Chapman Brothers Hell

Art So Brutal It Had to Burn: The Hellscapes of Jake and Dinos Chapman

There wasn’t a whole lot of good art coming out of the UK in the nineties. The landscape was dominated by the YBAs – the Young British Artists, mostly graduates of the posh Goldsmiths college, all of them very comfortable with self-promotion and massive quantities of cocaine. Some of the art they made was striking, some of it was at bestmemorable, but real capital-A art was thin on the ground – unless it was being made by Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Born in Hastings, the same grimy seaside town as Aleister Crowley, since 1991 the Chapman Brothers have bought and defaced original Francisco Goya prints, they have cast 69-ing sex dolls in bronze, they have fused genitalia to the noses of children’s mannequins, they have exhibited authentic watercolors by one Adolf Hitler of Munich, Bavaria, covered in asinine hippie symbols. They’ve been called provocateurs, accused of having nothing to offer beyond cock-noses and a weird fetish for Ronald McDonald and his friends, and they’ve been labelled ‘anti-enlightenment.’ That is, they’re against the two-hundred year-old intellectual movement that has meant that being burnt as a witch and leeches being used for medicinal purposes isn’t much of a concern any more.


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napalmpom and public animal

Party starters Napalmpom and Public Animal wax poetic on blood, touring, the MC5 and pizza

CALGARY — Shawn Petsche of Napalmpom on Public Animal: “Oh, it’s the kind of rock and roll I love. There are huge riffs and it’s heavy and (Public Animal guitarist and vocalist) Ian Blurton’s guitar tone is just thick and musical, so it’s not just muddy and distorted. There are trade-off vocals, male and female that make every other rock band a little jealous.”

Ian Blurton of Public Animal on Napalmpom: it’s “HOT SHIT ROCK AND ROLL!”

Blurton has been playing alternative, independent music since the members of Napalmpom were infants. The flagship alternative/genre-melding act Change of Heart kickstarted his musical career in the ‘80s. The bands he has since played in and produced (far more than can be listed here) have influenced contemporary Canadian music in a thousand ways. He currently fronts and plays guitar for Toronto quartet Public Animal, a kind of meta-rock ‘n’ roll, omni-genre act that swirls together stoner-glam guitars, gospel church organs and Sabbathian levels of heaviness.


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Twin Shadow

R’n’B outsider Twin Shadow aims for stadium success

CALGARY — There are things you ‘simply don’t do’ when you have unlimited artistic freedom. You don’t put yourself on your album covers because it’s all about the music. You don’t put too much of yourself in the lyrics and you hand-wave away questions about them by saying that they’re “up for interpretation.” You don’t, for the love of God and everything holy, go and work with Urban Outfitters or voice an imaginary DJ in a Grand Theft Auto game. You don’t collaborate with Levi’s Jeans, remix Lady Gaga or license your music to New York Fashion Week runway shows. You don’t contribute the standout track of your new album to a schmaltzy teen romance movie (Paper Towns, starring Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff, is in theatres now). You’re an artist, you’re free to do anything those anonymous Internet commentators and record company committees approve of.

Nobody told Twin Shadow, a.k.a. George Lewis Jr., these unspoken “rules,” or perhaps he doesn’t give a proverbial shit because he is an artist. He slips between the worlds of indie and pop so effortlessly he’s carved out a unique, difficult place for himself in modern music. It feels strange to refer to somebody as clearly on the inside of popular culture as Lewis as an “outsider,” even when his biker jackets and (now abandoned) Morrissey croon ‘n’ quiff scream it, but Lewis is alone. He seems to want it all, commercial success and artistic integrity, either because of an outsize ego (as his critics allege) or because he’s far enough removed to be able to ask “why can’t pop be art? Why can’t art be commercial?”


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Calgary sludge storytellers Chieftain talk barbarians and bears

CALGARY — Georgia Meadows has to be coaxed into telling the ‘Bear Story.’ Onstage she’s a willowy, mystical presence in wide-brimmed Stevie Nicks hats, with a coruscating roar and a sweet croon. In person she’s funny and self-effacing, and has to have her hat wrestled off her head by Tanner Wolff, the band’s drummer, after claiming to have a bad hair day. One of two singers for Chieftain, she was recruited by singer, guitarist and high-school friend Rhys Friesen despite never having played music before and the reason, he says, is the ‘Bear Story.’

“When I was living in Canmore I went for a run and came across a grizzly bear. I couldn’t remember what you do when you come across a bear. Are you supposed to look it, curl up into a ball, punch it in the nose? So I decided to stand up on my tippy-toes and put my hands up in a claw shape above my head and I roared at it. It kind of looked at me like ‘what the fuck?’ and then it lunged at me. I roared again and it ran away. That’s my bear story.”

If the roar was terrifying enough to scare away a 600-pound apex predator, Friesen reasoned, it was right for the project he had started with Andrew Trueman, a project that would become Chieftain.


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Lust for Youth

Scandinavian post-punks Lust For Youth embrace pop

CALGARY — It may be the case that the fondness Northern Europeans have for electronic music is all down to the climate. Much like Canada, for half the year the weather is miserable enough to confine the population indoors, moving between heated apartment complexes to office blocks to shopping malls in boxy, efficient cars. Technology isn’t just a fact of life in Sweden, where Lust for Youth was founded; it’s what makes life possible. In the grim Northern English cities where much of what became ‘synth-pop’ (roughly speaking Lust for Youth’s genre, at least on their most recent record, 2014’s International) originated, the only good things in the lives of the members of New Order (from Manchester) or The Human League (Sheffield) were televisions, record players and later, synthesizers.

For Hannes Norrvide, for two albums the band’s sole member, the decision to avoid acoustic ‘rock’ instruments was simple.

“It’s fun to work with synthesizers and electronic instruments and see what kind of sounds you can come up with.”

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Big Ups

New York City punks Big Ups talk nerdy to us

CALGARY — In 2015, it isn’t just acceptable to be a nerd; it’s one of the paths to real success. Two of the three most successful films of all time are hard sci-fi about blue cat-people and a superhero epic set in a labyrinthine extended universe, while the latest movie about bros being total dudebros, bro, has languished at the box office. The world has become so complex, knowledge so specialized that a degree from the University of Life with post-graduate work at the School of Hard Knocks isn’t going to get you far. Ostentatious, obnoxious displays of masculinity and conspicuous consumption will make anyone with a clue swipe left the minute you swagger in reeking of Axe. Modern life has but one commandment: don’t be a douchebag.

Most of the bands you’ll read about in these pages might seem like paragons of cool, but get them talking about the intestinal tangle of patch cords on a synthesizer or the right way to mic up a drum kit and you’ll realize that the guys in vintage tees and skinny jeans are as true to their geekery as any Calgary Expo cosplayer.

I write all of the above somewhat frivolously yet seriously. This is because the next band in these pages is Big Ups, whose six-word descriptor could be shortened to the ‘epitome of everything cool.’ They are a New York based post-hardcore band. Beyond that, though, they really love them some Magic: The Gathering.


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Catholic Girls

Calgary’s Catholic Girls are dirty, spooky, soulful synth-punk personified

CALGARY — “Being in a band is like being in a marriage,” says Erin Jenkins, guitarist and vocalist in Catholic Girls.

“The first part is all fun and puppy-dog love, eventually you move out of that phase and have to work at keeping the magic alive.”

“The magic” being dirty, spooky, soulful synth-punk with a heavy debt to goth and waves both new and dark. Calgary’s very own Catholic Girls, three quarters of whom are boys, might be too young to remember much of the ‘80s, but they’ve got the decade’s queasy mix of populism and idiosyncrasy down. Since forming two years ago from members of just about every Calgary band that wasn’t Tegan and Sara, they have released two EPs of first rate synth-punk: 2014’s Sheila Joined a Cult, which was heavy on the punk, and the excellent April release Psychic Woman, in which the synths come to the forefront.


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Stranglers – India’s Thug Tribe

Nineteenth century Britain saw the beginning of the mass media at its best and worst: novelists like Charles Dickens could become household names serializing their novels, a careless journalist could nearly inspire a pogrom by linking the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders to London’s Jewish population. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ was, like today, the ethos of the popular press; and if one of the many, many groups under the British Empire’s boot-heel could be demonized in the process, then all the better.

The ‘Thugs’ of India were one such group, but they may have deserved the scorn: they are alleged to have killed anywhere between fifty thousand and two million people during a reign of terror that lasted hundreds of years. Operating all over the Indian sub-continent, the loosely organized fraternity of Hindus and Muslims were a feared and often respected ‘gang’, ‘tribe’ or ‘cult’ depending on who you asked. Operating alone or in groups, they would infiltrate caravans of traders or befriend travelers. Once they were trusted, they would strike, strangling a target with an easy to conceal garotte like a scarf or turban. The targets would be killed in remote areas, away from the rest of their group, while other Thugs would distract the larger group with music and dancing. A grave would have already been dug, so the Thugs’ targets would seem to simply disappear – eaten by wildlife or lost in the forest. By the time the disappearances became suspicious, it would be too late: the Thugs would outnumber them or could disappear with as much loot as they could carry.


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Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

Interview: Brothers of the Sonic Cloth

CALGARY — TAD come up, when they come up at all, as an anomaly among Seattle’s grunge bands, more inspired by ‘70s metal than punk. Among Sub Pop Records’ first signees, the band was extremely active. Between 1989 to 1995 they released six albums, but disbanded in 1999 following a string of bizarre events: getting sued by Pepsi for alleged copyright infringement, getting sued by a born again Christian for depicting them topless (with their consent), and getting dropped by a label following a poster depicting then-president Bill Clinton smoking a joint. The band’s frontman Tad Doyle formed another band, Hog Molly, releasing one record before breaking up.

After that, Doyle went on a 15-year hiatus, relocating from rainy Seattle to San Diego, marrying and putting music behind him.

“I was just relaxing and enjoying my life,” Doyle says. “I did a lot of soul searching and pretty much wrote off music. I was OK with never playing music again.”

The feeling changed.

“I heard ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath on the radio and it bought me to tears,” he explains. “I knew I had to start playing again and that’s what started Brothers.”



H&M gets Trolled: Unethical Fashion Giant vs. ‘Strong Scene Productions’

y now, if you’ve been following the always fractious relationship between underground music and high-street fashion, you’ll have heard of Strong Scene Productions, H&M, and fake National-Socialist Black Metal Bands. In brief, the Swedish fast-fashion brand was accused of “one of the more ill-advised marketing campaigns in recent history.” Allegedly, they had created a fake metal label, Strong Scene Productions, complete with Youtube videos and a Facebook page. They had a roster of equally fake bands that included ‘LA/NY’, a ‘fierce representative of the French Black Legions’ who have been on hiatus since 2001 after running afoul of France’s anti-revisionist laws (which forbid denying the reality of certain crimes against humanity, chief amongst them the Holocaust.)
If you read Vice’s Noisey site today (hey, we won’t judge), then you’ll know that the whole thing was an elaborate piece of trolling, committed, appropriately enough, by Henri Sorvali of Finntroll (and Moonsorrow). H&M had no part in it, and the whole thing was designed to draw attention the tone-deaf appropriation of metal imagery by H&M, and the fashion industry at large.

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