“In Toronto’s music scene, the most independent musicians are pursued by the bloggers of the OTM Squad. These are their stories…”
Case #001 – My first Canadian Music Week
During Canadian Music Week, I couldn’t get the theme song – both versions – of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” out of my head. I couldn’t help humming it as I followed Amber between different venues across Toronto. I envisioned us, armed with cameras, ready to capture moments at the various sets in a montage of black-and-white scenes similar to the opening for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”. When I told her about this idea, Amber laughed.
On our adventures together, we would always find these moments to laugh or share silly thoughts like this despite how stressed or overworked or overwhelmed we were in our respective lives. We even talked about my experiences during my first Canadian Music Week, and Amber suggested I write about my thoughts on the week.
It’s a Small (But Wide and Diverse) World
I felt there was a wide variety and quantity of indie music to discover during Canadian Music Week – so much that I remember how Amber agonized over how she couldn’t go to certain bands she wanted to see because other bands conflicted with certain time slots. From what I could see (because I couldn’t make it to everything), there was definitely something to appeal to everyone – including for someone like me who grew up listening to his brother playing classic music on the piano and listening to top forty and whatever’s playing on mainstream radio/TV. And so far, Amber has not steered me wrong in terms of bands that she introduced to me.
CMW also appealed to many different people. During the week, I ran into people from my different worlds in the audience, such as a coworker, a coworker’s daughter, a band mate from the concert band I’m in. It got even weirder when I ran into the a member of Cai.ro who went to the same university as Amber and me, and a high school classmate of Amber’s was dating one of the members of Goodnight, Sunrise.
All Moshed Up
On the Saturday night of CMW, Amber and I were at Horseshoe Tavern to see Shout Out Out Out Out and The Dirty Nil. For both bands, mosh pits formed in front of the stage, and we were at the front as well taking photos. After a few tidal waves of push-and-shoves, we took whatever shots we could and retreated to the side behind the human-sized speakers.
Now, I noticed some of the boys taking off their shirts in the mosh pits, and I thought they were hot. However, I wasn’t ready to throw myself into the mosh pit. First, I grew up being pushed around by boys in high school, and now being an avid TTC commuter, I still get pushed around in crowded buses when I’m carrying multiple bags, so already I feel defensive when being pushed around. Second, I’m still reeling from the last time I was in a mosh pit (which was with Amber at a Third Eye Blind concert at Echo Beach), where Amber and I got into a fight with a drunk-and-high guy who wouldn’t stop hitting on Amber, and had to use our combined force of her security guard training and my sword-shaped umbrella to fend him off while we called for security. Third, we carried two of my expensive cameras – one of which was still being paid off at the time – so not only were we concerned with our own safety in the pit, but the safety of my equipment.
Sorry hot shirtless boys, but I can find other (less pushy) ways to meet (and rub up against) you.
My Ears, My Indie Music Virgin Ears!
While standing next to the human-sized speaker at Horseshoe Tavern, I finally had earplugs to block the full impact of the music channelled through those speakers.
I wish I brought earplugs sooner. Usually when photographing near the stage of any of the bands that Amber and I covered, we would usually end up near a speaker that would blast the music in my ears. Whether or not I loved the music, I must have lost 20% or more of my hearing standing next to the stage’s booming speakers without safer sound protection.
And to think, I’m used to sitting in the flute section during a rehearsal of the Columbus Centre Band and hearing the more powerful instruments – especially trumpets – blast behind my section, and drown out the flutes. But that didn’t prepare me for what speakers can truly blast out.
When photographing these bands during CMW, I definitely drew on my skills and my experiences photographing drag queens performing in gay bars and photographing leather and kink events for Leatherati.com. But what really challenged me was not using a flash, which was a media requirement by CMW, and I’m one who’s known in the queer and kink communities for blinding subjects with my flash constantly. I mean, dealing with very dynamic, busting-a-move performers (such as Incura) while not photographing with flash definitely stretched skills. I hoped to hell I’d get as good shots as the media people with bigger cameras and more powerful lenses. But as I always learned from other areas of life, it’s not the size or the power that matters, it’s HOW you use it wink …. And maybe how well you post-process afterwards.
However, there are times when even the best camera can do nothing but come out with crap. To me, this depended on the lighting in the venue – specifically blinding white light, red light, and blue light (which I like to call the “unholy trinity for photographers”) *cough* The Garrison *cough*.
Now, I get bands will use some of these unholy lights for effect in their show. However, these lights do not always get used, and there are opportunities for people – both in the audience and in the media pit – to get some good shots of the bands.
But what happens when bands purposely use the whole unholy trinity of lighting for their ENTIRE show? Specifically, I referred to the Metric concert at the SiriusXM Indies. Now I thought my dinky cameras were just not powerful enough to pierce these types of lights, and I just needed to invest in better equipment. However, every camera person in the SiriusXM Indies media pit kept shooting beyond the first-three-songs limit as instructed specifically to media for the Metric concert until we were all systematically shooed out of the pit by Kool Haus security. I can only guess that the other photographers had problems trying to get good shots of the band within the first three songs as well.
While watching the rest of the Metric concert, Amber said to me that they used the exact same lighting at their last show in Toronto. A fellow photographer from the pit mentioned to me that Metric was under new management and did not want any pictures taken. A few days after the Indies, I spoke to my coworker who was also there, and she recounted how in another city, she asked Emily Haines of Metric for a picture with her partner’s daughter and she refused.
Hmmm, I wonder what type of message does that portray to the media and the fans who try to capture moments and memories of Metric to share or to keep for themselves? I can only speculate…
Back to a vainer note, I saw a lot of eye candy that appealed to lil’ ol’ gay me during CMW.
Right off the bat, I was already commenting on Twitter from my account, @TheGayDragon about the guys in one of the first bands I saw with Amber on Tuesday night:
J.J. Deogracias @TheGayDragon
@OTMidnight the boys of @Illitry are cute too! #CMW
J.J. Deogracias @TheGayDragon
@Illitry @OTMidnight truthfully, every band, I usually find one guy, maybe two, that’s cute… Never usually the entire band.
However, not to make the other bands jealous, I did find hot guys in other bands such as The Standstills, Incura, Goodnight Sunrise, cai.ro, Beekeeper, The Dirty Nil, and Noel Johnson. If I missed out on the hotness of your band, please don’t take offense; we all have our individual tastes after all.
Then there was fashion eye candy which appealed to lil’ ol’ fashionista me, and after scowering through my pictures, these were my top ten picks for what I considered to be the best fashions I saw that week, and they are ordered according to the day I saw them.
I am big on big prints on clothes, and the large white alphabet print on this black dress. I remember commenting how much I liked the dress to its wearer, Lyon lead singer, Lauren Lyon. She admitted to me that she just bought that dress the day before. Well, great pick for a last-minute choice.
As the drummer of The Standstills, Renee Couture (and I love the fashion-relatedness of her last name) managed to stand out from the back of the stage, not only because of her wicked percussion moves, but because of the crystals in her necklace and her little black dress’ waist accoutrement.
The first thing I noticed on Incura‘s lead singer, Kyle Gruninger was the skull-like smile cut out on the back of his black tanktop. Then, when I noticed him trying to tie on his leather gauntlet, I helped him out. However, when I asked him where he got the gauntlet, he swore me to secrecy on where he bought it. What I can say about the place where he bought the gauntlet, I love shopping there.
When I first met Devon Lougheed, lead singer of Beekeeper, during their last set in Toronto pre-CMW, he wore an zombie-cat-print shirt, which I complemented him on his interesting choice. When I saw him perform again, this time he wore this rainbow tie dye tanktop. He was the first man among the bands Amber and I saw so far that week wearing anything flashy, but he was definitely not the last.
Now, I have nothing against just wearing something monochrome like all black; I mean, I do wear black leather outfits. However, I do appreciate when there are interesting details about someone’s outfit, such as the pattern in the lacy flowy dress worn by The Falls‘ Melinda Kirwin.
I ran into this guy who literally walked around in only a speedo, a large gold chain, and a Navy sea captain’s cap. I wasn’t sure what to make of him until I saw him on stage – this time with a denim jacket – dancing across the stage, banging a tambourine during Yukon Blonde’s performance at the SiriusXM Indies. I commended him for his bravery to willingly show off his assets to the public; I definitely couldn’t do that. I just wish I knew his name…
I love wearing leather, and I love when there are spikes added to leather; I have a few leather pieces with spikes on it. To me, spikes add an element of toughness or dangerousness to the leather. So I was very much enamoured by Diamond Rings’ leather motorcycle vest with spikes on the shoulders.
I also love mixing unusual elements to leather like colours, sparkles, and fringe; you should see my leather outfits when I cover events for Leatherati.com. So when I saw Emily Haines of Metric wearing leather jacket with gold fringe, a sparkling mini-skirt, and purple suede shoes, I felt inspired.
I love when people dress towards a theme, and take their own slant when doing that. For the Goodnight, Sunrise concert at the Quad Spinning Studio, I felt there were two pairs of people who definitely dressed to the theme of this concert in their own wacky way:
– David Kochberg and Vanessa Vakharia of Goodnight, Sunrise
– Cynthia Gould and Mandy Wells from High Heels, Lo Fi who supported Goodnight, Sunrise by spinning in pink leopard print spandex and high heels during the concert. Now, that’s dedication.
When I photograph and cover events for Leatherati.com, I always dress in flamboyant outfits I put together for the event that even got the people on the indie scene commenting positively (I hope). At the end of most of my Leatherhati.com articles, I added a column called “W.D.J.J.D.W.?” (“What Did J.J. Deogracias Wear?”) to talk about what I wear and how I put those outfits together.
I figured that since I already talked about who dressed to impress me during CMW, I’d talk about what I wore each day when covering events with Amber:
When Amber and I started covering CMW, it was a Tuesday. At my work, we have “Purple Tuesdays” where many of the unionized employees wear purple as a sign of showing solidarity. So, I was already wearing my Beetlejuice-inspired “Utterly Alone” t-shirt that I bought from Teefury.com. I paired the shirt with a black-and-fuchsia Victorian-inspired unicorn cameo I bought from a artisan at a sci-fi convention in Rochester, NY, and a vintage purple leather blazer from Bungalow East in Kensington Market.
I went with a more black-and-white rocker look with a white t-shirt from Zara’s with an image of a spiky leather jacket and a black faux-snakeskin-print blazer. I accessorized the look with a “Queen” nameplate necklace, a Playboy guitar necklace, and a crystal triquetra snake broach designed by local Toronto jewellery designer, Danny Pollak (whom you would find at the One of A Kind shows or at the Ex in the Arts and Crafts Building).
I noticed this trend while going to indie band gigs with Amber where people pair blazers with hoodies. I experimented with this look by pairing a Model Citizen blazer with salmon pink piping with a Pink Power Ranger hoodie I got from Hot Topic. And to mix the theme of music with Power Rangers, I wore a t-shirt with what looked a musical version of a Megazord.
For the Sirius XMIndies, I decided to denote my media status with my “Camerabot” t-shirt from Teefury.com. I classed it up with a re-made blue striped tailcoat by local Toronto design label, Retro G Couture, and accessorized with a blue crystal eye flower by Danny Pollak.
Most of my outfits (such as the ones I wore the previous four days) were planned before I left the house. Sometimes, my planned outfits take on some last minute changes, and a different outfit emerges. Take this outfit I wore at Horseshoe Tavern amidst the chaos of the mosh pits. The only thing I had planned originally in that outfit was my rainbow suspenders.
Earlier in the afternoon, Amber and I covered Goodnight, Sunrise playing their entire CD during a spin class at the Quad Spinning studio. While schmoozing with the band and audience, I noticed a table with leather bracelets that were being sold and the silver skull mask at the Quad Spinning studio. I tried on the mask, and everyone who saw me wearing it thought it looked awesome. I thought it would be a great look for the concerts Amber and I were to cover later that night. I asked the instructor who guided the spin classes as Goodnight, Sunrise played if I could buy it, and she agreed.
Now, the skull mask did not go with the shirt I originally wore. However, the Goodnight, Sunrise shirt – with the image of a keyboard guitar stuck in a human heart – seemed to be a better fit with the skull mask. Even though I already bought one at their gig at El Mocambo, the shirt was at home and there was not enough time to go back home and return in time for the next gig Amber and I were supposed to cover. So in a very rare move, I bought another GNSR t-shirt, but it was worth the look I presented in the end.
Editor’s Note: Thanks so much to Joseph, who not only wrote up an awesome recap of the not-so-critic-y moments of the fest, but also toughed it out through the sometimes harrowing and always chaotic schedule I kept him to. Constant venue shifts and switches aren’t easy on anyone, but he did it with a smile (and wisely bought me wine mid-fest to restore my sanity).
Look forward to more case files from Joseph in the future, as well as his photography! Thanks also to all of the gracious artists who indulged the two of us in our endless questions, frequent giggles but ultimately, love of the arts.