Jessica Kirson is a comedian all can admire. She’s funny, she’s fearless and she has a versatility few comedians have, shifting seamlessly from social commentary to hilarious impressions. She has the kind of energy most can only match after several cups of caffeine, and though she’s been through her share of struggles, Kirson has managed to find humour in all.

Jessica Kirson is performing at Just for Laughs’ Ethnic Show this year. I had a chance to speak to her. Here’s what we talked about.

SG: Welcome to Montreal, you excited about being here?

JK: I’m very excited about being here! I LOVE Montreal. This is my fourth time doing the festival and it’s great.

SG: How would you describe your style of comedy?

JK: I don’t have a style. I do all different kinds of comedy, I do characters, pretty high energy, very honest, real, talk about my family a lot… I’m not really a joke teller, I’m more of a high energy comic.

SG: I notice you do a lot of impressions. Who do you like to do most?

JK: I like doing my grandmother, my Jewish grandmother mostly because it’s so familiar to me.

SG: What was she like?

JK: She was amazing. She was the reason I got into standup, she was the one who called me over to her table one day and said you should be a comedian, every time people are around you they’re laughing. I never thought I could do it but I listened to her and took a class 19 years ago. Very strong woman, powerful, very honest, she was beautiful.

SG: In the history of standup comedy there have been a lot of Jewish comedians. Why do you think that is?

JK: I think humour comes from pain… I think the Jewish community and the culture have turned a lot of difficult situations into humour and tried to find a lighter way of dealing with it… In my family there was always a kind of laughter and being silly and everyone joking around and this was a way of dealing with pain.

SG: You make a lot of jokes about being heavy in your comedy. Showbiz seems unfairly dominated by thin women. How has being curvy affected your career?

JK: I don’t talk about that a lot anymore because I lost a hundred pounds. I do talk about it a little bit because it’s a demon of mine, food and food addiction and binge eating and everything… I’m very honest on stage so I do talk about it… I don’t care what the industry wants or doesn’t want, I am who I am. I feel like it hasn’t affected me when it comes to being a comedian, being heavy/not being heavy. I’m glad I haven’t made a career because of my looks.

SG: Do you think comedy is more forgiving in that way?

JK: I think standup comedy is. I don’t know so much about movies and getting a major part on a sitcom but I’ve done an enormous amount of television and movies even when I was at my heaviest. I think if you’re funny, you’re funny and you get work, but I know for much more female comics now it’s much more a part of their persona and their image on the internet –about body and body image… and it was never like that when I started.

SG: You’re doing the Ethnic Show this year. Do you consider yourself an ethnic comedian?

JK: I do talk about where I’m from and my family and my experience and my background, so yes… I do a lot of different ethnicities and characters.

SG: Comedians seem to be having a field day with American politics right now. Are you planning to take a shot at it?

JK: I don’t talk about politics a lot in my act. I don’t think it’s funny. I’m actually pretty horrified at everything going on but I do talk about it in a roundabout way… For example, I might talk about gay marriage or something. I won’t talk about it from a serious point of view, I’ll talk about it making fun of people who are against it and why.

SG: You’re doing Just for Laughs the Ethnic Show. You’ve also got a Youtube channel, The Jessy K Show, and the Jessica Kirson Podcast. Tell me about those.

JK: I have different stuff online. I have a lot of stuff on the Jessy K Show on Youtube and I have a lot of videos on my Facebook page, and I have a new podcast called Fat Pig and that is with another comic, a very close friend of mine, Frank Liotti, and we talk about food addiction and funny stories with food and our struggles and we have guests on and stuff.

SG: Do you feel that will empower other women who go through the same stuff?

JK: It does. It empowers a lot of people, we get a ton of feedback and emails and all kinds of things and people just love it because we’re very very honest. We talk about our own experiences and also make light of it.

SG: How do you feel about Montreal audiences?

JK: I think Montreal audiences are incredible. A lot of times it’s real comedy audiences so they want to see it, they want to laugh, they’re smart, they’re cultured. I love Canadian audiences.

SG: Are there any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the coming year?

JK: Working on a television show right now about my mother being a therapist and I have a lot of stuff going on online. The podcast has been growing and growing.

SG: If you could say one thing to your audience right now, what would it be?

JK: Be silly, always be silly and not take things too seriously and try and find humour in every situation when you can, when you’re ready, and fight fear and do things that feel uncomfortable because you live once.

Jessica Kirson performs as part of The Ethnic Show running until July 27th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

This won’t me Moshe Kasher’s first visit to Montreal, or to Just for Laughs. The comedian, writer and actor has been performing regularly here since his first appearance at the fest in 2009.

“I love Montreal,” he stated in a telephone interview, “this will be my fifth or sixth time coming to Montreal, so I feel like I know the city and I like it. The only thing is I’d like to get out to the wilderness surrounding the city. Other than that, I’ve seen it all…You guys already know this, but you’re a special city.”

2017 will, however, be the first time Kasher hosts JFL All Access. This is also the year where he became a TV talk show host with the new Comedy Central show Problematic (airs on MUCH in Canada).

“With my podcast, we were doing a topical show every month taking on a different topic and then the political climate changed and there needed to be more big conversations,” Kasher said, explaining the origins of the show.

“Conversations are important,” he continued, “and conversations, I think now more than ever need to happen. What is happening in our world is that when we disagree with people we stop talking and my philosophy on life is that when we disagree with each other we should begin having conversations.”

Problematic sees Kasher talking to a variety of internet trolls and provocateurs who are unable to hide behind their handles as well as celebrity guests and pundits. Shows are centered on a particularly, um, problematic corner of the web.

The show, which has already completed its seven episode first season has a stated mission to “bring peace and harmony to the internet”, a mission he is trying to accomplish on cable TV. I asked him why not do it on the web directly.

“Maybe we will. I’m still waiting to figure out if we’re doing more, so maybe for the next one, if we’re not, it will be on YouTube or Hulu or something like that,” he said, later adding that the distinction between the web real life is fading and the distinction between the internet and TV is something which will soon disappear.

Something that remains different, for Kasher, is performing live in front of an audience:

“That is one of the great divides between the internet and real life is that you cannot fake a live performance.”

While performing for TV and the web as well as in films offer a similar experience, for Kasher, there’s nothing quite like performing for a live audience.

Montrealers will have a chance to see Kasher in his live element when he hosts All Access, something he promises will be “wild and exciting” while featuring a wide array of comics. He is happy he is getting the chance to host one of the All Access TV tapings at a festival that welcomed him since he was one of the “new faces” of comedy.

Just don’t expect him to weigh in on one of Montreal’s most longstanding controversies. I asked this frequent visitor what he thought about our bagels and he admitted he likes them, but when asked his preference between Fairmount and St-Viateur, he responded:

“I don’t know that I’d want to involve myself in a political controversy.”

All Access Live Hosted by Moshe Kasher is on July 27th. Tickets available through hahaha.com

Gina Yashere is a Just for Laughs veteran, recent contributor on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and the host of this year’s JFL British Show.

FTB’s Samantha Gold speaks with her about Montreal, raunchy humour and the difference between the current British and American political situations:

Brit(ish) hosted by Gina Yashere runs July 26-28. Tickets and info at hahaha.com

* Featured image of Gina Yashere’s 2015 JFL performance by Éric Myre, courtesy of Just for Laughs

Sasheer Zamata is a comedian, actress, writer, former Saturday Night Live cast member and the ACLU’s Celebrity Ambassador for the Women’s Rights Project. She’s also performing an OFF-JFL solo show as part of Just For Laughs this summer in Montreal.

FTB’s Samantha Gold spoke with her about being a black woman in the comedy world, her upcoming visit to Montreal, the different merits of sketch comedy and standup comedy and more:

Sasheer Zamata performs as part of OFF JFL, tickets and info at hahaha.com

The RCMP is investigating an upsetting incident in Surrey (BC), where a 16 year-old black girl was handcuffed and taken down in a case of “mistaken identity”. Ruth and Gary Augustine told CBC that they have lodged a formal public complaint on behalf of their daughter, who prefers not to be named in order to avoid harassment on social media.

The teenager says she was waiting at the Newton bus loop last Friday, on her way to a job interview, when two Mounties showed up and started asking her questions. They were apparently looking for someone wanted under the Mental Health Act. She says that she started backing away when they called her a “high-risk mental health patient”. She soon found herself on the ground under the two officers, with her hands behind her back. That’s when a bystander, going by the Facebook name of Ash Hotti, started filming:

The teenager can be heard crying and cursing, shouting “My name is not LaToya, ask me what my name is!”

When one of the officers realizes that the bystander is filming, he threatens to seize the phone as evidence. The bystander demands that the officer explains how it constitutes evidence.

“This is fucking wrong, be ashamed of yourselves!” Hotti later says, assuring the teen: “Don’t worry I got everything on film.”

“Yeah, you can send it to her phone and they’ll get charged,” suggests a second bystander.

When the officers checked the girl’s purse for ID, they found that they had the wrong person. They uncuffed her and left. The teenager told CTV news that neither officers asked her for ID before they tackled her, but that she would have complied if they did.

The Surrey RCMP have issued a statement on Wednesday after the family lodged a public complaint.

“Information was received regarding an individual who was wanted on a Mental Health Act warrant. There were concerns for this individual’s health, safety, and well-being. Officers subsequently located someone matching the description and apprehended a female at this location. Once it was learned that it was not the correct person, the 16-year-old female was released immediately,” stated the letter.

They deemed the situation “extremely unfortunate” and assured that senior investigators are in contact with the family. “We are certainly mindful of her young age and how upsetting this was for her and her family” said Superintendent and Operation officer Ed Boettcher. “I can assure you that we have resources dedicated to investigating the incident.”

People of colour too often misidentified

According to the director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Pho Niemi, mistaken identity cases are woefully common, especially for people of colour. “We get a case like that every year,” the director said.

Why? Police descriptions of suspects tend to be a lot less detailed when they’re not about Caucasians. “Almost every time, the description is too broad and race becomes a predominant factor,” says Niemi.

If this was the case in Surrey, he thinks the family should ask for more than an apology and pursue legal action.

“If the police officers were looking only for a young black woman, then they would be in trouble with the law in terms of discrimination,” Niemi affirmed. “It opens up every young black woman in the area to a police arrest and detention.”

Just last February, a man named Errol Burke was held at gunpoint and arrested while trying to buy milk in Montreal, before the police realized they had the wrong man.

Niemi, who has also worked for the Quebec Human Rights Commission, is further concerned about how the officers intervened with a person they thought to be a high-risk mental health patient. He questions whether the officers are trained to handle such cases.

“When one intervenes with a person known to have mental health issues,” he remarked, “there is a way to intervene in order to reduce the likelihood of breaching that person’s civil rights.”

Almost 600 immigrants were subjected to a peculiar probe into their French language skills, despite having already passed the required government tests. The provincial Ministry of Immigration summoned hundreds of students and temporary workers to a French spot check that would determine whether or not their application for permanent residency would be accepted, in what immigration lawyers call an abusive procedure.

“The standards on which those decisions were made are not legal standards. They cannot be found anywhere in registration or regulations,” claims Olga Redko, who is part of a team defending 16 of the rejected applicants in court.

At least 585 immigrants, most of which are students from India, China or the Middle-East, were on track to get their permanent residency as skilled workers through the Quebec Experience Program (QEP) when they were summoned.

To benefit from that program, applicants have to prove that they have a certain proficiency in French, namely by completing classes or passing official exams in Ministry-approved schools. So it was an unwelcome surprise when, after having done so, they received a letter summoning them to a supplementary interview with Ministry officials because the Ministry wasn’t convinced their French was good enough.

Once there, they were put on the spot through an oral examination that lasted between 30 and 45 minutes, where they had to score at least seven on a one to 12 scale to pass. 321 of them failed and saw their application rejected as a result. They will have to wait another five years before they can start the application process over, if their visa doesn’t expire before then.

Teachers and lawyers argue that this failure rate is not surprising considering that it was a surprise evaluation that took place in immensely stressful conditions and, contrarily to the usual Ministry exams, it didn’t account for skills in reading, writing or comprehension.

Reasons for supplementary evaluation still unclear

Many of the students were told, in the letter or afterwards, that the Ministry had reasons to believe that they had given false or misleading information in their application.

“But they weren’t provided those reasons or any explanation of why the Ministry believed that,” maintains Olga Redko. She says some of her clients even submitted supplementary documents to prove their credentials, like transcripts and attestations from the school board, but were still rejected.

Communications Advisor for the Ministry of Immigration Amina Benkirane says that “it’s not exactly” that the Ministry believes that the students provided false information about passing the required tests.

“The Ministry identified practices that aim to circumvent the goals of the immigration programs designed for international students, like the QEP, so we are currently reviewing those files,” Benkirane claimed. She says that she cannot reveal anything about said practices, because of it is part of an ongoing investigation by UPAC, the anti-corruption unit.

The investigation she is referring to was launched in December, following reports of “irregularities” in the international department of the two major English school boards in Montreal, Lester B. Pearson and the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). According to information gathered by the CBC, most of the applicants that were called in were doing their French exams with one of these two institutions.

Olga Redko can’t confirm the percentage, but she knows that it is not the case for all the rejected applicants. Either way, it should not matter, since the two school boards remain on the list of Ministry-approved institutions. Indeed, the official regulations of the QEP plainly state that completing a Ministry-approved French program fulfills the language requirement.

“If the Ministry is unsatisfied with the quality of the training provided by the institution or anything else going on there, then the Ministry has to take it up with the institution itself. It has nothing to do with whether the student completed a program or not,” argues Redko.

She and her team are asking for a judicial review of the procedure, seeking the nullification of the Ministry’s decisions regarding their clients. They had started with four clients but they now have 16 and others could join in, since the Ministry is still conducting the exams.

* Featured image: Montreal offices of the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion via Google StreetView

Montreal will invest $3.6 million over two years in a brand new institute dedicated to developing electric and smart transportation. This investment is part of the city’s efforts as a member of the C40, the Cities Climate Leadership Group.

The Institute of Electrification and Smart Transportation will have three main mandates: favouring cooperation between regional partners for research and development of sustainable transportation, establishing international partnerships and stimulating the commercialization of new technologies. It will be situated in the Quartier de l’innovation. The École des technologies supérieures (ÉTS) , McGill University, Concordia and UQÀM are all expected to partner in the project.

“The Institute will make use of Montreal’s assets as a city of innovation to galvanize efforts and knowledge, and shine on the international scene,” Mayor Denis Coderre claimed in a press release. The announcement was made on Wednesday, during the 52nd Congress of the Association québécoise des transports.

The Mayor’s office claims this is an “important step in the realization of [their] ambitious strategy for the electrification of transport.” Indeed, the creation of the institute is one of the 10 points of the 2016-2020 Strategy for electrification and smart transportation outlined last summer.

Other measures put forward in the plan include exchanging city vehicles for electrical cars, electrification of public transit and developing a second, purely economic plan to encourage the local development of the electric transportation sector.

However, the opposition at City Hall is not too impressed with the new institute. Projet Montréal’s transport critic Craig Sauvé says that they have seen no serious plan or content backing up the announcement.

“That’s pretty much the Coderre style,” he observed, “announce a project that will most likely garner positive headlines but without doing any substantive groundwork before the announcement.”

Although Sauvé admits that the city’s efforts for electrification are a good thing overall, he believes it is a short-sighted strategy.

“The Coderre administration is very car-focused,” he claimed, “they still have this vision that is out of the 1950’s!”

According to Sauvé, the city should put more money into better bike lanes, urban planning and public transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“You can electrify everything you want, but it won’t solve the traffic, it won’t solve the pollution still created by the production of new cars and road networks,” he argued.

FTB contacted the city’s executive committee for further comments, but was still waiting for a reply at publication time.

Mayor Coderre announced earlier this week that the city is investing at least $24 million in Formula E, a major international car race featuring only electric cars. The event will be held downtown on July 29th and 30th. The Coderre administration hopes that it will serve as publicity for electric and smart transportation in Montreal and boost the city’s status as a leader in climate action.

Back in November 2013, the government of Quebec had promised $35 million for the creation of a province-wide institute with the same purpose. Many cities were interested in hosting it. The promise did not survive the change of government.

 

* Featured image: electric cars in Berlin, Germany, all credits to Avda, Berlin – Potsdamer Platz – E-Mobility-Charging, CC BY-SA 3.0

Angélique, the story of the black slave tortured and put to death in New France (later Montreal, Quebec) for allegedly setting the fire of 1734 that burned down the only hospital and left hundreds of people homeless, is most remarkable for the fact that so few Canadians know about this incendiary incident in Montreal’s history.

It’s a story with everything: chaos, love triangles, danger, a woman’s determined quest for freedom.

Yet, despite these features that make Angélique a perfect candidate for telling and re-telling, like many stories of slavery in Canada’s history, and many narratives sympathetic to disadvantaged people of colour, the story of Marie-Joseph Angelique has been largely ignored until very recently.

In fact, the play currently being billed as the first collaboration between Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau d’Hote Théâtre, is the first time this story has been presented on stage in Montreal, the city where the true story took place. It is running from March 15th to April 2nd at the Segal Center.

Angélique is the story of the strong-willed black slave tortured and put to death for allegedly starting the fire of 1734, which burned down the majority of what is now Old Montreal. Though it was generally accepted that Angelique did commit the crime for which she was accused, it has recently been argued that she was innocent, convicted on the basis of her reputation as a rebellious runaway and hard-to-control slave. The evidence used to convict Angelique would not stand up in a modern court of law.

“I am a very proud Canadian, and a very proud Montréaler, but I don’t think we are doing ourselves any favours by not acknowledging the bad along with the good in history,” says Black Theatre workshop artistic director Quincy Armorer. “I’ve noticed this play is educating a lot of people about some of the forgotten or ignored times in Canadian and Montreal history, and I am very, very happy to be a part of letting people know this happened here.”

Mathieu Murphy-Perron, artistic director for Tableau d’Hote Theater, agrees: “As someone who generally tries to be aware of where we live and the land we are on, and the fact that it’s stolen land, and Canada is not the land of milk and honey…to have zero-ZERO-knowledge of this show, it spoke to our educational shortcomings of telling the stories that make up this city, Quebec and Canada”

“I didn’t even know about this before,” adds Jenny Brizard, the lead and title actress of Angélique “They didn’t talk about slavery in Canada at all when I was in school.”

Having left her native Montreal to pursue a career as a dancer in Toronto, Ms. Brizard has returned in a blaze of glory with a breakout performance as the title character in Angélique. This is her first professional acting role, and though the performance seemed a little manic at times, this is certainly fitting as an artistic choice for a character under an incredible amount of mental, emotional and physical stress.

Speaking of artistic direction, the costuming decisions in this production were extremely powerful, working as an additional layer of social commentary. ‘Upper class’ members of society began the production dressed in contemporary business wear, and ended the production dressed in 1730s period clothing. Conversely, slaves began the production in period clothing and ended the production in contemporary street wear, or in Angelique’s case, an orange prison outfit.

The closing images of a modern black woman being put to death for a crime, with no evidence that she had committed it, while being looked upon by people stuck in the past, were extremely powerful and speaks to the ongoing issues with class and race that still exist today. The play ended with Angelique hearing the drums of her homeland (drums were banned in New France in an effort to sever slaves from their culture) and dancing her heart out in the traditional style of her childhood, which she had been previously embarrassed and nervous to display in New France.

The musical backdrop of Angélique was completely percussion based, set to an original composition by SIXTRUM Percussion Ensemble. The use of drums served as a clever musical allegory for Angelique’s struggle and personal erasure, due to the nature of the importance of drum music in Angelique’s internal life and history versus their ban in New France.

When Angélique is first introduced at a slave purchasing block, thick chains were used as an instrument by SIXTRUM, who were playing above the stage. It was fresh, creative, and enhanced the narrative.

Though the script, written by the late Lorena Gale, doesn’t claim to be completely factual (and how could it be, when the source material is from the 18th century), one creative inclusion bothered me:

In the play, Angélique is repeatedly raped by her master François, and it is implied that she gives birth to a child fathered by him. Though I couldn’t find any historical rumours that this had taken place in real life, and the father on record for Angélique’s children is listed as fellow slave César (played with subtlety, depth and range by Tristan D. Lalla), I can understand its inclusion in this play. This is the story of a black slave woman, a group that is underrepresented in the telling of their stories and for whom rape, and the subsequent fathering of children, by white masters was most certainly a frequent occurrence.

Where I take issue that it is then used as THE major point of contention between Angelique and Francois’ wife Thérèse. I think, in a story that already has so much drama and intrigue, it’s a bit lazy to then add as a major plot point, a shift away from Angelique’s real struggle, towards a jealousy fight between women arguing over the affections of a shitty guy. It reinforces the stereotype of women as petty and jealous, and having nothing more of substance to do or think about than the affections of a man.

In fact, this same theme is echoed again between Angelique and Manon, a Panis-Native slave, who in this play rejects Angélique’s friendship and sells her out at trial over Manon’s love of César, who in turn loves Angélique. According to the historical record, Manon more likely tried to divert suspicion to Angélique for self-preservation as she herself could have been severely punished if suspicion had fallen on her own shoulders.

However, I suppose pitting women against each other over a guy once again adds easy intrigue and a familiar stereotype. Despite the historical setting of the play, it’s 2017, and I think we can do better.

Overall, Angelique is a skillful and extremely important retelling of a chapter in Montreal history that is conspicuously absent from most history books. It is powerful, visceral and necessary, and with tickets starting at $22, much more accessible than the majority of professional theatrical productions.

Bring a date, bring your mom, bring a history or theatre buff, a lover of Montreal, or even your favorite arsonist, but don’t miss Angélique’s first (and certainly not last) tour in Montreal. It is a tribute to a powerful and strong woman who was persecuted until the end by a society that did not value her.

Only one question remains in the fiery tale: Did she do it?

“At this point, I don’t really care…if she did it or not,” says Ms. Brizard. “The fact is, she didn’t have a fair chance. Period. And that’s how I approach the work. She didn’t get a fair trial, a fair chance, as a woman, as a black woman. Period.”

Angélique presented by Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau d’Hote Théâtre runs through April 2nd, 2017 at the Segal Centre, 5170 ch. de la Côte-Ste-Catherine,  tickets available through the Segal Centre box office

Moms Demand Action New York State Chapter Leader Jaime Levy Pessin is a modern and efficacious woman living in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two children. As I enter her home for the interview I witness a person who makes multi-tasking seem as natural as waking up each morning.

As interview starts, some Moms Demand Action business is taken care of, a call answered, her daughter Cora and son Noah’s activities are settled and their dinner is prepared. This all happens over the course of maybe two minutes and Jaime is calm and polite as we get down to some questions.

S- For readers new to Moms Demand Action give us a brief history of the organization.

J- Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, which left six educators and 20 six and seven year-olds dead in their elementary school. A mom in Indiana, Shannon Watts, started a Facebook page with the idea that we needed to have a Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the gun violence prevention movement. And her page spread like wildfire.

New York City was one of the first chapters to form. Weeks later we held our first annual march across the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 1,000 people showed up in below-freezing temperatures to march with us.

Since then, we’ve grown to 3 million members in all 50 states. We’ve joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns under the umbrella of Everytown for Gun Safety. We are a nonpartisan, grassroots group committed to passing reasonable, evidence-based laws that are proven to reduce gun violence.

Do you know Shannon Watts and in what ways is she still involved in Moms Demand Action today?

I first met Shannon at our first Brooklyn bridge march. She has since turned into a great figurehead of the movement. She is a volunteer and founder.

Shannon travels the country and meets the other volunteers. She does speaking engagements, does press and fundraisers. As she is traveling she makes a point of stopping by and seeing what all the other volunteers are doing. She has really gotten to know all the people across the country who are working as part of this thing that she created.

I think she is still a little bit baffled that she started this movement but Shannon is always very adamant in pointing out how much every person has played a part in it. She doesn’t view Moms as her creation, she sees it as if she did this one small action and then everyone else kinda filled it in throughout the country.

This is what is so cool about volunteering with Moms. There is a sense that every single person has something to contribute. Whether you have ten minutes or ten hours there is a place for you. She wants to make sure that message comes through.

Can you tell us what led you to your role as a leader in Moms Demand Action -New York?

In the days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I was devastated. I didn’t personally know anyone affected, but a six-year-old boy named Noah was killed. My son is named Noah and was four at the time. I was paralyzed by fear and grief. During that time, Shannon’s Facebook page somehow popped into my newsfeed, and I had a realization: If I am not part of the solution, then I’m part of the problem. And that’s when I started volunteering.

In the early days, we really were a motley crew of volunteers – “accidental activists” is what we called ourselves, because none of us had ever done anything like this before. My career had been as a journalist for traditional media, so I was never allowed to publicly express a political opinion – forget about planning a rally or meeting with elected officials!

I’ve been involved in the organization in a bunch of different roles since we got started. I currently run the New York state chapter, which is massive compared to how we began!

But another project that I helped start, which I think is truly special, is our Mother’s Dream Quilt Project. It’s a series of quilts that incorporates fabric from victims and survivors of gun violence. We hold quilting bees around the country that bring together victims, survivors and everyday Americans who believe we can do a better job of preventing gun violence.

With all the concerns about civil rights coming up around the Trump administration, why do you think gun violence is so important?

After the election, I did a lot of soul-searching around this question. In a way, this seems like such a small piece of the puzzle.

“I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.”

But then I realized: I’m worried about voter suppression; the idea of people with guns showing up at the polls to intimidate other citizens is chilling. I’m worried about immigration; what does it mean to have vigilantes with guns patrolling the border?

I’m worried about hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, and I’m worried about violence against women; we know that the presence of a gun in these situations makes them vastly more dangerous. And I’m worried about the unfair treatment of African-Americans in this country, so I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.

Can you tell us both about your personal experience and Moms Demand Action’s presence at the Women’s March in DC on January 21st?

I thought the Women’s March was so inspiring. I met a few fellow volunteers at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn at 4 a.m., and there was bus after bus after bus loading up for DC.

Moms Demand Action had nearly 1,000 members come in from around the country to join the march. Being in a crowd with so many passionate citizens gave me hope that this administration will not break our spirit.

I think the key takeaway, though, was that it’s not enough to march. It feels really good, and it’s important, but we have to take it home to our communities and get involved in our local politics.

We need more women running for office, whether for school board or Congress. We can’t just pay attention when it’s time to elect a president – we need to start developing a bench. So I hope – and I think that it’s happening – that the march has compelled people to start working seriously in our own neighborhoods.

What are some of the highlights of Moms Demand Action-New York’s current six month plan?

The new administration is in the pocket of the gun lobby; the NRA contributed more than $30 million to Donald Trump’s campaign – they were his single largest donor. So we are going to be working very hard to push back against the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda of guns everywhere for everyone.

“What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales.”

One of the major pieces of legislation we expect to be fighting is something called “concealed carry reciprocity.” The gun lobby would like for permits to carry concealed weapons to be treated like driver’s licenses, where one state’s permit would be recognized across all state lines.

Here’s the problem: The standards for getting a concealed carry permit vary wildly from state to state. In New York, you have to undergo a background check, submit character references and show a proven need to carry a concealed weapon in order to get that permit. In Arizona, there are no permitting requirements at all. New Hampshire also just rolled back their already weak permitting program.

With reciprocity, a New Yorker who couldn’t pass the rigorous standards here could travel to another state, get a concealed carry permit and legally carry a hidden weapon in Times Square or on the subway.

As a New Yorker, this is a direct threat to my safety. The idea that “guns everywhere” make people safer is patently untrue. New York State has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country. We also have one of the lowest rates of gun ownership, and some of the strongest gun laws. There is a direct correlation: stronger gun laws keep us safe from gun violence. Concealed carry reciprocity would make our state a much more dangerous place to live.

Another priority for the New York chapter is going to be relationship-building with our elected officials at the statehouse. We’re planning our first-ever Lobby Day this spring, and we’re going to be meeting in-district with our representatives as well.

We believe that, much like the same-sex marriage movement, the gun violence prevention movement will win at the state level. We want to continue to develop relationships with our state representatives to make sure that they will keep New York at the forefront of sound gun policy.

Our overarching goal is to ensure background checks on all gun sales in the United States. Many people don’t realize that the law as it stands leaves gaping loopholes in the system, making it very easy for a felon or a domestic abuser to purchase a gun without a background check. And background checks are proven to work: suicides, cop killings and domestic violence-related deaths all go down in states that ensure background checks on all gun sales.

What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales. When you take the question of gun violence directly to the citizens, they will vote in favor of common-sense gun reform.

In 2016, despite the dismal election results nationally, we actually won three out of four ballot initiatives by asking residents of California, Nevada and Washington State to pass stronger gun laws. It was one of the few bright spots in the progressive agenda last year.

We have quickly become the strongest counterweight the gun lobby has ever seen. That’s why we’re committed to getting this message to our elected officials: The other side is scared of losing their guns. We’re scared of losing our children. Who do you think is going to win in the end?

What are some things the modern, busy adult can do to stand against gun violence?

What is great about Moms Demand Action is that we offer so many different entry points for people to get involved. You can spend five minutes a week signing petitions and calling your senators, or you can get more deeply involved and meet with your elected officials or plan events. We need all levels of commitment.

The first thing you should do is text JOIN to 644-33, or visit our website to officially sign up as a member. Soon you’ll hear from someone in your local chapter about ways to get involved. Like the national organization on Facebook (or the New York chapter) and follow us on Twitter (@momsdemand) to get national calls to action.

For students, recent grads and parents: Did you know the gun lobby is pushing to allow guns on college campuses and K-12 schools? We defeated 16 guns on campus bills throughout the country in 2016. But the gun lobby is going to keep trying, and we’re preparing to fight. Ask any educators you know to join our Educators for Gun Sense campaign by sharing the link.

For people who want to spend an hour or so a week volunteering for a good cause, consider joining the Gun Sense Action Network. We do a lot of phone banking to voters in states that are playing defense against horrible bills.

This makes a huge impact. Last year, for example, the Georgia statehouse passed a sweeping guns-in-schools bill. We were able to drive at least 30,000 calls to the governor’s office, and eventually he vetoed the bill – even though he’s typically an ally of the gun lobby. People who join our Gun Sense Action Network can make calls from home, on their own time!

(ED’s Note: While most joining options are for Americans living in the US, making calls is, of course, open to Americans living abroad and Canadians as well)

How many people in America die from a gun each day?

Moms treat gun violence like a public health epidemic, which it is. What disease kills 93 Americans a day? That’s too many people so we should treat it as such. Unfortunately, Congress has barred the CBC from actually studying gun violence. The US government doesn’t actually study this even though it is a public health problem.

One thing that many people don’t realize is how prevalent gun violence is in our country. About 30,000 people a year are killed by gun violence in the U.S. – 93 a day. Twice that number are injured every day. But I think it’s the ripple effect that really makes the point.

A study came out recently that said the probability of knowing a gun violence victim is 99.85 percent. Think of that: Nearly every single American will know a victim of gun violence in their lifetimes! That’s insane.

I’ve seen it play out personally. When I started volunteering for Moms Demand Action, I didn’t know anyone (as far as I knew) who had been a victim of gun violence. But since December 2012, I have had one friend on lockdown with her daughter at the Kansas City JCC while a shooter killed two people in the parking lot. My sister’s childhood friend was shot and killed in his car in Miami. One of my husband’s relatives lost her granddaughter when the granddaughter’s husband shot her in front of their two kids in California. A close friend of mine was at the Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim with her three kids when a gunman opened fire.

It just gets closer and closer. That’s what keeps me up at night, and that’s what motivates me to keep going.

 

The Candyass Cabaret: Shimmies and Showtunes is at the Cafe Cleopatre (1230 boul St-Laurent, 2nd floor) this Friday November 18th, doors at 9pm show at 10pm. It features burlesque, drag and other theatrical entertainment. $10 at the door. I will be there with my fellow performers naked for the world to see.

I have been active with the Buffalo Infringement Festival and was very inspired to go to the Infringe Mecca of Montreal to see where it all began. Two years ago, Fifi Laflea and I made the trip for the Montreal Infringement Festival and we had no idea the honor it would be to perform with the Candyass Caberet at the historic Cafe Cleopatre.

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Being in the dressing room even felt special. I wondered what incredible creatures from times past got ready in front of these very mirrors? I truly cannot believe that special place was almost a thing of the past.

In a world over saturated with sex it is a challenge to truly titilate someone with art. Burlesque is my life. It is an old tradition of theatrical bawdiness with blatant political intentions.

A major highlight of my career was a the 2014 Montreal Infringement Festival where (dressed in horrible white trash drag) I pulled several American flags out of a very large glittery plushy penis to the song “America, F*ck Yeah!” during that Candyass show, with Fifi Laflea as my beautiful assistant. It was definitely a statement about how the rest of the world views Americans and our culture of waste and over privilege.

It is even more important now to be a sort of cultural ambassador with my art due to the election of that pompous Cheeto nightmare. I have a responsibility to show the world that not all Americans are like him, not all of us support hate, most of us are scared, we are angry. We are going to speak out and stand up. Art is the first line.

I asked Velma Candyass, world renowned burlesque performer, a few questions. She is also one of the ringleaders that helped to save the Cafe Cleopatre from demolition. She also does incredible tours of the Montreal Red Light District with Donovan King, and runs her own burlesque troupe The Dead Doll Dancers. She is an absolutely incredible performer, a super babe, my burlesque crush, and a total sweetheart.

candyass-cabaret-3Wow, I am very impressed that this is the 50th show! How do you feel about 50 Candyass Caberet shows?

Im shocked at having produced this much under the Candyass concept. It’s a lot of work but I genuinely enjoy the challenges involved in managing a show and herding the artists

What was the theme of the first show?

If my foggy brain recalls, it was not too long after the victory saving the Cleopatra venue. So it was a ‘welcome to the cabaret” theme with lots of variety arts, drag queens and burlesque with a european cabaret flavour.

Why did you choose a Showtunes theme for this one?

Why showtunes? Why not? It was a theme that several of my regular artists really wanted to have and since I hadn’t featured musical theatre type acts in awhile, I felt was a great idea. No matter what, everyone has at least one musical they like, so therefore the artist should be able to develop an act based on an old favourite .

What are your favorite musicals?

I personally like Chicago, Cabaret, Avenue Q, Contact, Wicked, West Side Story and The Producers .

I know a lady never tells her age, but how long have you been doing burlesque?

Oh gawd a long time. Long enough to see the transitions in the styles of burlesque going on. And some of the Legends passing on.

What is your biggest inspiration?

Oh gosh, I would say The Velvet Hammer Burlesque was a definite aha moment along with Le Scandal Cabaret. It was all bubbling underground and dynamic.

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Who is your burlesque crush/icon?

Tiffany Carter and April March are my burlesque crush/icons. Completely different styles and eras yet wonderful legends to learn from.

What are your thoughts on the political importance and impact of burlesque?

It’s 2016 and a woman/person stripping naked and in control of their bodies is still a big deal as evidenced by some of the crazy things going on in the world. Political burlesque acts are an important expression and, just like the court jester, tell the stories that wouldn’t get told otherwise .

What are your thoughts on the Infringement Festival?

Infringement festivals provide a place for artists to create and have their say. Its getting more and more difficult to be able to afford to participate in many of the large(r) mainstreamed festival and this provides a DIY experience to develop one’s skills.

* Photos (except for backstage shot) by Argaive

* Candyass Cabaret: Shimmies and Showtunes – Saturday, November 18th, Cafe Cleopatre, 1230 Boul St-Laurent, 10pm (Doors 9pm). $10

Young Paris is a NYC-based rapper and rising voice in the world of fashion. Having recently singed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, we Montrealers are lucky enough to catch him in action this Saturday, October 22nd with No Kliche, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy.

Here is an interview I conducted with Young Paris, discussing his roots, inspiration, and connections to Montreal:

I’m curious about your relationship to music as a child, as you were growing up. Did you learn instruments or sing in groups? Or was music something you came to later on.

My parents were world renown performers so you could imagine music was always around us growing up. From as long as I could remember, I’ve been playing the djembe and dancing. Music to our family has always been second nature and till this day we still perform together.

You draw from so many different areas in your image, your music, and your live show. It’s clear you are inspired by vibrancy and individuality in all its uniqueness. Are there some non-musicians that really shape your aesthetic approach to your image, your music, and the creative process in general?

Yes, I’m inspired by the fashion and the art world as well. I went to college for Fine Arts and my mother was a play writer as well, so I try to translate those references in my art. Artists / Designers like Alexander McQueen, Basquiat, Nick Cave, and Yinka Shonibare, for example, are artists I’ve been super inspired by.

Congo has a much-celebrated history of dance music, some of which comes out in your music – but is there a Congolese rap tradition you feel connected to?

No, my rap history comes from growing up in NY!

What is your musical community like in NYC?

NY has a vibrant range of musicians. In my circle, I know some of the dopest underground and notable artists but I try to stay in my lane. There aren’t many artists creating my type of music and Afrobeats generally is just becoming very popular in the states.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how art can help bridge the gap between cultural traditions without getting sucked into the mainstream media machine of mass representation and stereotyping. You seem to be navigating it very well – but have there been some major challenges? Is Jay-Z someone who understands your vision?

Social media is a great way to see raw talent and I’m always excited for what the people I’m following are coming up with daily. I think the bridge has been created, but it’s important to respect certain symbols and traditions.

Sacred art, for example, is so accessible now I think it’s up to the curators to translate their inspiration with caution and take time to do their research before shining light on the beauty and talents of these artists. For me and my situation at Roc Nation, I have complete creative control and they are open minded to my ideas.

Any plans for a fashion line?

Potentially 😉 but i will be collaborating with brands as a creative director.

Have you been to Montreal before?

Yes i lived here for nearly 2 years.

Also! You can win a free ticket to see Young Paris this Saturday if you answer this question correctly:

Q: What is the name of his new mixtape?

Email your answer to contactdjazia@gmail.com, and see you at the show.

Young Paris plays Théâtre Fairmount, 5240, Avenue du Parc, Saturday, October 22nd, 9:00pm (Doors at 8:00pm). If you don’t win tickets, they are $12 and available through the box office.

I have it on good authority that Genghis Khan would have been a huge Slayer fan. Galloping double-bass drums and furious riff-based thrash seems like a natural fit for the Golden Horde charging through the steppes of Central Asia. Just add booming Mongolian throat singing and horsehead fiddles that sound like a blade being drawn, and you have the perfect recipe for an incredible live performance.

The crowd at Foufounes Electriques got a taste of that Friday evening, when the Nomadic Folk Metal Horde known as Tengger Cavalry charged into town at the end of their North American tour with Incite.

Tengger Cavalry with FTB before the show
Tengger Cavalry with FTB before the show

These guys aren’t just fronting about the whole horse thing, either. In addition to using folk instruments like the Igil, Shanz, Morin Khuur and Throat Singing, Tengger can ride too.

“Yeah, I’m okay on horseback,” muses Nature Ganganbaigal (Guitar, Vocals) at the beginning of our pre-show chat. “One time, I went to the Mongolian grassland and I had to stay on a horse’s back for one hour because he ran off from his owner. I got the bridle on, and I can gallop no problem…I’m more comfortable playing guitar, but I can make a horse go, too.”

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Alex Abayev

While experimental genre-defying music is always exciting, it’s unfortunate that a lot of this blending of traditional music with contemporary styles can be seen as a gimmick, or attempting to cash in on the novelty of “look at us, we combine The Monolythic ‘Old’ with The Monolythic ‘New!’”

The obvious workaround is authenticity and commitment to what the artist is creating as a performance that creates something new, unique, and hybridized instead of just two distinct styles – see Canada’s A Tribe Called Red, and Chile’s Matanza for examples of groups who do this well. Tengger Cavalry does this spectacularly in the studio, but live it’s even more impressive.

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Nature Ganganbaigal

Tengger Cavalry presents a fascinating live show because these musicians focus their stage presence into capturing the sonic rush of stampeding cavalry as opposed to attempting to shoehorn sacred Mongolian traditions into popular contemporary music.

“When you travel a lot, and play from place to place, you’re already living a Nomadic lifestyle,” says Alex Abayev (Bass). “And since we’re all together, it’s like a Unity we can all feel,” chimes in Josh Schifris (Drums). Alex continues that with their music, “we can make people feel connected to the Steppes, even if they’ve never been there.”

To paraphrase from the acclaimed Coeur d’Alene author Sherman Alexie, writers from Indigenous cultures are often better off treading lightly on hallowed ground. Writing about sacred traditions and exhibiting them for public consumption outside that cultural group is an invitation for people searching to give themselves cultural capital via conspicuous consumption of “the other” (“look at how cool and open-minded I am, I saw a ~~Mongolian Metal band~~ last night”).

“When I was in high school, I listened to a lot of metal, which meant I listened to a lot of Scandinavian bands bringing traditional music into their sound,” explains Nature when I asked about the genesis of the band. “I thought, ‘well, why can’t I do this with my own culture? Why not create something brand-fucking-new?’”

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Josh Schifris

The band tells me that “talks are happening” about a future tour in Turkey and Central Asia. “We get a lot of messages from Istanbul, with fans telling us that we are their nomadic brothers.” This current tour has been a blast for the band, and despite weeks on the road, they show no signs of fatigue; if anything, they’re coping with post-tour depression now that the constant gigging has finished.

Canada has treated them well, with some of their favorite shows taking place in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Josh has asked me to include a note to Neil Peart shouting out Rush (and the Great White North in general) as major inspirations to this band.

“The most important thing is about what’s in your music,” says Nature. “We see ourselves as combining cultures, not combining genres. We’re all from different backgrounds, but we’re all in this band.”

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Nature Ganganbaigal

The band would like to express their sincere appreciation to the tour’s sponsors, Kay’s clothing (UK) Killer B Guitars, Rock N Roller, Reunion Blues, Sinister Guitar Picks, and Strukture.

 

Photos by Cem Ertekin

 

“Have you heard the news?

I am bigger than ants!”  – ‘Big Gigantic Body’, The Anthony Hansen Problem

There is nothing in the city right now like The Anthony Hansen Problem. Despite being a newly formed act, they came in at #9 for both “freakiest” and “most pretentious” musical act in CULTMTL’s Best Of Montreal 2016 poll.

When, in mid July, I made my way to Casa del Popolo to see The Anthony Hansen Problem play alongside BoyJune (now Beloveds), The Island of Misfit Toys and Commander Clark’s band, I had no idea just how much fun I’d be having. This show with its greatly slotted bill was hands down the best musical time I’ve had in years.13690888_10102605839847987_3461689634366204884_o

Part performance art and part brazen ego comedy pop rock, The Anthony Hansen problem is is a hard act to describe. A friend of mine, Cas Kaplan of Boyfriends, aptly describes them as ‘absurdist new wave’ and ‘glamaged’.

Recently transitioned from solo act to three man show, The Anthony Hansen Problem is Anthony Hansen (keys, vox), Noemie Kinney of Nanimal (bass), and Evan Magoni of Boyfriends (drums). The decision to switch from one man show to a trio was one that Hansen made after carefully consideration:

“I definitely had a period where I kind of stopped playing for a while and tried to rethink my approach because in as much that people told me it was entertaining to see me doing the one man thing I knew I couldn’t sustain it,” he explains, “It wasn’t any fun and I’m basically enjoying myself a lot more now that I have people to bounce ideas off of and it just it feels less like I’m dwelling within an echo chamber.”

One of the major factors for the switch was the limitations brought on by using a backing track:

“The backing track is not gonna stop, it’s not gonna allow you to banter with the audience. I was sort of really shooting myself in the foot because I was just putting songs back to back to back and not giving myself any breathing room. People even told me they couldn’t tell where one thing ended and other began the pace was way too manic. I think this is the issue when I generally do projects entirely on my own I just get so kind of, I topple over under the weight of my own ambition when I don’t have people to reign me in.”

Hansen met Magoni and Kinney through musical circles whereby they found mutual admiration of each other’s musical stylings and that the two genuinely liked what he referred to as his ridiculous songs.

“For this specific project, I build off of what strikes me as an interesting phrase,” Hansen describes, “I’m taking one specific phrase that sounds like it could be a hook in a song and then just constructing lyrics around it. A lot of times what I do is I’ll take that phrase, write free associatively based on what it makes me think of, and then loosely organize that into a song like structure. That’s part of why a lot of my songs involve me talking and not really rhyming, because most of what I write is stream of consciousness and then edited together after the fact.”

Of the performance and pretentious aspects of his project,  whereby each song seems to come from a very odd backstory, Hansen remarks:

“I tend to write in character a lot and a lot of the characters I write for are unreliable narrators so it’s essentially just you know and like, I remember Andrew (Boyfriends, Smokes) said that the song All This Techonology is Making Us Antisocial made him think of just being trapped in a car, some vehicle, with someone who is talking At you and not registering your discomfort.”

He adds,  “There is a lot of that in my music. I think it gives me a freedom to write from the perspective of people who don’t, I guess, have the same social inhibitions that I do. It’s a way of embodying things that I could not get away with in my normal life. Just being this like very strange, very alienating kind of figure. It’s fun to sort of play with that and just you know, write as someone who deliberately breeches social boundaries within a performance context.”

In terms of what is next for The Anthony Hansen Problem, Hansen says he is really enjoying the band’s current momentum. They’ve played three shows in three weeks and are about to head into the studio to record.

“To be honest,  I like working quickly, you know, just keeping things moving. I’m really someone who can’t relax or stay still so I kind of constantly have to be tinkering with things. I mean, that’s the goal as much as anything is to just always have this outlet that I can turn towards and if other people like it that’s great too.”

“I can promise you though,” he adds with a playful grin spreading across his face, “if someone comes along with like a shit ton of money to give us, we are going to sell out all the way. I’m just gonna start making the worst and most vacuous music I possibly can. Probably break up. Then go on a reunion tour that outlasts how long we stayed together originally.”

Catch The Anthony Hansen Problem at Barfly tonight, August 8, 2016. Show starts at 9pm. 7$

During it’s 20th edition, the Fantasia Film Festival presented Takashi Miike with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mike’s name has been a staple of the Fantasia experience over the years which is no surprise because the prolific Japanese filmmaker has over 100 credits to his name in 25 years.

If the shear number of films doesn’t blow your mind, the topics, extreme style and depictions of violence, dark humour, and the range of genres of film Miike has directed should: from crime dramas to kids’ films to ultra-violent manga adaptations to musicals to downright disturbing romances.

Personally, my introduction to Miike’s work came in the form of a recommendation by my trusted video store clerk, whose employee curated shelf served as a perfect Fantasia primer for my teenage self, handed me a copy of Miike’s 1999 film Audition (Odishon) with a firm warning and the seriousness of one facilitating a rite of passage. The film still unsettles me whenever it crosses my mind.

Photo by Julie Delisle

I had the honour of sitting down with Miike for a quick interview and had a chance to ask the filmmaker a couple questions.

Fillion: How do you choose which film projects you take on?

Miike: Firstly, I always look to see if I have the capacity to take on the project, if my schedule would permit it. So, if a project comes to me… If I think too much about the content, the budget, or which company the project is coming from, it would be shielding myself and it would cut off certain paths in my life. I don’t want to do that. So, I tend to take on work in the order that it comes to me.

Things change a lot depending on the times. Some of these elements will never come together again. Actually, my natural way is to see that the timing is right. If I think too hard I’ll miss certain connections and things I would have otherwise not known. My way is to try even if I am not familiar, even if it is the first time I attempt something.

Fillion: Which films have you found the most challenging to make?

Miike: Westerns or samurai films. Things that are not happening in our time. In my career, I had never done that before taking these on and it was something that was very interesting.

For example, when you are using horses, I didn’t know where to rent horses or where we could have the horses run. It was completely new for me. These are things that were common in older films but are on the verge of disappearing in current cinema.

The next thing that will be going will be action films with cars. They are too risky and many people no longer want to take that risk. In a film, there always needs to be an element of risk or else the spectators will feel this, that it’s not natural and lacks something. A film is like a gamble, to amuse the public, you have to bring something exciting. So overall, for me, making samurai films, older styles of films, was both interesting and very challenging.

Terra Formars: Bugs in Space

Along with coming to receive his Lifetime Achievement Award, this year, Miike brought two titles to the festival: As The Gods Will (2014) and Terra Formars (2016). Terra Formars is a live action adaptation of the Japanese manga series of the same name. Although not among the type of films I usually cover at Fantasia, Miike’s Terra Formars turned out to be a total blast: an action packed sci-fi somewhere at the meeting point between Starship Troopers and Power Rangers with a nod to Blade Runner.

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In a distant future, humanity is looking to Mars as a solution to the overcrowding on Earth and the depletion of its resources. Hundreds of years ago, a space program sent moss and cockroaches to Mars as a means of warming up the planetary atmosphere and making it a livable habitat for humans. After a failed first attempt at colonization, a second top secret mission is sent to Mars to rid the planet of its cockroach problem.

Led by Ko Honda, the mission participants are promised big bucks and fresh starts as long as they accept being subjected to some genetic modifications to survive on martian soil. Oh, and kill the cockroaches.

Not even an hour after their arrival, the space team (a mix of small criminals, murderers, hackers, yakuza), quickly realizes that beyond being annoying and strange, Ko Honda has misinformed them. Turns out the cockroaches have mutated into gigantic powerful beasts of sorts and that their genetic modifications were actually to give each of them the abilities of insects multiplied to human scale.

Terra Formars is ridiculous in so many ways and self aware. The film is as funny as it can be sort of gross, in the best of ways, and the action is exhilarating. Discovering which creature the crew have been spliced with brought me back to the thrill of seeing Power Rangers as a kid and waiting to see what the rangers would morph into.

Ko Honda, the film’s villain of sorts, is one of my favourite characters in the film. I’d honestly like to see a sequel that focuses on his character some more. Although he has some of the stereotypical characteristics of film villains (especially those of earlier films), there was something really endearing, fun and fresh about Miike’s villain.

Ko Honda’s obsession with fashion took on a new meaning after meeting Miike in person. Ko Honda is almost a counterpoint to Miike in many ways: Ko Honda is agitated and skittish while Miike is poised and calm. That said, Mike has to be one of the most fashionable directors I have ever met at Fantasia. His jacket was striking, enough so to make Ko Honda totally jealous.

*Photos of Miike courtesy of Julie Delisle

Despite what you think, The History of Gunpowder is not an educational band on how gunpowder was brought into existence. Instead this (currently seven piece) band will educate you on the bastards of the world.

Somewhere between dirty blues, indie rock and all around freak-out orchestra, The History of Gunpowder is a rather new powerhouse on the Montreal scene. The band has had around 25 members, always fronted by Alex James Morison, and in Montreal is currently a seven piece featuring Quinn Dennehy on drums, Henri Rabalais on keys, Aleksi Campagne on violin, Stephane Krims on bass, Chris Maskell on tenor and Shawn Rikenbach on bari.

Their latest album, released May 6th and titled Stained Glass, Rye and Wax, features over 17 musicians. From Vancouver to India to Montreal, this album is not only a compilation of talented musicians but tells a story or two throughout.

This isn’t your everyday indie rock album full of love ballads. Inside you’ll find something a little more profound (though it might take you until the third listen to figure it all out).

The album cover proudly boasts a hand-drawn Ostrich (by Eric Brunning) squawking right in your face. That’s kind of what the band feel likes whether you’re listening to their latest album or at one of their in-explicably chaotic live shows. Alex Morison explains the un-explainable nature of their re-occurring aesthetic choice:

“The ostrich doesn’t warrant a proper explanation because absurdity is too inextricably involved in my music. The ostrich is just a potent symbol of something that you hate; it represents a lot of the screeching on the album and a lot of the chaos. You couldn’t represent that shit with a humming bird. It’s taken on a symbol of it’s own.”

Symbolic nature is just the foreplay of the album with potent and compelling storylines running through it. One of the main themes is “about the bastards that exist,” tells Alex James Morison. “Your way of dealing with them and repressing them or rather finding some sort of mechanism of reciprocity towards them. They oppress all of us and they better know what’s coming to them in the end.”

Picture a helpless creature in the middle of the desert. Picture that same creature trying to kill those vultures that pick him out every damn day. This is what one of their songs, The Ditch, feels like with lyrics such as “playing dead in the desert, catching vultures with my butterfly net.”

The Ditch is one of the songs on the album that might hit a particularly intense emotional string for more than one reason. It starts with a schizophrenic man commenting on his illness and what happens in mental institution.

“Quinn was on the street on Saint Catherine,” explains Alex “and the thrifty mother fucker that he is he heard an inspiring voice. It worked perfectly because that song is about being prayed on, being the prey of something. This individual has been the prey of a system that has led him to escaping it. Though I can’t understand his level of oppression and trouble, the ditch is my own song for escapism.”

You won’t just find escapism in their music either, their live set is prone to boughts of theatrics, with a voice that breeds power. It’s not only Alex James Morison’s voice that brings the power. When these performers step to stage, expect more than just their music because here you’ll find a spectacle you won’t easily forget. This even includes a little burlesque including artists such as Aria Delanoche, Frenchy Jones and Fifi Fantôme.

Alex explains what he brings to their live sets: “I want people to come in and not be able to leave the focus of the stage. You paid your good money to see us we’re going to give you as much as we can. You won’t be able to just come in get a beer and not be captivated by the stage. When you come to see The History of Gunpowder live, you’re going to walk away going what the fuck did I just see.”

Check out their latest album, Stained Glass, Rye and Wax, on bandcamp.

Fredua Boakye

“Growing up, people were always telling me that I was the ‘whitest Black kid’ they knew because I loved ‘white rock music’ like Radiohead and Dead Kennedys,” says Fredua of Bad Rabbits. He laughs, and quickly responds to them: “But you can’t ‘act a colour,’ and Rock & Roll culture isn’t reserved for X race. But I will say this until my dying day: Rock & Roll was created by a Black Queer woman named Rosetta Tharpe.”

Fredua is the frontman of Bad Rabbits, and I had the honour to speak with him about race, rock, and his thoughts on being a Black American in 2016.

Fredua tells me that conversations of race and belonging within his scene have always been a part of his consciousness, explaining the common lamentation among young men of colour that he was never “Black enough” for the Black kids, and “too Black” for the white kids.

“I considered myself a hybrid from the jump because nobody on either side liked me… The only kids who accepted me in school were the punk rock kids.” For Fredua, this embrace of the punk scene of the late 80s led to an early and profound appreciation for bands like Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, and Public Enemy.

The moment of clarity that gave Fredua a real understanding of how he could fit into the Rock scene came when he saw Fishbone and Living Colour music videos, with Black musicians like Kendall Jones and Vernon Reid “not rapping, not singing, just jamming with guitars. When people said I was the ‘whitest Black guy’… There was nothing ‘white’ about what I was doing. Period. I was doing what I saw, and that was a Black person playing this music.”

When I asked Fredua about conversations of race in his current role as the frontman of a multi-ethnic band in a scene dominated by white dudes, he emphatically affirmed that there has never been racial tension at a Bad Rabbits show, as people are too busy having a good time. It’s when he stops making music for people to dance to, and starts talking about things that make him angry and upset – like the ability for police to routinely kill Black people with impunity – that tempers begin to flare.

Fredua explains, “There are probably a bunch of my fans that are inherently racist, and I know this because I’ve argued with them. They’re the types that grew up thinking Black people are supposed to only be entertainers or basketball players. When they see me speaking my mind it’s suddenly ‘Fredua, you’re an entertainer, you shouldn’t be talking like that!’ People are angry at the fact that I have the nerve to talk about things going on instead of making a song for them to dance to.”

In response to the recent spate of highly-publicized killings of Black people by police, Fredua posted a video to his personal Facebook page in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Fredua tells me that the response from most friends and fans was positive, but one fan came out of the woodwork to leave the following comment: “I follow you because I think your old band was awesome, but let’s be honest, this militant black guy thing isn’t working out for anyone.”

Fredua explains it’s no skin off his nose – people who see him not as a Black human being, but strictly an entertainer aren’t real fans anyway. The reluctance of white peers and fans to see him as anything but a stage presence has bothered Fredua since he first started singing: “I look back at school, and I mean, I did chorus for the girls. Don’t get me wrong,” he says with a laugh, “The girls loved my voice. But they didn’t love me. Because I didn’t look like them.”

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I asked Fredua if these reactions to his showmanship bother him when he looks back on them, and he is quick to point out that he’s one of the lucky ones. “I lived out my dream. That dream was to make music and act like a damn fool for the rest of my natural life, and I don’t have to worry about aging because I found the fountain of youth through music. I have a beautiful house and a beautiful wife and a beautiful dog and I get to do something I love all the time.”

Fredua mentioned that Bad Rabbits has a new album one year in the making that will have more anger in it than previous records. He describes some of the album’s lyrical content as “two year’s worth of anger,” much of it directed toward the issues that we spoke about.

The new album, American Nightmare, is planned to drop in September, but will likely end up coming sooner. When I naively asked if the early release was due to the urgency of the message, Fredua’s voice dropped to that sacred place where the spirit meets the bone:

“This is the thing that kills me about this issue of police brutality,” Fredua says calmly, but with palpable fury. Cops are always gonna kill people. As long as there’s a justice system that lets these people kill someone and go about their day, there is never gonna be any type of change. This country is hell bent on keeping things the way it is – to keep the haves and the have-nots, the white and the Black, the Us and the Them, separate.”

The footage of the recent shootings and lack of legal action against the officers involved has made it abundantly clear to the public that it is possible to kill a Black person with little to no consequence. Black activists like Fredua, understandably furious that their lives are proven to be worth less than white victims of similar violence, are routinely portrayed by mainstream media as “armed-and-dangerous Black Power rebels,” seconds away from violence.

Fredua (Second from left) with Bad Rabbits
Fredua (Second from left) with Bad Rabbits

In an interview with The New Yorker, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza explained that this image is “a battle that we are consistently having to fight. Standing up for the rights of black people as human beings and standing against police violence and police brutality makes you get characterized as being anti-police or it has you being characterized as cop killers, neither of which we are.”

Fredua expressed a similar frustration, explaining that “it’s easier for news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX to show footage of angry Black people on TV than it is for them to show smart Black people with an idea. Nobody is listening to the solutions we’re trying to offer. And the picture they put up of the shooter in Dallas? A pissed-off black man with a dashiki and a fist up? That puts a target on my fucking back!”

Despite all of the difficult topics that came up in our conversation, Fredua’s determination to keep performing and thriving as a Black man in America in 2016 shines through. His concluding statement was one of hope:

“I was raised by two West African immigrants that came to this country on an American dream…I’m gonna make sure that I achieve it through them with my voice. That dream was to have a prosperous, peaceful, God-fearing life. I will die for that. I’m not afraid for a shooter coming to my show, I’ll jump in front of any bullet to protect a fan. I’m gonna do what I do until I die. I will literally die for this.”