Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beat Nation

Although the curatorial directive behind the Vancouver Art Gallery's upcoming Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop, and Aboriginal Culture show is both vague and broad, this show promises to contain some provocative pieces. This exhibition is actually based on a small event that took place last March at one of the VAG Fuse nights. Facilitated by Vancouver's grunt gallery, fifteen First Nations visual artists and eight performance artists presented works based on their personal interests and skills as representatives of the country's urban Native youth. From the saucy fashion of Tsimshian designer Morgan Green to the free-form poetry of Kinnie Starr, the works included in the event were diverse but were all focused on inner-city living and the influence of hip hop culture. 

As a bridge from last year's casual and energetic Fuse party to the formal exhibition that is beginning this month, the VAG is hosting another Fuse night to open the show. This event is taking place on Friday the 24th, costs $17.50, and lasts from 8:30pm to 1am. I've been to two Fuse nights in the past and they are fun...just be sure to pre-tune since the bar at the gallery isn't cheap.  

It will be interesting to see how a project based on performance art, hip hop, and informal display will translate to a large, white-washed, quiet gallery setting. It will provide the artists with space and time to display their creations, but art forms like graffiti and rap can lose some of their potency when taken out of context. Among some of the objects on display will be Jordan Bennett's carved skateboard decks and Sonny Assu's "indigenized" iPod rondos, which combine Aboriginal shapes and forms with objects that are seen everyday within the metropolises of North America. Beat Nation will run from February 25 to June 3.    

Keywords: "Vancouver Art Gallery", "Skeena Reece", "VAG Fuse", "Alex Dawkins"    

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Smallest Distillery in Scotland

After I graduated from the University of Edinburgh, my parents came over to Scotland for a visit. It was an action-packed three-week trip, as I was determined to show them as much as possible of this small yet rugged country. On our way back to Auld Reekie from the Highlands, we stopped at the quaint town of Pitlochry. We made good time coming back through Aviemore and Dalnaspidal along the A9 so we decided to make a pit stop in Pitlochry for lunch and a tramp around town. I had been to Pitlochry before, to see Blair Castle, but it wasn't until this second visit that I realised Edradour was just outside of town. While I had heard of Edradour, and seen it in most of the whisky shops along the Royal Mile, I didn't know much about it and had not even tried it before. We were so pleased that we stumbled upon it during this road trip because the distillery offers an intimate tour, produces a surprisingly diverse range of spirits, and operates an exceptional tasting room.

There are two things about Edradour that are noteworthy when considering single malt, Scottish whisky. First, it is the smallest distillery in the country. Edradour is operated by two people and barely produces enough product (twelve casks per week) to be considered a legal distillery by the British government. Second, they produce an excessive number of specialty spirits that are finished in various wine casks. Edradour, and their brand of uber-peaty drams Ballechin, create whiskies finished in Port, Burgundy, Chardonnay, Sauternes, Bordeaux, Moscatel, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, and Oloroso casks. Oh ya, they have also released malts using Rum and Tokay barrels. Excessive, right? 

I find it impressive and laudable that they experiment with so many flavours and finishes, but I disliked most of the oddballs that we tried that afternoon in Pitlochry. I found that the white wine barrels in particular imbued the scotch with a flaccid sweetness that clashed with the earthy,  honeyed characteristics of the untainted whisky. In my opinion, the alcohol being used to finish a single malt must be bold and complimentary, which is a difficult task because scotch whisky is such a distinctive drink. I think that the Port, Sherry, and Oloroso casks work to emphasise certain elements of the Edradour (specifically, the murky Almond Roca flavours found in standard Edradour 10 Year) rather than complicating it by adding new notes and features.

BC Liquor Stores do carry Edradour, which I am very happy about, but they only ever have two or three varieties. They always have the standard 10 Year, and they often have a standard cask strength, but it is hard to find one of the Ballechin releases or one of the weird finishes. One of my absolute favourite things to drink on this planet is Edradour's Port Cask Matured whisky. This particular whisky is not just finished in port's matured for several years in those syrupy, sage casks. I just drooled on my keyboard.

Keywords: "Alex Dawkins", "Edradour Scotch", "BC Liquor Stores", "Vancouver events"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

March Concert Highlights

Late spring and early fall are always good (if not the best) times for live music in Vancouver because bands are incoming and outgoing from summer festivals in the States. Many bands hop up to Vancouver and Seattle to make some extra cash, and we are sure glad they do. There are some solid bands coming this spring. When I write these previews, I try to avoid listing bands that everyone knows are good. I try to focus on groups that may fly under the radar, or are on their way up to widespread success. This is what I would be going to, were I not in Nelson sorting through 6,441 acetate negatives as part of a contract archival job:

Islands - The Rio - March 8
Many great albums, and artworks, have been created out of loss and pain. Break-ups must be one of the primary catalysts for songwriters, and while the subject matter has been done to death, musicians always find ways to package it in new and catchy ways. Islands is kind of like Spiritualized or Broken Social Scene in that the band is a rotating cast of performers, held together by a single creative force. With reference to Islands, this creative force is Nick Thorburn, and he is about to release his fourth studio album. It is titled A Sleep & A Forgetting, and it is based upon a break-up and Nick's subsequent move from Brooklyn to LA. So far I'm not doing much to sell this show, but it is probably a good one to see since the "band" has a catalogue to play from now and the music I have heard from A Sleep & A Forgetting thus far is soulful and mature. Despite the hype surrounding their first two albums, due to connections with Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, I found them kitschy and retro-derivative. This album, on the other hand, seems more authentic and heart-felt...although it does come out on Valentine's Day (just puked in my mouth a little).


Puscifer - Centre for Performing Arts - March 13 
As a multimedia project, stream-of-consciousness outlet, and southern gothic freak show led by Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, Puscifer (eloquently pronounced "pussy-fur") will - at the very least - put on a great show. I have never been into Tool, and Puscifer isn't really my cup of murky faux-hillbilly tea, but I do seek creative works that are carefully crafted and challenge my aesthetic comfort zone. This incarnation of Keenan's psyche is more playful and rockabilly than Tool or A Perfect Circle, and relies heavily on theatrical elements and graphics. It is a good sign that the band decided to play at The Centre for Performing Arts too, as this venue is often used for big budget musicals and theatrical productions. If I was in Vancouver right now I would try to go to this, but I would be scared. Not going to lie.

The Ting Tings - Commodore - March 27
The Ting Tings became pretty well known after Apple used 'Shut Up and Let Me Go' for its iPod commercial, and the band appeared on SNL in 2010, so it's great that they are still playing at mid-sized venues like the Commodore. Tickets are reasonable at $27 before all that added bullpucky, and I know (from witness accounts and YouTube-surfing) that this English duo puts on a raucous show. They have been to Vancouver quite a bit, but this show should be especially gnar because the Ting Tings are Tout Touting their second studio album, Sounds from Nowheresville, which drops this month. I should also mention that if you like dancing, this is also the show for you since most of their music is 4/4, up-tempo. Aaaand the Commodore has a sprung dancefloor!

Keywords: "Puscifer Vancouver", "Alex Dawkins", "Vancouver Concert Listings"