I knew I would regret it If I grew up to be Apathetically Poetic The cynics, behind the scenes The black Klansman high-fives the Jew-Nazi While the gay-bashing homo tells all of his friends, About all his threesomes with lesbians The good politician tells us the truth The clown gives you a low-fat sandwich and A friendly pat on the tush The Pope does something about the boys being poked Israel tells Syria it was all just a joke Here comes the loud-silent complacent commotion Here comes the oilman to save the ocean Let’s move to a democratic Iraq, Iran, I laughed! The young girl had a hot flash Water froze in the Antarctic Wall Street gave back Let Obama be black Will there ever be a white president? Will they ever set precedence, Or allow factual evidence? It’s full serve in Oregon, You’ve been served on Earth Drink the Kool-Aid It’s the cure for Aids Hold me closer great big dancer Kevorkian found the cure for cancer And the disease from which we can’t be saved Let’s set a precedence of affirmative action and Steal Neil’s heart of gold right out her chest Straight between real fake breasts Go to war for freedom, Buy smart, it’s cheaper at Wal-Mart My favourite agency Where we can throw down our values and Keep a space for complacency The world’s best poetics Apathetic Poetics: goddamn them
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell vs Litstrips
In the fall of 2013 I took Writing 326 at UVic which is a course in transmedia, media which crosses multiple platforms with a focus online. I wanted to see if I could make art out of something that is essentially artless. I wanted to take something bland, boring, and banal and attempt to inject some semblance of meaning into it.
Bitstrips. Some love them, most hate them, why? These intrusive little polarizing comics place what Martin Heidegger called “average everydayness” upon a public pedestal and attempt to bathe these moments in attention. The mundane and the inside jokes clog our newsfeeds and attempt to pass themselves off as worthwhilewhen they have about as much charm and intellectual value as clumps of drain hair. Therefore, I decided to take something with no cultural value and inject it with one of the most sacred institutions of art, literature.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk vs Litstrips
I was so intrigued by the backlash that occurred when Bitstrips gained popularity. Why do we have such a negative reaction to such a benign and fairly innocent format of expression? First we must address the burgeoning attention economy. The internet is frothing with so much information as we navigate it. The time we choose to allocate toward a post, a video, or a status update is becoming rare, and therefore, a commodity.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens vs Litstrips
When we spend time poorly online the reaction is akin to losing a $10 bill on the way to work or getting stood-up by a friend; a complete and total waste. The reaction to Bitstrips is similar. As there is little to any value to be gained from learning what people ate for breakfast, how much they hate their job, or what ambiguous event they’re counting down to, there is just as little learning about it in cartoon form. Aren’t cartoons meant to be a source of humour, or action, excitement and certainly pathos?
L’Étranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus vs Litstrips
We must then ask ourselves, what makes something funny? That is a philosophical debate about as massive as “what is art,” or why? For simplicity’s sake, I subscribe to the Incongruity Theory of Comedy. The simplest form of humor is the reversal of expectations. Person goes for a walk, person reaches destination = not funny. Person goes for a walk, then that person slips and falls down = hilarious. Comedy is built on the foundation of the fulfilment of a promise of the reversal of expectations (this is a very baseline simplification and entire books have been written on the matter). Bitstrips attempts to show us an incongruity, yet they’re far too predictable, fulfill our expectations of everyday life, and therefore are not artful.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger vs Litstrips
A person who hates job, you don’t say? A person is counting down to something ambiguous, who cares? A person bought a lovely meal at a restaurant, worst. post. ever. Bitstrips built itself on a foundation of fulfilling expectations of everyday life without reversing said expectations. I found this fundamental failure compelling enough that I had to find a way to give them a second life.
“Putin on the Ritz” The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde vs Putin vs Litstirps
I was also inspired by Teju Cole’s Seven Short Stories about Drones, in how he repurposed lines from literature in order to call attention to the atrocities of drone strikes. I decided I could satirize current events, mix them with literature, then put them into Bitstrips in order to skewer them. At the time, Vladimir Putin was making headlines for his human rights violating stance towards homosexuality. Rob Ford was also in office in the city of Toronto, making headlines for his antics and substance abuse.
Ulysses by James Joyce vs Rob Ford vs Litstrips
Bitstrips are more irrelevant than ever. Their only claim to relevance came in the absolute outrage and vitriol we spewed at one another before realizing we could block them from Facebook newsfeeds. I decided to take something timeless, something revered and insert it into something that time will inevitably forget. Quotes from our beloved literature crossed with average Bitstrips situations and often mixed with timely figures and current events. That was Litstrips.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald vs Litstrips
And like their inspiration, Litsrips never really lasted in relevnace. Perhaps I didn’t properly promote them but I think that they were doomed to sink into obscurity alongside the app that spawned them. Chuck Palahnuik even retweeted the Project Mayhem one after I tweeted it to him (which made me giddy like a nerd on game day). Internet fads come and go at such an exorbitant speed, they’re often over before you hear of them. The dead horse is already so beaten you’ve generally just found your best blunt object by the time people are three horses away.
The internet evolves, the extinct are long forgotten and we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge vs Rob Ford vs Litstrips
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky vs Vladimir Putin vs Listrips
for more visit http://litstrips.tumblr.com/
A short film I made at UVic this semester. Social commentary on the continuing conversion of heritage buildings into condos with store front.
These were a part of Wolf/Sheep’s Halloween stunt last year. The video was edited by Arya Hawker, and shot and directed by Wolf/Sheep members Erik Van Kobra, Elisa DeVille, Genghis Shawn, and Sarah Savage while bored and stranded for the night in The Seattle-Tacoma Airport on the way home from a trip to New York. What they created was a very believable, compelling, and fun recreation of The Blair Witch Project set in an airport.
The article was written by yours truly under the pseudonym “James Smyth” (my middle name, my mother’s maiden name, and an alias I’ve used for years). The gang asked me to write something based on the video that they had created. My mind raised on comic books and fiction immediately asked itself about the history of Sea-Tac. I looked up the history of crashes at the airport. I used the real life people; I did it in the most respectful manor I could. I wanted to create something grounded in reality. Reba Monk was a real life flight attendant and hero who died saving people at Sea-Tac. Heather Jones is a fictional character, although the story of the flight she was supposed to have been on is quite real.
Kyle Dark designed what I wrote to look like a real article and we released it on our social feeds with little to no explanation. A week later on Halloween we released the video and set all of our Facebook profile photos and banners to black.
Arya on Facebook
I think tonight I’ll stay at home
And draw a bath
A cozy place to sit and contemplate the wrath
The pitter-patter of the faucet drips
And I count by math
I lick the salt off my finger tips
‘Til it drives me mad
The digits stick to my tongue
And I begin to add
One plus two plus three
Really too bad, too bad
Naturally, I must find what I need
In the streets to understand
I pick the flesh of his eyeballs from my teeth
‘Til it drives me insane
I lick the salt off my tips, I, Zombie.
photo credit: http://beatsantique.com/
Originally posted in Rifflandia Magazine 2013. Rifflandia is an annual world class music festival in Victoria, B.C., Canada and I was fortunate to write a couple articles for them. Here is my write-up on Oakland, California‘s Beats Antique.
Beats Antique may have missed their calling. Whether that was as the house band of Jabba’s palace in Star Wars, a steampunk wedding band, or as the soundtrack for a Japanese Super Nintendo role playing game, it’s impossible to say. Either way, Beats Antique exists simultaneously in the ancient past, the hedonistic present, and the electronic driven future.
The Oakland, California, based trio came together in 2007 when belly dancer Zoe Jakes approached her manager Miles Copeland (brother of The Police drummer Stewart) about making an album. Jakes ‘ boyfriend David Satori was reintroduced to an old acquaintance in Tommy “Sidecar” Cappel in order to create music for the album. What started out as little more than a backing album for Jakes’ masterful dancing evolved into a tour de force of fantasy genre bending.
Beats Antique would be equally at home onstage at Rifflandia as they would onstage in a post-apocalyptic world of swords and sorcery. They just have the misfortune of being born ahead of their time, possibly out of their universe. The group is well versed with large scale outdoor music festivals. They have captivated audiences worldwide at some of the grandest stages of them all having played Bonnaroo, Coachella, and even the legendary Lollapalooza.
Genetically splicing the styles of world music, afro-beat, jazz, and gypsy, with the likes of dub step, glitch, hip hop, and electro, Beats Antique is every bit Bollywood as it is BBC Radio One. The group’s live performance meshes modern technology with elements of string music and brass band. A Beats Antique show can take you from smoking Sheesha in Tangiers with William S. Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg to making the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs faster than you can engage your hyperdrive.
Beats Antique’s frontwoman does all of her communicating with her hips making their live show so crucial to truly experience the band and their message. Their instrumental music is bolstered by Jakes’ gorgeous and alluring gyrations, creating music that is not only meant to be heard, it becomes a spectacle to be seen. If you haven’t seen Beats Antique live then you are missing perhaps the most important aspect of the band’s talent.
Cappel, Satori, and Jakes are all students of the world. Cappel and Satori are both educated musicians having attended the California Institute of the Arts and the Berkeley School of Music respectively. Jakes’ world renowned fusion of belly dancing with elements of jazz and hip hop helped to inspire the overall Middle Eastern feel to the band’s tempo. All three members have travelled the world extensively and their experience adds even more depth to the band’s dynamic sound.
Cappel and Satori spent their early years travelling the world and adopting aspects of different culture’s sounds to their own. They ventured to many diverse places such as West Africa, Bali, and Serbia. The sounds of Serbia and the Balkans flow through Beats Antique’s music as much as it flows through the hips and abdomen of Zoe Jakes.
Beats Antique has kept themselves very busy over the last six years since their foundation. They’ve released some manner of recording every year be it full length album or E.P. Their most recent release is 2012’s Contraption Vol. 2 on Antique Records.
The songs on Contraption Vol. 2 continue Beats Antique’s tradition of old world instruments getting in bed together with synthesizers and Ableton. The trouble with such genre bending could be that the music would wind up awkwardly like two very different people deciding to make love after having a few too many drinks. Beats Antique’s sound dodges this and moves together beautifully, picking up speed and slowing down as they get to know one another.
Beats Antique is the culmination of so many themes in culture. They play to our sense of nostalgia, our wanderlust, and our fear of what tomorrow could bring. They do it in such a way and with such a fervour that one can’t help but dance along to the music and put aside their longing for the past and their uncertainty of the future.
Like an old broken grandfather clock drifting through outer space, Beats Antique stops time when they perform as they play with our expectations and bend time and space to fuse genres together in ways that we couldn’t ever imagine. Picture the Jules Verne Time Train from Back to the Future Part III, throw in some gypsy belly dancers and you would have the right vehicle for Beats Antique to arrive at Rifflandia.
photo credit: wolfsheep.com
-originally published on wolfsheep.com July 2013.
There’s an idea in this world: an idea that one group can tell another how to act, how to think, how to feel. An idea that one group is synonymous with the lesser. This is a world where corporations tell us it’s unlawful to share the intangible. It’s also a world where people think they can tell us who we can and can’t marry. If we are truly to be equal, then the powers that be must Cease & Desist.
On July 5, 2013, Wolf/Sheep Arthouse in conjunction with Lab Salon presented Cease & Desist, a night of art, music, culture, and drag queens at Lucky Bar in Victoria, B.C., as a part of Victoria’s annual Pride celebration. Cease & Desist served as the launching point for new creative movement spearheaded by Wolf/Sheep founder Erik Van Kobra.
“I started playing around with basically what appeared to be public domain resource materials and mixing it with blatantly copyrighted stuff. I started with fashion houses and large well known brands because [they] stood out. I found the contrast of the two things really visually appealing. The ridiculous thing about it, is the design end is so basic, it’s not even fucking funny,” says EVK.
The art of Cease & Desist is a melding of iconic corporate logos of fashion and design with the hedonistic and decidedly non-glamorous world of pornography. The copyrighted logos of brands such as Ferrari, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, and others contrast as they lay over images of women and men often in the throes of orgasm and exhibitionism. The point of the art isn’t purely a shock and awe campaign. EVK hopes to play with peoples conceptions about what is art and what is considered offensive.
“I think people are less quick nowadays to be offended. They’re more apt to be offended privately. I think they want to be thought of as accepting and cool and liberated and enlightened. The reality is, is that they live inside of a shell created for them. I think things like corporations have almost the same attitude. ‘We’re for people. We have people in our ads. We’re real. We’re making stuff for you. Just behave. Behave by our rules. Don’t steal. Buy our shit and you’re our friend,'” says EVK.
We live in the social networking age. Millions upon millions of users share images online through image sharing sites such as Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and others. Images and memes are shared over, and over, and over, and over.
“On Tumblr, all bets on copyright are off. But how so? How can you build a business around what is obviously blatantly copyrighted material on their part? The way [corporations] look at it, there’s 1 million or so 14-year-old kids sharing their shit on a platform like that, it’s free advertising. The minute someone thinks about it, takes it seriously, say me or you or someone else, it’s a problem,” says EVK.
Cease & Desist was born out of the idea of pushing copyright to the limits where EVK might receive actual cease and desist letters from companies for using their intellectual property. Companies such as Napster, Megaupload, and The Pirate Bay have all been taken down by corporate bullies who didn’t agree with people giving away for free what they saw fit to profit from. The fashion industry, the music industry, and the creative industry all appear to be for creativity, when in reality they’re just trying to hold everything back and in line with their profit margins.
“We truly do live in an appropriated world. Our society thrives off of it. But the fact that someone out there owns that appropriated creative drive is stupid. It’s almost redundant. They shut down Napster, they shut down The Pirate Bay, they stop people from sharing things they don’t physically own. What is the point, where does it end, where does it stop, where do you start, how do you regulate it? Let it go, just let it go. Let [same sex couples] get married. Who fucking cares?” says EVK.
Erik had been working on the art that would become Cease & Desist for quite some time before he was approached by Doug Macneil with the idea to promote a different kind of Pride event.
“When I moved over here I tried to go out, get involved in the scene or get involved in going out, it was done. I saw it so many times over and over again. To me I felt that Victoria – I’m not attacking anybody – because of what I had seen living over in [Vancouver], is that everybody is behind. I felt that if I could find somebody that was willing to bring it up to more of a speed that I enjoy, that’s where I wanted to go with it. That’s why I approached Erik,” says Macneil.
Doug wanted a different kind of Pride event. A far more aggressive event removed from the familiar tropes of Pride. One that freed itself of the labels and preconceived notions within a community. Not a gay event, not a lesbian event, an event that was all inclusive where any and all can celebrate Pride in a non-traditional Pride venue. The result became Cease & Desist.
“The idea right now within the gay community is a real civil liberties discussion. Why are they not entitled to the same rights as straight people? Why are they not entitled to the same happiness and unhappiness as the rest of us, even though it is very touted and explicitly stated in the majority of our society that they’re entitled to equality,” says EVK.
Cease & Desist at its core is about liberation. Be that the liberation of copyrights, sexual liberation, or the liberation of all preconceived notions of what it is to be gay or straight.
“I think that segment of society speaks pretty loud, and the artwork does the same thing. I don’t think that any of us are oblivious to it. It’s a fact. It’s generally in your face. The first knee jerk reaction is that people get offended by it. Beyond what they think, what they truly believe. ‘No, no, no, sure. Let those people be the way they are, until I have to see something I don’t really want to see,’ and I think sex a lot of the time is the first knee jerk icebreaker for that one. You really jump on a line. Either way, I think it’s enticing,” says EVK.
Doug brought in some of the most talented and androgynous drag queens that Vancouver, B.C., has to offer for the July 5 show. The night was hosted by Kamelle Toe, a stand up comedian who commands attention. Other performers included Raye Sunshine, Mantra MMX, as well as DJs Kasey Riot, and Victoria’s own Monolithium.
“I want to bring a little piece of my home and a little piece of my imagination and to go down the rabbit hole with Erik. It’s been tons of fun with the Wolf/Sheep guys. I have gay friends who have gained a lot of respect for what something serious as this can do,” says Macneil.
The July 5 show was a flurry of androgyny, neon, glitter, and culture. The brick walls of Lucky Bar wore the neon Cease & Desist artwork proudly. Kamelle Toe delighted with her humour, Raye Sunshine exploded on the stage in a spot on Rouge costume from the 90s X-Men, Mantra MMX exuded androgyny, and Kasey Riot and Monlithium provided the beats.
“Cease & Desist isn’t going to be for just Pride only, but this time around we thought this would be the time to push the boundaries of the scene in Victoria and give the masses something they have never seen or heard before. Hopefully that comes to a bigger thing down the road. It doesn’t need to be a Pride event,” says Macneil.
Cease & Desist is series of art by Erik Van Kobra and a clothing line by Wolf/Sheep. What it really is, is a movement, a glittered coated fist of solidarity pumping in a nightclub. It’s a reminder that we need to push boundaries, we need to question norms. If we cannot be counted equally, if we lose the freedom to share information, what are we?
“I as an artist should have the same rights as you as a gay person, and we don’t. There’s inequality there and I think that’s unjust,” says EVK.