Review: Vivek Shraya – Baby, You’re Projecting

Vivek Shraya
Baby, You’re Projecting
Mint Records
Edmonton, AB
RIYL: Sophie, Kim Petras, keeping your peace

Vivek Shraya is tired of dishonest people. Her latest genre-defying album Baby, You’re Projecting finds the Edmonton-based artist cutting through tales of  heartbreak, two-faced lovers, and “hate clubs” across a glittering musical landscape. Walking a tightrope between dance-pop and angst, Shraya methodically balances the two acts with epic synths and cascading melodies that intertwine with the intimacy of a lover’s quarrel.

It’s a little ironic that this record opens with a song called “Quitter,” when with her previous project, the theatrical work titled How to Fail as a Popstar, Shraya declared her popstar career kaputt. “Quitter,” builds on that idea: quickly pulling into focus the notion of how being abandoned by a romantic partner creates a tension in one’s own identity. Post-break-up clarity has taught her many things, but among most fruitful of all— she knows what she deserves:

I want my tears back

I want my peace back

I want my ideas back

I want my I want my

I want my cash back

I want my half back

I want my best friend back

I want mine I want mine I want mine back

Kayla Higgins

Review: Lune Très Belle – Ovale

Lune Très Belle
Boiled Records
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Bernice, Claire Rousay, bells of many sorts

While writing the song “Moisissure,” Lune Très Belle’s Frédérique Roy listened to church bells ringing near her home in Montreal. The bells maintain implicit and explicit presence throughout Roy’s hypnotic second record, Ovale, which is an experimental collaboration that feels guided by the repetitive rhythm of a clock striking or the dissonant resonance of a wind chime. 

Ovale’s jazz-inflected soundscapes feature collaborators including Robin Dann and Phil Melanson (both of the Toronto band Bernice), and the album shares Bernice’s playful pop sensibility, as well as the intricate intentionality of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. The compositions often foreground guitar, keys, and Roy’s clear vocal, all woven together with electronic textures, scattered percussion, and found sound. The result is a style both organic and otherworldly. On “Maison,” a synth that sounds like a voice speaks to a flute that sounds like a loon. On “La Mite,” Roy apologizes to a moth she didn’t see, as guitar and piano imitate each other’s phrases. Ovale moves between the meditative and the jarring: soothing harmonies slip into discord and back out again. Listening to it feels like arriving at a clearing in a wood, sitting down and crossing your legs, and tuning into the life around.

Rosie Long Decter

Review: Kate Fenner – Dead Reckoning

Kate Fenner
Dead Reckoning
New York, NY
RIYL: Chris Brown & Kate Fenner, Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell

Both critics and fans alike tend to gravitate toward artists at the start of their career (so shiny and new and full of promise) and then again at the end (looking back at their legacy and impact) – but what about the musician in mid-career, with plenty of work behind them and still evolving creatively?

Toronto-bred, New York-based singer-songwriter Kate Fenner has lived a lifetime steeped in music, from starting out when only a teenager in Toronto indie collective the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir in the ’90s to forming a duo with bandmate and musical partner Chris Brown (no, not that one) in the early aughts and performing with the likes of the Tragically Hip and B.B. King.

Over the past 20 years, Fenner has also made a series of jazz-inflected solo albums that showcase her uniquely soaring voice and deeply poetic lyrics. The latest, Dead Reckoning, was released earlier this year and finds Fenner reflecting on that universal undercurrent of midlife: death and loss.

It’s certainly not a subject unexplored in music, but Fenner’s subtle, observant approach to capturing the wave of emotions behind losing one’s parents to aging, or friends to cancer before they even get a chance to get older, will resonate with any listener who’s also beginning to deal with grief as a common thread through life.

A stellar cast of veteran New York players flesh out Fenner’s folk-meets-jazz poem-songs, including producer/arranger Scott Harding, guitarist Tony Scherr, and pianist Jason Moran.

“My river’s going back to the ocean, no more bruising on the shore/The soul’s progression set in motion, yearning at its core,” Fenner sings on opening piano ballad “My River,” which starts off slow and stately with brushed percussion before unfurling into something a little more insistent.

Where the Bourbons used to be inspired by soul and R&B, Fenner’s solo work has always dialed back the tempo and even the big, belting vocal tone she was known for in that band – but her elegiac voice remains front and centre here, at once a lament and a balm on sparse, elegant tracks like “Ghost Moon” and “The Torch.”

The closest thing Dead Reckoning has to a pop song is “The Hawk,” bolstered by a retro drum-machine backbeat courtesy of Harding and a chorus about sorrow that somehow manages to be undeniably catchy.

Fenner’s writing – which often alludes to art and poetry (“Cautionary Tale” references artist Joan Mitchell and poets Elizabeth Bishop and Fanny Howe, for example) – is evocative throughout, with the kind of reflective wisdom only age can bestow.

Despite her decades in music – including her formidable presence in the popular (and otherwise all-male) Bourbons – Fenner has rarely received her due beyond fellow musicians themselves, who recognize her distinctive talent.

“Singing is my way of loving,” Fenner has said. “Here I sing to my friends, my parents, their ghosts – and to you. I hope you can hear it.” On Dead Reckoning, we hear an artist giving voice to the painful yet illuminating realities of midlife – in a way only someone well into their own personal and creative journey could ever realize.

– Tabassum Siddiqui

Review: Jessy Lanza – Love Hallucination

Jessy Lanza
Love Hallucination
Los Angeles, California
RIYL: Aaliyah; Cocteau Twins; Yellow Magic Orchestra

Love Hallucination is a fitting title for Hamilton-born, LA-based singer-songwriter Jessy Lanza’s fourth album. Relationships are Lanza’s thematic focal point here (along with all the uncertainty inherent to them), and the music is hooky to the level of being hypnotic.

Lanza continues with her Japanese synth-pop-inspired, electro-soul style, but this album is less playful or impish than her previous three releases. With song titles like “Don’t Leave Me Now,” “Don’t Cry on My Pillow,” and “I Hate Myself,”  this is no happily-ever-after love story.

While most pop music can feel driven by vocals, that is not the case here. Lanza’s haunting, wispy soprano vocals trail along the music. This production choice gives the sense of a vehicle with no driver— allowing the music to drive itself, giving meaning beyond words.

“Midnight Ontario” is music to dance to with moments of pause, with Lanza singing about tears in the rain, and how “nothing is for sure.” In keeping with the rest of the album, the song wanders along an off-kilter blues scale used by everyone from Drake to Raffi. The tonal beats against trance-like music on the track “Drive” evoking strobes of traffic lights shining in the dark, encapsulating the overall feel of the album. 

As the sound of Love Hallucination would work well in a nightclub, a cafe, or a bedroom (either alone and trying to sleep, or with someone) the album plays like a joker card, it could be whatever you need it to be.

– Sarah Chodos

Deep Digs: The Hidden Cameras – The Smell Of Our Own

Deep Digs: The Hidden Cameras – The Smell Of Our Own (2003)

By: Sarah Chodos | Art by: Michael Rancic

The memory is still so clear to me. It was around 2000 and I was 19 years old, living in a Campus Co-op house with a bunch of artsy students. I remember how Toronto looked as the sun set over the city. I’d stay out all hours of the night before finally heading home. Hearing the Hidden Cameras’ “Day is Dawning” brings me right back to memories like that, a haunting musical number from an album that encapsulates the grace and the turmoil of what it felt like to be young in Toronto at the time: The Smell of Our Own

In the early 2000s, The Hidden Cameras were the quintessential Toronto band. The Smell of Our Own was not the first Hidden Cameras album, but it was their debut as a musical collective, one which formed around multidisciplinary artist and activist Joel Gibb and was powered largely by his artistic vision. The musical collective movement of the early ’00s arose alongside the receding of rock stardom and the inaccessibility of the traditional music industry, and was telling of these changes. In Canada, the popularity of this dynamic in contemporary music originates with the post-apocalyptic post-rock of Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the mid-’90s, and began to coalesce with groups like Broken Social Scene, Black Mountain, Henri Fabergé and the Adorables, and later Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. 

In Toronto, the collectivism rampant in Will Munro’s Vazaleen parties merged the punk and alternative arts movement that took place in the neighbourhoods west of Yonge Street with the queer subculture that centred around the Church/Wellesley intersection just to the east. While  punk rock was always queer, this was a revolutionary act in Toronto at the time. Less a band than an “artistic moment in community,”  as remembered by writer, playwright, and band member Maggie MacDonald in an interview with Michael Barclay, the Hidden Cameras were the spark at the rubbing together of these movements. This “artistic moment” was not simply concerned with breaking down barriers but in finding the undercurrents the barriers hindered.

The Hidden Cameras have described their music as “gay church folk music.” Indeed, that might aptly describe much rock and roll and popular music emerging from World War II. The early trend-setters combined gospel with sexual transgression, meeting the influences of honky-tonk, the blues, and country.

Walter Benjamin said that once art was separated from its original ritual(s), it would take on a different meaning and could be utilized in revolution. Technology, in this case records and radio in the post-war era, brought this transgressive art form to middle class, mainstream teenagers. It was still seen as transgressive, but the gospel origins of the ritual were unknown to many who took in the art form.

By the 2000s, radio, the recording industry, and glittering rockstardom itself, were all beginning to decline. The Hidden Cameras, really, are their own thing; different from a 1950s gospel-inspired drag show where Little Richard had his beginnings; different still from the “gay icons” of the 1980s such as Culture Club and Wham!; further different from a political movement that identifies with transgressive music but is unaware of its origins. The Hidden Cameras took threads from all of the above, wove their own ritual, and brought their audience along with them. 

Across The Smell of Our Own, the music goes from being extremely predictable to complex, to dissolving into cacophony, all while sounding like rainbows and sunsets, if they had a sound. Guitar, cello, synth, and glockenspiel against a robust chorus of voices, while Gibb’s vocals run from gritty to falsetto.

Post-rock implies music that does not “make sense,” does not follow the same formulae – the three chords, the blues scales, the three-to five-piece guitar/drums/bass configurations – of earlier rock music. This is true of many acts since around the beginning of the 21st century. The Hidden Cameras, while mostly sounding unlike anything else, also have catchy moments so predictable as to almost parody predictability.

In “Breathe On It,” The Smell of Our Own’s second last song, Gibb sings: “I may be damaged by the rod / And damned in the light / Sit with all the wicked / Untamed by holy rites.” Those lines speak to being marginalized and shunned in one way, but also to how there is transformative power in finding community among all others cast out for the same reasons.  “To me, the gay community is just a little microcosm of the rest of the world,” Gibb said in a 2005 interview with Exclaim! “So it’s not like I’m trying to represent homosexuals; it’s trying to use gay experience as a universal metaphor.” 

The Hidden Cameras included gay and straight artists alike, just as it did classically trained musicians and those with no prior musical experience. Gibb credits his introduction to music through the Orff method, which fosters a full engagement of mind and body, and dismisses much of the structure of formal musical instruction, as being foundational to his later work. “I was always interested in seeking people who weren’t formal musicians to play … I even hate using the word ‘musician,’” he said in the Barclay interview.

In the same interview, MacDonald recounts an early show; “I think the first moment when everything really came together was when we played at the Metro porn theatre on Bloor St. West, and we had local artists show films and some women did some dances about menstruation, and there were all sorts of masks and costumes. It was a real community event, a very different kind of concert.” 

Gogo dancers were a common addition to the shows, intended to help the audience feel less inhibited and more comfortable in their bodies. One of the few negative responses the Hidden Cameras got at their shows, as relayed by Gibb to Butt Magazine, concerned audience members wishing for dancers who were more conforming to society’s beauty standards.

When I attended a show of theirs around the The Smell of Our Own days, the Hidden Cameras were known for playing in both churches and porn cinemas; this was neither — a dance theatre in Cabbagetown. The venue was packed, both the seats and the stage, with no separation between the two. At one point, MacDonald led everyone — and I mean everyone, in a dance. If, however, this conjures up images of the wildest parties, that would be a misunderstanding. The whole performance seemed like a family affair. I went out for drinks with some of them afterward and, as we talked about school, religion (some of the band members were practicing Christians) and life, I remember their inclusivity: “Oh you play music too? Come and jam with us sometime! Bring your baby!”

Was the concert what I had expected? I don’t know if anyone could predict what to expect from a collective known for singing about sex in church. But I saw first hand how they challenged superficial distinctions between people to make everyone in the audience feel like they not only belonged, but should participate. 

Sometimes their words and actions challenged certain people more than others. “Ban Marriage” was something of a controversial song at the time. Same-sex-marriage hadn’t been legalized yet in Canada and wouldn’t be until 2005. The Cameras’ home province of Ontario legalized it in June of 2003, just two months after The Smell of Our Own was released, so the topic was front of mind for Gibb and company. Many queer-led rights organizations and activists had long been fighting for having those rights enshrined in legislation, to ensure that same-sex couples had the same sets of rights that straight couples had. But many queer people also balked at the idea, feeling as though the fight for the right to legally marry was an attempt at trying to legitimize queer love within what is effectively a straight institution. 

In the song, Gibb sings about a wedding day, and is struck by how rigid the institution is, between the bright morning light blinding and blaring against his night owl body, the tight formal wear, having to choose between his “fag hag” or lover (a nameless “him”), and on. It isn’t all bad: the lyrics fixate on the potency and truth within the church organist’s performance, which gives weight to the rising uncertainty Gibb sings of throughout the song.

Much of The Smell of Our Own is about resisting such forms of confinement and structure, and about how the mess of queer life can ecstatically upend those systems. The album is bookended with “Golden Streams” and “The Man That I Am With My Man.” 

Golden streams of ice

In the cold

Hold up a city of gold

That lives in broad daylight

“Golden Streams”

“Golden Streams” depicts a scene that almost seems embarrassing at first. As if walking out onto the streets of Toronto, with its cold, sterile grey concrete, and losing control of your body, urinating all over, isn’t embarrassing at all, but rather redeeming, like a baptism. Rainbows form in place of grey clouds. 

The Hidden Cameras take their name from the concept of the panopticon: the notion that we behave as if we are being watched, as if, otherwise, we will do the wrong thing, and we must remain on guard. The song “Shame” speaks of a secret relationship between two lovers, and the acts they felt they must put on in order to hide this relationship. We are all performers, and our identities are based on stories we have come to believe; scripts we have internalized.

As a musical collective that kept its feet on the ground, one could attend a Hidden Cameras concert and it wasn’t entirely clear who was the performer and who was the audience. The scripts were left at the door. This way the ritual — rock music, its gospel origins, the church itself — was brought to the ground, but it had been changed, and it had been politicized.

This idea, that we are all performers, is fundamental to 2SLGBTQ+ movements. Costumes are fundamental to parades and drag shows, also hearkening to the carnival. But the inverse is also true: 2SLGBTQ+ movements are fundamental to the idea that everyone is a performer, challenging heteropatriarchy’s narrow life script, and fundamental to everyone’s liberation, too; which could also be what Gibb was getting at using the gay experience as a universal metaphor.

Twenty years have passed, and while gay marriage is no longer front of mind, conservatives and violent extremists alike have shifted to instituting drag and bathroom bans, harassing trans athletes in sports, and finding countless other ways to undermine the rights, personhood, and self-determination of queer people. 

Most societies have some form of carnival — a place where the nonpermissible is permitted, if only for a short time. In this way, things opposed always had a place in society; but a very specific place. Recorded music dramatically changed this carnival — brought it into the day-to-day, giving it the potential to do great changes or to fold into the mainstream. The rituals around the church, the carnival, and sexual transgression actually have much in common, particularly joy and the feeling of connecting with one another. 

The seeds of grace the Hidden Cameras planted in the turmoil of 20 years ago are blossoming into joy: the joy that people feel from family, community, and religion, all intertwined with the joy that people feel from freeing themselves from the confines that can come with these. The Smell of Our Own reminds us that aspects of the carnival are not carnival anymore: this joy can be something we all experience every day in the deeply personal spaces which connect us all.

Queer club culture’s Blueprint

Queer Club Culture’s Blueprint

An interview with DJ Blackcat

By: Aurora Sol | Art by: Michael Rancic

Toronto’s Mykell Hall, otherwise known as DJ Blackcat recalls landing his first regular club night in 1992 with mixed feelings. On one hand, the Blackcat Sundays he became known for at the village’s Ghetto Fag club were a runaway hit. The promoters and attendees all loved Blackcat’s open format sound, which shied away from siloed stylistic conventions in favour of incorporating everything from house, to hip hop, to soca. On the other hand, his quick success was met with disdain from within the nightlife community itself. 

“The white-owned clubs really didn’t like what I was doing. They tried to get it shut down, They called the cops on us. And that’s just the way it was for me for about 10 years in this city. I’d put up posters, they’d tear them down. Let’s just say I didn’t cower away or become afraid, but nonetheless it was very hard. It was a fight,” he says.

The history of dance music, the dance floor and the underground social club is queer history, and a history of the necessity of creating safer spaces for gathering and expression where they did not exist before. For queer people of colour especially, carving out space for themselves has been an essential and political act of survival, and a fight that continues to this day without any signs of easing. Movement is the essence of life. And when humans put meaning to a collective action with intention, we call it a movement. 

Whether you’ve attended a summer festival where DJs take as much centre stage as world-class bands or in some cases are the only artists showcased, had an unforgettable night in Ibiza, experienced the underground magic of a club night, or listened to a recorded mix from that DJ you just discovered, even if you didn’t know it at the time, you were part of a movement of movement. 

“There was a queer Black movement before I came out as gay, personally. There were a few DJs that did parties here, and I would consider them elders,” explains Mykell Hall, known as DJ Blackcat, about his predecessors in Toronto. Today, Hall has three decades of experience under his belt as a DJ, promoter, club night host, and entrepreneur, and has seen how the city’s scene has grown to support a multitude of sounds and styles. But in the 1990s, he was one of few openly gay DJs performing, and singular in his approach to not playing just disco or house.

“It was around 1992 when I first started doing openly gay events, and to my knowledge there was no other Black, gay DJ doing parties in Toronto at the time,” he says. Hall points to two other staples of the scene at the time who were playing house and soca— DJ Nik Redd and DJ Verilia— but says he was the only one playing everything.  

“I put myself out there a lot, and DJ Blackcat became a brand. But up until that point, there were some clubs that were playing the radio hits and maybe a little bit of house music, a little bit of R&B, but none of them played hip hop or soca or underground music,” he says. “So when I started bringing an open-format style, playing out of the range of what people were expecting to hear in these spaces, it became really popular.” It’s ironic that Hall would get as much resistance to his sound as he did, given that both house music, and disco before it, were born out of the same willingness to experiment and combine styles in otherwise unconventional ways.

In the early 1970s in the United States, particularly in New York and the Midwest, a new phenomenon quickly swept across the globe. Shortly after the Summer of Love in 1969, the softened economy meant that the burgeoning technology behind synthesizers, which were beginning to gain popularity after the release of the first Moog in 1964 (and as electronic music was popularized by artists such as the Beatles), was a pulse that everyone wanted to keep their finger on. By the late ’70s, disco music, which took all the elements of rhythm & blues— the “urban” African American music providing the blueprint for rock & roll— and added upbeat, joyous riffs and synth lines intended specifically for dancing, could be heard everywhere. Disco’s steady beat inspired DJs to mix the songs into seemingly never-ending suites of songs that would keep dancefloors moving without interruption. As such, DJs became stars and tastemakers in their own right. There was no doubt about the power of disco to unify a room of people together— and it was being led by working class queer people of colour.

Then, in the late ’70s, everything changed with the birth of underground dance clubs (the Loft and Paradise Garage in New York, the Warehouse in Chicago) that were spearheaded by queer people of colour, as well as the birth of hip hop in New York that ultimately came from young folks having street parties with some old records and a pair of turntables. All of these spaces, like David Mancuso’s Loft (which began as a literal apartment), or the Sanctuary (converted from a German Lutheran church), and later, Chicago’s Warehouse (the former factory that birthed house music) were repurposed from their original intended uses to create something new.

This repurposing was an essential aspect of these cultures’ formations and survivals. It wasn’t long before disco clubs and disco music was picked up by white audiences and considered to be a form of entertainment that was relegated specifically to the upper classes and those that could afford entry into the increasingly exclusive discotheques. If you were non-white, gay or trans, and not part of the in-crowd without the privilege of knowing someone to let you in, chances are you were outcasted from the magic that was the disco dance floor.

Even twenty years later, Hall constantly had to carve out his own space in the face of constant pushback and barriers from within Toronto’s scene. “When I first came out, it was actually two white men who brought me out, because they liked Black men and they wanted to hear the open-format I was becoming known for, but they didn’t know any DJs that were playing like that at the time. So they heard a little mixtape I put out back then, and they reached out to me and offered to have me do the first night I ever did, which was a midweek night. A Wednesday, and that was a bit of a flop,” Hall remembers. “Eventually, these promoters gave me a night called Black Cat Sundays. At the time, the club was called Ghetto Fag and is now called Crews & Tangos. Of course, they didn’t want to give a Black guy a Friday or Saturday, so I got Sunday.”

Even with the emergent success of his Sunday nights, Hall says that his experiences have been painted with a shade of racism that will always be particularly difficult to navigate, given the history of the genres of dance music that have become increasingly popular over the years.

“I have always said that my career in this community has always been and probably always will be a fight in some way, because of the racism and just general hatred that I receive for being a Black, gay man that spins more than just dance hits, and so there was a lot to fight against. I had to do parties in church basements, school gyms, hole-in-the-wall café-type spaces, and it was hard. The stigma towards Black folks and the white supremacy was very much prevalent. So that was going on, and it still goes on, just in a different way. It’s definitely still going on though.”

“Let me tell you, that night went off. It was the place to be on Church Street on the weekend for many, many years, because it was the only place to hear a DJ spinning that variety of music all night,” Hall says. Regardless of the night of the week, it was clear that the fresh flavour, energy and variety that DJ Blackcat brought to Toronto’s queer club scene was welcomed because it was so necessary. Although not necessarily common knowledge for a culture that has especially in the last decade become so mainstream, these clandestine gatherings created the blueprint for the popular music festival industry that many people now dedicate their entire summers to attending, and funnel thousands of dollars into each year. What used to be a niche phenomenon, with big gatherings like Burning Man and other similar events only starting to grow in popularity, has become for many folks, the best way to consume music and other entertainment, connect with friends, and ultimately, engage in the type of hedonistic pleasure that was always at the forefront of the club dance floor, whether it be at the exclusive discotheque or the word-of-mouth events that would later become known as raves. 

Along with the energy of joy projected through these events, the roots always had a political undertone of overcoming oppression, white supremacy, homophobia and anti-puritanism. It did not take long after the first ones popped up for the phenomenon of dance clubs as cultural social gathering third spaces to become popular across the world. 

It is notable that this was the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, which specifically affected, and sadly obliterated much of the global gay community. Stonewall and other milestones on the historical timeline of queer history coincided with the creation of these spaces that were specifically queer, racialized, and centered around inclusivity and freedom. The solidarity and empowerment that these times created within queer collective consciousness is the energy that drove many people forward, even as they were witnessing and grieving the loss of hundreds of thousands of their peers, lovers, family, friends. This energy is still palpable within the global queer community today. 

Just like the roots of the club scene and dance floor culture, community remains at the centre of DJ Blackcat’s work.

“The club scene is always changing, and it’s going to keep changing. But what I do is I create space for my community. I do this because I really care about the music and I care about people, I care about the people that are listening. But it’s never been easy, it didn’t ever get easier. But there’s a reason it’s still happening too. It’s given me a reason to live.” 


Four chladni drawings, seen as circles with various line pattens depicted within, align equally distant from one another on the top half of this image. The bottom half features the word HABIT written in a black serif font.


By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Michael Rancic

Habits are something that develop over time – and being human, we fall into habits both positive and negative, sometimes not even noticing until that pattern becomes ingrained.

That complexity is evoked in the disparate pieces that make up Issue #13: Habit, with essays and features that touch on how our relationship with music becomes a habit – in the practice of music-making, of fandom, but also some of the destructive tendencies that are often part of the music industry.

New Feeling was born as a space to explore music, artists and issues that aren’t well covered in the mainstream press – and as part of that, we aim for more transparency and connection with our readership and co-op members.

In this issue, you’ll read a deeply personal account of one musician’s struggle with navigating ADHD and recovery from addiction – made more difficult by the pervasive culture of substance use and burnout in the music business.

To maintain the anonymity of the subject while allowing them to tell their story honestly, writer and New Feeling co-founder Michael Rancic decided to approach the piece as an as-told-to essay, taking care to involve the musician in every step of the process.

Before landing on how to tell their story, Rancic conducted a pre-interview to determine what the piece needed to cover and gauge the subject’s comfort levels – to ensure sensitivity given the frank nature of the narrative and also in order to best support the musician themselves as they bravely came forward to share an experience that will resonate with many.

In keeping with our collective ethos, members of the New Feeling team – including me in my role as public editor as well as Sarah Chodos, who helped edit the story – were involved in the development process, including the decision to compensate the subject for their time and labour, given that they were in essence the author of the piece.

Jess Forrest – aka Toronto musician Castle If – also had to let go of aspects of the music industry that were no longer serving her. As writer Laura Stanley explains in her in-depth profile, Forrest decided to forego live performances due to stage fright – and letting go of what wasn’t working for her allowed for a whole new creativity to bloom, resulting in an entire series of instrumental electronic music.

You don’t have to be a professional musician to develop musical habits – first-time New Feeling writer Spencer Bridgman traces the history of how chants became a vital part of protest culture. In speaking with union organizers, feminist advocates, and migrant-rights workers, he shines a spotlight on raising our collective voice to bring about change.

For Calgary’s Ben Lines and Arif Ansari, preserving music from the past has become their fixation. As writer Reina Cowan discovered, the founders of online archives CanadianWasteland and the Calgary Cassette Preservation Society are making sure hardcore records and zines from the ’90s aren’t lost to age and time, highlighting punk gems from Western Canada and beyond.

We hope reading New Feeling will become a (good) habit – and inspire you to join our co-op, contribute a story, or even just delve deeper into your own musical traditions.

Protest Chants as a Collective Musical Habit

A black and white photograph of Black Lives Matter protests taken from a bird's eye view, with a red anatomical drawing of a human heart superimposed over top.

Protest Chants as a Collective Musical Habit

By: Spencer Bridgman | Art by: Spencer Bridgman

At the height of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, phrases like “He leaves, we stay!” were hot on the lips of hundreds of thousands protesting the Hosni Mubarak government. As revolutionaries were chanting those lines in Tahrir Square, Ramy Essam, a musician and activist born two-and-a-half-hours north of Cairo in Mansoura, took notice and sought to give them a signal boost in the form of a song. The resulting “Irhal (Leave)” incorporated several protest slogans, including the above line. As Essam himself explained in an interview with The Guardian for the podcast Reverberate, he was simply a conduit for the chants of the Egyptian people. The young revolutionary artist was one of the many who had taken to the streets to topple the Mubarak government. 

When people are united under a common purpose it is only natural that their unity is expressed through a common voice. Where there are collectives, there are often chants— whether at a protest, a concert, or a soccer game. Groups of people who identify as a whole strengthen that identity through chants. When you attend a protest, it’s not a question concerning if there will be chants, but when. The ubiquity of chants at protests makes them a habit of protest culture. Speaking to trade union organizers, to anti-imperialist feminists, and those fighting for migrant rights, it’s clear that protest chants are central to these movements across so-called Canada. 

The issues that brought the protestors together in Egypt were numerous: police brutality, corruption, and food prices were on the rise; meanwhile, civil liberties, employment, and wages were declining. Day after day, Ramy and his comrades shouted in the streets in unison: “he leaves, we stay!” The message was clear, they demanded the removal of the authoritarian and corrupt President Mubarak and for him to be replaced with a government of the people. 

A Musical Habit

The chants that permeated the 2011 Egyptian Revolution were seamlessly adapted into lyrics because they already had a rhythm to them. This nature is true of all good protest chants: they have a rhythm that goes hand in hand with the pumping of a fist or the pounding of a drum. The chants that would eventually become lines in Essam’s song emerged through the repeated coming together of a group of people under a common purpose. For weeks, the people showed up and chanted the same words together with the aim of overturning the government, establishing a habit through repetition. 

As the protests continued accumulating strength, Essam brought his guitar to Tahrir Square and sang his most recent creation: a simple song composed of the people’s chants set to a few chords. Essam remembers on Reverberate how “immediately when I started to sing ‘Irhal,’ people knew the song. The words [were] coming from the chants, coming from them … I saw everyone as one human being, as one sound, singing together.” Ten days later, President Mubarak resigned and “Irhal” was known around the world as the anthem of the revolution. 

A Choir of Comrades

Lisa Descary is a community and trade union activist based in Vancouver. Descary has been active in a number of organizing spaces over the years, including as a former member of the Left Coast Labour Choir. Founded just under a decade ago, the choir started with the goal of using the power of song to build solidarity across the labour movement.

One technique that’s used often by the Left Coast Labour Choir is the “zipper song.” As Descary explains, a zipper song is when “you take a well known song and zip out the old words and zip in the new.” Take “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. Descary and her choir comrades were attending a demonstration to fight for a $15 minimum wage, so they changed the chorus from “Because you’re mine, I walk the line” to “‘Til 15’s mine, we’ll hold the line.” This was one of their most popular zipper songs— folks already knew the melody and the new words were easy to learn. This technique is the inverse of what Essam did with “Irhal,” taking words the people already knew and adding on the melody. 

The power of chants comes from their ability to spread across time, space, and movements. A great example of this is how the Black Lives Matter 2020 chant “Get your knee off our necks!” was then adapted during the #ShutDownCanada actions later that year to: “Who do you serve? Who do you protect? Get your boots off native necks!” The chant spread because the activists were connected through the shared struggle of fighting police violence against Black and Indigenous bodies. 

A universal Language

Bennie-Tamara is a Montréal community-based activist who often works with progressive feminist organizations struggling against imperialism and capitalism. Politically inclined from a young age, Bennie-Tamara has developed her social awareness over the years through learning theory as a political science and history major and through conversations with friends and family in Canada and throughout Latin America. Speaking Spanish, French, and English has made Bennie-Tamara a sought after chant-leader at protests like the International Women’s Day march. One thing she’s noticed is that, “the varying degrees of fluency for any language seemingly disappear when chanting— like music, it’s a universal language. The words flow naturally to the chorus of the crowd and carry a message far too powerful to be subdued by linguistic barriers alone.” 

Bennie-Tamara remembers the feeling of connectivity not only with her fellow marchers, but also with those protesting at Women’s Day marches around the world: “It is surreal to turn around and feel like the world is behind you. A sense of transnational comradery settles in and fuels the protest. In that moment, we are connected, voices from all over the world joining together for a collective cause.” As Bennie-Tamara and her comrades chanted in Montréal, she knew that their voices were in harmony with people chanting in the universal language of solidarity across the globe. 

Chanting also connects to generations past. A strong advocate for socialism in his home country of Ecuador, Bennie-Tamara pictures her grandfather “humming his own chants under his breath, careful not to alert the authorities.” 

“Every time I have the opportunity to chant the words that those before me had to bite down on their tongues to stop from spilling out, I take it.” 

an inhabited Habit

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has been active in various forms for over a decade, fighting to win fairness for migrant communities in Ontario and in every corner of the country. 

In February, MWAC organizer Sarom Rho and her comrades created a new chant at the Beat the Bosses Bootcamp— a three day conference where organizers from across Ontario came together to collaborate and strategize on how to win real gains for workers.The chant they created, which they’ve since taken to the streets, is: “United, we fight! When we fight, we win!” Rho describes it as having a few different parts. The first word, “united,” is elongated, gathering people together as they stretch out the word in unison. Its call is answered and rounded off with a statement: “we fight.” Shouted in quick succession, the three short syllables that commence the back half of the chant (“When we fight”) offer a sharp jab after the previous line. They are powerful, striking down oppression with precision. The last two words of the chant provide a resolution. They are an exhalation, a relief that justice has been advanced if not yet fully achieved. 

Incorporating these different phrases was essential to the creation of the chant. “More than anything, a chant has to move you,” Rho explains. “It has to have a rhythm to it that you feel in your body. It has to have a heartbeat.” Chants are “not only a habit, they’re inhabited.” Giving a chant a rhythm that you feel in your body enables it to stay with you long after the action is over. Your body remembers it. A line seeps into your being, and you find yourself repeating it unconsciously on the way home from the demonstration, or at the next. 

Comparing a protest chant to a heartbeat is an apt summation— what is more habitual than the unconscious repetition of blood pumping through our body? What is more musical than our body keeping rhythm as we move through our lives? What is more collective than our hearts beating together as we take to the streets to build a better world?

This story has since been republished by our friends at spring magazine, a magazine of socialist ideas in action. You can find that version, here.

Connective Tissue

Photos of archivists Ben Lines and Arif Ansari taken in front of their various and extensive music collections.

Connective Tissue

How punk archivists in Calgary Preserve the fabric of music from the past

By: Reina Cowan | Art by: Michael Rancic

Decay is the natural process of destruction. It will happen to your teeth, your body, and plant matter. Eventually, your physical possessions—including art and music—will decay, too.

The average shelf life of cassette tapes is around 30 years. For vinyl, that number ranges between two and 100 years, depending on the level of meticulous and loving care. But regardless, most analog formats break down easily either naturally, through time and wear, or through human negligence: getting knocked around in moving vans or broken by friends you lend your belongings to.

Taking conscious steps to prevent breakdown is a habitual process. Every day, we take care to maintain our bodies, lives, and relationships. Ben Lines extends this same effort to preserving music. When he’s not studying or working part-time, the 21-year-old Calgary resident is running CanadianWasteland.

At its core, CanadianWasteland is a love letter to the zeitgeist of hardcore scenes past, though Lines founded the archive as an ode to Calgary hardcore after spending a summer immersed in record stores, poring over used punk records from the early- to mid-’90s and feeling the continued resonance of the creativity and political ideals expressed by the obscure bands he uncovered.

Across CanadianWasteland’s Blogspot, YouTube, and Instagram pages, Lines’ archiving habit has generated a treasure trove of lovingly ripped FLAC files, strange vinyl covers, album insert scribbles, and 1990s zine remnants. Over time, the project has become more comprehensive, highlighting some American and French music, but Lines remains focused on Calgarian and Western Canadian hardcore punk.

In 1990s Calgary, Lines notes, the hardcore punk scene was largely do-it-yourself. Accessibility to the albums that he uncovered and resonated with was very limited. 

Many albums Lines discovered risked being lost to time. The vinyl began showing its age, warping on the surface. On top of that, he says, no one seemed to be holding onto the weirdest of the weird records—the ones he thought were truly cool and emblematic of the DIY ethos of building your own scenes, staging shows, and distributing punk music through zines and word of mouth.

Hardcore as a genre is born of political struggle. “There are so many good informational booklets in some of these releases that talk about issues that are still prevalent today,” says Lines. His archiving efforts give new generations an opportunity to discover the political takes expressed by these hardcore obscurities.

“There are so many good informational booklets in some of these releases that talk about issues that are still prevalent today,” says Lines. “There are so many good, refreshing takes on it.”

So how do you archive a record, anyway? 

“It’s a process,” Lines says.

An initial transposition from analog to digital poses the challenge of how to make a new format feel like home to someone with an attuned ear. It’s a labour of love.

“Your record’s an analog format,” says Lines. “When your turntable plays your record and breaks down the signal, it’s completely different from what you’d listen to on your phone, listening to a digital track.”

“But it just feels really fulfilling to me. Even if not a lot of people look at my blog posts or anything, I just know that this artist, this record that I was looking for for the longest time, that I listened to every day—it’s out there in good quality and people can appreciate it the way I do.”

Lines includes a web disclaimer that any band’s materials can be taken offline at their request. But generally, the bands Lines features are so obscure that copyright isn’t an issue. 

In fact, the response to CanadianWasteland has been overwhelmingly positive. Lines’ passion has led him to connecting with the people behind the music. 

Post-hardcore outfit Joule, who were part of the Calgary scene from the late ’90s to early aughts, is one group that took notice. 

“They put out a lot of cool stuff that basically was wiped from the internet,” Lines says. “I was kind of the first person to bring [them] back.”

Joule’s vocalist, Devin Van Buuren, reached out to Lines about his work. 

“He was just kind of blown away that I even cared about it. He was really excited about it. They have some unreleased material that I might help them put out in the near future,” Lines says.

Archiving, at least within the hardcore and alternative scenes, can be a way to fight against the stagnancy of music that is doled out on modern algorithm-based platforms, like TikTok and Spotify. You’re able to uncover things that are still unique to your region, or to a specific scene. 

The Calgary Cassette Preservation Society is another organization dedicated to conserving old, unique, and funky projects. Helmed by Arif Ansari, the society is now formally registered as a non-profit with the government of Alberta.

Ansari’s musical obsession came from working in radio. He cut his teeth at Calgary’s CJSW campus radio station and also played in a few bands in the 1990s. His work naturally expanded into tape-collecting. Since hard-copy tapes were out of vogue, Ansari decided to start putting them up on the internet in digital form. What first started out as a lark became serious once others latched onto the value of Ansari’s work. 

“At some point, friends of mine—or people I kind of knew—started contacting me and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got some more tapes for you,’ and it pretty quickly snowballed into this large community project where it wasn’t just about me putting out the tapes,” Ansari says. “That’s when it started pivoting from me not really taking it seriously to me saying, ‘Oh, wait—this is something that people value.’”

For Ansari, the music of the ’90s was just a starting point. His collection now spans back as far as the 1950s. 

What’s unique about Calgary as a music city, he notes, is its relative distance from other major cities. In Eastern Canada, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montréal are all within six hours’ drive of one another. Calgary’s next closest big city is Edmonton, three hours away and smaller than Calgary itself. “There’s an interesting commingling in Calgary, being as isolated as we are,” Ansari says. 

That lets Calgary artists develop unique scenes and sounds less influenced by other regions. “You get this interesting dynamic here. It’s maybe not as connected to other cities as it could be,” says Ansari. This is especially notable in the growing “Nashville North” label for Calgary as a country-music city, but the unique regional sounds extend beyond that tag. “There’s a strong history of folk music because of the folk clubs that have been in the city for decades. And then there’s the punk and metal. There’s all that stuff.” 

Both archivists’ work centres around quantity over quality. Since many of the projects they revive weren’t recorded using high-tech equipment or ever properly mastered, sometimes making an old record or cassette sound great, by today’s standards, is impossible. Holding on to the memory, or capturing the spirit of an era, for Ben and Arif, is the more important element. 

“As much as those tapes might be unplayable, they’re important artifacts that need to be collected somewhere,” Ansari notes. 

In Ansari’s vision of the future, his collection sits in the National Library and Archives of Canada—in a space where the public can admire and learn about the music’s history. 

“There’s a physical archive that I need to figure out what to do with as well. I have all these tapes and records and posters, all sorts of stuff that I need to one day find a home for,” Ansari says. 

“As goofy as they are, these old records represent someone’s art. They represent someone’s time and effort and passion, and it’s important to keep that preserved.”