Saturday, 3 October 2015

Introducing Project Soundcheck

Originally published on Couch Assassin.

You're out on the town, at a bar. From the corner of your eye, you notice two people. The situation seems funny to you; One of them looks uncomfortable. Maybe like they're stuck in an unpleasant, possibly dangerous situation. Something definitely doesn't seem right. So what do you do?

Introducing Project Soundcheck. This initiative was brought to life after a study came out from the Ottawa Hospital that one in four sexual assaults take place in mass gatherings. After this study was released, the Sexual Assault Network (SAN) and the Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) put a proposal together and they received funding from Crime Prevention Ottawa to create and deliver bystander intervention at local music festivals.

Kira-Lynn Ferderber is the project lead of Project Soundcheck. She was hired in April as a consultant to organize and deliver the training. She has been teaching anti-bullying anti-homophobia workshops and been involved in anti-violence activism and feminist activism for a long time. She is also a performer and rapper in Ottawa.

The project's first phase began this past summer, with events such as Canada Day in Kanata, Bluesfest, Escapade and Arboretum Festival. Phase two of the project was launched in September and included events such as CityFolk, Ottawa Burlesque Festival, House of PainT and Nuit Blanche.

As Ferderber explained, the training touches upon different kinds of things that can happen that could potentially lead to sexual violence. "The kind of training I do is called bystander intervention. People might picture this as making a dramatic scene, and them coming in running in a situation, punching someone or trying to rescue someone. But we're not trying to create violence and you can actually intervene effectively by talking and checking in."

If you're in a public space, and you see two people and you feel concerned for one of them, you can intervene without confrontation or accusation. Going up to someone and saying "Hey, how's it going?" or "How's your night going?" is a good way to let people know that you see them and that you are there. For the perpetrator, now they know that people are looking at them. For the person potentially in trouble, if they were hoping to ask someone for help but they don't know who, now they have an ally. "Sometimes, people who want to intervene don't want to confront someone, especially if they are wrong and that everything is fine," added Ferderber. "If you say to someone "Hey, how's your night?", it's not a big deal. That's why it's called Project Soundcheck [...] We check in to make sure everyone is safe and sound."

Another technique that works is to create a distraction. You can use this technique to engage the person you're worried about or you can use it to engage the person whose behaviour you're worried about. This gives an opportunity to the person (potentially) in trouble to leave the problematic situation. This technique doesn't take as much courage; you can act like oblivious, like you don't know anything is wrong.

Right now, the training is focused on staff and volunteers of local music festival. Ferderber envisions the project growing to eventually include patrons and artists to receive this type of training. For Bluesfest and Escapade, Ferderber's team attend the volunteer orientation session in order to give the training. Volunteers received handouts, which included a small cards with cliff notes. The cards include tips and tricks as well as a list of resources. The card is a good reminder of what is discussed at the training but also serves for volunteers who missed the orientation sessions. The feedback that the team has received so far has been positive. Ferderber would love to see this expand. Other places in Ontario have inquired about the project. "Every festival can benefit from this kind of training."

"The goal of the project is ending sexual violence but if sexual violence still happens, we want to have a good, effective response to it. We're trying to make Ottawa festivals safer but we're also that hoping people will use these skills when they leave Ottawa. They might use them at another festival they attend in another city. They might need to use them when they're volunteering at Bluesfest but they might need to use them in January when they're in a bar in the market." If someone hears about an incident that has already happened or if something happens in another setting, they can use the resources and tips that they have learned during the training.

There are many resources in Ottawa for those who need them, including the Sexual Assault Support Centre and the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre, who both have crisis lines that you can call. OCTEVAW's website is a great source of information with many resources listed. If people are planning a festival or big event in Ottawa, SAN is still available to provide training, free of charge. Kira-Lynn can give training to your staff or volunteers. The sessions vary from event to event and the training can be customized accordingly to what the needs of the volunteers are. So what's next? The project is hoping to expand and possibly release a podcast on some issues, including bystander intervention and racism.

"Music festivals have the potential to be a safe space. because there are a lot of people to help you if you're in trouble. But they can also make people feel invisible in a crowd, they feel like that they can get away with something because everyone thinks that someone else will do something to stop it." Therefore, we all have a role to play in ensuring everyone's safety.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Showin' Off Them Legs!

Originally published on Couch Assassin

Random photographs of urban Ottawa. That's how Brant Thompson describes his work. Working under the moniker Random Incident, Thompson's focus is mainly street photography. His images expose the hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) charms of Ottawa, especially Centretown, which is where he lives. "I have my camera on me all the time. As I'm walking around the streets, if I see something interesting, I'll take a picture of it."

Thompson was born and raised in Ottawa. A graduate of Algonquin College's photography program, he became interested in photography when he was young. Despite this, he set aside photography until recently. So what prompted his return to photography? "Three years ago, when I got a decent cell phone with a good camera [...] I had a camera on me all the time so I started taking pictures more regularly." He purchased a new camera shortly after that, and he's been enjoying his endeavours in photography since then. Last year, Thompson had an exhibit at the Atomic Rooster called Intersections.

Thompson's recent exhibit is now on display at the Ministry of Coffee. It's entitled Best Legs Contest and Other Stories. The show features - you guessed it - legs! But not just any legs - lovely, tattooed legs! "I had taken a picture of someone with tattoos on their legs, and then that evolved into a series of photographs of people with tattoos on their legs," said Thompson. Legs aren't your thing? Don't worry. This show is a series of photographs and topics, which includes street art and more.

When Thompson was first curating this exhibit, he had certain photographs in mind. Initially, the exhibition was going to be called Water Under the Bridge and Other Stories. But when he started pulling the photographs for the show, he discovered a huge difference between the images on the screen and the printed photographs. "When I was printing the images, I was discarding half the ones I had chosen. I was thinking to myself 'I have all these great pictures but they're not translating into anything.' So it's funny that the piece of the show that I had mind when I approached the Ministry of Coffee to be the main focus of the exhibition, was the piece that was the hardest to pull together."

Thompson also mentioned that the venue was an important consideration when curating the exhibit. "The Ministry of Coffee is a fun, young, hip place so I thought about the people who go there and I wanted this exhibit to be light and fun. It needs to appeal to the crowd that goes there." But, as Thompson mentioned (and the proof is in his images), light and fun can also be beautiful.

One of the series of images is Enchanted Garden. It features a vacant lot on Gladstone Street with lots of flowers and weeds, which create a nice contrast with the great graffiti. Another series of images is entitled Water Under the Bridge. Thompson was taking bike rides down the Ottawa river and noticed the interesting graffiti under the bridges. He started documenting the art and things nearby during his bike rides. Another exquisite image is The Last Good Man. Thompson had found a book right beside one of the bridges, with its pages blowing in the wind. The book has been mangled by the weather; it was mouldy. And it just so happened that the title of the book was "The Last Good Man". A stunning image!

One of Thompson's favourite images is a picture of an old stone industrial building, with a wall of gray cement with some graffiti on it, an old mill on Victoria Island. One of the images that really stood out for me is called “I Love My Body”. The image features street art currently on display on Elgin Street. According to Thompson, since the street art is the size of a newspaper box, no one has taken it away or removed it. On one side, it says "I Love My Body" and on the other, "Life is Really Beautiful". Thompson's goal is always "finding this object and finding an interesting way of photographing it". These two images are striking and the people walking on the street beside these strong messages make it quite romantic.

So what's next for this local photographer? Thompson just started taking photographs of musical performances this past Summer at Glowfair and he's looking forward to doing more of that. Thompson likes attending community events, including Ravenswing. He would love to put together a show of these images.

Check out Best Legs Contest and Other Stories at the Ministry of Coffee until September 30. All the prints on display are for sale. You can see Thompson's work here.

Best Legs Contest and Other Stories
September 1 - 30, 2015
The Ministry of Coffee
279 Elgin Street

Photo by Brant Thompson. Tattoos by Edith Fluet, Blue Blood Custom Tattoos

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Bluesfest: Week Two

Originally published on Couch Assassin

They say all good things must come to an end. Well they must be talking about the 2015 RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. After 11 days of jam-packed music, a lot of us need a vacation. Or a giant nap. Or maybe that's just me.

Regardless, I took a few days to digest all the music I experienced at this year's Bluesfest. Here are some of my highlights of week two:

FET.NAT. Definitely in my top 5 favourite local acts. These guys don't play shows often enough (in my opinion) so it's always fun to catch them live. They put on a great show at the Canadian stage. Frontman Mononc Jayno was up to his usual shenanigans, as we've come to expect!

Pony Girl. So great to see these guys perform again, especially in an intimate venue like the Barney Danson Theatre, where the sound is fantastic. It was lovely seeing them perform new material from their upcoming new album "Foreign Life".

Current Swell. Perfect summer festival music. One of my favourite discoveries of Bluesfest! Will definitely be seeing these guys again.

Weird Al Yankovich. My expectations were high for this show, and Weird Al did NOT disappoint! A very fun, interactive performance, which included numerous costume changes and video montages.

Purity Ring. Having seen them perform a weeks prior, I didn't expect the show to be as good as the first one I saw. Despite the set starting late (due to the weather), the duo put on a great performance, complete with an incredible stage setup. And the pouring raining definitely added to the magic of the show.

The Tragically Hip. You can never go wrong with the Hip. Seriously. I believe I heard one patron say that one time, Gord Downie played a show sober and it was boring. Well, that definitely wasn't the case Friday night. People were soaked head to toe, but it was worth it, especially since they were celebrating the anniversary of the album "Fully Completely".

MonkeyJunk. These local guys ended the festival with a good dose of blues! Great performance with a big crowd. This band is worth checking out!

Some acts that surprised me and blew me away included METZ, Flight Distance and Run the Jewels.

There were a few disappointing performances as well, including Grime Kings, the Glorious Sons, Gaslight Anthem, Interpol and Lowell. Although I did enjoy Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, it wasn't their best performance that I've seen to date.

In case you missed them, here are my highlights from week one. I was also asked to be a guest on Lunch Out Loud Ottawa and share my thoughts on this year's festival. Check it out: Part 1 + Part 2.

What were some of your highlights from week two? Who would you love to see at the 2016 RBC Ottawa Bluesfest?

Photo: The Tragically Hip. Credit: Mark Horton

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Bluesfest: Week One

Originally published on Couch Assassin.

Well, folks. The first week of RBC Ottawa Bluesfest is officially done! It was definitely eventful and I, like many of you, was able to catch some great live music and enjoy some nice (hot) sunny weather.

Here are some of my highlights:

BlakDenim. Blakdenim - one word, no c. Ottawa's very own hip hop/soul/funk/everything band put on a great performance on the River Canadian stage Thursday night. Although it wasn't packed, the crowd seemed to really enjoy discovering this local gem.

Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. Wow. Bradley, also known as the Screaming Eagle of Soul, gives it his all on stage. And you can sense the love he feels for the crowd. The talented singer started out as a James Brown impersonator but he definitely has enough soul to stand on his own and leave his own mark.

The Souljazz Orchestra. A local favourite. It's so great to see them back on stage. This local act has been working on a new album "The Resistance", which will be out in September. There was a great crowd of people gathered at the Monster stage to see the show, some of which showed off their dance moves.

Nas. Although I don't know much about hip hop, and I'm not a fan of Nas, his performance was impressive. The turnout for his set was impressive as well. The rapper delivered a solid performance and he was quite enthusiastic and gracious to be playing to such a huge crowd.

Arkells. These guys won me over the second I first saw them play Bluesfest a few years ago. They give it their all on stage and they are just so fun to see live because they are having tons of fun on stage. This performance did not disappoint!

A few performances that fell flat for me included Kanye West. I'm honestly not sure what I expected but I definitely expected more. More spectacle. More visuals. More ranting... Although his performance was solid and generally good, I was left wanting more.

In week one, there were also many (pleasant) surprises and new discoveries:

Shakey Graves. This folky/blues rocker demands your attention as soon as he walks on the stage. Starting off with just him on stage, he was soon joined by supporting musicians. He drew a big crowd, and keep us entertained the whole time!

Jungle by Night. While waiting to catch another show, I stumbled upon these young men from Amsterdam who play a cool mix of funk, afro-beat and jazz. Their sound was refreshing and you couldn't help but have fun during their set.

Hat Fitz & Cara. Featuring Hat Fitz, a talented Australian blues guitarist and Cara Robinson, a talented soulful vocalist who plays the drums, the washboard and the flute, this duo is insanely talented and hilarious. Their songs are infectious and you cannot help but be sucked in right away. They definitely won over the huge crowd and put the blues back in Bluesfest.

There's so many great acts to catch during week two, including locals Hilotrons, FET.NAT, the Haig, Gold and Marrow, New Swears, and more! Some of the other acts I'm excited to check out include Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, CHVRCHES, Purity Ring, Tragically Hip, just to name a few.

Stay tuned for highlights of week two! See you at Lebreton Flats!

Photo: Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. By Scott Penner

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Studio La Mouche Takes Flight

Originally published on Couch Assassin.

In case you haven't noticed, Ottawa's artistic scene is jam-packed with talented people. Sometimes promoting our city’s talent is where the challenge lies. Enter Studio La Mouche.

Lucie B, a local artist, started the project. Born and raised in Ottawa, she has been involved in the artistic community through her circle of friends, especially in the music scene. Having studied in chemistry, Lucie has no formal training in visual art. She shared that she was working on her Masters' degree when she acquired a silk-screening machine. She got the idea to start Studio La Mouche after realizing that some of her drawings would look good on t-shirts. "I decided to silk-screen my own stuff. Then I started noticing other artists around me and thought that their designs would work well on t-shirts too [...] Then I asked myself, 'why am I only printing on t-shirts? I could make prints easily.' It grew from me to multiple people to multiple products." Right now, Studio La Mouche is printing many different products, including apparel, prints, book covers, stencils, patches, etc. The studio also produces original artwork.

So what's story behind the name? According to Lucie B, the name came from fly drawings that she used to produce. "The company was originally just going to sell t-shirts with my fly drawings on it, so I picked that name. Then all the other artists came after and I kept the name. It's in French because of my Franco-Ontarien background and me wanting to keep bilingualism as part of the company's identity." The studio's new website will be bilingual as well. "I thought the word studio was a good way to encompass everything [...] It would be nice to eventually to get a dedicated studio space." Studio La Mouche has no physical space to call its own just yet. Lucie's ultimate goal is to open up a communal space. The space would be available to the artists if they need a working space and so they could use the different equipment and machines. Lucie also hopes to have a shop where prints can be sold, and a gallery space for viewings. She also mentioned that the gallery space or shop could be transformed into a live music space. But for right now, artists work on their own and Lucie B works from her apartment where she keeps all the materials and equipment.

Eight local artists are currently part of Studio La Mouche. Lucie acts as a curator and is selective when approaching artists to get involved. She is in talk with a few more artists to get on board, people that she met through her connections in the community. Ideally, as the company grows, she will ask artists to join as she meets them, and if she feels their aesthetics fits with her vision for the company. In terms of the style of art at Studio La Mouche, it is pretty open. According to Lucie, “it’s more on the grunge side, although there is more delicate stuff as well”. If any local artists are interested in getting involved with Studio La Mouche, she encourages them to get in touch with her with examples of their work.

Although the project has been launched for about a month, Lucie B has been working on it for over a year, gathering information, looking at different resources, such as producers and printers as well as making a business plan. The project was launched using a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter page is currently being used as the studio's online shop. As soon as the campaign is done, an online shop will be open. Studio La Mouche will also participate in pop-up shops and festivals, so keep an eye out for that.

So why a Kickstarter campaign? While talking to some friends, Lucie got the idea to use Kickstarter. The project kept growing, and more and more artists were getting involved, and more products were in the works. "I didn't have the money to print that much artwork on that many different products," she said. "The Kickstarter campaign was a risk-free way to get started."

The campaign was launched with a show at the end of May at Pressed featuring local bands the Sick Sick Sicks, the Heavy Medecine Band and Tindervox. According to Lucie, there is a lot of potential for great work to be done. “The studio is trying to promote art in all forms, and we're trying to promote collaborations among artists and with musicians and performers. We are open to commission work. If bands or musicians are looking for album artwork and t-shirt designs, they can check out our roster of artists and if they like a particular style, we can connect them and they can collaborate."

The studio also wants to keep putting on live music shows and have a merchandise table, where visual art will be sold from different La Mouche artists, which could include band merchandise as well. Lucie B is a fan of the local music scene. She's a big fan of the Heavy Medicine Band (vocalist Keturah Johnson is one of the artists at Studio La Mouche). Lucie also recently discovered Randy Shenanigans and Bonnie Doon, two groups she says she would love to work with.

All the products are at a discounted price during the Kickstarter campaign. The campaign's goal is set to $5,000. This is the minimum amount that the studio would need to fulfill the campaign rewards. The more money the studio raises through this campaign, the more funds are available to get inventory ready for the online shop, once it opens. It is also worth noting that if the studio does not meet its goal, it received none of the money pledged.

There are still a few days to show your support and contribute to the Kickstarter campaign. Click here for more information. The campaign ends on July 28, 2015. So go check out Studio La Mouche and keep your eyes open for amazing art.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Making the Most out of Music Festivals

Originally published on Couch Assassin.

Get ready, Ottawa! Festival season is here!

I've been to my fair share of music festivals. I'm not saying I'm an expert by any means, but my schedule pretty much revolves around music festivals and live shows, especially in the summer.

From my experience, there are many factors that affect one's experience at a music festival. Here are a few tips to keep in mind in order to maximize your festival-going experience.

Dress appropriately. Pick your outfit based on your surroundings and based on weather predictions. If you’re going to be standing in a field in the middle of nowhere for an entire day, wearing comfortable footwear would be a wise idea. If the weather is going to be rainy and cold, be sure to bring a warm sweater or jacket. Once you're on site, you don't want to be uncomfortable and/or miserable, wishing you would have dressed differently.

Protect yourself. I know we’re adults and it’s not cool to wear sunscreens… But get over it! Bring some sunscreen and apply some regularly. What's worse than getting a bad sunburn? Going back on site the next day to spend an entire afternoon in the sun when you're trying to nurse a bad sunburn. Do you burn easily? Wear sleeves and a hat.

Stay hydrated. Yes, drinking an ice old beer while watching live music is pretty awesome. And a lot of us enjoy this activity during music festivals. However, be careful. My advice is to consume in moderation and make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. You don't want to be that person who passes out while waiting for your favourite band to start their set. Also, if you end up being that person who passes out from dehydration, that could seriously damper the experience for your friends. So don't be stupid and drink water!

Rest. That's right. If you're planning on attending every day of a weekly-long or two week music festival, make sure you rest and get enough sleep so you're in top shape to catch as much live music as possible. There's nothing worse than being overtired and missing an evening of good music and great bands because you can't get off the couch or keep your eyes open.

Pick a meeting spot. Planning to meet your friends at Bluesfest? Why not come up with a meeting spot right off the bat, instead of constantly texting your friends back and forth, and trying to locate them in a huge crowd of thousands of people. Identifying a meeting spot early on will help you save time, which means more time checking out the awesome live shows.

Make a schedule. If you're like me, you want to most bang for your buck. And because festivals aren't cheap, it's good to catch as many acts as you can. So prepare a daily schedules of bands you want to see, so you get an idea of what your day will look like and what time you have to be on site. Make sure you check what times and what stages each band you want to see are playing at. If you're organized, you'll be able to catch as many shows as possible.

Ditch your phone. That's right - Put your phone away! If you're in the presence of one of your favourite bands while they are playing a live set, why would you answer those text messages or check your Instagram? That can wait 'til later! Put your phone away and take it all in! Although it's important to have a phone with you in case of emergencies (or if you lose your friends), why would you play with it during a live show? You may never have the opportunity to see these bands perform live again so take full advantage while you can!

Get involved! Let’s be honest: Music festivals aren’t cheap! Not everyone can afford a full festival pass for all the music festivals happening this summer (because there are lots!). One way to save money is to get involved and volunteer. Most of these festivals would not happen without the assistance of volunteers. Volunteers get lots of perks, including free admissions to shows at the festival. The commitment differs from festival to festival. If you work a certain number of shifts, you get to see shows for free. As someone who's volunteered for many festivals, including the Ottawa Jazz Festival and Bluesfest, I can tell you that it's a very rewarding experience. Not only do you get free admission to shows, you get to meet cool people. So if your schedule permits, get involved!

So those are my tips for making the most out of your music festivals. So get out there, Ottawa! Be safe, have fun and enjoy that live music!

Photo: Wu-Tang Clan at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest. Credit: Steve G.