artist demonstrated to a packed Rogers Arena Friday night with the first of her two Vancouver shows, there’s nothing a bit of raunch and glam can’t cure. Except maybe the glitter hangover you’re bound to have the next day.

On stage, a pants-less Rihanna, born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, grinded and stripped like she didn’t have a care in the world. She gave off a “don’t worry, just dance” atmosphere from the moment she emerged in a giant ball, donning a sparkly blue jacket amid the multicoloured lights. But most importantly, the artist left her personal life backstage, giving the crowd a smoking hot and visually spectacular show filled with lingerie-and-latex pageantry.

The Barbados-born singer is one of the world’s biggest pop stars, selling in excess of 20 million records. But as can be expected from the tabloids, her personal life (most of it surrounding previous love interest Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty to assaulting her) has been the primary focus rather than her music.

The public often acts as though the R&B princess, who’s a mere 23 years of age, is the only a DUI away from becoming Lindsay Lohan. In reality, her problems are just peanuts. The Chris Brown drama is like a Chernobyl cockroach that just won’t die. And in response, Rihanna is willing to flip everyone the bird while dancing, half-naked, on top of the entire situation.

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The Cheaper Show celebrates 10 year milestone

Photo: Handout

Published on on June 24, 2011

The sidewalks surrounding The Cheaper Show’s East Vancouver venue are currently empty. But on June 26, the annual one-night event saw line-ups close to 10,000 visitors strong – many of them eager to lose their visual art virginity.

This year marks The Cheaper Show’s 10th anniversary. As the tagline “Blood, Sweat & Ten Years” suggests, founder and creative director Graeme Berglund has spent the past decade knocking down the barriers between emerging artists, buyers, curators and gallery directors. Featuring 200 artists and 400 pieces of work at the singular price of $200 each, Berglund hopes The Cheaper Show will continue to have a “trickle up effect” by exposing new buyers and gallery heads to emerging artists.

“The show itself is an eclipse,” Berglund says. “It exists for a single night, and it does cause a great amount of excitement for both the artists and the patrons in the city. It’s kind of like this temporary injection of excitement based on not just our show, but 200 local and international artists. A lot of people—your average person in the city—may not be accustomed or maybe even interested in going to a gallery on, say, South Granville, because they find the experience is generally off-putting because it’s not necessarily an accessible feeling environment. Here, the show is based on accessibility.”

“[The Cheaper Show] has more feelings in the air of a party, and there’s a lot of excited discussion,” explains Berglund. “People come down in droves. You come down with 15 best friends, you grab a drink and you are walking around, intimately checking out this artwork. You also have this ability, if you’ve got 200 in your back pocket, to buy artwork, and in a lot of cases, it’s the first piece of artwork they’ve ever bought.”

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Black Lips polish new album to high shine

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Published in the Vancouver Sun June 14, 2011.


The Black Lips don’t need a special occasion to unleash their debauchery. It’s simply second nature for the Atlanta-based garage-punk quartet to shamelessly flop around on stage naked, swap spit with each other or publicly urinate on any given day.

Considering the band’s fabled shenanigans, it only makes sense that a bona fide cause for celebration would see the Black Lips upping the ante, putting both Charlie Sheen and The Hangover to shame. Last week marked the release of their sixth studio album, Arabia Mountain. One can only imagine what salacious festivities took place.

“I had the day off, so I just kinda relaxed,” Black Lips vocalist/guitarist Cole Alexander says nonchalantly over the phone from Los Angeles. “It was my birthday yesterday and I didn’t really celebrate that, either. I just chilled.”

It seems out of place for Alexander and his crew of critically acclaimed misfits to avoid trouble’s grasp, especially on such a milestone of a day. But as Arabia Mountain suggests with its tighter focus and polished retro sensibilities, the boys may have finally sprouted some permanent stubble on their chests.

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Supertramp: Blasts from the past served up a tad mellower

Published in the Vancouver Sun June 3, 2011


“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful. A miracle. Oh it was beautiful, magical …”

The lyrics to Supertramp’s The Logical Song weren’t just words to mouth along to Thursday night. They meant something much more to the middle-aged fans at Rogers Arena — all you had to do was look into their glossy eyes to know they were happily lost in a completely different time.

OK, well, perhaps the few wisps of marijuana smoke that rose from pockets of the subdued crowd had something to do with the fans’ little trip down memory lane. But deep down, you could tell those notorious Wurlitzer chords triggered a feeling that many had lost with the departure of their youth. Zipping across America in a 1975 Chevy Corvette, partying without consequence, indulging in the intoxicating scent of long, windblown hair — Supertramp’s music brought back the magic the audience hadn’t felt since their freedom left them sometime in the ’80s for corporate jobs, responsibility and routine.

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Sultry singing star Anna Calvi fearless onstage, timid off

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Published in the Vancouver Sun June 1, 2011


Anna Calvi is fearless, or so the voice on her self-titled debut suggests.

The British vocalist, hailed by the BBC’s Sound of 2011 as one of the year’s most promising new artists, is an emotional tempest when it comes to her haunting orchestra-inspired arrangements, which would seem quite at home on a David Lynch soundtrack.

Feral desire, theatrical adoration and private torment course through her album, openly and freely, as if vulnerability doesn’t exist for the voracious 28-year-old musician. However, in a recent interview Calvi couldn’t sound any more different than the strong, relentless woman found on the record. Calvi’s voice is little more than a whisper. She’s driving towards Toronto, the next stop on her North American tour, and at some points, it’s hard to differentiate her soft words from the gentle hum of her vehicle.

“In music, I want to conquer my fears,” Calvi says. “But life in general, I’m not like that. I’m only like that when it comes to art.”

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Sam Roberts gives Malkin Bowl crowd a crash course with Collider, classic hits

Published in the Vancouver Sun May 28, 2011


With six Juno Awards, gold and platinum records, and enough shaggy lumberjack hair to make women squeal for the past eight years, it’s safe to say the Sam Roberts Band is quickly becoming a Canadian music staple.

It all started with Roberts’ 2003 record We Were Born In A Flame. Before long, the five-piece group from Montreal took a Bridge To Nowhere and ended up somewhere grand. Today, some might argue that they’re the end slice in the Can-rock loaf of bread that consists of rock greats such as The Tragically Hip, Sloan and Blue Rodeo. The Sam Roberts Band has graduated from indie popularity to standard pop-rock sustenance, cropping up on festival circuits everywhere and dancing on radio waves like nobody’s watching.

But being that fringe slice of bread, the Sam Roberts Band hasn’t done much to prevent staleness with its latest offering, Collider. It’s been nearly three years since the group released new music, and Collider doesn’t add much freshness to their repertoire, or to the Canadian music scene in general.

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Kid Rock cleans up well at Rogers Arena

Published in the Vancouver Sun on May 17, 2011.


A lot of people hate on Kid Rock, but the truth is there’s not much to hate — any more, that is.

The Detroit-based singer-songwriter, rapper and country artist is a changed man. He hasn’t put the most straitlaced foot forward in the past, but as the scraggly-haired musician who just turned 40 demonstrated to a packed Rogers Arena Tuesday night, the sleazy swagger days are gone — it’s all about the heart and the music now.

Kid Rock, otherwise known as Robert James Ritchie, first muscled his way into the spotlight with his 1998 release of Devil Without A Cause. He left a lasting impression with that record. And it wasn’t a positive one.

Ritchie’s metal-infused country-rap songs like Bawitdaba and Cowboy appealed to a particularly churlish demographic, engulfing radio waves like a big, noxious cloud of diesel fumes. His brash, third-rate image as a skinny, shirtless, fedora-wearing white boy was further trampled by his affinity for drugs, alcohol and busty women. He regularly waved the Confederate flag. He brawled in an Atlanta Waffle House. And his short-lived marriage to Pamela Anderson in 2006 was just another cigarette burn in the sun-bleached couch.

Kid Rock has dragged his image through the mud. Now, with his latest heartland country-rock album Born Free, he’s finally moved out of the trailer park and into a charming rural home.

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James Blunt brings balancing act to Vancouver

Published in the Vancouver Sun on May 10, 2011.


James Blunt is like the middle child in a family of radio superstars and soft-rock indie darlings: He seems to get lost in the fuss over his more defined siblings.

Blunt, a British cavalry captain-turned-musician, straddles the border of Top 40 buzz and folky singer-songwriter obscurity. (In the U.K., it’s a bit of a different story: the five-time Grammy nominee is tabloid fodder.) Known for the songbird-esque quiver in his voice, Blunt isn’t the type of musician to sell out Rogers Arena in 10 minutes, or produce consistent and anticipated No. 1 hits for American charts.

On one hand, his songs are elemental, personal, unpolished emotion, avoiding the overly jangly or super-sweet lacquer that earns you pop fame. But then you take into account the 37-year-old’s nauseatingly cute hit, You’re Beautiful, off his multi-platinum debut Back To Bedlam, and other big money-makers like 1973 off 2007’s All The Lost Souls. They’ve burrowed deep into North Americans’ ears, earning him mainstream staying power and a few accolades.

On paper, Blunt’s music seems to be the best of both worlds — with three albums, two world tours and 18 million records. But he just doesn’t get the hype that similarly successful artists do. In short, Blunt’s the guy you hear killing time on the radio when DJs have already played that godawful Britney song 10 times in the past hour.

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