Toronto politics have historically never been of much interest to Torontonians let alone the rest of the world. But Mayor Rob Ford's ongoing crack scandal has enraptured even the self-obsessed American media, ranging from that pretentious editorial in the New Yorker to segments on NBC's “The Today Show” to late-night punchlines from Jon Stewart, Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel.
But not everyone is laughing that Rob Ford has become the sweaty (alleged crack-smoking) face of Toronto.
“It's not funny, it's embarrassing,” says Kevin Drew, singer and co-founder of Broken Social Scene, an expansive musical collective that names Feist and members of Stars and Metric among its crew and during the 2000s became Toronto’s musical ambassadors to the world. “I mean, where are our leaders? It's like there's a giant baby running the city.”
“When I was in my twenties, I might as well have tattooed Toronto on my forehead,” Drew admits.
These days, he’s less likely to wax prophetic about his hometown -- though he did give a nice shout-out during the group's comeback performance of "Almost Crimes" on Jimmy Fallon -- but he’s more than happy to reminisce about the good ol' days.
See, 2013 marks the 10-year anniversary of Arts & Crafts, the successful independent label Drew co-founded to release BSS and its many offshoots. To celebrate the past decade, Arts & Crafts has launched a multi-faceted celebration.
The label released a couple of records, the one-off collaboration project, "X," which pitted the likes of gruff-voiced Hayden against the ever-so-smooth Jason Collett, and the label retrospective, "Arts & Crafts: 2003-2013," which combined the label's most recognizable hits with never-before-heard rarities.
Then there was an exhibition of photographer Norman Wong's iconic black and white portraits of Arts & Crafts artists, and that fan submitted short story contest hosted by storied publisher House of Anansi Press.
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Leslie Feist at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto (2005)
I started off being Broken Social Scene's junior videographer sometime in 2005, and I started to try out photography right after. This was one of my first photos I've taken at the start of interest.
Broken Masics Scene in Toronto (2006)
One of Kevin's lifelong dreams when he decided to become a musician was to play next to J Masic's of Dinosaur Jr. I framed this photo for him as a gift that year to mark that achievement.
Brendan Canning (2007)
I have a very special relationship with Brendan as him and his partner at the time Sarah Haywood were the ones who introduced me to the A&C family. He is definitely family to me. I would hang out a lot at his house during this period and would often watch him play his piano and spin his amazing collection of hip-hop records.
Broken Social Scene (2008)
Broken Social Scene did a special last-minute friends and family rehearsal jam session at The Dakota Tavern in Toronto. This photograph was taken then and later was used as their main press photo for a while. It's one of my favorite photographs I've taken of them and I believe it best represent them as a group in their comfort zone. Members of The Police were right behind Andrew Whiteman watching show.
The Hidden Cameras (2009)
This was one of my first full commissions from A&C, for The Hidden Camera's record "Origin:Orphan." It was one of the more frustrating, but also the most rewarding experiences I have had working with a band. Joel Gibb became a special friend after this production.
Broken Social Scene at the Harbourfront on July 12, 2009
This was a monumental home show for the band, which reunited the three girls (Feist, Amy Millan, Emily Haines) for the first time in a while. It took place during the 2009 Toronto Garbage Strike, and was made into "This Movie Is Broken" by Bruce McDonald and Don McKellar. It was the best show I have personally ever seen the band play. This is a photo of Kevin, who jumped into the audience to watch his army of friends slam their anthem "Ibi Dreams Of Pavement." He is a proud man and I am, too.
Charles Spearin's Backyard Garage (2010)
This is a photograph of the entrance to the rehearsal garage where everything is done. This is what home to Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think looks like. Charlie is the grounding force behind the band and I admire him very much.
Last Day of Chemo (2011)
In 2011 I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer. At every moment when I needed it I had my family and friends around me. This was my last day of chemotherapy, and three of my good friends (Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and Aaron Kopff) were there to help me ring that bell. Broken Social Scene and A&C are definitely friends who stuck by me during hard times. I can't be happier to have a clean bill of health.
Robert Alfons and Maya Postepski made one of my favourite records of 2012. TRUST is one of many acts I love in Toronto today that represents a new chapter and generation in the thriving music community. This was a photo taken from a session I did for one of my favourite music magazines called 'SUP.
A&C 10 (2013)
This year I was asked to showcase my work for A&C to celebrate the label's tenth anniversary. We just launched a major photography exhibition showing all of my black and white portraits of the A&C artists over the years and also a major archive section showing all the intimate and performance shots over the years. I knew I had to sneak in a portrait of Marty Kinack in there to make fun of my own work and to also give the family of A&C a little treat. He is the man behind the sound for many of the A&C acts, mostly Broken Social Scene, Hayden, Stars and Feist.
But the big party is on June 8th, with the launch inaugural Field Trip Music and Arts Festival.
Held at Toronto’s historic Fort York, the one-day outdoor event will feature a line-up culled entirely from Arts & Crafts’ diverse artist roster. Performers include Dan Mangan, Stars, Bloc Party and co-headline sets from 11-time Juno winner Feist, and the return of the label's flagship Broken Social Scene.
Those keeping score will remember that back in 2011, BSS announced an indefinite hiatus. Drew, who recently produced the forthcoming release from 60-year-old "Sugar, Sugar" songwriter Andy Kim and is now in the midst of recording his latest solo album, warns fans that this performance, and the band’s June 6th appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," is but a hiatus from the hiatus.
“As of June 9th, I'm going to feel free again. With Social Scene you have to constantly ask people to be involved, and when it comes to passion and creativity, I'm finished with that. I love these people, I consider them family, but I'm not scheduling rehearsal anymore,” he says matter-of-factly before leaving the door ajar for a full-blown reunion down the line.
“We need to rediscover the values of why we did this in the first place before we come back.”
When Broken Social Scene take the stage it will be a nostalgia trip. The beloved band is forever tied to a time when Toronto was bristling with creative spirit, when a group of young musicians broke all the rules, joined all their forces and caught the attention of the world.
Back then, Toronto was known as an incubator for independent music, not that Canadian city with the crack mayor.
“Remember it's the people that make Toronto a great city, not the politicians,” Drew says. And appropriately enough, the group’s upcoming Field Trip performance will be a special treat for the city’s poorly-represented citizens: a track-for-track recreation of its 2002 breakout record, "You Forgot It In People."
“We are going to get on stage and we are going to play “You Forgot it in People” as loud as we can. Because for me, it reminds me of a better time, when Toronto was a better city,” he says. “It's not likely to change anything, but what other move do we have?”
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