A look at Toronto street artist Al Runt

Al Runt – Photo by: Daniela Gitto

His faded blue jeans are disguised by colourful splotches of paint; the tears in which are stretched far beyond fashionable.

This is the uniform of a man who has restlessly battled the blank canvas since the mid ’80s and regardless of how the paint got there, or how the excessively large tears occurred, this uniform confirms three things: Alex Currie is beyond a shadow of a doubt a dedicated artist, he could care less about fashion, and getting slightly (or very) dirty is simply part of the artistic process.A pile of Runt’s work – Photo by: Daniela Gitto

Currie, also known as Al Runt, is a 56-year-old Toronto street artist who is renown for having painted Lee’s Palace on Bloor West. Most millennials recognize this mural as the ideal spot for an Instagram photo-op. Luckily, this city is the perfect canvas for Runt’s signature style which can provoke anyone walking by his murals to stop in their tracks. Using surrealistic and colourful creatures inspired by the Dr. Seuss children’s books, Runt introduced a new aesthetic to downtown communities.

“There’s a certain energy that comes from his work, in terms of colour and design,” said StreetARToronto manager, Lilie Zendel. “I think there’s a human spirit to his work.”

At 24 years old, Runt had his eyes set on filmmaking. That dream was spoiled however when he discovered the pricey production fees of the film industry and Runt settled on living with the cheap production costs of paints and brushes. What started as silly doodles transformed into the stepping stone that launched him into his long-term career.

“I knew nothing about being an artist, but I think maybe that was a good thing,” Runt said. “I like to remain dumb when it comes to my technique. It means I don’t know anything further.”

Al Runt – Photo by: Daniela Gitto

Runt’s career as an artist dates back to the ‘80s after his handmade posters were recognized in a Queen Street bar/gallery called Cameron House. After painting the side of the popular ‘80s nightclub, BamBoo, and the famous rock venue, Lee’s Palace, his reputation as a street artist began to prosper.

“In regards to Lee’s Palace, the reason it’s become so iconic is that it really speaks to the location and the façade it welcomes people into,” Zedel said.

Runt’s mural at Lee’s Palace
Runt’s mural at Lee’s Palace – By: Melissa Smith

In the ‘90s, his career came to an abrupt halt due to a lack of demand. Runt said he and other ex-artists went on a total bender. This meant relying heavily on welfare checks and bootleg wine sellers who filled 2-litre pop bottles with wine for half the price. Runt eventually raked in enough cash from some questionable employment opportunities and bought a studio. After this rough patch, his redemption was sweet. His eccentric yet vibrant style expanded as he began to paint the streets of Toronto.

“I find that Runt’s work seeks to disrupt and decontextualize spaces within the city, and perhaps break traditional conceptions of what may constitute art,” said York University visual arts student, Eszter Rosta.

A few of Runt’s accomplishments include painting Lee’s Palace a total of three times, hosting his own gallery shows, creating a special edition can for Pabst Blue Ribbon, and even recreating the 2015 Toronto TTC ride guide.

Runt created a special edition can for Pabst Blue Ribbon – Photo by Daniela Gitto
Runt created a special edition can for Pabst Blue Ribbon – Photo by Daniela Gitto

“What’s happened since the third version of Lee’s Palace to now is extraordinary and more has happened to me in the last six years than my entire career,” Runt said.

Apart from his blooming business, Runt’s twisted artistic techniques has collected a fandom. His murals and its mischievous caricatures have turned into a sightseer’s destination. Torontonians can find his work while strolling through Kensington, Bloor, Little India, and many other streets in the city.

Perhaps one of the reasons why passers-by are intrigued by Runt’s work is because it seems like the longer you stare at his work, the more hidden meaning you tend to find. Take for example, the mural stamped on the other walls of Electric Mud BBQ. At the owner’s request, Runt painted a controversial piece containing anti-Christian references hidden by his colourful and happy imagery.

Electric Mud Mural – Photo by: Augusto Monk
Electric Mud Mural – Photo by: Augusto Monk

“I have hidden jokes in most of my work that most people won’t get or even notice unless they look deeply,” Runt said.

During the process of Electric Mud’s mural – musician and film-maker, Augusto Monk decided to film the progression from start to finish. After Monk observed Runt’s technique up close, he quickly became a fan and decided that Runt deserved his own documentary (which is now out on VIMEO titled RUNT).

“His work always spoke to me very emotionally, and every time I see his work it puts a smile on my face,” Monk said. “His work was worth discussing, showing and elaborating upon.”

When it comes to the monsters he often paints, his most valuable inspiration comes from newspapers. Runt will look through the ink stained pages in search for an eye-capturing photo. Once found, he will doodle a similar version in his notebook. Then, he’ll flip through the newspaper once more until he finds another photograph that inspires him. Once all sketches are complete, he will someone combine aspects of each new character to finally create a Frankenstein-esque monster.

Runt’s mural at Lee’s Palace
Runt’s mural at Lee’s Palace – Melissa Smith

“It’s a great way to keep current, especially because they’re images circulating through the public’s minds,” Runt said. “It’s how I learn different body positions. I like to pick and choose what I like about certain things then make them one.”

Although his initial filmmaking dream was never realized, the movement and action in his murals trace back to his love for cinema. He is influenced by Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth, two worldly-renowned innovators of the cinematic field.

“What I find most intriguing is that rare way to compose a piece, that is in action and is active, [which] I refer to as the cause and effect composition,” said Monk.

However, Runt’s relationship with painting, as he described it, is a “love-hate relationship”.

There are times Runt experiences week-long creative blocks, then other nights he’ll spend five hours or more steeped into a creative stupor.Runt enjoys a beverage – Photo by Daniela Gitto

“I love it, but with anything I love, I usually have a bad relationship with it,” he said. “I hate doing it but I can’t stop it.”

Runt’s talents are not limited to walls, but any unconventional canvas that sparks his imagination and comes with a hefty paycheck.

In the light of his recent success, Runt is venturing into another medium – children’s books. In January of the new year, he is collaborating with HITSU, a company dedicated to socks designed by street artists, to create a book for children and parents alike to enjoy.

The book will be about a little girl searching for her happy dragon through the streets of Toronto. Rather than adding tourism attractions such as the CN Tower, Runt plans to include things only Toronto citizens will recognize, like the hug tree on Queen Street or Honest Ed’s thrift shop.

Runt’s art has become more than aesthetically pleasing, but also provides a sense of nostalgia for Torontonians growing up in the downtown core.

“I think what it says to me is the vivacity of the city the eclectic nature of the streetscape,” said Zendel.

With no shortage of new artwork being produced in 2017, the ‘RUNT-naissance’ as dubbed by many isn’t slowing down anytime soon.


Babes & Gents x Lucas Stolz– Kanye/Paris Capsule Collection

So, not a little known fact about yours truly, in fact a well-known fact about me is that I adore me some Yeezy. I will defend the man to the bitter end even after one of his now infamous rants. In fact I actually witnessed one of said rants at his ACC show this time last year and was outraged when people around me started boo’ing his 40 minute long monologue about why he should have been nominated for a Grammy. I mean come on a) HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED and b) People! We are witnessing history here! A real live Kanye rant! Needless to say I think the man is a damn genius who is on an entirely differently plain then you and me my friends.  So when my SweptMedia editor asked me to take a look at this line I was definitely game to give it a gander.

Babes & Gents is a line from Amir Zagari of Ottawa, Ontario. Amir started this line in July 2013 with a passion for collaborating art, music and lifestyle to create a look that heralds patriotism for all of these in a linear way all the while ‘repping Ottawa and the great white north. It’s a carefully edited collection from season to season, featuring simple black and white tees, tanks, hoodies, baseball jerseys and the occasional crop top for the Babes. It’s the graphic designs that really make this line standout. Kanye and his most recent collaboration with Monsieur Jay-z in Paris have inspired a capsule collection that offers fans of this line a beautiful, well thought out design.

Looking at the sketches and thought process behind this design mash-up between Babes & Gents and Lucas Stolz, a young, innovative designer hailing from Switzerland and now residing in Barcelona was something I have never experienced. Looking at the transition from rough thoughts to a curated, insightful graphic was really interesting. I suppose I never put much thought into the process behind creating a graphic like that. The result, inspired by Kanye’s belief that great art is polarizing, in that it “forces you to have an opinion” is captivating and introduces us to Amir’s plan to feature the work of amazing, modern artists as part of his “carefully mastered project”. Along with the homage to Kanye: I was drawn to Lucas’s line work, it is flowing and elegant, combining structured lettering lost within an iconic image to create something really special.

You can find all of Babes & Gents lines at babesngents.com (very reasonably priced by the by) or at such fine Toronto retailers as Get Fresh Company, Blk Out Inc. and Model Citizen. Amir and his team have a great vision and better then that they do their very best to donate 10% of all profits to various charities. Now hurry up with my damn croissant.

Trekky Trivia, Melody Bar Styles

The year is 2079 and the good lady Enterprise landed herself with a wave of trekky hysteria into the historic Gladstone Hotel Melody Bar this past November 4th (May the 4th be with you!). Shit is that a Star Trek thing? Star Wars? Ok jigs up, I ain’t no trekky yo. I mean I have fond memories of sun dappled Sunday afternoons curled up on the couch in our family living room, god that was a comfy couch, watching Star Trek with my brother. I think it would have been something that I watched because he watched it and I wanted to do everything he did (big brother worship… it’s a thing). I seem to remember having a crush on Data, possibly William Riker with that… beard of his (the beard lust started early for this one). So I guess what I am getting at, is that I went into this evening with no knowledge of Star Trek except a vague recollection of being on a comfortable couch. This seems to be a running theme of my coverage of these Gladstone events. I generally have no idea what is going on. Except for the Sex and the City trivia night, I SLAYED THAT ONE. Obviously.

Ok WAY off topic here. So Gladstone had a Star Trek trivia night and it was a really good time.  Whether you know the subject matter or not, the hosts can make or break the evening and this time we had a fabulous threesome of Gladstoners leading us through the intricacies of Star Trek Trivia. Kaleb, the seasoned veteran of trivia hosting kept the evening flowing with his wit and charm. Alicia was a riot, constantly demanding lightning rounds so that she could give away candy (it was really her only prerogative). Mike rounded out the trio with his vast, galactic knowledge. I learned he put together most of the questions and let me tell you, they were diverse and definitely had the audience thinking. No easy answers from this cat.

The room had a really fun vibe, packing the front end with the usual motley crowd attracted to the Gladstone. I can attest that this was a great crew of humans as I was, as per usual, serving. I found everyone was polite, friendly and drinking enough too keep my pocket book happy (that’s right, it’s 1865 and I carry a pocket book ok?).  Everyone was participating and it felt like we were in the middle of someone’s living room (on a super comfy couch, I really wonder what ever happened to that couch…) experiencing the familiar comfort of Star Trek that we all grew up with in the backgrounds (or forefronts in this crowds case) of our childhoods.  The prizes were classic Gladstone and ranged from pregnancy tests (every time you guys, every time), hideous nail polish (thanks to the guys that offered it to me by the way) to dollar store bacon…. Dollar store bacon, Alicia ate it once by accident in America and she’s been hooked ever since. Just joking, I made that up. Fluffing up the story you know?

After the success of this Trekky Trivia I can hardly wait for the next one on December 2nd, which will be Fresh Prince of Bel Air Trivia. AWESOME. I can almost guarantee if you need a free pregnancy test, this will be the place to be. In West Philadelphia, born and raised…

And now you’re singing.  Mission accomplished.

Toronto Lifestyle Market at the Gladstone! Oct 8th – 12th

Toronto LifeStyle Market at the Gladstone Hotel October 8th – 12th

So remember how Queen West just got voted the second coolest neighbourhood in the world? This just in mo fo’s, The Toronto Lifestyle Market at the Gladstone Hotel just took it to number one.image7

The Market is curated in conjunction with Ampersand Co. a Toronto based lifestyle agency founded by Michael Andrews. Together with the guys at Lifestyle Market they have created an innovative and sleek approach to the traditional gathering of vendors that we see usually see in pop-up style markets. This is a carefully selected collection of really well done local brands and well-established international names. They have laid out the room to give it a smoky, dark feeling, like you just stumbled into a secret uber cool house party.

The whole thing has an excellent vibe. You enter the hotel lobby to see the sexiest Harley Davidson I have ever seen resting casually against the lobby wall. You are then greeted by tunes pumping out of the Gladstone Ballroom. (nothing more Toronto then walking into the longest running hotel in the city to hear Drake blaring – OVO YO) and a gang of the best kind of hip dudes. Not so much hipster, more like skater boy’s all grown up. The best. These are young dedicated folks that are working hard to bring us a really different concept. Yes the retail aspect is the focus but as the day ticks on, musical performances start, the bar opens and guests are treated to musical stylings from artists such as Boki and City Kid Soul turning this shopping experience into an all night party.

image5 I took a tour around the room to check out the goods and honestly, this collection of vendors is on point. From wood framed sunnies from Bohten (find them here http://www.bohten.com) to pimped out Iphone cases from Felony Case (and here http://fc.felonycase.com) there was something for everyone. I especially liked the line of t-shirts, leggings, hoodies and hats from The Escape Movement (find them here at www.theescapemovement.com), a company started by a crew from North Bay. (sidebar… may have spent most of my tip money there… whoops). Skultuna (http://skultuna.com) had some handsome, handsome cufflinks and accessories for men, which paired well with the watches displayed beside them by Daniel Wellington. Best of all you can get molded for free to get A GRILL from Goldie Rocks. Like that’s really a thing. That people do.

The Toronto Lifestyle Market runs all weekend and will feature some great music, breakdancing, spoken word and one tasty, tasty Absolut vodka punch (which I did not sample not even once I swear) served by Gladstone’s finest bartenders. Saturday night will also be in partnership with Unity Charity, a great organization that encourages young people to be role models and leaders in their communities (http://www.unitycharity.com) I highly recommend taking time this weekend to swing in and check out the hard work of the team pulling this together. It is their first Market of hopefully many so lets show the support they need to keep this concept growing. Check out the full listing of performances for tonight below and visit

Rendezvous with madness

Since 1993, the annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (RMF) has been expanding the minds of Torontonians and shedding light on the discussion of mental illness and addiction. Films will be screened for the first time exclusively at TIFF Bell Lightbox from Nov. 10 to 15.

The festival provides a forum for artists to exhibit work that otherwise may not be showcased. Currently the largest film festival of it’s kind, RMF was co-founded by Kathleen Fagan and Workman Arts’ executive/artistic director Lisa Brown.

The festival is a signature event of the Workman Arts Project of Ontario, which began as a small theatre company with only eight members. Workman Arts has been challenging perceptions of mental illness through the arts since 1987.

At the opening gala reception on Nov. 10, Rocks in my Pockets was shown, a film by Latvian-turned-New Yorker filmmaker Signe Baumane. Her animated films are inspired by her own experiences with mental health issues, as she was diagnosed as manic-depressive eight months after giving birth.

Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival programming manager Jeff Wright said, “we had a sold out crowd, fantastic Q and A…I’m very happy about how it seems to be going this year.”

The festival is partnered with the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as well as community partners such as Toronto Black Film Festival, CAMH First Episodes Psychosis clinic and CAMH Addiction Medicine Services. It also has government support through funding from the Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council.

Peter Kingstone, visual and media arts officer for the Toronto Arts Council said, “we’ve been sponsoring (RMF) since ’95, and it’s an applicant based process so they applied in ’95 and were accepted, and now they are an operating client.”

This year, RMF shines a spotlight on mental health and sports, kicking off Friday Nov. 14 with the Canadian premiere of No No: A Dockumentary, which is about former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher, Dock Ellis. Saturday follows with a sports symposium beginning with keynote speaker Kendra Fisher, former Canadian National Women’s Hockey program goaltender, about her experience with severe anxiety disorder. Later on, Paul Gilmartin, host of podcast The Mental Illness Happy Hour, interviews former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk. Following the podcast will be the Canadian premiere of Tapia, a documentary that delves into the innermost thoughts of Johnny Tapia, a five-time world champion boxer.

“I think it’s a really important topic right now, I think it will bring out a broader audience that may not have thought about that because sports athletes are usually thought of as superhuman beings being paid millions of dollars to preform at high levels,” said Wright. “But with that expectation comes with a lot of mental stress, so I think it’s going to be a really fascinating couple of days at the end of the festival.”

There’s something about movies that allows people to connect and relate in ways other artistic avenues do not allow.

Movies are a unique artistic avenue.

“Film is the most easily relatable art form, I think there’s a directness to it that people relate to very quickly…you can see the way people are dealing with the representations of mental illness or addictions that we show in the films…I think it’s a very direct way to get the point across,” said Wright.

The initiatives of RMF help break down the stigma of mental illness, and the Q and A periods allow for a lot of professional and audience connection.

“We get a varied collection of viewpoints to start a discussion with the public and I think that educating (them), … the public educating themselves and feeling freer to discuss mental illnesses is a big step that we’re moving towards right now,” said Wright. “Ten years ago people wouldn’t have spoken as frequently about a family member or even their own mental illness. The stigma is slowly becoming less overwhelming.”

The RMF is a great opportunity for the people of Toronto to hear from underrepresented communities and become more accepting of mental illness and addiction. The festival offers a unique perception as one bipolar filmmaker put it, “The fact that I have my highs and my lows allows me to understand the middle.”

Bush Whacked at the Stone!

hings I didn’t know about the universe.

1) Kate Bush is a goddess and I don’t know how I missed that all these years.

2) Dem’ queers luuuurrve her.

image2 Crystal Visions hosted a magical night in the Melody Bar at the Gladstone Hotel on September 26th. Crystal is better known for her Stevie Nicks impersonations but tonight she brought the Bush Squad out for a rousing good time. Crystal had recently been to London (England guys, not the town down the ol’ QEW) and had caught one of Kate’s rare, rare shows. I didn’t know much about Kate before this but certainly took the time to learn while I was attending this event. What a cool, cool lady. Eccentric, passionate and unshakably true to herself and her art, a quality I so admire. Her tunes are the bomb; wild, magical and perfectly suited for the crowd that gathered on that Thursday night. It was really one of the lovelier crowds I’ve seen at the Glad. They were mostly over thirty, happy, carefree and so wonderfully supportive of all the performances.

Crystal opened with a haunting live rendition of Hounds of Love. She has the perfect voice for the song and I’m always a sucker for anything on the side of dark and mysterious. It was a great choice to get the show rolling and set the tone.

Next up was a performance art style piece from Jenna Syde (man I love these names) who was dressed with a partner in all-white jumpsuits who gave us “Breathing” from 1980’s Never for Ever album. After her was one of my consistent favourites, with her magnificent, Texas big, red hair was Allysin Chaynes (ALICE IN CHAINS guys… get it – love it). She covered “Cloudbusting” and had this great umbrella that she worked in giving the show a very theatrical flare that I feel Kate would have approved of greatly. The crowd went nuts and continued that vibe into the next performance from Kate Mirkin who gave us “The Dreaming”. This crowd was seriously pumped up so Trixie and Beever, a legendary performance duet in the community and altogether lovely people, gave the crowd what they wanted with a really adorable and funny version of “Don’t Give Up”. They sent us all off on a high note into intermission so we hit the bar for some drinks from the legendary in her own right, Gladstone’s finest, Miss Loretta.

After a very quick intermission the ladies were back at it with Crystal giving us “Lionheart” with the most handsome leprechaun leaping about in his skivvies, a lovely touch for the straight ladies in the crowd. (It was just me and Katie, that was it, we were the only ones, oh man I’m never going to find me a man spending this much time at the Gladstone am I guys? Damn it.)

Then it was time for my favourite of all my favourite Queens, Miss Fluffy Souffle. She turned in her trademark blond Mohawk for a dark curly number and gave us a spirited rendition of one of Miss Kate’s most notable works, Babooshka. Fluffy was on point, draped in a black shawl and cavorting around a chair ending the piece by dramatically exiting the stage blinded by a shawl. Probably a good thing that Fluffy also happens to work at the hotel or she toe up might have ran into a door.image4

After that we had Judy Virago who is just so exquisite and gave us a sensual gypsy lady number to, fittingly “Sensual World” she got right down to her lady parts and much to my amusement exited sans top into the hotel lobby. Perfect, I love it. “Welcome to the Gladstone, here’s my perfectly formed titties, may I take your bag madam?” THE BEST.

image5 Next we had the Queen Bear herself Fay with a Gwyneth Paltrow (get out of here Gwynie with your pretentious blog, perfectly blond hair and sweet sweet soprano voice, god damn you!) cover of “This Woman’s Work”. Then Igby Lizzards with a fan favourite, “Wuthering Heights” and then the grand finale of Crystal back on with “Running up that Hill” which lead to her running right out that door to end the night with the crowd so happy, so appreciative and so filled with love.

It was a great night and I hope to see Crystal bring one of the Stevie Nicks nights to the Gladstone in the near future!

Get Bushwhacked y’all.

Riot Guuurrll

When the line-up for Riot Fest Toronto 2014 was released back in the spring I died. I dropped dead on the spot. The Cure… ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THE NATIONAL?! SALIVATING. Fellow punk rockers at heart, it did not disappoint. Ok, the MUSIC did not disappoint. Riot Fest organization? The worst. I won’t harp too long as I don’t want to focus on the negative but man from the line-up just to get your ID checked for an over 19 wristband, to the separate lines for Ticketmaster and Ticketfly, to the over zealous security at the gate (IT WAS ADVIL FOR GODS SAKE), the first 30 minutes of the Riot Fest experience was frustrating to say the least. Once you made it through the iron gates of hell (which as I write it, perhaps fitting for Riot Fest, enrage all the youth!) you were greeted with a mud pit, no complaints there actually as my awesome roomie was all like “dude wear your boots, it tots rained last night) so I was prepared. The first order of the day after getting the lay of the stages was to figure out the booze situation. This lady was again like “what man! This is not the bomb!) First off, you had to buy drink tickets in one line and then move to another line DIRECTLY BESIDE THE FIRST LINE to procure an icy beverage. Second of all it was Budweiser sponsored. At least reach out to a local brewery right? Mmm I right? I lived in Calgary for twelve years, so as a former Stampede Guuuurrl I have drank enough watery warm Bud to last a hundred lifetimes. Strongbow had run out by 3pm on Saturday and was never restocked. I mean I don’t mind drinking a beer or two but sometimes a girl just needs some white wine to get her punk on. So a note to organizers, Next time, get some wristbands, ease up on security and get your booze selection up to par. I’m sure it was a licensing issue and it shouldn’t (and isn’t) all about the drankin, but surf bort y’all.

Now onto the positive! There were plentiful loo’s that remained with paper until the late hours and a good selection of festival grub. Little slim on the veggie lovin’ side but any good vegetarian doesn’t get angry, we just deal. Peace and love right? The stages were laid out well and the second day the mud cleared up and boards had been laid to save those expensive gladiator sandals from probable death. The crowd, as one could expect was dripping in tattoos and was overall cool, chill and respectful (or one might say… Canadian).

Day one started with Manchester Orchestra, I wasn’t familiar with them but definitely enjoyed the show, just heavy enough with a filthy deep bass that delighted my ears. Next up we caught Alkaline Trio. They were a bit “eh”. It was generic but still enjoyable. We then caught up with some more friends who were super stoked on Brand New so we trucked over to the Roots stage. My buddy was really into them and I was like “when did I miss this train and how do all these people around me, my age, know every word?” Anyway, a good vibe in the crowd and enjoyable head bopping baby punk. (disclaimer, my brother is a super grindcore sludgy guitar player so I may have a slightly skewed view on what “real punk” is and I have a tendency to describe everything that doesn’t make your ears explode as baby punk, forgive me). We then caught a bit of Rise Against on the Rock stage (awesome obviously) and headed back to the Riot stage through the mud bog to catch Death from Above 1979.image_4

THEY BLEW MY MIND. I have obviously, especially in the last few weeks been hearing a lot of hype about Death from Above but I was not expecting what I saw. It is rare for me to really get into a show when I am unfamiliar with the material but this was different. These guys are heavy, fast and crazy talented. I am a little sad that I have lived so much of life without them in my ears.

We then devised a plan to get as close to the stage as possible for the Cure so waited for the Death from above crowd to shift over to the Roots stage for Flaming Lips and waited in heavy anticipation for the gods themselves to bless our ears. It was pretty cool the way they had the Roots and the Riot stages constantly changing off on bands. As soon as one ended on one stage the next started on the other stage so even if you wanted to wait to see your next favourite on one stage you could still see and hear the other stage. So we hung onto our spots super close to the Riot stage and watched a side view of the happy, beautiful spectacle that is the Flaming Lips.

The Cure. I have been into The Cure since brother introduced them to me sometime in the 80’s. They came on in a blur of smoke and the crowd went nuts. They played everything you wanted to hear and more, with some epic solos and interludes that made it feel like you were really experiencing a moment in history.

Then I smoked a bit of a weed. This is not something I ever do anymore and especially not in public. Mostly because I can basically read minds when I am stoned, it’s alarming. I felt like I was in Robert Smith’s mind every time he took a step back from the microphone to do his traditional shimmy. I could hear him think “haha watch this, ‘little shimmy… crowd goes wild!!!’ facking idiots”. Roger O’Donnell, keyboardist was the best though. He was so Mod and so unemotional like “been playing this shite since 1969… facckk good year that was though” Then there was johhny rocker guitarist who hopped around the stage for the entire 80 minute set in his skinny jeans and red bandana. I hear the bass player thinking “what a wanker, hopping around in those stupid jeans, oh god, oh wat is he doing now?” So needless to say it was a super awesome experience and one I won’t easily forget. Robert Smith you rule my world.

Day two dawned (early afternooned) without a cloud in the sky. It was a tough day ahead though as the line-up was so good that it was hard to decide which stage to hit next as to not miss anything. Decisions were made and it was off to Bob Mould, The New Pornographers, and then drrrumm roolll Die Antwoord. I have only recently been introduced to these insane kids by a friend and was stoked to see just how crazy the show would be. I was not disappointed. The energy this South African duo brought was electric. I am not usually a fan of the EDM scene but this was different, this was heavy, fast and powerful. It was somehow the angriest, the most punk of all the shows we saw. I wanted to jump and scream and just let the thick noise take me away. They were the only ones to tell security to f off and let the people do what they wanted. It was powerful stuff and I was loath to leave to split my time with Drop Kick Murphy’s. But then of course, they are a different kind of energy. They are fun and crazy and I was glad I got the chance to finally see them. We then caught a bit of Social Distortion and Death Cab but for me the highlight was easily The National. There is something awesome about seeing a band that you count as your current favourite. It was an amazing experience. Everyone knew every word, everyone swayed and worshipped the songwriting gods that they are in unison and it was a beautiful thing.

We finished off the night with the Buzzocks, Metric and City and Colour. City and Colour was for sure an odd choice for Riot Fest but Dallas Green addressed it and made the lovely comment that in truth Punk is about being true to yourself and he does that like no one else. He thanked the crowd for sticking around (in truth I think everyone was thinking Alexis on Fire might happen, sorry Dallas) but it was a nice way to chill out the night before the hour long FREE (big ups city of Toronto) TTC ride back to my safe haven on Queen West. The only thing that could have made this weekend any better would have been if Kurt had risen from the dead for one last Nirvana show while I sipped a white wine spritzer. Rock on Riot Fest, can’t wait for next year.


Canada to Brazil – Filipe Leite’s 16,000 kilometre journey on horseback

Filipe Leite can talk the talk and walk the walk, or rather trot the trot.

The 27-year-old Brazilian is heading home to Sao Paulo, Brazil, the finish line of his 16,000 kilometre road trip on horseback. On July 8, 2012, he was given permission from organizers to start his journey at the 100th Calgary Stampede.

With the help of his two quarter horses Bruiser and Frenchie, Leite has travelled through the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. He currently resides in Costa Rica, and anticipates reaching Sao Paolo sometime in May 2014.

This grand adventure has been a dream of Leite’s since he was a child.

When he was a young boy, Leite’s father, Luis, read him the story of Aime Tschiffely , a man who road horseback from Argentina to New York in 1925. This not-so small feat was the fuel behind Leite’s personal road trip across continents.

“This story has been something I’ve thought about my whole life,” Leite said. “It was always in the back of my head and I knew for a long time that I wanted to do this. I think the best part of this whole experience is that I’m living my dream. I’m not just thinking about Aime Tschiffely anymore because I’m creating my own story.”

His father played a valuable role in encouraging Leite to follow his dreams. Ironically, Luis had imagined himself following in the footsteps of Aime Tschiffely first.

“I heard the story from my father and for a long time it was my dream to have a journey like this,” Luis said. “I love horses but life just got so busy. I started a family very young, and I was committed to my family, so it was hard to achieve my dream after that.”

Despite not being able to have his own 16,000 kilometre adventure, Luis rode with Leite through most of Mexico. Luis said he feels like Leite is living this dream for both of them.

“I never thought he would actually do it, but I am very glad he did. I am truly loving each mile of this journey like it was my own,” Luis said. “I am very happy he is following his dream and that I get to live it through him.”

foto 1Although the idea for the dream was inspired when he was a young boy, Leite really started to prepare for the long trek home after he finished university.

Leite was born in Brazil but moved with his family to Canada when he was 10. The family then moved back to Brazil when Leite was 17 and finally, he came back to Canada to study journalism at Ryerson University.

After graduation, Leite said there was “something strong pushing me to ride back home”.

One can only imagine the amount of planning put into an endeavour as large sale as this. Packing the whole family into the minivan for a summer trip to Florida is equivalent to a Saturday afternoon trip to the mall when compared to Leite’s travels. Leite cited the longridersguild.com as a particularly helpful source when planning his trip. The website is a tribute to all things relate to equestrian exploration.

“I started going on their website years ago and I remember reading stories about people who were travelling by horseback,” Leite said. “So it really got me thinking ‘is this still possible?’, ‘could I actually do this?’, and after an extensive amount of reading the idea started to become a reality.”
Approximately a year and a half before he took his first steps out of the stampede grounds in Calgary, Leite decided to put he dreams into motion.

“I felt like if I didn’t start taking it seriously at that point in my life, then I would never do it,” he said.

One of the most daunting tasks for Leite was finding a sponsor for this trip. Trying to win over a business with the words: horseback ride, presented a lot of challenges for Leite. However, as someone fresh out of university with no budget for a road trip this grand, it was extremely important for Leite to find a sponsor.

The work never ended when he would get home from his job. After contacting dozens of companies and receiving many closed doors, things were looking bleak for Leite.

“Two months before I was supposed to leave, I still hadn’t heard back from anyone. I was starting to get a little worried but then it was like the universe just opened its doors for me,” Leite said. “I guess it was testing me to see if I really wanted to do it. Through Twitter I got a production company in Nashville to buy the project.”

OutwildTV is the company that saw the potential in Leite’s dream. They are his main sponsor and Leite uses to the money they give him to support his main costs including food for himself and the horses and hospitality. Along with Outwild TV, Leite also received a valuable contribution from two ranches in Montana, who provided him with his two quarter horses, Frenchie and Bruiser.

Although finding a sponsor was exhausting, the hard work was just beginning.

A road trip of this magnitude would be a difficult test travelling in a vehicle, exchanging motorized wheels for horses multiplies all aspects of the trip. The journey is twice as long, and Leite needs to find food for himself as well as his two other companions.

Although many would assume weather or language barriers would be the hardest part of the trip, Leite confirms that the horses and their health has been his biggest concern.

“This is a really hard trip on them. Their health always comes first to me,” Leite said. “It’s like taking care of children. It’s completely different than travelling by bike or vehicle because at the end of the day you can just put down your bike or get out of your vehicle and go to bed. But with this trip the work doesn’t stop when the day is over, in fact the real work starts then. I have to find shelter, and water and feed for the horses. The heat is just crazy so we wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to start riding so we can end the day early.”

The basic care of an animal would be enough to keep one busy on a journey like this, but there have been other incidents with the horses to really test Leite.
In New Mexico, Bruiser fell into a ditch and it took Leite an hour and a half to get him out.

Frenchie was hit by a truck in Mexico, an event that Leite said was the worst moment of his trip so far.
It’s as though each day is its own mini journey, but Leite wouldn’t want it any other way. Without the horses, the trip would be a subpar adventure compared to his idol Tschiffley. It would be a watered down version of his dream.

His route to Brazil has also been a difficult challenge.
The cowboy has navigated his way through backcountry trails and busy highways with each course presenting pros and cons.

The trails are a much safer ride for the horses, however, it takes much more time and interaction with civilization is scarce. The highways are more direct and quicker, but riding a horse with a transport truck speeding past is not ideal.

Leite said his route has definitely been unconventional.

And although the horses are good company, Leite has been fortunate enough to have his girlfriend Emma Brazier join him for much of the trip.
Brazier, 23, met Leite at university and knew the moment he decided to really tackle this epic journey that there was no turning back and she wanted to be there with him.

She was there to see him off in Calgary and travelled with him a few months later in the United States. Brazier returned back to Canada for a bit and then flew Nicaragua, the starting point of her own personal adventure since she hopes to stay with Leite all the way to Brazil.

Like Leite, Brazier shares concern for the horses health as well.

“The toughest part is definitely seeing the horses in any kind of trouble or pain,” she said. “You feel helpless and so sorry for them when something like that happens.”

However, these events along with the general travel have all compiled as an amazing learning experience.

Brazier said her time of this trip has been invaluable and will always be a contributing factor to her personal growth as well as her relationship with Leite.
“Filipe and I have both grown so much both individually and together. That’s the one thing that I can say I’m most proud to take away from this trip, is how much our relationship has developed and become stronger,” Brazier said. “Needless to say we have a lot of incredible memories. It’s so much fun for us to relax after a long days work and have a beer and laugh about our experiences both good and bad.”

And, at the end of the day, as long as Leite and the horses are safe, the good far outweighs the bad.

In Mexico, Leite was given a third horse by two locals. Dude, an Indian Mustang, has been very helpful with regards to carrying loads as well as Leite himself.
Leite has met many exceptional people and been lucky enough to inspire others as well as be inspired by those he meets along his travels.
One of Leite’s favourite moments so far was his travels through Honduras.

At first Leite was very sceptical of the country considering the dangerous reputation it has acquired.

“It’s the most dangerous country in the Americas,” he said. “They have the most murders per capita. The drug war has completely taken over the country, so I was pretty nervous to ride through on horseback.”

A run in with a few drug lords upon entering Honduras really caught Leite off guard with their warm hospitality. The men snuck Leite into the mountains and provided him with a place to sleep as well as amenities for the horses.

“I was thinking ‘the drug lords are helping me, this can’t be good’, but the people there were so friendly,” he said. “I don’t want to say they were the nicest people I’ve met on my trip because I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very selfless people, but they completely changed my view of the country. It was so amazing to see. Their level of hospitality was beyond what I would expect anywhere.”

Leite said their value of life was very different than what the Western culture is accustomed to. He saw many people living in small sheds for homes, travelling by horseback, fetching just enough food and water for the day. Too many people this would be a vision of poverty, but Leite said their lives were rich in simplicity.

“If a local only had one chicken, they would butcher it and give it to me for food,” he said. “They wanted me to have the best impression of their country.”
However, of all the things the Hondurans did for Leite, the most memorable gift was during one of his many rides through the country.
Leite had met a bunch of locals at a ranch and was getting ready to travel onward. As he and his horses are making their way out of the town, a group of Hondurans began to walk towards him. Several of the locals had put together a parade for Leite complete with both the Honduras and Brazil flags. Kids from the nearby school had organized the event complete with a band and stilt walkers.

“I started crying. I was so emotional,” he said. “I couldn’t think of why they would do this for a stranger just riding through. They were just so happy to host me. They feel like their country has a bad rep due to the media and events in their country, but they were just so happy to have someone actually stay with them and see their life.”

One person who is very happy that things didn’t turn sour in Honduras is Leite’s mother Claudia.
As a parents, no matter how old a child is, the worry never goes away.

“My biggest concern is the other people,” she said. “He is travelling through some unsafe areas and I’m always worried about him getting robbed or shot. To be honest though, I’m concerned about everything. What is he eating? Where is he sleeping? Is he cold? Is he said? The concerns never end.”

However, as someone who has known Leite his entire life, Claudia believes Leite is the perfect person for a journey as grand as this one.

“He is a very hardworking person and a very determined human being. When he wants one thing, he goes for that,” Claudia said. “He is a dreamer. He wants to change the world and as a journalist he hopes to have the power to do that through his writing and his travels through the poor and dangerous counties.”
The journey is just the tagline for Leite’s story. He hopes through his adventures that he will be able to expose the countries he visits, not in a negative way, but to show people there is a lot of good amongst the bad.

Leite’s plan is to write a book about his travels and OutwildTV will create a documentary about his journey.
When he reaches Brazil, the horses will be given a much deserved early retirement.

Through all the stories, scary moments, and exhausting days, the main point of Leite’s journey is to follow his dream.

“We’re not robots. We’re humans with hearts and we should face our fears and live out our dreams no matter how wacky they may seem,” Leite said. “I hope this inspires other people and younger generations that they don’t need to feel pressured to graduate school, get a job, and start working. It’s not crazy to want to leave your life behind and see the world.”

Admire Don’t Acquire: Cultural Appropriation is not Appreciation

On Oct. 17, a “First-Nations-inspired” collection is showcased at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts boutique. Items featured include key fobs in the shape of caricatures of Aboriginal girls and a pillow with a racist cartoon depiction of a Native person. These articles form part of Inukt, a fashion brand created by (non-Native) Canadian designer Nathalie Benarroch. Her response to Indigenous groups’ outrage? “I don’t understand all this hatred. You’ve always got this idea that everything that’s made in Paris is glamorous, but being an art director, I know it’s just a question of branding. Canada can also be just as glamorous.”

Miley_Cyrus_Wonder_World_concert_at_Auburn_HillsMeanwhile, south of the border Miley Cyrus is receiving an onslaught of criticism for her infamous VMA performance that included twerking and slapping a black woman’s butt onstage. A very valid argument risks being drowned out by the louder, more obnoxious voices engaged in slut-shaming. Anne Theriault, in an article for HuffPost Music, points out what most people failed to see: “She, a wealthy white woman, is taking elements from black culture in order to achieve a specific image. Her status as a member of a traditionally oppressive race and class means that she is able to pick and choose what parts of the black culture she wants to embrace without having to deal with the racism and racialization that black women live with every day,” she writes.

Elsewhere in the United States, Lady Gaga is making waves with her use of “#burqaswag”. Her loyal little monsters lapped up this latest Gaga trend, and many posted pictures of themselves posing in makeshift veils with #burqaswag in the caption. James Harris, an editor at Complex Times, wrote of the phenomenon: “Lady Gaga is in a position of privilege where she can choose when and where to don something that holds so much weight in a culture and religion that she is not a part of.”

What Benarroch, Cyrus and Gaga did is cultural appropriation, and it’s not OK. Cultures are being exchanged, ideas, traditions, fashions are all becoming more and more intermingled within the fabric of our societies. Yet will all the beauty and innovations that come from the sharing of cultures, sometimes it’s hard to find the balance between appreciating someone’s culture and appropriating it. The line is a difficult one to find, but it’s imperative to do so.

Why did Benarroch feel free to claim Inuit culture as Canadian? And why did she feel that an apology was not required after she received widespread criticism from various Aboriginal groups? For that matter, why did Miley Cyrus also refuse to apologize after being criticized for using a black woman as a prop? Why does Lady Gaga feel that it’s appropriate to use the term “burqa swag” and to wear her renditions of burqas, niqabs and hijabs?

Dr. Naveen Joshi, a Humber Professor and popular culture expert, believes the answer to those questions stems from ignorance. “I think that’s a lack of knowledge. They don’t actually understand where that came from and why they would be offended,” he said. For him, there are two types of cultural appropriators: “The first is people that are appropriating and don’t have any idea what they’re doing. So your blackface. The second is when people are appropriating and they’re saying they’re giving homage to these people.”

When asked about Miley Cyrus’s performance, Joshi laughed and responded, “I don’t think it’s authentic whatsoever … When she didn’t know who Jay-Z was, the writing was on the wall.”

For Dr. Handel Wright, a University of British Columbia Professor of cultural studies, the problem with Cyrus’ performance is her use of black culture for shock value. “Why is it that it’s black culture that someone uses as something that will shock others? So Miley Cyrus is trying to shed her little girl image. So for her twerking is the same as lighting up a joint, it’s to shock,” he said. “It’s the appropriation of somebody else’s culture in order to shock, that I find offensive,” continued Wright, who is the Director of the Centre for Culture, Identity and Education at UBC.

Another point Wright discussed is just how intertwined cultures are, which makes cultural appropriation a very complex issue. “The history of what is now called twerking. For me I see elements in what is being called twerking as not even an African American form of dance, but as something that is a version of what people do in the Caribbean with reggae and calypso et cetera and even that can be historicized further back,” Wright said. “In my own country and in the Gambia there are forms of Gombey that kind of operate like that.”

One clear-cut aspect of cultural appropriation is the fact that exploitation of other cultures is always a big no-no. Joshi discussed the issue of white people taking parts of black culture and making it way more popular by virtue of them being white. “If you look at Chuck Berry and the fact that he ended up suing the Beach Boys because they took his tune, his beat, his rhythm and merely sang some surf song above that and called it Surfing in the U.S.A… He couldn’t make that much money out of that type of song, but when somebody white takes it up, then it becomes ‘oh this is very big, this is a wonderful beat’,” he said. “So if you’re appropriating because you’re appreciating that’s one thing, but if you’re appropriating because you’re going to make money out of it then it becomes a force of exploitation and becomes very problematic.”

Power differentials between cultures also have to be acknowledged. “When it’s somebody who is richer stealing the culture of somebody who is poorer, then appropriation becomes a little bit more problematic,” said Wright. “When it’s a culture that … projects itself as superior taking up the culture of another that … has been cast in an inferior light, then this becomes problematic.”

In Canada, Benarroch’s Inukt line is just one of many instances of white people appropriating Indigenous cultures. There’s always that one sadly misguided soul at any given costume party dressed as an “Indian”. As if dressing up as the stereotype of an incredibly vast number of different nations and peoples spanning an entire hemisphere makes any sort of sense. For shame. There are many reasons why this is problematic, the first being the wearing of Indigenous headdresses.
Prof. Daniel Justice, a UBC Associate Professor of First Nations Studies and a member of the Cherokee Nation, explains why non-Native people wearing Native headdresses is cultural appropriation of the worst kind.

“Headdresses are very culturally specific, they’re not for all people and they show a particular level of honor and dignity and respect that people in those communities have for their peers where those headdresses are used,” he says. “So they’re not just a secular piece of paraphernalia, there’s a lot of sacred attached to it. So when you take something that’s really respected and then start marketing it as this really almost clownish piece of costume, it’s innately disrespectful because it’s taken out of its proper context.” Justice, who is also Canada Research Chair of Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture, adds, “It would be like for people who are Catholic, it would be like taking the Pope and turning him into a clown. That would be disrespectful.”

As Justice mentioned, headdresses are not used in all Native communities. When someone dresses up as a stereotype of a Native person, they are disregarding the fact that there are many different Aboriginal cultures. Benarroch’s line is problematic on this front as well. In a bold move of willful ignorance, Benarroch chose the name Inukt for her “First Nations-inspired” line. Inuk is the singular term for Inuit, who are not First Nations. Her careless choice of that name amalgamates various nations, peoples and cultures with little or nothing to do with one another. The only association these two cultures have with one another is their colonial heritage of settler intrusions.

Professor Jean-Paul Restoule, an Aboriginal Studies and Education Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and a member of the Dokis First Nation, talked with his class about cultural appropriation and appreciation, and how to find the line between the two. “We came to the idea that if there is anyone that is offended or hurt or upset by it, then you’ve probably crossed the line,” he said. Restoule agrees with Joshi that ignorance is a key player in cultural appropriation. “The lack of education plays a huge role,” he said. “I think in the minds of teachers and students that I have, they certainly think that there’s not enough coverage of Aboriginal histories, peoples, issues, and current events, and that’s one of the reasons we see these kinds of things happening.”

Justice discussed some ways to borrow from Native cultures without crossing that line. “Let’s say you’re in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and you buy Navajo jewelry that is sold to be jewelry that folks wear, if you actually really appreciate the community then that’s fine, but if you cover yourself with this material and then try to present yourself as having authority to speak on Native issues because you have appreciation, I think that’s crossed the line,” he said.
Restoule and his class also discussed appropriate ways to borrow from Native cultures. “We came down to, is there some kind of reciprocity, is there a giving back to the community that comes with you benefiting from you wearing the clothing or benefiting from having access to the story? Did you give something back in return, and is this exchange somewhat equal?” he said.

Apparently no one told Lady Gaga that using a religious piece of clothing and turning it into a sexual, exotic item doesn’t qualify as reciprocity, and doesn’t benefit the Muslim community in any way, shape or form.

Arwa Mahdawi, a regular commentator for the Guardian, discussed the use of the word “burqa” as a blanket term for all Muslim veils. “It’s one of the things that causes offence the most,” she said. Mahdawi, whose father is Muslim, added, “When Muslim women use it as a fashion trend, it’s fine, it’s when non-Muslims do it that it starts being a big problem.” She pointed out, “This should be common sense, someone’s religious heritage, just don’t play around with it.”
Understanding the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is important if for no other reason than because it brings harm to people, plain and simple. Shelley Charles, Humber College’s Native elder, discussed how she felt when people appropriate Native stories and cultures. “It kind of makes me feel like we’re continuing to be robbed of things that are very sacred and special to us,” she said. “But then on another part I feel sorry for people who think they lack the originality and need to take from others for themselves.” Joshi, who is of South Asian descent, also talked about feeling offended, especially at Halloween when he sees people dressed as Indians. “My life isn’t a costume,” he said.

When looking at cultures and the role that ignorance plays in cultural appropriation, Joshi said it simply: “The world is bigger than you.” That means educating yourself about other cultures is imperative, especially in this digital age where everything is shared in an instant. As Justice put it, “Educate yourself. Start reading about stereotypes, start reading about cultural studies. Ignorance is no excuse.”