North by Northeast wrapped up on Sunday so, as promised, here’s another set of highlights from the best weekend of the year. This will cover Friday night, which was night two of the three nights we spent peregrinating around Toronto’s best indie rock venues to see the world’s best indie rock bands.


Trucked it out to Mod Club to go see Brody Dalle – failed to gain entrance, despite possession of 5-day wristbands. Have decided (for future reference) that, at NxNE, if you have to take a streetcar to get there, it is not a show worth going to (pro-tip #1).


Saw The Superstitions at Reverb (upstairs – I forget the actual name of the room). They looked like clean-cut kids who’d just arrived from the sock-hop, which is a good metaphor for their show – tight and fun, if a little safe.


Caught the last minute of…something…in the bottom floor of Reverb. Some kind of death metal with only discernible lyrics being “BLOOOOD! BLOOOOD!!!!” Fantastic.


Stopped to talk to marketing street team for Strut brand wine. Entire group of friends I was with had individual photos taken and projected 30-feet tall onto neighbouring building. Discovered that when I do a disco pose, I look silly in photographs. Got free wine out of it, though, so no harm.


Discovered my new favourite TO patio at Hideout. Large-ish, with comfortable (and not mouldy or sketchy) couches. Also spontaneously developed a taste for Amsterdam Blonde. Watched set by Triggerfinger, a bluesy hard-rock band from Belgium. Singer was amusingly creepy, repeatedly reminding audience that “booties are made for shaking”. Almost as hilarious were the drunk scenesters who (mid-set) enthusiastically pestered the bass player with business cards and technical questions about distortion pedals until being escorted away from stage by bouncer.

(Here’s some more from Evil Shananigans on our encounter with Triggerfinger – that’s right, our experience was so awesome that news of it made it all the way to England)


Walked to Queen and Spadina to see who was playing at Horseshoe. Encountered line-up, decided that, at NxNE, if you have to line up to get in, it is not a show worth going to (pro-tip #2). Tried Rivoli – made it through 1/2 a song and walked out. Don’t know how Rivoli manages to attract so many bands that I hate, but it’s the only club I ever walk out of during the festival and I did it three times.


Head to Kensington to check out Supermarket. Made it in time for last two songs by the paint movement, an indie-pop group with a killer sax player. Stayed for Fox Jaws, a dance-rock group from Barrie, who was a personal highlight at last year’s festival largely because of their singer and the almost Shirley Bassey quality to her voice. They did not disappoint. In between sets, my friends and I broke into spontaneous rendition of some song by Boston (I think it was Boston – maybe Europe), garnering strange looks and guffaws from other patrons. Sang louder.


Walked to El Mocambo to catch the downstairs closer, a hardcore band from Montreal called Bionic. Got there in time for last song by The Sadies, kind of a rockabilly band from Toronto. Not bad. Saw Melissa Auf Der Maur on the way back from the bathroom, rudely interrupted her conversation to tell her I liked her show the previous night. She said thanks. I’m not claiming to be cool or anything, but I did talk to Melissa Auf Der Maur. Just saying.


Bionic absolutely destroyed the small crowd assembled – just destroyed them. Also destroyed my new sneakers, but whatever. Were loud, fast and aggressive with blazing licks and absolutely no filters or hang-ups in front of an audience – one of those bands that has fun from the moment they step on stage and like to make sure you’re having fun too (largely by making you feel like a pussy if you’re not having fun). Announced that they were breaking up and that this would be their last show in TO, much to our disappointment. Still, this was a definite highlight. Iain gets big props for forcing us to stay up way past our bedtimes to see them.


Home around 4am after pizza and a cab ride. Vaguely remember heated argument in cab about whether Jaguar XK8s are nice cars or if they are only for “old men”. Someone pulls out a comparison to Astin Martin, which I feel is unfair. It didn’t come to blows, but it was close.

Day Two completed successfully – details on Day Three to come.


North by Northeast I
June 19, 2009, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Life in Toronto | Tags: , , ,

NxNE started this week, and it’s easily my favourite Toronto event of the year.

Highlights from last night included:

  • Blood Group, a dancey post-punk group from Iceland. The singer is in a category all her own on account of the fact that she is a) unbelievably talented, b) extremely attractive, and c) takes a good 15 seconds to introduce herself because of her very long last name.
  • Drunkula, who played a whole set of 90-second biker punk songs. Impossible not to get up and dance around. And the singer kept playing the maracas, which makes no sense because it’s biker punk but it sounded awesome.
  • Zoo Bombs, a psychedlic blues band from Tokyo. This was 40 minutes of the keyboard and bass players holding down awesome funk riffs while the drummer and frontman lost their minds overtop. Sick.
  • Random people in the street, including a guy who thinks my name is Tom (for reasons I can’t understand) and that my friend Iain’s name is JD (because we told him it was). There was also the girl who was being helped home on a bicycle by her friend because, as her friend explained it, “she’s Polish”.

I have to say, the performance level is up this year. I mean, it’s always good, but usually there are some standout frontpersons (I say “persons” not frontmans because of the number of frontwomen we saw last night) and some that are not so good. Every single lead in every single band we saw last night absolutely killed it. Fantastic.

More later. Three more days of festival, come out if you’re in TO!

Social media is not technology
June 16, 2009, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , ,

The importance of social media is not the technology. In fact, it’s not even useful to think of individual examples of social media as technologies, it’s more useful to think of them as groups of people gathered in common, virtual, spaces.

The reason that this model of social media is more useful is that the importance of social media has nothing to do with individual technologies that community members use, but rather the a) new genres of communication that are being produced with the rise of social media activity and b) the new expectations that audiences have as a result.

For example, one of the values that seems to be emerging on the internet as a result of social media is the wisdom of the crowd – e.g., the value (esp. through increased authenticity) that content acquires when it is allowed to be reviewed openly by the audience. Blog postings and even major news sources, for example, look a lot more authentic when they enable comments to their postings – many of them also include links to Digg, Reddit, etc., that allow their content to participate in processes that allow the community to filter out the best and most interesting information.

There are even sites where content isn’t even published until it has been sufficiently vetted by the community (e.g.,

This level of audience involvement was unheard of 20 years ago when it was limited to call-in and game shows. But now two-way communication is the norm and that is going to change the way that content producers reach and relate to audiences.

On top of all this, the boundaries between the various social media spaces, marked solely by the technologies that people use to access them, are very quickly eroding as said technology develops. Many of the recent revisions to Facebook, for example (such as the changes to the wording of the status box to “what’s on your mind?” and the introduction of customized usernames and URLs for your profile) seem blatantly designed to make Facebook more Twitter-like, possibly in response to the threat that Twitter presents to Facebook’s marketshare.

Then there’s the fact that using freely-available software such as Tweetdeck, you can now read and update your Twitter feed(s) AND your Facebook status AND all your friends’ Facebook statuses AND access all your FB friends’ profiles AND keep track of your favourite blogs all in the same place.

In fact, right after I put up this blog posting, I will probably use Tweetdeck to post a notification about it to both my Twitter feed (, if you care to follow me) and to my Facebook status.

Clearly, all of the major social media spaces are rapidly integrating and it’s only a matter of time until the divisions between the Twitter network and the Facebook network and the blogosphere and whatever else is out there just aren’t relevant, if those divisions even exist.

In 5 years (2 years! 6 months!) the specific network that someone is on will be about as relevant to your ability to network with them as the email client they use is to your ability to send them an email. The importance of social media, then, isn’t identifying the specific technology that will come out on top after the dust has settled, it’s learning how to use social media itself.

Simon Cowell, Schmimon Cowell
June 9, 2009, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Stephen King wrote a book called On Writing that’s half auto-biography and half an advice piece for getting published as a fiction writer. One thing he says that’s always stuck with me is the fact that he got something like 200 rejection letters before someone finally decided to publish “Carrie” and he kept every single one of them. Apparently he found them motivating because they reminded him that at least he was doing everything he could to get his work out there.

I’ve always found this anecdote to be great motivation in the face of rejection (like now, for example, as I contemplate a rejection for one of my own recent submissions). I find it acts as kind of antidote to the nonsense myth that shows like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent perpetuate, that finding an audience is a matter of having a ton of natural talent and just getting the chance to be discovered.


Sure, raw talent helps, it might even be a requirement, but the most important ingredient to artistic success as far as I’m concerned is hard work and persistence. There is no such thing as an overnight success and I feel like a lot of people waste a lot of time and angst sitting around waiting to be discovered because they’re not willing to go out and pound the pavement a little, as though if you have to work to convince people to listen to you, it mars the purity of your talent. Or something.

When you really dig into the stories of many people’s careers, I imagine you’ll find that success is mostly a lot of thankless effort punctuated by one big break that wouldn’t have happened without the afore-mentioned thankless effort.

Sure, getting published is about being at the right place at the right time, but the more places you are and the more time you spend there, the more likely it is you’ll stumble over that magic opportunity. And the more work you put in, the more of the little baby steps you’ll be able to take that will give you access to those spaces where people are more likely to get noticed. And nobody is going to drag you into those places, you really have to take it on yourself to find them and then wriggle your way in.

In other words, screw American Idol – hard work gets you noticed and real artists make their own luck. Your best friend when it comes to getting published isn’t Simon Cowell, it’s you.

To human pop-up ads: my brain is programmed to fear you

Ahh, summer in Toronto. Patio furniture. Summer concert festivals. Buskers. I do love it here this time of year.

If there’s one thing that I don’t love about summer in the city, however, it’s those cheerful volunteers, usually teens or 20-somethings, who stand at street corners and along major downtown routes wearing fleece sweater vests, carrying black, logoed binders and asking you if you “have a second to talk about (insert cause here) today?”

They’re human pop-up ads. And they drive me nuts.

I actually struggle with my dislike for these people. After all, they’re only doing their jobs. Plus, they are uniformly pleasant and friendly and they are always working on behalf of causes that, on some level, I have no trouble supporting, such as AIDS research or the Hospital for Sick Children or the World Wildlife Fund.

And yet, it takes great force of will to stay civil as I pass them (sometimes several times a day), smile through my teeth and politely decline their request for a few moments of my time. I feel like I’m being a jerk about it, but something about them just bugs the crap out of me.

Fortunately, I think I’ve figured out what it is.

This street-corner strategy is a kind of opt-out marketing – the type that presumes your participation and that you have to actively avoid. It’s like the old model of television advertising, where advertisers could assume that if they put a commercial on a screen that you were already watching, your inertia would keep you glued to that screen and you would likely consume the message. Sure, you could opt-out by getting up and making a sandwich, but chances are you probably wouldn’t. If nothing else, there are three commercial breaks every half-hour and how many sandwiches can you really eat?

But now that so much of the media we consume is on the internet or on-demand or on DVD (which makes it easier to pick and choose what you watch and when – advertising or otherwise), I’m starting to feel like I should really only have to pay attention to ads if I damn well feel like it. So when something forces its way into my field of view, the way commercials used to interrupt my television watching, it comes as something of a shock. I almost feel like the ad is being rude, like it’s invading my personal space.

And since consuming media has become so much more personal in a lot of ways, that invasion just feels that much more…well, invasive.

I’m starting to wonder if these changes in the way media is consumed have rewired my brain to switch into a kind of mild, xenophobic fight-or-flight response whenever anything tries to force its way in uninvited. That would certainly explain why my immediate reaction to pop-up ads – human or online – is to either flee or tell the ad in no uncertain terms to go do terrible things to itself. I don’t do it most of the time – but I want to.

So there you go, all you cheerful volunteers with binders and sweater vests – I apologize for my rudeness, but I assure you, it’s not your fault. You’re doing good work, but you are a human pop-up ad and my brain has been pre-programmed to fear you. There’s nothing I can do.

Life Imitating Art
June 1, 2009, 12:34 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

This weekend at a club I witnessed a real, live, spontaneous break-dance battle. Two strangers laid it all out on a dance floor, complete with semi-ironic chest thumping. I swear it looked exactly like something out of that Run DMC vs. Jason Nevins music video. It was awesome.

I love when the real world spontaneously does something that you usually only see in movies. It’s so much fun.