Mu's Brittney Rand (left) and Francesca Belcourt. Photo by Ian Lanterman.
Mu’s Brittney Rand (left) and Francesca Belcourt. Photo by Ian Lanterman.

Francesca Belcourt and Brittney Rand are the two women behind Mu, Vancouver’s dream pop chroniclers of youth. The duo has been gracing the city’s electronic scene with dreamy tunes for nearly three years. Their debut album, simply called Mu, explores the universal themes of growth and confusion that characterize the young adult experience. Their fresh new single, “Debauchery,” meanwhile, “addresses all that is depraved, magical, and tempestuous about the ‘in-between’ years and coming of age in an era obsessed with itself.” In anticipation of Mu’s new album, II, which will be released on Feburary 12, SAD Mag’s Meredyth Cole spoke with Belcourt and Rand about their music, their high school selves, and how emulating Drake can (sometimes) lead to success.

**Psst! Stay tuned (pun very much intended) for a special musical surprise at the end of this interview.**

SAD Mag: Tell me what you were like in high school. Did you and Brittney know each other?

Francesca Belcourt: In high school I acted pretty similarly to how I do now but in the body and mind of a hormonal teen. I found any chance I could to be making and playing music rather than doing any normal work, jumping onto any stage there was and was pretty blessed to be encouraged to do so by my peers. If creativity was not required in a class, I would generally be doing things like biking through the hallways in a liberated protest. (Generally speaking my teachers and classmates were pretty chill but I was still not a fan of authority or structure). Brittney and I didn’t know each other in school as she lived across the country. I think we would have gotten along though, she was a punk! Still is.

SM: Mu’s work seems to be rooted in the mood of adolescence and young adulthood. What is it about these ages that is so inspiring for you?

Brittney Rand: More than being rooted in adolescence and youth, I think it’s rooted in dissonance. The themes we often work within are rooted in the fragility that comes with hopefulness, and the complexity of freedom and change—which are both, of course, symptoms of youth and adolescence. We’re navigating and exploring the darkness of our own experiences, because change and growth can be very confusing. On the other hand, “learning adulthood” can be a very inspiring and enriching experience that provides us with the skills we require to find our independence and resilience. Of course, learning this almost always comes at the cost of some despair. It’s a kind of dance that I find to be mysterious and interesting to document creatively.

SM: Pop music has always been a genre of music aimed at adolescents. What did you listen to when you were in high school? Did these tastes shape your sound now?

BR: I grew up obsessed with pop culture, but so isolated! I grew up in a rural highway town in northern Ontario, with limited access to TV, etc. At that time, stations like The Box and MTV could still be listened to, but not viewed, on satellite—unless you paid for the channel. We found out that you could tape down the “cancel” button on the remote and get around that…so we’d tape music videos to VHS any chance we got.  It was really exciting to feel like we were being invited into what the rest of the world was doing.

I was into everything I saw in music videos—rap, pop, soul, grunge, folk, rock, R&B. But, when I was a teenager I was heavily influenced—and shaped by—my love for punk music. I think I’ve always been in love with pop music, but at some point or another pop music always reaches a crux for me; it either speaks or doesn’t speak to me. I find it fun to take something very poppy and nostalgic, and stretch it out to see how far it can go away from its expected direction before it’s nearly not pop. I like borrowing from the mainstream, almost mocking it, and then embracing it and playing with it. It’s kind of nice that we’re in a new pop landscape [and] that we can have both our exploration and depth, but also our fun.

SM: What advice would you give to young musicians trying to break into the scene in Vancouver?

FB: I moved to Van when I was 18 with my high school sweetheart. I had no idea where to go, I just knew I wanted to play music and that I couldn’t do that on Cortes Island or in Campbell River. So I played anything, anywhere, with anyone. Folk concerts, hip hop shows, I sang with electronic producers. Experiencing as much as I could in every scene I discovered lead me to meet Brittney at the Waldorf Hotel right at the time I was starting to really know my own music. It’s a small city, it takes a bit of time, but my advice would be to run ‘round à la Drizzy. If it feels wrong where you are turn around and try a new way.

As SAD Mag puts together the finishing touches on our upcoming High School issue, who better to make a custom mixtape for our readers than Mu. Featuring an exclusive cover of “Running up that hill,” this 12-song mix is a perfect evocation of those high school nights that seem to last forever, and the youthful moments that feel so significant. School dances, make out sessions, and joyrides: the things that are silly and so profound at 16, times that take on the quality of an anthem in our memories. Enjoy.

1) Mu – Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush Cover)
2) Pumarosa – Priestess
3) Suicide – Dream Baby Dream
4) Majical Cloudz – Downtown
5) Okay Kaya – Damn, Gravity
6) Brian Eno – Deep Blue Day
7) Cindy Lee – Prayer of Baphomet
8) Cocteau Twins – Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops
9) Jenny Hval – Why This?
10) Lydia Ainsworth – Malachite
11) Miley Cyrus – Lighter
12) The Cranberries – Dreams

Look out for II, available starting February 12, 2016. For more about Mu, check out their website, SoundCloud, or Twitter.


Photo by Rob Shaer
Photo by Rob Shaer

In person, Ola Volo is as warm and whimsical as her artwork. A graduate of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and the creative force behind designs for local clients like Lululemon and Doan’s Craft Brewing Company, it is easy to see Volo as a Vancouver artist. But, as successful as she is in this city, an international perspective is what elevates her work. We met at her apartment a few days before Halloween to chat about her upcoming CreativeMornings talk and life as a working artist.

Visual art as a profession is difficult for most people to wrap their heads around; the idea usually evokes images of noble poverty or antisocial genius. Volo disproves both these stereotypes, and her pragmatic approach to making a talent into a career is inspiring. What Volo firmly believes, and proves with her success, is that professionalism and artistic integrity are not necessarily opposed. Volo says she “hasn’t had a day off” since she started, and the idea of treating creativity like a nine to five is something she learned to do early on.

Growing up in Kazakhstan, Volo’s parents placed her in almost every genre of art class you can think of, from pastels to painting. She describes the classes as “babysitting,” but it is easy to imagine her as a precocious artist. When asked about developing her distinctive style, full of swirling patterns and playful figures, Volo says she has doodles and designs from early high school that look remarkably similar to her current work. Her style is clearly an authentic representation of who she is.

Photo by Rob Shaer
Photo by Rob Shaer

Volo consistently refers to her pieces as “stories,” perhaps a more apt word to describe the folkloric works she creates than “paintings” or “illustrations.” During her sold out CreativeMorning’s talk, she claimed she saw her style as a way to explore the stories that are important to her, not the other way around. Like a writer searching for the perfect word, Volo’s unique illustrations are the ideal language to explore the things that fascinate her.

This visual language is remarkable in its versatility; Volo’s work is equally at home on a gallery wall or a magazine cover. She combats the unflattering stigma of commercial art, only lending her style to projects that she can become invested in, that become her story. “My style cuts very close to my background. My inspiration comes from the stories I grew up with and books I owned as a kid. It all becomes like a personal voice, and if the project is not fitting, why would you want that voice to represent that project?”

Volo was introduced to the world of professional illustration soon after graduation. About a month after earning her degree, she flew to New York City to show her portfolio: “It was the first time I met working illustrators…They were all so passionate and very motivated, very prolific, doing things all the time, in like seven different avenues.” What Volo took away from her meetings was a sense of the sheer hustle that goes into working as an artist. The experience was both inspirational and terrifying; “I was so intimidated by New York…like ‘Oh my god this city will chew you up and spit you out, there are so many illustrators!’”

Photo by Rob Shaer
Photo by Rob Shaer

When Volo returned home to Vancouver she briefly abandoned illustration and tried to focus on a more straightforward career. A conventional career path didn’t last long, and she quickly found herself back in New York, where she lived for six months; “I made a promise to myself that if I find something that is so scary for me, then I should go there, I should figure something out with my work and myself.”

Traveling and periodically relocating keeps Volo on good terms with Vancouver and excited about her work. “It really grounds you,” she says. “You come back refreshed and full of ideas…you appreciate Vancouver again.”

Photo by Aura McKay
Photo by Aura McKay

Volo has said that she gravitated towards illustration as a way to transcend language barriers, and feels drawn to the idea of public art for the same reason. Commercial work allows her pieces to reach a huge audience, much more than individual works that are often sheltered in private homes. Public art takes this idea to the next level. “I like it when art is accessible to everyone. I want people to feel included, not excluded.”

Although she feels the need to leave the city occasionally, Vancouver hasn’t tired of embracing Volo’s work. The audience at CreativeMornings was thrilled with her candid words as well as her illustrations. As the talk ended, Volo was presented with a position as Artist in Residence at HCMA Architecture + Design—one more Vancouver business that will benefit from her unique vision.

Find out more about Ola Volo at Stay posted for more from CreativeMornings, monthly at SFU Woodwards.


Architects from the Swiss design firm Herzog & de Meuron unveiled their concept for a new Vancouver Art Gallery to a sold-out audience at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre last night. The presentation started with statements from individuals invested in the project. The lieutenant governor of British Columbia Judith Guichon spoke about Canada’s emerging national identity, a “coming of age” that will require a respect for Canadian artists and a desire to see them flourish. The aspiration to do justice to Vancouver’s contemporary art scene was a recurring theme among the speakers. Jeff Wall took the stage to voice what he claimed was “a point of view typical of artists in Vancouver.” Wall praised the new building’s capacity to host exhibitions that would be impossible at the gallery’s current site, as well as applauding the decision to overlay the building with wood, something he saw as a nod to Vancouver’s vanishing cityscape.

By the time the architects began their slide show presentation, there was little doubt that Vancouver is in desperate need of a new art gallery, somewhere for a new generation of artists to glean inspiration and for people from every strata of the city to gather. Gallery Director Kathleen Bartels described the current building as “literally bursting at the seams.” The proposed new structure will double the exhibition space of the gallery.

Christine Binswanger (left) and Simon Demeuse, photo by Pardeep Singh
Christine Binswanger (left) and Simon Demeuse, photo by Pardeep Singh

Herzog & de Meuron senior partner Christine Binswanger and project director Simon Demeuse, who are both based in Switzerland, provided an outsider’s perspective of Vancouver. It was lovely to be reminded of the things that make our cityscape unique, as Vancouver often fades to grey for those of us who live here. But Binswanger and Demeuse did not sugarcoat the problems with our city’s urban landscape, addressing such issues as underutilized public space and homogeneous glass towers in the downtown core. Before unveiling the concept design for the new art gallery, every facet of the project was explained, often in response to the perceived issues with Vancouver’s urban planning. A publicly accessible courtyard protected from rain, stacked floors that maximize natural light, and a flexible exhibition space that can used by curators in a variety of layouts.

The presenters leaned heavily on the idea of accessibility, citing free exhibition galleries and a courtyard that can be entered from all the surrounding streets. The new gallery’s role as a public space is rooted in the history of the site. Larwill Park, now a somewhat derelict parking lot, has a long history as a sporting field and gathering place, often for political demonstrations.


Although many in the audience had already seen images of the proposed building online that morning, applause broke out when Binswanger and Demeuse revealed the design; a wooden, stacked building, like a West Coast pagoda. The architects praised the softness and luminosity of the material, especially in contrast with the concrete and glass of the surrounding buildings.

After the presentation, the audience was invited to the nearby building site to have a drink and mingle. Discussions ranged from the gap between the secured funds and what is required to actualize the building to the high-maintenance reputation of wooden structures. The courtyard and sunken garden were the most talked about aspects of the building; most people were impressed with the design’s commitment to green spaces in and around the structure. The distinctive shape of the design caused many to reflect on the Vancouver Art Gallery’s increasing commitment to showcasing Asian art. In her opening remarks, VAG director Kathleen Bartels called Vancouver “a gateway to and from Asia,” something that seemed to inform the design of the new building. Not everyone I spoke to loved the design, although I personally did. One thing everyone could agree on, however, was that there is nothing like it in Vancouver today.

Vancouver won’t stop growing: expanding outward and spiraling back in, rebranding old neighbourhoods and finding names and spaces for new ones. New people are the overlooked catalyst for all this outward change. While a fresh condo development shoots up into our field of vision, a new city dweller slips easily into the periphery.

Zakir Jamal Suleman, director of The Belonging Project, is attempting to bring the experience of Vancouver immigrants to the foreground. Through a series of six video interviews, posted weekly to The Belonging Project’s website, Suleman and his collaborators address the question of what it takes to belong in our notoriously antisocial city.

Zakir Jamal Suleman, director of The Belonging Project
Zakir Jamal Suleman, director of The Belonging Project

Suleman, a philosophy honours student at UBC, was inspired both by his own experience as a Second Generation Khoja Ismaili Canadian and by a 2012 report published by The Vancouver Foundation. The report claimed that one third of survey participants struggled to make friends in Vancouver, and fifty percent of recent immigrants felt the same feeling of social isolation. These results resonated with Suleman, who describes his own process of belonging in Vancouver as a complex one: “You are born here, but there are still questions–where is your culture and the culture you are living in, how do they mix, where is home for me, is it here or is it there…”

He conceived of The Belonging Project as a means to help Vancouverites combat this isolation and connect with one another. Video interviews are a uniquely immediate way to break through what Suleman calls “barriers to entry,” allowing website users to hear a stranger’s story in the physical space of their daily life. Whether you are watching on your laptop or your phone, the project website creates a virtual space for immediate intimacy. Suleman hopes that these online interviews can be more than an “abstracted story,” the goal is that “those connections be something real and something that…people can gravitate to just like a real conversation.”

The interviews are certainly real. The brave participants share a lot in their interviews: stories of depression and illness, as well as revelations about the joyfulness of finding connection. All the videos are six minutes long, a challenging timeframe to try to convey something “true to the complexity of the people we were talking about.” Despite the time constraints, everyone who worked on the project does an admirable job of covering as wide a range of experience as possible.

Tien shares his story with The Belonging Project
Tien shares his story with The Belonging Project

As important as the voices of newcomers are to the project, the experience of First Nations people in Vancouver is something the project is also intent on exploring. As Suleman says in the website’s video introduction, “Vancouver is built on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, so that means we are all from somewhere else.”

Ultimately, The Belonging Project aims to create a point of connection based on disconnection. Suleman explains that “we were trying to explore something that is, I think, common to everybody.” The irony of dissatisfaction is that it compels you to speak up: something Suleman has noted himself. “Think about complaining about the weather, something that people in Vancouver are champions at…I think that it is actually really great that people are dissatisfied, because you can use that dissatisfaction to motivate you [sic] to do something about it…One thing you can count on is that everyone is dissatisfied in some way.”

The Belonging Project is a model for turning discontent into connection, one that Suleman hopes will continue beyond the initial six video outline. A community gathering is planned for September 19th, a way of gauging the success of the project and attempting the tricky work of translating an online platform into real space. “We want to get people together, people who have been watching… all these stories, and get them into a room,” he explains.

As quickly as Vancouver is growing, it is still small enough for the idea of a community gathering to feel apt. By asking Vancouverites to “take a moment, grab a coffee, and meet a new neighbour,” The Belonging Project reminds us how close we really are to the people who share our city.


The Belonging Project will be hosting a community art show at Untitled Art Space (436 Columbia Street) on Saturday September 19th. The event runs from 6 – 11 pm. To find out more, follow The Belonging Project on Facebook or visit their website.

A theme of breaking, splitting, and rebuilding ran through Wednesday’s QSONG (Queer Songwriters of a New Generation) showcase at the Roundhouse Performance Centre in Yaletown. It was a gloomy and drizzly summer night, but the young songwriters performing that evening created a warm, intimate atmosphere. Constructing just this type of space is the goal of the QSONG workshop, now in its second year. Musicians and mentors Sarah Wheeler and Ellen Marple met with Queer and allied Vancouver youth every Friday for a nine week period, helping them to expand their musical skill set and gain confidence in the nerve-wracking art of sharing deeply personal compositions on stage. The result was Wednesday’s showcase of original work, comprised of collaborative pieces and solo songs. It was the collaborative numbers that really shone; the energy and camaraderie of the group was palatable. In contrast, breakups and destructive love were at the core of much of the solo music, experiences which so often drive people to make music. QSONG alumni Gaby Lamoureaux provided one of the best performances: singing and playing the ukulele, the 25-year-old performed a song about moving on from a past relationship, but peppered the sadness with enough upbeat moments to keep the audience feeling hopeful.

When the lights came up at end of the evening the audience wasn’t quite ready to leave. Most people milled around the foyer, taking in the art on display, before bursting the bubble and venturing back into the world. The Roundhouse Performance Centre provided an attractive and supportive space for the musicians to showcase their work. Judging by the poise of all the young performers, it won’t be the last time they enjoy such an opportunity.


Follow the Queer Arts Fes­ti­val on Twit­ter or visit the fes­ti­val web­site for updates about future events.