All stories by Nathan Whitlock

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Join a riot at Death From Above 1979’s Sound Academy show

(Image: Death From Above 1979/Instagram)

(Image: Death From Above 1979/Instagram)

After an acrimonious split in 2006, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler—known collectively as Death from Above 1979—have picked up almost exactly where they left off: their first reunion show, at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, caused an actual riot, complete with cops on horses. The Physical World, their long-awaited sophomore album, begins with a bass guitar—a forbidding, fuzzed-out rumble, like an explosion heard through a cheap phone. Then we’re right back to the visceral, frantic dance-punk template laid out a decade ago by the group’s wildly successful 2004 album, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. Like a happily unhappy marriage of Queens of the Stone Age and LCD Soundsystem, DFA 1979 makes music that throws club kids, headbangers and indie rockers together on the dance floor and lets them fight it out. Grainger and Keeler’s sound is heavy metal without the kitsch, dance music without the camp and coke. Catch them this Friday at the Sound Academy.

Dec. 5. $36.50–$59.50. The Sound Academy, 11 Polson St., 416-469-5655, ticketfly.com.

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #4. Because We’re Mad for Ping-Pong

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #4. Because We're Mad for Ping-Pong

(Image: Dave Gillespie)

Like the humble ukulele, Ping-Pong was once seen as kitschy and slightly embarrassing to play but has since been embraced by young downtowners celebrating their escape from the burbs by appropriating suburban cultural bric-a-brac. (See also: grilled cheese sandwiches, board game bars, picnicking, etc.) First came Spin Toronto, a King West club dedicated to the paddle arts. And now the sport has a concrete symbol of its revival: nine parks and public spaces across the city have brand-new, permanent Ping-Pong tables. They look a little like minimalist sculptures, cost $6,200 to build and install, and have a metal mesh ridge for a net—you need to bring your own paddles and balls. The tables are the brainchild of Dianne Moore, a Forest Hill Rotarian who asked a Brampton concrete company to design and build a prototype, and with that, was able to get community groups and like-minded councillors onboard. Funded by various means—private donations, development charges, infusions from the existing parks and rec budget—the tables started going in last summer, and have already given spaces as aesthetically unforgiving as Mel Lastman Square and as geographically remote as Scarborough’s Tall Pines Park a dose of quirk. More are in the works, which means pock-pock-pock will soon be the new sound of summer.

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Culture

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Sad Men: how middle-aged male ineptitude became the latest pop culture craze

Sad Men: How middle-aged male ineptitude became the latest pop culture craze

Maxwell McCabe-Lokos plays a dejected anti-hero in The Husband (Image: Courtesy A71 Entertainment)

Male supremacy, if we can believe the signs, is finally losing momentum. Women make up half the North American workforce and earn nearly 60 per cent of all university degrees. Hairy-chested manifestos like Robert Bly’s Iron John have surrendered to Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. The traditional indicators of masculinity have been redistributed, leaving a generation of men in a defensive crouch.

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Culture

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Reaction Roundup: the 15 best responses to David Gilmour’s headline-grabbing gaffe about women writers

David Gilmour

At the 17th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in Busan, South Korea. (Image: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images Entertainment)

The reaction to author and University of Toronto professor David Gilmour’s spectacular own goal has ranged from the amused to the enraged. Briefly: Gilmour did a interview with Random House blog Hazlitt in which he offered tone-deaf dismissals of just about all books not written by straight, middle-aged men. He then responded to the public outcry with a series of tone-deaf non-apologies in media interviews about the growing controversy. To some, the pile-on seemed unfair; to others, he got what was coming to him. Here, some of the choicest responses to l’Affaire Gilmour.

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Current Obsession: time-warp photographs that blend Toronto’s past and present

Current Obsession: photographer Harry Enchin turns old-timey shots of Toronto into droll and disorienting mash-ups of past and present

Amateur street photographers are the trainspotters of the digital age, chronicling their favourite intersections, skylines and streetcar routes for an army of fans on the web. The nerdiest form of urban shutter­bugging is rephotography, in which the locations of archival photos are reshot to show how an area has changed over time. Toronto’s Harry Enchin gives the genre an extra-nerdy twist: instead of simply updating archival scenes, he picks a photo he likes, positions himself in the same spot as the original photographer, then meticulously combines the old and new photos so that the two eras commingle, and derby-hatted pre-war gentlemen find themselves sharing the sidewalk with skater dudes. Enchin began this ongoing labour of love a few years ago, after a drive through the Junction neighbourhood where his mom grew up got him thinking about the endless mutability of urban spaces. By day, the 53-year-old Enchin is a VP at an email software company; he makes his art on weekends. What began strictly as a hobby has snowballed. The work has already been featured twice at the Contact Photography Festival, and he hopes to expand the idea to other cities (though he has no plans to quit the exec job anytime soon). The images he creates are sly and surprising, and act as a subtle commentary on a city in the grip of reinvention, when today’s row of dilapidated low-rises can quickly become tomorrow’s gleaming condo towers.

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Reason to Love Toronto: The Stop’s summer solstice party brings delicious, boozy revelry to a barren laneway

The Stop Night Market

(Image: Gabriel Li)

Last summer, on one of the stickiest nights of the year, 1,200 people paid $50 each to enter the alleyway behind Honest Ed’s for an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink fundraiser hosted by the virtuous locavores at the Stop Community Food Centre.

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Current Obsession: Marimekko’s enduring pop art appeal

Marimekko floral prints and bold designs defined casual cool for five decades. Here, a visual primer on the company that fills Pinterest with pop art

Current Obsession: Poppy Love

Even if you don’t know the name Marimekko, chances are you’ve spotted the design company’s iconic faux naïf patterns on bed linens, shoes and iPod cases. Finnish textile designer Armi Ratia first created the playfully garish pop art prints in the early ’50s, and by the ’60s, they were everywhere. (Jackie Kennedy was the company’s most famous early adopter.) The designs, which manage to be simultaneously sexy and twee, are more popular than ever in this era of Pinterest and all things artisanal. An exhibition on Marimekko, ongoing at the Textile Museum, pays tribute to the company’s flower power past, with floor-to-ceiling prints, vintage ads and articles, and age-of-aquarius quotations from Ratia.

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Five things you need to know about Andrew Pyper and his hot new horror novel The Demonologist

Bestselling Toronto writer Andrew Pyper’s newest novel The Demonologist, a supernatural thriller about old books and ancient monsters, comes out today (although Hollywood director Robert Zemeckis already optioned it over a year ago). Below, Pyper talks to us about his his fan posse, his brush with Alice Munro and why he hates writing for movies.

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People

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Q&A: doc filmmaker Rob Stewart, of Sharkwater fame, on his plan to save the world

In Revolution, the globe-trotting, shirt-doffing filmmaker behind the save-the-fish documentary Sharkwater, turns his attention to a more sizable cause: planet earth

Q&A: Rob Stewart

You made a modest little documentary called Sharkwater about the global shark-finning trade. It ended up earning $5 million and winning dozens of awards. How did that success change your life?
It was incredible. I got to travel around the world and go to a slew of massive film festivals. High-fives. Big parties. Richard Branson and Hayden Panettiere supported the cause, and Leo DiCaprio was a big fan. The film taught me how to be a director and enabled me to make more movies.

How did a kid from north Toronto become an eco–poster boy in the first place?
I was chubby and had a really bad stutter. My parents would take me on exotic vacations and I sort of found a connection with the amazing animals I’d see. Eventually, I became a wildlife photographer—and along the way lost the stutter, and the chubbiness. It was a dream job. When I learned about shark-finning practices, I knew I had to do something.

Your parents are co-CEOs of Tribute Entertainment Media Group—the company that makes those magazines you read in movie theatres. Have they continued to play a role in your career?
They were the executive producers and financiers for Sharkwater and my new film, Revolution. They put me in rooms with CEOs that a 22-year-old would otherwise never have gotten into.

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Culture

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What are the odds a Torontonian will win the Nobel Prize in Literature? Not great

This year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature doesn’t get announced until October, but London oddsmaker Ladbrokes is already setting off speculation in the book world as to which lucky scribbler will be heading to Oslo in the late fall to collect a medal. Yesterday, Ladbrokes released its list of likely candidates,  and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami is the clear favourite, with odds of 10:1.

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The Argument: C. S. Richardson’s new novel crowns him the new king of the highbrow Harlequin

The Argument | From Paris, With Love

Left: Photograph by Daniel Ehrenworth; Right: Some of Richardson's best known book-designs

C. S. Richardson is living a double life. As creative director at Random House of Canada, he spends his days fussing over typefaces, margin widths and cover blurbs. He has designed scores of bestselling books. At dinner parties, he often scours the host’s shelves for familiar covers. Given that he’s worked on more than 1,500 books in his three decades as a designer—everything from Giller Prize–winning fiction to volumes of financial self-help—there are always a few. (If he’s had enough to drink and is in a braggy mood, he’ll take some down and show them off.)

In his other life, the 57-year-old Richardson is a rising literary star. His debut novel, 2007’s The End of the Alphabet, about a dying man travelling the world with his beloved wife, was an unexpected international bestseller translated into 12 different languages, and winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first novel. After a five-year break, The Emperor of Paris, Richardson’s ambitious follow-up novel, hits stores this month.

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Current Obsession: Larry Towell’s haunting photographs from the ruins of Afghanistan

The Canadian photographer’s images capture the human side of an unwinnable war

Current Obsession
Larry Towell was in New York for a meeting when he heard that the twin towers had been hit. He immediately grabbed his camera and ran to the scene; his resulting images of dazed and dust-covered New Yorkers have become iconic. That reaction was part of a pattern for the 58-year-old Towell, who for more than three decades has been travelling from his southwestern Ontario home to places like Nicaragua, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and South Africa to take photos of people caught up in bitter, bloody conflicts. Beginning in 2008, Towell went to Afghanistan to witness first-hand the war that had been sparked by 9/11. He spent months in the country, and though he spent some time embedded with U.S. military units, he was determined to take pictures that said more than what government and political officials were telling the world. Many of his stark and unnerving photos are now on display at the ROM as part of a joint exhibition with the Irish photographer Donovan Wylie. We asked Towell to give us the backstory on some of the show’s unforgettable scenes.

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The Argument: Hot Docs’ takeover of the Bloor Cinema proves the once humble doc is the new crowd-pleaser

Some like it hotLike an old ham of an actor, the Bloor Cinema has veered in and out of respectability in its hundred-odd years of existence. During World War I, it was the Madison Picture Palace, and during World War II it was demolished and completely rebuilt. Throughout the skeezy ’70s it was the Eden, and it showed only soft-core porn (promotional tag line: “Are you Adam enough to come?”). Over the past few decades, the Bloor has operated as a repertory cinema, offering second-run Hollywood fare and the occasional classic, hosting mini film festivals and packing people in for midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show while growing ever more dilapidated. By the time it finally closed its doors last summer, the state of the theatre had become almost as unsettling as the sight of Tim Curry in drag.

This spring, the Bloor got transformed into the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, having been bought by the Toronto-based television and film production company Blue Ice Group, which will operate the theatre in partnership with the long-running Hot Docs festival. While the Bloor will still offer the odd screening of Blade Runner and The Big Lebowski, it will otherwise focus exclusively on documentaries.

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The Argument: the only Shrek with any life is the rampaging anti-hero of the brilliantly nasty book that started it all

The Argument: Some Kind of MonsterShrek has lost his mojo. He has become a shadow of his formerly fearsome self, forced to bare his lopsided grin in a series of sequels and holiday specials of diminishing quality and endure the indignities that come with being the star of a played-out romantic comedy. Shrek the Musical, which lumbers into town this month, demonstrates this all too well. The stage show, like the DreamWorks films, is a mish-mash of pop culture parodies and for-the-parents in-jokes that ends in a chorus of hugs, tears and cheers. Though the story opens with the swamp-dwelling beast in full rage, ranting against the world and rejecting it, by the time he declares his love for Princess Fiona in the final act, Shrek has been reduced to singing, “It’s a big bright beautiful world with happiness all around; it’s peaches and cream if our dream comes true.” Peaches and cream? That’s an image even Maria from The Sound of Music would find a little treacly.

The grumpy green ogre—who once seemed like a rough and refreshing alternative to the blemish-free heroes churned out by Disney—has become yet another vapid, mass-market cartoon character. The seeds of his downfall were sown the moment DreamWorks decided to make Shrek a romantic hero, one who must change his ways and learn the ever-important lessons about friendship and true love.

It didn’t have to be that way: the eponymous hero of Shrek!, the 1990 children’s book by William Steig upon which the franchise is based, was a very different beast, one who would have burned a dairy farm to the ground before being forced to sing about peaches and cream. In the book, Shrek is a relentlessly malevolent creature who never feels a moment of remorse for his wrongdoings. Everything he does, he does with a sneer, not a grin. When he encounters his horrid reflection multiplied many times over in a hall of mirrors, he brims with pride: “He faced himself,” the narrator declares, “full of rabid self-esteem, happier than ever to be exactly what he is.”

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The Conversation: star baritone Russell Braun and musical theatre dynamo Louise Pitre

The place: Aria Ristorante
The people: star baritone Russell Braun and musical theatre dynamo Louise Pitre
The subject: belting it out in different languages

The Conversation: Vocal Point

Filling a room with the sound of your voice is hard enough—imagine having to do it in a second language. For an in-demand baritone like Russell Braun, delivering big emotions and big notes in another tongue is just part of the job. This month, Braun stars in the Canadian Opera Company’s French-language production of Kaija Saariaho’s lush and romantic Love From Afar. Louise Pitre is just as linguistically adept, having spent much of the past year touring North America singing tunes by Jacques Brel, Édith Piaf and Ira Gershwin (with room left for the odd number by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus). Now she’s unleashing her interpretive powers on her own work for a concert of original dramatic songs—in French and English—written in collaboration with her husband, actor Joe Matheson, and pianist Diane Leah. We brought these two polyglot singers together for a few glasses of wine and listened in.

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