We've got it all right here, folks! Everything that's ever been written up, photographed, and discussed on the Sad Mag website. Enjoy browsing our archives!

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.


Love Bomb is a situational drama turned mystery set to rock music. The musical begins when harried mother, Lillian (Deb Pickman), interrupts the sound check for rising indie music star, Justine (Sara Vickruck). The obnoxious interaction between singer and unlikely fan quickly turns dark when Lillian accuses Justine of plagiarizing lyrics written by Lillian’s missing daughter. After Lillian threatens to out Justine as a fraud, Justine admits to having taken the lyrics from a diary she found in the back of an ex-boyfriend’s car. To solve the mystery of her daughter’s disappearance, Lillian demands that Justine play her all the songs. Lillian hopes the poetry will reveal what happened to her daughter.

The strongest aspect of the play was the revelation of clues through the songs themselves. This distinctive take on musical theater kept the audience engaged in solving the mystery. However, the information given in the music becomes redundant when we learn that Justine had been in contact with the missing daughter, and knew exactly what had happened to her all along. The character’s motivations are unclear. Lillian seems vindictive towards Justine, rather than elated to have found evidence regarding her daughter’s disappearance. In the same vein, it seems absurd that Justine would be so dedicated to obstructing Lillian’s search.

The central themes of Love Bomb are embedded in the mystery of the daughter’s disappearance. Without revealing the plot, it can be said that the play deals with the issue at hand too lightly. Both Justine and Lillian come across as tried-and-true tropes; their experiences of the situation seem limited and their conversations about the topic lack complexity.

Though the creators of the play worked hard to bring to light a problem that is indeed difficult to acknowledge, their handling of the issue is awkward and uninformed. The actresses didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the trauma they were discussing and it was sometimes difficult to believe that Vickruck’s Justine had actually been through the experiences she discusses. Demeaning jabs at the lives of sex workers and a comment about Justine’s sexuality (based on her appearance) degrade the feminism of the play.

Love Bomb should be viewed through a critical lens. At the very least, it incites curiosity, and in some way achieves its goal of raising awareness; viewers will leave the performance thirsty for the information and perspective that Love Bomb did not give them.


Love Bomb is produced by Shameless Hussy Productions and runs until October 10 at The Firehall Arts Centre.



D.R.E.A.M (Design Rules Everything Around Me)

October 1st, 2015 – October 30th, 2015

Make Gallery

257 E 7th Ave, Vancouver BC


Make Gallery is presenting their first ever hip-hop poster show, D.R.E.A.M. (Design Rules Everything Around Me). It’s a celebration of two of their favourite things: design, and hip-hop. Great design gives a visual representation to its subject, and Make has invited 15 illustrators and designers to create original posters influenced by a hip-hop song.


Whether it’s parties or politics, hip-hop gives a lot of room to play. It’s a visually rich culture of sound, colour, and larger than life characters. The show draws on those elements and turns them into eye-popping spectacle. Participating designers and illustrators are Alley Kurgan, Cesar Bañares, Patrick Connelly, Jane Koo, Tierney Milne, Tina Ng, Meg Robichaud, Pamela Rounis, Camille Segur, Shawn Sepehry, Graham Smith, Katie So, Scott Strathern, Carson Ting, and Calvin Yu.


From plays on typography to graphic interpretations of lyrics, these posters hit on every aspect of hip-hop and design. Supported by Dominion Blue Reprographics and Framehouse, Make will be producing a run of limited edition prints of the posters. These will be available for purchase, with all sales benefiting the Community Arts Council of Vancouver.


Boom. A take on Wu-Tang’s classic song C.R.E.A.M., D.R.E.A.M. aims to open up the visually rich culture of hip-hop into a platform that we can all take part in. The opening reception takes place on Thursday, October 1st from 7pm – 10pm, and it’s FREE.

Make sure to check out contributions by SAD Maggers Pam Rounis (our fabulous Lead Designer), Camille Segur (the incredible Cat Issue Illustrator + Designer), and Tierney Milne (a lovely Movement Issue Contributing Artist) .

Please RSVP to helen@makeisawesome.com or via the Facebook event (and check to see the list of songs that influenced each artist to give you a glimpse of what’s in store! #drake #wu-tang #laurynhill).



On opening night of the Accordion Noir Festival, I sat in an airless room on the top level of the Western Front, an artist-run centre just off Main Street. The wood paneling and stuffiness felt fitting for an evening of bellows-driven music—everything about the space seemed to call back to a time before air conditioning and electric guitar. My fellow audience members were a smattering of what could loosely be called East Vancouver types: affable-looking men and women who dressed for the space in breathable layers, and who had the presence of mind to bring cash for the improvised bar. I felt like a rube, I probably looked like one, and I was very quickly losing the appetite for whimsy that had brought me to an accordion festival on a Thursday night.

accordion logo

Thankfully, for whatever else they may be, accordionists are a punctual bunch. Shortly after the listed start time, a fedoraed emcee came out, said a few words, and badabing-badaboom—we were in business. The first performance was a “spoken word opera” devised by a band of local upstarters: Elysse Cheadle, Elliot Vaughan, Aryo Khakpour, and Jonathan Kim. According to the program, the opera was “an examination of the weightlessness of dreaming, and the gravity of waking,” which sounds like it could be right. They made generous use of experimental lighting cues and sound effects—I can still hear the slurping noises that accompanied a particular birth scene. At this point, my worst fears seemed like they were coming true: this evening was going to be weird.


Fortunately, next came a palate cleanser in the form of Steve Normandin, a traditionalist. He is described as a master of traditional French chansons, and his background boasts credits with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra and the renowned playwright Robert LePage. The word “accordion” automatically calls to mind amiable, sturdy-looking Europeans; on this, Normandin absolutely delivers. After warming us up with a few songs, he led the audience Pied Piper-style to the sidewalk, where we did our best collective impression of a Parisian street corner. At this point, the evening’s early swelter had mellowed, and the sky had turned a lovely, bruise-y purple. The coupled among us felt compelled to dance – everyone else swayed by themselves – and my terrible mood began to crack. The combination of the night and the accordion felt a little bit perfect—Normandin could perform exclusively in East Van alleyways from now on, and he would probably do quite well for himself.

accordion fest

The final performer was Angélica Negrón, a Brooklyn-based musician and composer, whose accordion was rounded out by the xylosynth percussion of Shayna Dunkelman. Negrón is all bangs and glasses, the kind of person who seems like she can make any hobby seem cool simply via its proximity to her. One wonders if she chose a deliberately old-fashioned instrument simply to test the limits of her powers. In any case, both performers were very, very good. The blend of electronica and accordion felt – for lack of a better word – floaty, and just a touch menacing. The songs themselves spanned far-reaching, upbeat topics such as “The Disappearance of a Young Girl” and “A Happy Song About Death.” These were perfect for sitting alone in a public space and contemplating the future. Despite my early doubts, I deemed the alone-at-an-accordion-festival experiment a success.


If you love the idea of an accordion festival, I’d say you should go. If it sounds stupid and terrible, go anyways. Next year will mark the 9th year of Accordion Noir Fest in Vancouver; whatever your ultimate thoughts, I can predict that it will most definitely be An Experience.


When I first read the summary of Cosmophony, a collaboration between the Queer Arts Festival and the Powell Street Festival, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After all, how is an auditory representation of space manifested? How does one describe space and the cosmos through music, much less through music played only on a piano by a single artist? Would it be an epic space theme a la Star Wars‘ opening credits? Or an ethereal and ominous soundtrack that captures the vast darkness that is our universe?


Earth, photo by NASA
Earth, photo by NASA


It turns out, it was much more than that. Pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa commissioned 11 Canadian composers to create this beautiful musical journey through our solar system. Each composer focused on a different planet or space entity. The result was that each planet sparked in its audience a different affect and atmosphere. However, through Iwaasa’s beautiful and skillful musicianship, each composition was tied to the next in a cohesive performance that felt perfectly natural. Iwaasa truly managed to do justice to each and every piece she played, holding the audience captivated for the full hour-long performance.

The performance took place in Firehall Arts Centre, a space with an intimate and communal atmosphere. The set was simple: Iwaasa at her piano, with a screen playing images of each planet as the backdrop. The audience’s full focus could be on the music being performed, with pieces by composers including Rodney Sharman, Marci Rabe, Alexander Pechenyuk, Jocelyn Morlock, Chris Kovarik, Jeffrey Ryan, Stefan Udell, and Jennifer Butler. The show opens with Denis Gougeon’s passionate Piano-Soleil. From the sun, we are taken through the planets, over epic Mercury and gentle Venus, over the Asteroid Belt described by Jordan Nobles’ Fragments, and over to Gliese 581c, a faraway planet that is one of the human race’s only shreds of hope for relocation once we burn through all of our own natural resources—a theme which composer Emily Doolittle depicts with great passion. The performance is not just a piano concert; it is a social commentary on the ways in which we abuse our own planet, as well as an exploration of not only the vast cosmos itself, but of the human race’s role in the solar system.


Mercury, photo by NASA
Mercury, photo by NASA


Through this journey, Cosmophony manages to encapsulate multiple themes: human awe at the vastness of space, the continued exploration of space, the mysteries of the cosmos, and the environmental havoc that we have wreaked upon our own planet. Whether you are a space buff, a classical music fan, a lover of community art, or a combination of the three, Iwaasa’s stellar performance and the beautiful collaboration of talent managed to create something that will speak to everyone.


Cosmophony was put together by the Queer Arts Festival and the Powell Street Festival. You can find Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa’s website here.

Party Tricks by Elliat Albrecht. Press play and begin. 


He lit up like a used car lot. Like an amusement park. Like a chandelier shop. Like an exit sign. Like an incoming call. Like a homecoming crowd. Like a fifty year smoker. Like a birthday cake. We had one week.


Photo Courtesy of Elliat Albrecht

Wednesday. He collected other people’s letters from thrift stores and kept them in boxes by his bed where he read them when he couldn’t sleep. His insomnia depended not at all on the earth’s rotation or what he ate, but entirely on the content of the news on the radio on the way home from work. Each time a broadcaster announced a tragedy without really hearing what they were saying, he sighed and one more tiny wrinkle appeared above his brow.


Monday. He liked to go for breakfast in the middle of the night. I looked at him across the table. He took a sip of water.
“My mother though,” he said, finally, “is an interesting story. She had me late in life and worked until she was old.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Mostly in restaurants, basement bars and at a factory outside of Detroit. That’s where she met my dad.” He didn’t offer more on the subject.
The table was chipped and sticky with syrup. I watched him fold and unfold his hands.
“What kind of factory?”
“They produced a certain type of drainage system used on pleasure yachts. Something for the
plumbing in the galley I think. It was all shipped to the coast.”
I told him that my grandparents had a sailboat that slowly circled a different Great Lake each summer.
“We grew up across the border from one another,” I said. “In different decades though, I guess.
Maybe that explains why we speak so similarly.”
“Do we?” he asked. “I hadn’t noticed. It seems like the only place where you hear regional accents anymore are cable talk shows.”


Saturday. I met him at a dinner party for the employees of a sleep clinic. The hosts were friends of my parents to whom I was introduced by e-mail before I left home that summer. He sat next to me in the dining room. He wore a white shirt and told me that nightmares account for six percent of dreams for those with normal vision, but twenty-five percent of the dreams of the blind. I dropped my fork on the floor and he passed me his. The generation gap closed when our hands touched. I told him the story of the Russian royals in hiding. He had a sister named Anastasia. Someone turned up dance music on the stereo down the hall. The guests wanted to stay up all night.


Tuesday. We lay on my bed flipping through a teen magazine talking about pop-feminism.
“The problems of Miley Cyrus pale in comparison to those of the women who make her clothes,” I said. He nodded and said he was dismayed that young people had already forgotten the revolution.
“Which revolution?” I asked dumbly. He looked over at me and launched into a tirade about the inevitable failure of inflated regimes. Something about Rome. Something about America. He performed his monologue on self destruction with good rhythm. I swear some of it rhymed.
Sometimes his anger was almost a sonnet. I zoned out.
When he finished, I told him that failure was the most fertile circumstance for possibility. Just after the moment of collapse, I pointed out, new realities are forced to life.
“There’s no organization in that,” he said.
“Does there have to be?”
“Always,” he said. “Humankind is a collection of impulses and habits and requires systems of arrangement to sustain.”
“William Blake said he must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s,” I answered. “Don’t you think life without risk is boring?”
“Tomb follows womb,” he said, and flipped the page. “It’s all the same in the end.”


Friday. He had an audacious hobby of writing personal ads for other people whom he thought were lonely. Sometimes the descriptions were grossly exaggerated, sometimes slightly undersold and sometimes right on the money. Once in a while, he’d open the paragraph with a revealing factoid or trait that would ultimately prove to be the most important part of a relationship.
“Jean gives up an average of forty-two minutes into an argument. She retreats into the bedroom where she would prefer to be left alone while you microwave your dinner. Early forties, loves to hike and try new things.”
He sent them to the local paper with photos attached of his beloved lonely hearts (and he really did do it out of love, he cared for them like kids alone at recess) taken at New Years Eve parties where a heavy flash startled their features but evened complexions in a flattering way.


Thursday. Once before I fell asleep, I left the door unlocked. He arrived with Pop Rocks, put them on his tongue and kissed me. I thought that was what fireworks tasted like. Sugary, blue.


Saturday. He was probably a genius but had a limited repertoire of moves. After he invited me to the amusement park, he forgot and took someone else. I wasn’t jealous, just mildly surprised by his laziness. I forgave it for the time that he told me his party trick was sitting at the piano at the end of the night, very drunk, a cigarette dangling from his mouth but I can’t remember the rest. Maybe something about sliding the keys. He pointed out that the figs in the backyard were ripe the last time I saw him. I sent him home with a box of four or five juicy fruits wrapped in paper. He told me later that they burst on the way home.

Figs courtesy of Elliat Albrecht. Music: We Move Lightly by Dustin O’Halloran.

For the past seven years Vancouver has been home to the Queer Arts Festival. Originally a small community event, QAF has grown dramatically since it’s inception. It now celebrates a wide range of artistic expression—visual art exhibitions, musical performances, and workshops. Held at the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre in downtown Vancouver, the festival continues to challenge gender and sexual norms through unabashed, intimate Queer art.

Must-Sees for the 2015 Queer Arts Festival

By Sad Mag

Queer catholic schoolgirls, musical queens, and everything in between—this year's festival is absolutely stacked. Finding it hard to choose? We've whittled things down to our five top picks, just for you.

  • TRIGGER: Drawing the Line in 2015

    By Sad Mag

    In 1990, a collection of Vancouver artists put together a boundary-pushing exhibit called “Drawing the Line”. Now, 25 years later, a curated exhibit of the same name pays honor to the spirit of the original project. The show pairs works by 19 different artists with ones from the 1990 exhibit.  

  • Queerotica

    By Sad Mag

    Expect to be titillated by this evening of steamy, literary reads. Steeped in anti-censorship rhetoric—and of course, saucy scenarios—Queerotica is not to be missed!

  • Sister Mary’s a Dyke?!

    By Sad Mag

    This one woman show takes the classic coming of age story and queers it in a major way. Abby is a Catholic school girl who falls in love and is forced to reexamine everything she thought she knew. Drama, drama, drama!  

  • A Queen’s Music: Reginald Mobley in Recital

    By Sad Mag

    Throughout history the amazing work of both gay composers and people of color has been nearly lost. In A Queen's Music, composer Reginald Mobley and musician Alexander Weimann stage some of the work that has been pushed aside for centuries.  

  • Salon des Refusés

    By Sad Mag

    Not your grandma’s art exhibit! This community art show features a selection of explicit art by queer local talent. Its name pays homage to the Parisian Salon des Refusés of 1863. Held at Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium, the exhibit is entirely by donation.  

  • Still finding it hard to choose?

    By Sad Mag

    It's worth checking out QAF's Flex-Pass deal. Hit four shows for $69. Bring a friend (or three), or enjoy all four shows yourself—you deserve it!


The 2015 Queer Arts Festival runs from July 23 – August 7. For a full event listing, visit the QAF website

Nancy Lee and Kiran Bhumber are the creative brains behind Pendula, an interactive art installation that uses the movement of swings to create music and projections, which premiered at Vancouver’s 2015 Jazz Festival. Nancy, the swing set builder, is a VJ, filmmaker and new media artist. Kiran, the music programmer, is a composer and performer whose artistic interests lay at the intersection of technology and music.  Below, Sad Mag’s Shannon Tien talks to the duo about agency in art, teamwork, and the community value of swing sets.

Still from Pendula by Nancy Lee and Kiran Bhumber


Shannon Tien: Tell me about Pendula.


Nancy Lee: Pendula is a multimedia, audio-visual, interactive installation. We use both hardware and software to take the swinging motion and turn them into audio or visual parameters, which means their effects that can be seen and heard during our installation. Using swing sets.


ST: How did this idea come together? What was the inspiration behind it?


NL: I started building outdoor swing sets as a public interactive installation piece. And then I did an event where I installed 8 swing sets indoors during an electronic music night that I organized. And there I met Kiran for the first time–Kiran was there swinging on the swings. And at that time she thought, “Hey, maybe we could make this swing into an interactive piece.” I’d also had projections installed. At that time it wasn’t an interactive piece, I just had projections over the swing area.


And then we later met again at New Forms festival working as production assistant volunteers. And that’s when we had time to sit down and talk about the project and our vision for it. The swing set I had at the event wasn’t my full vision that I had for it in my mind. I wanted the projections to reflect the social interactions that happened within the swinging area.


Kiran Bhumber: Having seen the swings at Nancy’s party, not interactive, I was very inspired by the idea of making the visuals interactive and also adding audio elements [and a] musical performance element, which was amalgamated into the installation at Jazz Fest. We had a musical performance at the top of every hour where I played clarinet and we had a cellist and I programmed the swings to be an actual instrument and act as an effects pedal. We had the swings changing the sounds of these acoustic instruments.

Still from Pendula by Nancy Lee and Kiran Bhumber


ST: What was the timeline for this project to come to total fruition?


NL: About 8 months on and off.


ST: Can you tell me about the experience of performing it at Jazz Fest? Was anyone allowed to go in and swing?


NL: Yeah, after every performance, we invited people to come use the swing sets. And it was interesting, during the performance, because I’m playing the swings, it was interesting to see people’s facial expressions, how they reacted to the piece. You could see their “aha!” moments when they figured out what the swings were actually doing. I enjoyed seeing that moment.


ST: And how did you start working with swings? I’m just wondering because there used to be a public installation by my bus stop in Montreal where swings played different musical tones.


NL: Oh yeah I’ve heard of that! I started working with swings because I like climbing trees and I like building things out doors. Swings are kind of an easy thing to build. You just need rope. And I was dumpster diving and salvaging construction wood that I would use for swing seats. It costs very little to build a swing and the kind of return you get for the community or user is so much greater than the financial cost of building it. It is a really great investment for the community to build swing sets. You generate so much joy from it.


Usually we’re used to art installations being behind glass or a “do not touch area”. There’s a very definitive boundary between the observer and the art piece. And with this swing set, people do come up to us and ask, “Are we allowed to touch it?” But when people can play on the swing set they kind of become the piece. And some of the people who were using the swing sets, they kind of understood that, you know, “I’m becoming a part of the installation.”


KB: And also the addition of individuals on each swing. The piece is going to be different depending how many people are on the swings. So, the social adaptation and amalgamation of their swinging motion to create more aspects of the piece.


NL: We have three swing sets, so they’re kind of a three-piece ensemble. And [the people] all play the swings in a different way so the collective audio-visual output is different every single time.


ST: Did anybody get really into it at Jazz Fest?


NL: I think at the Jazz Fest, because of the setting, people were into figuring out the swings. People tested out different things. I think with public art installations, people are still pretty shy. People were more into figuring out how it worked than playing it as an instrument.

Still from Pendula by Nancy Lee and Kiran Bhumber


ST: Is this the first time you’ve set this piece up?


NL: It’s the first time that we’ve done the three swing sets with the audio and visual.


KB: It’s been challenging incorporating the audio into a space that will allow it. So there’s no sound bleed. That’s an issue we had with Jazz Fest as well. The previous installs have been just visual because of that.


ST: How did you overcome that challenge at Jazz Fest?


KB: We got bigger speakers.
ST: Have you two collaborated before?


NL: This is our first collaboration together, but this is just the beginning of something. We plan to do more interactive musical pieces and performance pieces as well. We have so many ideas in our head that we would definitely like to explore in the future.


ST: Do you have any upcoming events?


KB: I just had my upcoming event today actually. I curated a show for Jazz Fest that was all based on interactive works. So technology and music. But at this moment Nancy and I are going to Kamploops in a couple days to start working on a new project. It’s kind of more vague now. We’re just going to check out the site.


NL: It’ll also be interactive, but more on the exhibition side of things, rather than a performance.


Watch: Pendula by Nancy Lee and Kiran Bumber

Pendula was on exhibition in Vancouver June 20 and 21st as a part of the Vancouver Jazz Festival. Visit www.swingwithpendula.com for further information on the Pendula Exhibit, and www.coastaljazz.ca for more information on the festival.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Thank you to Jelissa at Classics Agency.

Within the emerging movement of community queer choirs, Cor Flammae has a distinct voice. There are many opportunities for queer people to sing together, but not many opportunities for audiences to listen to a professional queer ensemble perform queer content. Cor Flammae performs both modern and historical classical music with the aim of shifting the assumed perspective from a hetero-normative one to a queer one.

Sad Mag sat down with Missy Clarkson, who founded the ensemble with her wife Amelia Pitt-Brooke, and friend Madeline Hannan-Leith to talk about the choir, upcoming concerts, and re-queering the world of classical music.

Cor Flammae, Photo by belle ancell photography
Cor Flammae, Photo by belle ancell photography

Sad Mag: When and why did you start Cor Flammae?

Missy Clarkson: We came to the idea two years ago when we attended the Queer Arts Festival. There was a lesbian opera called “When the Sun Comes Out” by Leslie Uyeda. We are into classical music and opera subscribers. We didn’t know what was going to happen with lesbian opera. We didn’t necessarily have expectations. But it was amazing. It was sweeping and grand, poignant and lovely,  and not too sad–sometimes queer work is very lament-y. Many of us are in ensembles in the city, and we wanted that for choir.

SM: It sounds like there was a niche that needed to be filled, and you found it.

MC: We were surprised with how much momentum it had. There are a lot of places for queer people to sing together in the city, but there aren’t a lot of places where an audience can experience classical music at a professional level with a queer ear.

SM: What can audiences expect from a performance?

MC: Last year, we introduced ourselves as quite secular. We chose secular works because there is baggage with queerness and organized religion. It can be an unsafe space for queer people. Because there is rich religious traditions to choral music–it was written to be performed in churches for the most part–it is an interesting genre for queer people to be exploring and doing professionally. This year, we didn’t want to miss out on having that conversation so we’re approaching the relationship between the sacred and the profane through a queer perspective in our performances. Queers have not necessarily felt welcome to choral music because of the religious traditions associated with it that have often labeled the queer body as profane, obscene, or unholy. We want to show our audience queer spirituality–all the composers we’re performing were/are queer and many were/are devout.

We’re producing two concerts. One of them is at the beautiful St. Andrew’s Wesley Church where we’re performing the music in the place for which it was written. Then we’re taking the same works and performing the next night in a social play space–a bath house essentially. It’s hat tipping the bathhouse tradition of queerness. Canada’s queer history started because of the bathhouse riots in Toronto. Where the United States had Stonewall in 1969, Canada had Operation Soap in 1981. Police officers raided bathhouses and arrested about three hundred queer men just for being queer. The public didn’t take well to that, and thousands of people took to the streets and marched the next day. It was first pride parade in Canada essentially. Cor Flammae is interested in how the listening experience changes when we perform choral music, historically deeply spiritual music, in the historically queer space of a sex club like Club 8×6.

Photo by belle ancell photography
Photo by belle ancell photography

SM: The audience gets to experience the music in a religiously charged space and a politically charged space.

MC: Totally. Obviously the acoustics are different in each space. And there’s going to be a dance party in the sex club after the performance so it’ll be a little different for that reason. [Laughs.]

SM: What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming set of concerts?

MC: Our outfits! They are a secret still.

SM: Don’t say any more about the outfits. It will be a teaser. Who has been your favourite historical composer to revive through Cor Flammae?

MC: There are so many composers that are hotly contested by scholars. [Franz] Schubert has been an interesting one for us because he was probably bisexual. He was hanging with lots of ladies, and probably hanging with lots of guys too. It’s a scandal to bring it up with any of the scholars. Really straight, traditional scholars are like, “No, not my Schubert.” We’ve also rediscovered Ethel Smyth, who was known for opera choruses. She was friends with [Johannes] Brahms, and she also had a complicated relationship with Virginia Woolf. She was loud, proud, a suffragette, and an out lesbian. She was rich so that made it easier for her to be all over. She had privilege that afforded her opportunity. She got to spread her works around, and make out with everybody. [Laughs.]

We also work with living queer composers. Classical music celebrates the past more often so new works don’t get traction. People want to hear things they have heard before. They want to hear Beethoven’s Ninth [Choral Symphony]. New music is less sellable. Cor Flammae can combine these two worlds. We can celebrate the past and connect it to the present.

SM: How does your experience in Cor Flammae compare to your experience in other ensembles?

MC: It’s illuminating. The first time we got together as an ensemble after our auditions was at our photo shoot. We had oranges and brandy and hung out for hours getting makeup and hair done. There was comfort and understanding immediately. That’s translated to this year. We had our photo shoot a few weeks ago, and we were all half-naked. I don’t get half-naked in front of just anybody. The queerness factor causes that comfort and connection, and that relates to the music as well. People have said, “Oh, I didn’t know this person was queer or that person was queer.” It’s not mentioned elsewhere. When we were researching [Gian Carlo] Menotti’s “The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore” to perform last year, we found queerness wasn’t mentioned in the scholarship. There’s a unicorn in it so it’s pretty gay already, but it’s the story of a weird guy in a castle who dares to parade around with his unicorn. It was written in 1956. It’s a very queer narrative. Any research we did seemed like it was grasping at heteronormative straws when the guy is clearly gay. Doing Menotti has been illuminating. Benjamin Britton has been illuminating. The way I listen to music has changed so that’s what I want to give our audiences.

SM: What music are you listening to right now?

MC: Personally, I mostly listen to music I’m going to perform so I can get it in my ear. We always make a playlist for our singers because we have limited rehearsals. We have seventy-five minutes of music in our upcoming concerts, and to build it up to the level it needs to be at, we have to work hard. I have to stay pretty focused with what I listen to. If I need to clean my ears out though, it’s almost always Beyoncé.

Photo by belle ancell photography
Photo by belle ancell photography

SM: Do you have a comment you would offer to queer performers of classical music? Maybe people who don’t live in the city or don’t know about a queer ensemble.

MC: This has been so freeing for us. We’re trying to be as visible as possible because visibility is a powerful tool in helping other people feel less alone. I’ve sung in choirs that are probably 30 per cent queer but don’t identify as a queer choir. Because of the connection in Cor Flammae, we feel less alone. My wife grew up in a musical family–her father was a choral conductor and her mother sang in choirs, but the women were taught to sing this and the men were taught to sing that. A women would have to wear a muumuu, and she could not wear a suit when she was more comfortable in a suit. We want to be visible so that everyone feels invited, even if they are not here. We’re pretty prevalent online, and we hope that we’re reaching people.

SM: You spoke earlier about the instant comfort and understanding your ensemble felt when you got together for your first photo shoot–that says it all. How has Cor Flammae affected your own queerness?

MC: It’s helped me articulate my own queerness. I’ve always identified as a chorister. I call myself a queerister now. It’s actually a thirteenth-century word that used to mean chorister. I feel like I’m different things that don’t necessarily intersect, and this ensemble helped with the intersection.


Cor Flammae’s concert set FALLEN ANGELS: Sacred + Profane Works will be at St. Andrew’s Wesley Church on July 17th, 2015 at 8pm and Club 8×6 on July 18th, 2015. Tickets go on sale June 1st 2015 at 10am. For more information, visit Cor Flammae’s webiste or subscribe to their mailing list.



Vivek Shraya is a musician, writer, artist, and performer based in Toronto. His books and music have influenced the queer community and continue to provide an accessible outlet for youth around the country. Sad Mag’s Helen Wong interviewed Shraya about his music, writing and creative process.

Helen Wong: How do you transition between songwriting and writing for literature? Do you see these as entirely separate media or as extensions of one another?

Vivek Shraya: I tend to view them as separate formats. Songwriting has many limitations that writing for literature doesn’t have. In a pop song format, for instance, there is generally only three to four minutes to convey a feeling or idea. Writing involves an empty screen where anything and everything is possible. This is intimidating. However, they align in how they both involve hunting for the right words to express a specific sentiment.

HW: There is a certain poetry and lyricism present in your prose. Do you treat your books like songs?

VS: One of my editors for God Loves Hair told me that the first draft lacked the musicality inherent in my songwriting. This feedback has stayed with me and since then, (and without contradicting my last answer) I try to pull from my entire writing toolkit, including songwriting techniques, in any kind of writing.

When I wrote She of the Mountains, I would often hum out phrases, which would help me construct sentences or ideas.

HW: In an interview that you did with Scott Dagostino, he stated that ‘if you don’t see the book you need, write it!’ Does this carry weight for you?

VS: Absolutely. All three of my books have been ultimately motivated by wanting to write the kinds of books that would have made a difference and made me feel less alone in my youth.

HW: Is it hard to be self-reflexive? How has Leslie Feinberg’s books influenced you and your choice to write semi-autobiographical novels?

VS: During the creative process, being self-reflexive is what comes naturally to me. I pull from my own experiences. Where self-reflexivity becomes challenging is when the art itself is released, when people know (or think they know) aspects of yourself that I didn’t directly communicate to them. I also worry that self-reflexivity has become a bit of a crutch for me, because I am so comfortable with it. This is why I am excited about pushing outside this comfort zone and exploring fiction further.

Stone Butch Blues was the first LGBT book I read and it impressed upon me the power of personal narrative. I connected to so many of the experiences in the book and simultaneously thought about the differences between my experiences and that of the protagonist. What could a book that detailed those differences—having immigrant parents and growing up in a Hindu household—look like? The only way I could answer this question was to write God Loves Hair.

She of the Mountains cover - Vivek ShrayaHW: There is a theme of “queering,” of creating strange normative ways of being, that I find present in She of the Mountains, especially in the sentence structure, formation of sentences, the fusion of language and image and the placement of words within the pages. All these aspects serve to deconstruct normative perceptions and patterns of what a book should be. Does your book act as a microcosm for a larger platform? How do these ideas relate to your work on a larger scale?

VS: Earlier in my career, I always played by the rules. I didn’t call myself a musician because I didn’t play instruments. I often heard I over-sang, and so I explored restraint in my songwriting. As I have grown, it’s been upsetting to realize how many of these rules are racialized.

Who has defined this idea that a real musician is someone who plays instruments, versus someone who makes music? Was I truly over-singing or was it that my style didn’t conform to Western expectations? Many of the reviews of She of the Mountains have referred to it as “experimental.” Who defines what a traditional novel should look like?

While I wouldn’t say the book is a microcosm for a larger platform (outside of wanting to challenge biphobia), I am in a place in my art practice where I am committed to exploring what feels instinctual to me instead of conforming to what has been prescribed.

HW: In a book review by Quill and Quire, they state that ‘what [Vivek] achieves with She of the Mountains is so new, we don’t have the proper words to articulate its success’. How do you express an idea or emotion that exists outside the construct of language? What do you do to carve out your own place within these systems?

VS: The truth is, I was terrified that no one would connect to She of the Mountains, especially after receiving feedback that the book was alienating. Also, when you observe what is popular or what connects, the message is seldom that difference is valued.

Thankfully, the response has been very positive and this has been a crucial reminder to not underestimate readers and to always stay true. The latter hasn’t always translated to success for me, but it has meant that I always have the knowledge that I was honest.

Carving space is a work in progress. My immigrant parents have been often told to make nice, be grateful, don’t push and be quiet. These ideas were then imposed upon me but the hope is that with each piece of art I produce, I am pushing back.

Vivek Shraya

HW: In an interview with Mote Magazine you state that you conceive your music starting with a visual idea or abstracted image. How do you make these abstracted visual images concrete? Do you feel constricted by language?

VS: Writing is an abstract process that I would describe as churning out formless ideas into the physical realm. For example when I was working on She of the Mountains, I thought I had finished the mythology section, but I kept imagining Ganesh in a forest. I even heard the words: “Go into the forest.” All I can do as a writer is listen. I ended up writing a section that begins with Ganesh being haunted by an image of the forest, as a way to realize the idea, and in the end, this section became a significant part of the story.

Language, particularly English, does feel constrictive. I grew up singing Hindu prayers where each word invoked so much emotion. This is likely part of why I am an interdisciplinary artist, to have room to express myself outside just words.

HW: How do you link all your practices in media from music, film, literature, and art? How do you propel this interdisciplinary dialogue?

VS: The desire to link practices comes from wanting to challenge myself and to see how an idea can be further developed outside the central medium I have chosen for it. I also have a short attention span and am often trying to think about how to capture an audience. So, in book readings, I incorporate projected images, movement and song, and for a recent installation, Your Cloud, I released a cover of the Tori Amos song the project was named after.

I also propel this interdisciplinary dialogue by collaborating with other artists, to see how they too might be able to develop an idea. The illustrations that Juliana Neufeld (God Loves Hair) and Raymond Biesinger (She of the Mountains) came up with not only enhance the text, but also provide alternate perspectives and entry points for the reader.

HW: I like the idea of recontextualizing tradition, it is present in your novels and music. How do you manage to merge your background with the various art practices you partake in? Does it influence your sound?

My background is present at all times. I can’t separate it and I’m not actively working to separate. Earlier in my career I attempted to separate my backgroundmy Indianness, my queerness, my femmenessfrom my work, especially in my music. But this process was exhausting and ultimately dishonest. I am who I am at all times, and perhaps even more so when I am creating. Art is constantly pushing me to be my truest self, and this often means me pushing against traditional formats, to see what else might be possible.