by carl wilson

Dusty, Toxic-Sludgey, Watercoloured Memories

Extermination Music Night 2 in Toronto - left, some decorative cardboard airplanes hung above the crowd's heads; right, the Feuermusik Big Band. Photos by girlchoochoo on Flickr.

Saturday marked the third anniversary of the 2003 blackout in Toronto and much of the northeast. Some bars held 'unplugged' events and the like to recall the strange freedom that many of us felt when the usual sustaining structures of 21st-century society suddenly dropped away. But another part of the community found a different way to escape into the dark Saturday night, going 'off the grid' - not of electricity, though partially that, but more the grid of legal permissions and sanctioned spaces within which cultural events usually take place. Thanks to the hard work of some folks whose names I won't drop here, I found myself joining dozens of other adventurers and slipping through the fence around an abandoned bakery-company factory warehouse to spend the night enjoying live music by torchlight and the buzzing nerves of friends and strangers.

It would be shortsighted not to acknowledge the obvious precedent for such events in the warehouse parties of the dance scene - the organizers knew about this particular space precisely because techno raves had been held in it before. But events like this are testimonies to the growing sophistication in the live-band scene on questions of public space, performer-spectator interaction and the like. On one hand, you have people exploring the exact opposite extreme of openness and accessibility - such as the previous weekend's all-ages ALL CAPS show at Dufferin-Grove Park, or last night's show by The Bicycles for children at the JCC at Spadina and Bloor. I've advocated for awhile that the scene start thinking much more seriously about offering options to underagers and over-agers (by which I mean people with kids, not so much DJ Cyber-Rap, though I'm happy to hear he's found his pothead son) - to alleviate the narrowness of the university and post-grad demographic that's usually associated with this sort of music, but also to reduce the attrition that produces and try to diversify the input the community gets. On the other hand, for those who are able to do the all-night experience, there's no reason to repeat endlessly the rituals of nightclub shows when it's possible to conceive much more altered-state experiences in the very physical setup and logistics of a music event. How interesting can a culture be when its central activity is "hanging around in bars," after all? This weekend was a sharp reminder of that - and with the great success of ALL CAPS last weekend, and Bummer in the Summer the week before, there's been a general August experience of revitalization of ye olde "torontopian" ideals, which had been feeling a bit like they were going stale earlier in the summer.

And the music itself was no sideshow - unlike the first EMN, last summer, in which the roster of performers was so huge that no one band seemed to matter relative to the romance of the environment, and the night dragged on way past the point of even youthful stamina. Feuermusik inaugurated proceedings with brass-and-percussion fanfares, with the main duo enhanced by a trio of horn players from the improv scene. Scott Thomson's trombone in particular at moments practically lifted me out of my body, while Gus Weinkauf's bucket drumming had my hips mobile full time. (At one point the term "Afro-feuer-beat" flashed across my mind.) I had fantasies of people moshing to free jazz, though that never quite emerged. The compositions, which are one part Coltrane, one part Roland Kirk, with maybe a little dash of Kurt Weill (as well as maybe Carla Bley or Misha Mengelberg), go from strength to strength. Sadly this was Feuermusik's last Toronto show in a while, as composer and sax player Jeremy Strachan is moving to Newfoundland to pursue his studies. But I think they've stood out this summer as one of the local acts that many people have been encountering and latching on to for the first time, so let's hope he's not absent too long.

There were comparably strong sets by Rozasia, Castlemusic and even Anagram - a band I haven't cared that much for in the past, who had me revising my opinions. But even more enjoyable for me were the interactive aspects - experimenting with what one could do with just a flashlight and one's own body to alter the rhythms of the space, noticing when the crowd might be trending towards habitual bar-gig-based dynamics and finding playful ways to nudge in other directions, all of that. Add to that the general sense of respect and care for one another (with a couple of minor exceptions there was pretty much zero bad behaviour), the vodka-vicodin cocktails at the improvised bar and the fact that there were no gendarmes, and one could only feel that bliss was it in that pre-dawn to be alive, and well, and living in Toronto. (And covered in an eerily persistent patina of black soil that proved enormously difficult to wash off and is no doubt prone to kill us all.)

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, August 21 at 4:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)



Point well made , but I should clarify myself: mnay of the events in Hamilton are not so much government sponsored as they are privately sponsored. The infamous Jackson Square shows, for example, were/are staged under the Shopping Mall umbrella, with help from media and corporate sponsors. "Illegal Bodies": brought to you by CKOC and Pepsi! (I'm exagerrating... but NOT MUCH...)

Some of the outdoor fests locally here have shifted their funding base, relying on concession rentals (i.e beer tents, midways, etc)
Ergo, the "pogo dog" stand helps to pay for Electroluminescence. Again, I'm exagerrating (but again ...NOT MUCH!)

Posted by e-Mole on August 24, 2006 9:24 AM



You are just making me want a pied-a-terre in Toronto all the more, you know.

Posted by Jamie on August 22, 2006 5:33 PM



E-mole - the thing about the event I'm describing, though, is that it involved no "funding". In fact - kind of crazily I thought - it was pwyc at the door. It's great that in Canada we believe that it's government's responsibility to support culture, but that can translate into complacency about what is possible if you are creative and unconventional in your approach. Yes, it's not easy but when people combine resources...

Ryan - Amen.

Posted by zoilus on August 22, 2006 2:28 PM



I went to the Extermination show directly from the Bicycles 19+ show at the Tranzac. The Bicycles show was packed, people were tossing balloons around, and the Last Waltz organization had the crowd buzzing. It reminded me of the Wavelength 250 Anniversary when the BackTheFuckUps played covers of Toronto bands in its feeling of unity amongst a community. It was one of those shows that you talk about for weeks. And yet, I left early, taking a risk on the Etermination night but knowing that I'd regret missing it. And I would have, for all the reasons mentioned in this post. But what resounded with me the most is that there were these two amazing things going on at the same time, both unique (though derivative) in concept and both with a positive, uniting atmosphere.

It makes me feel like: all those times things get quiet? People are just working on what's coming next. I think we're an incredibly lucky group of people for being able to experience this. We're fortunate to be privy to this community at this point in time and I'm excited for our future.

Posted by Ryan M on August 22, 2006 1:17 PM



The one-two punch of the Bicycles ballon-riddled afternoon show later capped with the amazing atmosphere of Extermination made for a memorable and inspiring weekend. On one hand I'd like to see a lot more shows like this, but if that happened would they become less special?

Posted by PG on August 22, 2006 10:33 AM



There is a 30-year plus history/tradition of booking local "original-material" acts in public Hamilton venues such as the Saturday afternoon rooftop concert series of Lloyd D Jackson Square and the "Stage Four"/New Music expo events in Gage Park.

Funding for these kind of events outside of the GTA, though, is getting progressively harder to find, both in the public and the private sector.

Over to you..

Posted by e-Mole on August 22, 2006 9:18 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson