By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 0 Comments
A new breed of artists elevates the cover band from midlife hobby to curated show
On a recent night, a small but rowdy crowd was packed into a bar in Toronto’s Dovercourt Park neighbourhood, watching Vanessa Dunn growl out songs like Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me. In a leather vest and biker hat, Dunn channelled more Axl Rose than Rihanna, a snarl on her lips, her body slithering to the beat. The fans sang along and cheered each time the band started a familiar tune—which was every tune, since Vag Halen is an all-women cover band that plays Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC and other male-centric rock.
It’s no accident Vag Halen is all women. Dunn and her wife, bass player Katie Ritchie, were in a bar one night a couple of years ago when Van Halen came on the jukebox. They started to brainstorm fantasy bands. Dunn grew up with brothers who loved ’80s rock and she loved it, too, but had always felt a bit excluded from that culture. An idea clicked. Ritchie was the front woman of the Vancouver indie band the Organ and Dunn was an actor. They floated the idea of an all-women cover band to their friends, and Vag Halen was born. “I don’t want to be a baby-voiced female with a pigeon-toed persona,” Dunn explained. “I want to be Freddie Mercury meets Hedwig meets Iron Maiden. I want our performances to have power.”
Not long ago, a cover band was more likely to be a group of middle-aged guys singing radio hits to a drunk crowd in a fake Irish pub. Now a generation of young artists is redefining what a cover band can be: professional performers presenting a curated variety show. P.E.I.’s the Love Junkies covers oldies and garage rock. The Toronto girl band Sheezer covers Weezer. A group of Toronto all-stars calling themselves the Best throw monthly parties called Loving in the Name Of, with an ever-evolving set list. “There are so many awesome songs out there, we never perform the same one twice,” said Christopher Sandes, a member. “We want to give our audience a great, fresh show and we want to challenge ourselves as musicians.” Sandes once spent seven hours perfecting a keyboard sound for ABBA’s SOS— a part that lasted 20 seconds onstage. The band’s attention to detail does not go unappreciated: they often fill 500-seat venues to capacity.
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
Juice-only detoxes are a growing trend — much to the alarm of health practitioners
On day two of her three-day juice cleanse, Lindsay Grange cracked open a kale, celery and cucumber cocktail that smelled like a salad and looked like a swamp. With a sigh, she chugged it back. “I went through a period of too much prepackaged food and not enough sleep. I wanted to kick-start healthy habits and lose some weight,” says the 32-year-old, on what attracted her to a juice-only detox. She’s not alone: the start of the year finds bloggers and reporters turning their detox diaries into articles, and juice cleanses are this year’s choice. Celebrities like Blake Lively and Gwyneth Paltrow have been photographed with designer bag in one hand and juice-cleanse bottle in the other. Salma Hayek’s company, Cooler Cleanse, delivers juice regimes across America.
Companies offering juice-only diets have been popping up across Canada, too. For about $50 a day, for three to seven days, businesses like Bava Juice in Calgary and the Juice Cleanse in Vancouver drop off bottles containing fruit, nut and vegetable juices on your doorstep, with promises to rest and detoxify the digestive system. Some, like Raw Raw in Burlington, Ont., and Total Cleanse in Toronto, claim they’ve had a 20 to 40 per cent jump in clients within the past 12 months. Continue…
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Check out the starchitect-designed structures available for your next vacation
Frank Lloyd Wright called it Still Bend, because the nearly 3,000-sq.-foot house overlooks a marsh on the East Twin River in Wisconsin. Completed in 1940 and funded by local businessman Bernard Schwartz, the house has a main floor unfettered by walls, which measures 63 feet from front door to back wall. It also boasts an interior balcony and a soaring, two-storey ceiling typical of Wright’s designs.
Michael Ditmer, co-owner of what is now called Bernard Schwartz House, wants to share that experience. For US$295 to $425 a night, depending on the season, you can rent the four-bedroom house and warm yourself in front of one of the three fireplaces centred around a massive brick chimney, including one in the outdoor sunken court. Continue…
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 1:05 PM - 0 Comments
At the end November, the 17-year-old could very well be the first African American female chess master
Rochelle Ballantyne is one determined young lady. The 17-year-old star of Brooklyn Castle, a documentary about a middle school that produces national chess champs from a body of students where most live on the federal poverty line, would like to be the first black female chess master. After the film had its international premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs earlier this year, attention around Ballantyne has been mounting. At the end of November, she’ll compete in her last national junior school chess tournament and, possibly, reach the level of chess master.
Chess is historically an old white guy’s game. It calls to mind images of Victorian gentleman discussing the Empire over a match at the club or an American genius competing against a Russian genius in some kind of Cold War metaphor. Ballantyne is like the Williams’ sisters of chess: she’s can’t help but shake things up.
Maclean’s spoke with her about focus, skin colour and how beating a boy at chess feels oh so good.
Q: You’ve said that when you play national tournaments you think of the other girls as part of your support system and that you feel like the boys don’t understand. What is it that you don’t think they understand?
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Monday, September 10, 2012 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
After you die, who gets your digital albums and collection of leatherbound e-books?
Customers who buy digital content from Amazon and Apple only own a non-transferable licence to use the digital files, not the files themselves—meaning the ability to use the content may expire when you do.
Some jurisdictions allow access to email or social networking accounts to be passed on after death but such laws don’t cover digital files. You could just leave someone your iPad or your iTunes password, but things get tricky if you want to divide your collection.
To protect digital assets, one Florida lawyer, David Goldman, is marketing a new software program called DAP (digital asset protection) Trust to help estate planners create a legal digital trust.
He says it will allow clients to bequeath online accounts without violating licence terms. Maybe one day your grandkids can mockingly browse your e-library of 50 Shades books and Justin Bieber albums.
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Friday, August 31, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Original paintings, unlike music or dance, are artistic commodities that can be owned. With a masterpiece on your wall, that connection to something genius is tangible: just reach out and touch the paint. And those with no genius but cash will pay well for that one degree of separation from brilliance.
For nearly three decades, Ken Perenyi capitalized on that popular desire, passing off his own reproductions as the real thing and collecting a small fortune in the process. Starting in New Jersey with some counterculture art dilettantes at a squalid version of Warhol’s Factory, Perenyi became involved in small-time crookery while developing an appreciation for women, leisure and creativity. Taking up with an art restorer to learn the details of the trade, forgery was a natural next step. Soon he became an expert in 18th- and 19th-century American art reproduction, creating “Buttersworths” and “Heades” that would pop up on auction blocks at Christie’s and Sotheby’s—one fetching $700,000. When the feds came knocking 10 years ago, Perenyi changed gears, selling his work as known reproductions and no charges were laid.
As the statute of limitations on his case has expired, Perenyi freely admits to a life of lying and petty thievery. He has little remorse for duping the ivory tower residents of the art industry who, he believes, dictate the inconsistent rules of what is considered worthy and worthless. Perhaps the joy his work could inspire in observers, and the homage he felt he paid to the masters, stayed his guilt. “If the counterfeit were a good one,” Picasso reportedly once said, “I should be delighted. I’d sit down straight away and sign it.”
As with most books not written by writers, the events are more interesting than the prose—exclamation marks are liberally used. But in describing his deceit Perenyi remains humble, careful to portray himself as someone able to add to a master’s canon—and not a master himself.
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Friday, August 10, 2012 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
A spiritual skeptic investigates the hug felt by some 32 million devotees
A few years ago I started doing yoga, a discipline that allowed me to tick many attractive boxes: it was rooted in the Eastern spirituality of my beloved hippy ideals, it promised sculpted limbs without the treadmill and, well, it was all about me: My body, my definition of “spiritual inner calm.” Wading through my post-university pseudo-intellectual haze, I marveled at the placid young yogis with their spiritual insights and incredible Lululemon-clad yoga butts. And so like most urban, educated westerners my participation in yoga was mainly rooted in self-indulgence and narcissism while vaguely insinuating to others that I was high-minded enough to “get” yoga’s spiritual overtones (I didn’t, really). Admission: there was a brief period in my teenage years when I was the kind of person who wore jangly ankle bracelets and carried a book of Zen Koans to coffee shops.
So when I heard that Amma was coming to Toronto I was both interested and skeptical. A Hindu spiritual leader, Amma is sometimes referred to as The Hugging Saint, a nickname picked up because she offers free, lingering hugs to devotees after leading them in group meditations. A hug from Amma is said to be a transformative experience and people around the world line up for hours for an embrace that lasts less than a minute. She’s been receiving people nearly every day for 30 years and has hugged an estimated 32 million people. Apart from snuggling those in need, she’s also dedicated her life to some remarkable humanitarian work.
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 1:03 PM - 0 Comments
Instead, the illustrator, writer and filmmaker painted pictures of all the goods she coveted
Sarah Lazarovic, a 33-year-old Canadian illustrator, writer and filmmaker, recently created an illustrated essay, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, about her yearlong shopping diet. She spoke with Maclean’s about the consumer’s psyche, fashion as wearable art and the digital siren song of the neon steam punk vintage aesthetic.
Q: So what’s the story of this shopping diet that resulted in the essay?
A: It’s personal challenge I do every once in a while. I did it once six years ago and it went well so I decided to try it again. Then I saw these beautiful Fluevlog loafers that I really liked and I thought “Ok, I’m not going to buy them. But I think they’d make a really cool painting.” There are other things I can get over. I think to myself, “I’m tired of my bathing suit, I want a new one.” But then I will myself not to buy it and two days later I’ve forgotten about it. But I saw these Fluevogs and thought, “These are my dream shoes.” Then I thought about how sometimes I do paintings as thank you gifts for friends and I really needed some kind of creative exercise so I painted the shoes. Then the essay just followed in a flurry.
Q: You also did a yearlong shopping diet in 2006. How does that one compare to the current one?
A: Six years ago, I didn’t have a kid. I was out more and I would just be strolling down Queen St. and see a cute dress, try it on and buy it–all without giving it much thought. This time around I feel the real culprit is the web. Five or six years ago, I really wanted a satchel backpack, like the French school kid style. I looked everywhere, even when I was in France but I could never find the one I had in mind. Then they came into vogue this year and if you go to Etsy or just Google “leather satchel backpack,” you can find thousands in any kind of style you can imagine. You can Google the most obtuse kind of fashion and find it right away.
Q: Did all that accessibility reinforce your shopping diet ideals?
A: Totally. People buy more, how can you not? You don’t have to go into a shop and hope they have your size; now you don’t have to leave your house and you know an online shop will have your size. And it’s not just clothes: You can find your exact sub group and immediately find the purveyors of said style and before you know it, you’ve bought this totally cool thing. “Oh look, here’s this website that specializes in the neon steam punk vintage aesthetic – they get me!” But that accessibility and ubiquity means you’re likely to buy way more than you need or even want.
Q: And this ubiquity steels your resolve to stick to your guns?
A: Yes, the whole thing kind of made me sick. I would be drawn to the same kind of dress or shoes or bag over and over, the same styles that would already be hanging in my closet. I just thought, “I really don’t need anymore clothes, this is getting ridiculous.” If I do buy online, I buy art or music but I keep it to a minimum.
Q: You have a little girl. Do you transfer all that frustrated shopping desire into buying new stuff for her?
A: It’s so easy. There are so many cute kid clothes and they’re so cheap. So I wanted to put the kid clothes buys on a diet, too. I could go online and buy her a whole new wardrobe at Old Navy for $100. But she’d grow out of it in three months, and there’s the grossness of being able to buy it in minutes and then the added grossness of all the ads that pop up on the web pages I visit advertising the Old Navy toddler size sales. I just noticed I was buying crap. Of course I want her to have enough clothes but she really does. She gets hand-me-downs. If she needs, say, new leggings, I’ll always try a second-hand store first.
Q: Do you miss shopping?
A: Not really. When you get older, you really know your style better, what looks good on you. When you’re younger it’s more about the frivolous buy, just the idea of having something new. I remember when I was younger, it was all about having a new outfit for the first day of school. Maybe not the best outfit, just the newest one. Actually, back then, new was the best. And then when you get older, you realize it’s better to have three dresses that I look amazing in than a new crappy dress that I bought just because I was tired of my old stuff.
Q: Well, retail therapy is a saying for a reason.
A: I know and it’s a gross saying. Also after having this kid, I feel like I want to save my money for her. I would buy stuff for me and think “did I really need that?” I’d feel guilty and self-indulgent. Retail therapy is not really therapeutic for me.
Q: What made you think painting the things you wanted would make you feel better?
A: Well, I can appreciate those things as being beautiful; especially looking at Pinterest, I mean there’s so much gorgeous stuff. When you find a cool homemade dress made by some girl on Etsy, you want to buy it out of a good impulse: that’s a beautiful creation and she’s just like me, an artist trying to make a living. It would be perpetuating a cycle of healthy entrepreneurship. But at the same time, I knew I just couldn’t. So I decided to paint these things I saw.
Q: So you don’t need to possess something to appreciate the beauty of it.
A: Or to be inspired by it. I know a graphic web designer who has this cool retro, sparkly dress on the wall of her shop; she says she looks at it for inspiration. And I thought, why not? It’s just wearable art, after all.
Q: When do you think you’ll start shopping again?
A: I guess I’ll see if I need to come January. I know I need to set limits or I will buy mindlessly. But when I come out of this detox, I hope to be more aware of how I shop, like buying one good pair of shoes for fall, not three. I just won’t go into to places like Forever 21 and H&M, in order to avoid that kind of temptation entirely.
Q: How would you inspire others to go on a shopping diet?
A: It’s not just saving money, because with fast fashion, things are cheaper than ever before. You can go to H&M and drop 50 bucks and buy three new things you think freshen up your wardrobe. It’s mainly about being aware how gross it is to buy so much stuff. More like a psychological shopping diet instead of just a wallet one.
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Monday, July 30, 2012 at 4:08 PM - 0 Comments
Fancy a cube of crickets? Maybe a meal worm? Or a locust?
My family went out for sushi most Friday nights when I was growing up. Though my six-year-old palate was not sophisticated enough for nigiri (it was always chicken yakitori for me), my yuppie parents wielded chopsticks frequently. In the late ’70s, sushi in North America was rare and eaten only by the very open-minded (because raw fish = ick) but by the ’80s, celebrities and city-slickers made sushi synonymous with being chic and healthy. That’s quite a branding leap.
The sushi of the future is insects. By 2050, 9 billion people will inhabit the planet and meat will be like caviar; expensive and hard to get. With a protein gap on the horizon, insects are being touted as a realistic and sustainable food choice. It’s been on the menu around the world for centuries but Westerners have never warmed to the thought of a creepy-crawly on the tongue. Sure, we’re willing to chomp on lobsters and shrimp (the insects of the ocean) but ask someone if they’d eat a bug and most will make the ick face. So what’s the secret to getting Westerners to eat insects? Like sushi, it’ll be good branding and good design.
Ento is a self-described roadmap for introducing edible insects to the western diet. Created by four London-based design students, they plan to move bugs from the fork of the adventurous foodie to the suburban dinner table in less than 10 years, aiming to hit UK grocery stores by 2020. But to get started they tried out a range of recipes on their fellow students and noted that the most popular dishes were those where bugs were least conspicuous. The locust pâté went quickly but there were plenty of leftover whole fried crickets.
“That was an important lesson,” says Jacky Chung, one of Ento’s principals, “We understood that knowing one was eating insects wasn’t a problem. It was the visual.”
Much like Jessica Seinfeld’s allegedly plagiarized cookbook, Ento opts to purée crickets, locusts and meal worms and sneak them into your lunch. Pairing with a Cordon Bleu culinary student, they’ve created a range of prototype recipes, including the Ento box, where insects are blended with complimentary flavours and shaped into cubes. The end product, packaged like a Japanese Bento Box (complete with dipping sauce and chopsticks), has a futuristic, clean look: an important aspect in the hard sell of bug-eating.
“A lot of people think insects are unclean,” says Chung. “ But they’re very safe to eat. Their genetic makeup is so different from our own that it’s unlikely we could contract any diseases they might have, unlike the way we could with the mammals we eat now: think of swine flu. But consumers needs a visual signifier,” he says, adding that like ground beef at the grocery store, the cube shape shows that the “meat” has been processed and this human intervention suggests the product is safe to eat.
Ento’s slick design and potential positive environmental impact recently won them an award at Amsterdam’s Green Design Competition and they plan on plugging the €15,000 prize money into their project to help turn it into a company.
If Ento’s minimalist design appeals to the neo-yuppie market, then Chapul bars are hoping to attract hippie hipsters and their insatiable quest for a fusion of organic ingredients and old-timey reverence. Inspired by Marcel Dicke’s TED Talk, these all-natural bars from Salt Lake City have flavours like peanut butter and chocolate, and coconut, ginger and lime. They’re dairy-free and include plenty of organic ingredients (like nuts and agave nectar) – and cricket flour, inspired by the Aztecs who used it in a lot of their cooking.
A quick taste-test around the Maclean’s office revealed that most were willing to give the bars a try: an assistant editor said, “Sweet…and gritty. Is that because of the crickets?” Another editor thought they were OK, but “if it was between these and a normal bar, I’d pick the normal bar. Not because the cricket ones taste badly, only because I know there’s crickets in them.” Three staff members compared the bar’s taste to Larabars and one intern said, “I’ll eat anything.”
The reality is that steak and pork chops as primary protein sources are on the way out for most of the next generation. And although there are many that may still make the ick face at the thought of eating bugs, starting to at least consider incorporating insects in our diet is a good start–good design will make that easier to swallow.
Here’s a video documenting Ento’s project:
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Friday, July 20, 2012 at 11:38 AM - 0 Comments
Forget queues: Why not drink good coffee, walk through flower markets, and get up close and personal with some street art?
London is a city so crammed that walking down the street on any given day is like a game of human pin-ball. Olympic London will be worse: as in, waiting-in-line-all-day-to-get-into-the-Tate Modern worse. Wouldn’t you rather avoid the masses and see the city like a stay-cating Londoner? Sure you would. Here’s an unconventional guide to sightseeing in London:
Wake up and what’s on your mind? Coffee, of course. There’re lots of great coffee shops in London but only one where you can learn latte art from a World Barista champion between your sips of flat white. A few years ago, Gwilym Davies was running his coffee cart in East London when his friends entered him in the World Barista Championship competition on a whim. When the flat cap-wearing Yorkshireman won the title in 2009, the charming cart was soon overrun and Davies opened Prufrock’s, a laid-back café and learning space. You can just sit and sip in the café or, as the café’s namesake poem suggests, dive in and measure out your Saturday with coffee spoons: Prufrock’s offers three-hour classes in Brew Methods, Coffee Tastings and Latte Art, among others.
Don’t want to work so hard for your cup? Full Stop Café is great to watch weekenders browse Brick Lane market. Bonus: it also serves handcrafted ales from Redchurch Brewery, made just up the road.
Coffee buzz kicking in, you’d probably like to do some shopping. You don’t need a red toy phone booth and under no circumstances should you buy a reusable Harrods bag. The Columbia Road Flower Market is capable of giving you that souvenir experience we all hope to find when we travel and it will put your senses to work. There’s that rainbow of blossoms lining the street, the strong sniff of hollyhocks from the stall next door, and then there’s all that yelling. Men with gold chains and cockney accents holler things like ‘Lilies fer a fiver! Buy ‘em for your wife, buy ‘em fer someone else’s wife!’ You’ll feel like an extra in Guy Ritchie Presents London! with blooms instead of bullets. Don’t forget your camera – this place is rich in photo-op gold. On your way out, pick up some irises to brighten up your hotel room. Go around closing time to get the best deals. Sunday 8 am – 2 pm.
Most art galleries in London are free and the streets, spilling over with graffiti, are no different. London is known for its incendiary street art—this is, after all, the land of Banksy. And there are many pockets across town where you can witness a slice of the London art scene as it happens – amazing artists paint the walls in the sunken ball courts at Stockwell Park Estate almost weekly in the summer. The Leake Street tunnel by Waterloo station is easily accessible and was the site of Banksy’s 2008 Cans Festival, an urban street art party where artists from around the world came to beautify the tunnel. Brick Lane and Old Street is street art central in London. Curtain Rd, Holywell Lane and Rivington St. are packed with so many stencils, posters and coats of spray paint, you’ll feel like Alice in graffiti wonderland.
London is an old city. And sure, sometimes those ancient buildings can make you feel like you’re in an open-air museum. But most main streets have some combination of 30 chain stores, like Carphone Warehouse,Tesco and Willam Hill betting shops, giving them a terrible cookie-cutter effect. You’ll need a pretty good imagination to feel the spirit of Swinging London in Soho or the refinement of the Edwardian gentry in Kensington. But Highgate Cemetery on the north end of town looks utterly frozen in time. The sprawling cemetery, packed with crooked headstones and weeping stone angels wrapped in dense ivy, is a morbid and beautiful monument to the Victorian obsession with death. It’s the resting place of Karl Marx, poet Christina Rossetti and writer George Elliot, among others. Go on a misty day for full effect. The West Cemetery can be viewed only by tour and it’s worth it – you’ll feel like you’ve time travelled.
Instead of Googling a restaurant online (and scrutinizing the menu beforehand so you know exactly what you’ll be ordering), The School of Life has a more innovative idea on how to dine. The resource centre, originally set up as a school to get through the school of hard knocks, not only offers classes with philosophical titles like “How to be Creative” and “How Necessary is a Relationship,” but they also host intimate meals where diners are encouraged to weigh in with their own ideas and experiences. Think of it like a diner’s salon. Gone are the ‘what do you do for a living’ banalities and other cocktail-hour platitudes. At these dinners, you’re likely to intimately relate to how someone feels about the concept of guilty pleasure or how to best develop compassion before even knowing their name. Next month, they’re hosting a Picnic with Thoreau in a secluded London park. Sip Pimm’s and nibble potato salad while discussing self-discovery and purpose, with strangers!
If that’s too intimating, The Holly Bush in Hampstead is the most charming pub in London. You’ll get standard English fare like beef & ale pie with Eton mess for dessert. Walk the Hampstead streets and admire the chocolate box houses, as you digest.