Thursday, June 15, 2023

Polaris Prize unveils 40 nominees from Feist to Aysanabee

Story and photos by Allan Tong

The Polaris Prize, honouring Canada's best recorded music, announced this year's long list of 40 nominees last Tuesday evening. Sonic Boom, Toronto biggest record store, played host. Feist, Jessie Reyez, The Sadies and Murray Lightburn (of the Dears) made the list along with newcomers Eliza Niemi and Zoon. The full list:

Alvvays – Blue Rev
Aquakultre – Don’t Trip
Aysanabee – Watin
Badge Époque Ensemble – Clouds Of Joy
Begonia – Powder Blue
Bibi Club – Le soleil et la mer
BIG|BRAVE – nature morte
Philippe Brach – Les gens qu’on aime
Mariel Buckley – Everywhere I Used To Be
Daniel Caesar – Never Enough
Chiiild – Better Luck In The Next Life
Feist – Multitudes
Debby Friday – Good Luck
Gayance – Mascarade
Ghostkeeper – Multidimensional Culture
Home Front – Games of Power
JayWood – Slingshot
Khotin – Release Spirit
Thierry Larose – Sprint!
Murray Lightburn – Once Upon A Time In Montreal
Isabella Lovestory – Amor Hardcore
Dan Mangan – Being Somewhere
N NAO – L’eau et les rêves
Tami Neilson – Kingmaker

Eliza Niemi – Staying Mellow Blows

Nico Paulo – Nico Paulo
Planet Giza – Ready When You Are
poolblood – mole
Jessie Reyez – Yessie
The Sadies – Colder Streams
Jairus Sharif – Water & Tools
Andy Shauf – Norm
Dylan Sinclair – No Longer In The Suburbs
Snotty Nose Rez Kids – I’m Good, HBU?
Alexandra Stréliski – Néo-Romance
U.S. Girls – Bless This Mess
Witch Prophet – Gateway Experience
Yoo Doo Right – A Murmur, Boundless to the East

Zoon – Bekka Ma’iingan

Nominee Aysanabee answered 10 questions:

1) Where are you from?

A lot of places. Sandy Lake First Nation [Ontario] till I was four, then I lived in every northern town from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, but now I'm based in Toronto.

2) Favourite musician?

Teeks, a Maori artist from New Zealand.

3) The first record that changed your life?

A Bob Marley greatest hits album on CD.

4) Do you collect vinyl?

I just started to. I recently got a vinyl player. I only have four records now.

5) What are you listening to now?

The Digging Roots album. ShoShana Kish, who founded the label I'm on, along with Amanda Rheume ignited this whole musicial journey for me.

6) What living musician would you love to collaborate on?

Oh, that's a toughie...I'm really in love with Nemesis' music right now.

7) And a musician who's no longer with us?

I'd like to see what me and Bob Marley can do.

8) What comic book superhero would you like to be?

I have a ton of comics that my grandfather gave me. I always loved the Batman comics.

9) Do you see yourself as a particular animal?

Definitely a bird, because I love to fly.

10) Where would you eventually love to settle?

Either in a rustic cabin in the mountains of the west, or I come into some money and start a recording studio and hostel in Thailand. I'd have a little stage where they'd be mandatory listening parties for a crochety, old me AYSANABEE walks out and plays his new song, then goes back to the studio.

The Polaris will announce their short list on July 13, then hosts the Polaris Gala on September 19 at Massey Hall. October 19 sees the Heritage Prize awarded to a Canadian album recorded before the Polaris began in 2006. Details of all events are found at

Thursday, June 8, 2023

film review: Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis)


Directed by Anton Corbijn

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Atom Heart Mother, Band on the Run, Peter Gabriel 2, Houses of the Holy, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Dark Side of the Moon. Those are a few of the album covers that legendary studio, Hipgnosis, designed in the 1970s, and this terrific, entertaining new documentary tells their story.

That story centers on company founders Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey (Po) Powell, two Cambridge lads who were mates with a young band called Pink Floyd in the mid-1960s. The careers of Hipgnosis and Pink Floyd would be forever linked as the thorny, but brilliant Thorgerson and the meticulous Powell designed most of the Floyd's early and later albums. Both entities hit the jackpot with 1973's Dark Side of the Moon, with the multi-coloured prism on the cover forever being the band's visual signature.

The documentary is generous with vintage interviews of Thorgerson (who died in 2013) and contemporary ones of Powell, former collaborators as well as clients Pink Floyd (Waters, Gilmour and Mason), Paul McCartney, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, and Graham Gouldman of 10CC. Noel Gallagher offers an outsider's perspective as a fan, and is as witty as always. The meat of the film lies in the astonishing stories of some of Hipgnosis' most famous covers. For Wish You Were Here, Powell set a stuntman on fire 15 times, until the stuntman's face nearly burned. Remember, these were the days before Photoshop. For Wings' Greatest Hits, the duo flew to the top of Mount Everest by helicopter to photograph a small statue that Paul McCartney had bought. Terrified of heights, Powell risked sliding down thousands of icy feet to his death. Of course, Hipgnosis could have just placed the statue on a bed of salt inside their London studio, but, hey, that would have been too easy.

It was also the 1970s, after all, the golden age of rock albums which sold in the multi-millions, and Hipgnosis was charging a fortune to design covers. That may boggle today's young minds, as Gallagher notes, who see only a postage-stamp icon of an album on their phones. However, covers were a big deal back in the day because they shaped the image of a band and conveyed the message of the music within.

Director Anton Corbijn evocatively lights his interviews in black and white and uses striking animation to announce each album cover like a chapter page in a book. Corbijn knows a thing or two about album covers, since he has photographed a few for bands like U2.

The hero and villain of this story is Thorgerson, whom everyone in the film recalls as a pain in the ass, but also sharp and charming. He and the more level-headed Powell rode the excesses of 1970s rock until they crashed in the early-1980s in bankruptcy and acrimony. It was a bitter ending, which abruptly ends the film and begs for more detail. However, enough time has passed to heal those wounds and celebrate the surreal imagination of the greatest album designers of all time.

Squaring the Circle opens Friday, June 9 in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Victoria in select cinemas, then expands to other cities in Ontario as well as Quebec City and Charlottetown this month.

Monday, June 5, 2023

IncluCity fest returns to Toronto, bigger than ever

 by Allan Tong

The ICFF is back, or shall I say the Lavazza IncluCity Festival, organized by the ICFF? Once Toronto's Italian film fest, IncluCity has rebranded in recent years into a multicultural (and multi-disciplinarian) visual arts festival. The core remains Italian films, but IncluCity has expanded its tent to include even Jewish and Chinese cinema, not to mention painting, opera, fashion and this year horror films. All in all, IncluCity will screen more than 50 feature films drawn from 26 countries.

From June 27 to July 22, the center of IncluCity will be the Distillery District with screenings taking place in oversize, plush seats beneath the stars (rain or shine) on this historic district's cobblestone avenue. It is, without a doubt, the most gorgeous setting to watch a film. 

There's a lot to unpack with IncluCity 2023, and here are the highlights:

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Artist Project returns to Toronto

Ross Bonfanti's Concreatures
Story & photos by Allan Tong
The Artist Project returned to Toronto's CNE Grounds at the Better Living Centre after a long pandemic hiatus. The show, which runs through Sunday, April 16, is a buffet of visual arts mostly paintings, but this year adding a welcome twist of mixed media and even a fashion show. Thursday saw the traditional opening night party, complete with food and drinks for sale. The party is always fun, allowing visitors to wander the hundreds of art booths with a wine or beer in hand, but there was less of both in previous years (though normal in this post-Covid world given the labour shortage.) Still, the addition of mixed media was a smart addition that I hope continues in future editions. Some art that caught our eye:
Ryan Bock's Ode To Duchamp
 Shawn Alex Thompson
Gina D'Aloisio's Deep Breaths
Phil Carriere
Options were mostly mediocre junk food, but there was a decent booth offering salads and charcuterie hidden in a corner, unfortunately, that impressed a local chef.
Kelly McCray's Tower of Banned Books
Ross Bonfanti's Concreatures
Ross Bonfanti's Concreatures

Friday, January 20, 2023

IDS returns to Toronto with a bash

Christina Sideris

Toronto's Interior Design Show returns to January's cultural calendars after a hiatus (for obvious reasons) and following last year's IDS taking place in April right after lockdown. It felt great for IDS to be back, launching last night with their traditional opening party and running through Sunday, January 22 in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's south building. Yesterday, saw the start of trade days full of speakers waxing about all things beautiful yet functional in the home. Though home sales are slumping, Canadians will continue to renovate their houses, condos and apartments, so the industry outlook is positive for 2023.

Thursday's opening soiree saw some booth, such as Miele's, pouring wine and champagne to invite visitors to inspect kitchen spaces, living rooms sets and luxury showers. There were at least three food stations scattered throughout the hockey-arena-sized space. The most popular offered vegetarian Chinese noodles (it's the Year of the Rabbit on Sunday), though another supplied just chips. There was more food in previous years, some noted, though the crowds of the chicly dressed and fashionably groomed adored the atmosphere, particularly around the Caesarstone stage where a DJ spun beats.

Trade Days continue today (Friday) at 4:30 pm with a keynote at the Caesarstone stage about designing the new Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, featuring Jordan Bennett, Shirley Blumberg of KPMB, Omar Gandhi of Omar Gandhi Architect in a conversation moderated by Elizabeth Pagliacolo of AZURE Magazine.

Saturday from 11:00 am to noon sees Mexican designer Fernando Laposse focus on global warming and the loss of biodiversity. He will explain how to use materials like corn leaves and loofah to build more sustainable spaces. Other panels took place throughoput the weekend, including speakers Kelly Reynolds and Chad Falkenberg from Falken Reynolds of Vancouver), Daej Hamilton of Toronto's Daej Designs, Toronto) and Treana Peake Founder of OBAKKI who will also speak about sustainability.

Tickets are available from $19-25 here. A reminder that IDS takes place in the *south* building of MTCC.




Guild Design Gallery


Puppy Stools (yes, dogs) by Hojeong Ji


Seedlip: not everything poured last night was alcohol

Welcome back!


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

film review: Harvest Time



Directed by Bernard Shakey

ChinoKino score: B (for Neil Young fans: A)

Review by Allan Tong

When Neil Young released the album Harvest in early 1972, he became as big as Taylor Swift or Drake today.  He was already in the biggest band at that time, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and already recording solo, but Harvest catapulted him to superstardom. That's ironic, since Neil Young fans regard Harvest as a good, but flawed work. However, Harvest includes Heart of Gold, which shot to number one and made the album that year's biggest seller. This new documentary takes audiences behind the scenes to show Young recording Harvest, whether inside his northern California barn (you read that right), in a studio with his famous ex-bandmates, and with the London Symphony Orchestra (you also read that right).

Fans will feast on Harvest Time. Much of this footage has never been seen, and it is gold, capturing Young in unguarded moments of creating his music. Special scenes involve Young with CSN harmonizing on Alabama. It's early 1971 and the on-again, off-again band are in good spirits, not bickering which would later plague them. Neil gently coaches his bandmates at a piano to go over a particular phrase. As they perform the song Words, surprisingly it's Graham Nash who coaxes the singers. Isolated on the soundtrack, their voices soar.


It's jarring, but thrilling to see Young record live with the LSO. Fans have long detested how the orchestra smothers this plaintive ballad, A Man Needs A Maid, but it is fascinating to watch Young struggle to get the entire orchestra to make their cue. They keep coming in a half-step too soon, he complains to arranger Jack Nietzsche during a break before Young sings a beautiful verse of the title song, Harvest. It's also cool to watch Young hop into a portable recording studio (belonging to the Rolling Stones) housed inside an unmarked truck parked outside to listen to a playback.

Another key moment finds Young playing Journey Through The Past alone at a piano. It's shocking to cut from the orchestral session to this solitary, but melancholic moment, but effective. This is one of Young's finest performances anywhere on film.

The handheld, grainy work lends the movie a homemade, voyeuristic feel, while the audio is crystal clear and rich. For instance, when the band launches into the protest rocker, Alabama, to kick off the film I jumped in my seat. There are only brief interviews of Young, along with producer Elliot Mazer and a few others. Really, Harvest Time is a fly-on-the-wall document, directed by Young. What's sorely missing is footage of him recording Heart of Gold with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor on harmony. Also missing is the heart of gold herself, Young's partner at the time, actress Carrie Snodgrass. Snodgrass inspired several songs on the album, but appears in one only shot of the film without speaking.

Casual fans of Neil Young will enjoy Harvest Time, though may bristle at seeing one too many aimless jams recorded in Young's barn and with the film's lack of structure. Rather, it's a chronicle of the making of the most important album in Neil Young's career. Sit back and play loud.

Harvest Time opens in cinemas in select cities, dates and times, beginning December 1. Check your local listings or here for schedules and tickets.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

film review: Darryl Jones: In The Blood



Directed by Eric Hamburg

ChinoKino score: C

Review by Allan Tong

Superman is boring. Superman can soar, twist steel, beat any bad guy into a pulp and save entire planets. Aside from kryptonite, nothing can weaken Superman, certainly not destroy him. He is perfect.

That's how I felt about Darryl Jones after watching the first half of this new documentary profiling the bass player for the Miles Davis, Sting and the Rolling Stones. Don't get me wrong: Mr. Jones is one of the greatest musicians to have ever picked up a bass. Chosen by taskmaster Miles Davis alone catapults him into the top echelon of bassists on any planet. This guy can play.


However, this documentary does a shaky job in telling us who he is. For starters, the film opens on the Rolling Stones heaping praise on Jones for being (what else?) a great player as well as a cool guy, a nice guy and a prolific reader. But does anyone name a book? Nope. This sort of facile, fawning interviewing starts In The Blood poorly. Further, you're left wondering if the film is about the Stones (disclosure: I love the band) or Darryl Jones.

Eventually, the film lets Jones tell his story, starting with growing up on Chicago's South Side in the times of the 1960s race riots, of developing a race consciousness, of joining the Civil Rights Movement, and of course, of falling in love with performing. When he was a boy, Jones felt the love of an appreciative audience and wanted only that for the rest of his life. His parents supported his passion. His parents loved music and taught him a few instruments. Meanwhile, one played jazz constantly, another adored soul and local radio played everything from James Brown to the Beatles. Quite an education.

This part of the film is good. It's meaty and revealing. However, the style of filmmaking is rudimentary and unimaginative. It's 90% talking heads, with interviews taking place in random parts of (what I presume) Jones' house. There's no attempt at lighting or clearing distracting kitchen appliances or furniture out of the background. The footage looks like something shot on someone's phone. Further, there's no use of establishing footage, like a wide shot of Chicago to tell the viewer where they are, or flourishes like seeing Jones' fingers pluck his bass strings. Shots are static. The camera hardly moves. At best, an interview cuts to stock footage of a still photograph or concert for a few seconds. Jones' recollections aren't told through animation, a common--but effective--tool for documentarians and which would have elevated this film.

Oddly enough, there's no background music playing underneath the interviews. Instead, we hear local traffic roll by. Distracting. Cold. That's strange for a film about a musician.

Again, don't get me wrong. Jones is a great bassist. I wanted to see this film for this reason and because I know nothing about the guy. In The Blood demystifies the man and paints a portrait, but this doc is ultimately too long and unsatisfying.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

film review: REVIVAL69: The Concert That Rocked the World



Directed by Ron Chapman

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

"It was the end of the Beatles."

Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker describes the climax of the set performed by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band on September 13, 1969 at Toronto's Varsity Stadium. Lennon had ordered his bandmates, including Eric Clapton, to lean their guitars on their amps which sparked feedback that howled alongside Ono's avant-garde vocals. "It was such a fantastic ending," said the legendary Pennebaker who filmed the concert, because it knew it would be historic. After the Toronto show, Lennon would return to London and indeed break up the Beatles. A remarkable new documentary tells the chaotic, hilarious and pivotal story behind this one-day rock fest that nearly collapsed several times.

Pennebaker eventually released a film about the Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival, a fly-on-the-wall doc made in the same vein as his innovative films, Don't Look Back, about Bob Dylan's 1965 U.K. tour, and the revolutionary Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. However, director Ron Chapman has used Pennebaker's footage as the core of an entirely new film. Chapman has new footage, including intimate super-8 film, many insightful interviews, rare stills and smart animation to tell a thrilling story.

The tale began with two young concert promoters who organized a one-day festival to honour the pioneers of rock 'n' roll: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. But tickets didn't sell. Co-promoter John Brower, only 22 at the time, hired two notable L.A. DJ's to emcee the show, but that did nothing. Next, he booked the Doors (for $200,000 in today's money) by borrowing cash from a biker gang. But the Doors didn't move the needle either. With just days to go amid threats of the bikers collecting on their loan, one of the DJ's, Kim Fowley, urged the promoters to call John Lennon out of the blue and ask him to host.

After all, Lennon became a Beatle because of Berry et al. By chance, a Toronto rock journalist who was working for the Beatles, the renown Ritchie Yorke, vouched for Brower, so Lennon said yes. Miraculously, this exchange was captured on audiotape. However, nobody in Toronto believed Brower. Unbelievably, CHUM Radio kicked the promoters out of the station and even circulated rumours that Lennon would not show. (Shame on you, CHUM.) It took a Detroit DJ to get the word out and move tickets.

Other twists and turns abound in Revival 69, making the viewer ride a rollercoaster. The festival nearly collapsed a few times, but when it unfolded it was truly magical. Among the crowd of 20,000, Geddy Lee was a suburban longhair tripping on acid at the fest. Singer Claudia Barry was there to check out the black musicians. Both were blown away. Barry left knowing what she would do the rest of her life.

Chapman has done his homework. He interviewed Klaus Voorman and Alan White whom Lennon summoned to grab their bass and drums and meet him at the London airport. They convey the chaos, thrills and anxiety of rehearsing on the plane and racing to Varsity Stadium. Several other musicians on the bill recall that gig, namely Alice Cooper. His band were nobodies at the time, but they left Toronto as legends (Google "Alice Cooper chicken Toronto"). "We were an affront to everybody. We were the future."

Robbie Krieger of the Doors recalls headlining the festival, but remembers Jim Morrison being in awe of the the 1950s legends on stage, including Chuck Berry. Sadly, Mr. Mojo Rising balked at appearing on camera, so there is no footage of the Doors. Elsewhere, camerawoman Molly Davis recalls filming John and Yoko's limo as 80 bikers escorted it from the Toronto airport to Varsity Stadium (the head biker had a crush on her). Then there's the godfather of American rock criticism, Robert Christgau, who largely narrates the film by offering historic context and first-hand observations that are right on the money. Interviews by Lennon assistants, local musicians and other crew members contribute to a parade of colourful anecdotes.

The icing on the cake is animation by Mathew den Boer. It vividly presents the John and Yoko story which perfectly matches the crystal-clear audio recordings of their actual call with Brower. That audio is a highlight of the film.

REVIVAL69 wisely does not to focus too much on Lennon. Instead, it strikes a fine balance in telling the stories of all the musicians and characters behind the scenes. The film is a fine addition to the canon of rock docs, because it cements the significance of the 1969 Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival as a pivotal chapter of rock history. It marked the end of The Beatles and the 1960s and heralded the 1970s. REVIVAL69 should be held in the same regard as Woodstock and Gimme Shelter.

REVIVAL69 is currently playing film festivals. The next screening is in Oshawa at the Durham Region International Film Festival on Saturday, October 1.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

film review: Eternal Spring


Directed by Jason Loftus

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

You've seen or heard of the Falun Gong, those folks who stand still on street corners with their hands raised and eyes closed as they meditate. This stunning animated doc explains who they are and why they are cruelly persecuted by China's government.

Acclaimed comic book artist Daxiong (Star Wars, Superman, Justice League of America) practised Falun Gong in the Chinese town of Changchun which gave birth to him and this spiritual movement numbering in the millions. In 1999, China's authoritarian government became alarmed with FG's popularity and started jailing and torturing practitioners as well as burning their books. However, Daxiong didn't flee China until something happened in March 2002.

What happened was a small band of FG practitioners climbed some telephone pulls, literally cut a live news broadcast and patched their own video. That video showed the Chinese public that Falun Gong is not evil as the state-owned news kept saying, but is healthy and harmless. Sadly, the police hunted down the rebels. Many were tortured, some recanted and others died.

Eternal Spring (English for Changchun) startles the viewer from the opening frame, portraying China c.2002 in startling immediacy through lifelike animation. The images just grab you. The film cuts back and forth between contemporary interviews on camera of Daxiong, now living in Toronto, and surviving members of the rebel group who now reside in South Korea and the New York City area. To hear them tell their stories is moving. To see them portrayed in 2002 via animation executing the hijacking is nerve-wracking. To witness their imprisonment, also animated, is harrowing. Shining through this horror are the memories, defiance and hope of Daxiong.

Eternal Spring will screen theatrically starting September 23 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Check local listings for details.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Fan Expo returns to Toronto

Story and photos by Allan Tong

Life should be fun. When it isn't, we escape into better worlds, worlds where we possess strength and magic. That's why we watch movies, and that's why there's Fan Expo Canada.

 The annual celebration/convention/conference/marketplace of all things fantasy and sci-fi hit Toronto last weekend (August 25-28) as an army of kids, adults, and adults with kids jammed the entire Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Cosplay ruled as superheroes and a few villains like Boba Fett graced the MTCC aisles and spilled onto Front Street West, like a summertime Hallowe'en. Freedom returned. It was the first time in two years that Fan Expo took place without pandemic restrictions. 

All these fans gathered like to meet stars, like the cast of the hit Netflix sci-fi series, Stranger Things or Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. They also got artwork and comics signed by artists themselves, both established and new, or complete their X-Men collections if the price was right. There also t-shirts, books, posters, trading cards and dolls galore. That most popular item at Fan Expo? Funkos. Never have I seen so many of those Funko Pops. We're talking fortresses of them of any variety and price.

Underlying Fan Expo was a love for movies, in this case fantasy and sci-fi, the genres keeping Hollywood alive as it churns out the latest Star Wars movie or series. With aisles packed by noon on the first full day, enthusiasm for Star Wars and the generations of characters it has inspired in four decades shows no signs of waning. The Force is definitely with Fan Expo.