On Our Radar: Sofar Sounds Toronto

Crowd at a Sofar Sounds night in Toronto

Ever feel like listening to live music without hearing all the chitter chatter from a big venue? Well, Sofar Sounds brings together music lovers from all over the world in an intimate setting, where the focus lies solely between you and the music. Novella talked to Brandon Lablong, one of the producers of Sofar Sounds Toronto, and talked about how Toronto has responded to the intimate setting shows, the bands that have already performed with Sofar and how you can get exclusively invited to the private shows that are scattered throughout Toronto.

Read about Sofar Sounds Toronto, our first feature for the ‘On Our Radar’ segment, and find out why they top our list.

Tell me a little bit about Sofar Sounds and why you decided to bring it to Toronto.

Brandon: Sofar Sounds Toronto produces secret, invite-only concerts in intimate settings (including people’s living rooms) where dedicated music fans can discover their new favourite sound from both local and international artists. We put on shows once a month, letting members of our mailing list sign up for spots on the first of each month. Admission is limited, with room for 80 people or less, and we frequently sell out within minutes (our waiting list gets pretty long). The show venue is only revealed 24 hours before showtime and guests only find out the featured musicians once they arrive.

Run by a dedicated team of volunteers who are passionate about music, our goal at Sofar Sounds Toronto is to bring a truly unique experience that not only showcases great local and international talent, but also introduce serious music fans to interesting venues and locations around the city they might never have been before.

Is the goal just to work with local bands from our city? Or would you be open to bringing in other local bands from all over the world?

Brandon: We’re very open to welcoming bands from all around the world. Our goal is to provide opportunities for bands to get exposed by the international soundscape and to open the ears of music fans to new sounds from around the globe. Our music selection is like choosing a dish off a menu. There is amazing Canadian cuisine but you’re missing out if you don’t try a new flavour every once in a while.

At each of our shows we have a professional audio technician, photographer and videographers. We produce audio tracks and video for each band that gets put on our international YouTube and SoundCloud pages. Our YouTube channel has over 62,000 subscribers from around the world and is among one of the most highly viewed music channels on YouTube. In March, we actually got a million hits!

I recently interviewed a singer-songwriter from Toronto who has had more luck in Europe. He’s said that the difference between the European audience and Toronto audience is that they actually stop and listen to the music, whereas Toronto treats band nights as a social gathering – people catching up with friends. Do you agree? Do you think Sofar Sounds can change the way Toronto listens to music?

Brandon: It’s funny you say that. One of the comments we get from our bands is how eerie it is to perform to a quiet, attentive audience. I tend to agree though that when people go out to a show, the music might be seen as ambiance more than the attraction. Although, as we’ve seen there is a strong contingent of music lovers who respect the craft and believe going to a concert is no different than walking through an art gallery or seeing a play. I think it largely comes down to value.  If someone values what they are getting, they will give it the attention it deserves. By limiting our attendance and holding back on revealing the venue and artists, we create a stronger demand for the product and therefore more value.

What has been the reaction in Toronto with hosting these music nights in an intimate setting?

Brandon: I think the reaction has generally been good. Having it in an intimate setting creates a very unique way for the audience and the artists to interact.

Which bands have you worked with already? 

Brandon: We’ve had a load of amazing bands already. Our February show featured Bellwoods, Kira May and Art & Woodhouse. Following that we hosted an International Women’s Day show in March with Stacey, Emma Lee and Katy Carswell. Finally, our latest show in April featured AHI, Nick Ferrio, Birds of Bellwoods and Ivory Hours.

How can our readers find out about one of the secret shows?

Brandon: Get on the Sofar Sounds newsletter by visiting sofarsounds.com. Sofar Sounds is now in more than 100 cities and we encourage you to check out a show not only in Toronto but whenever you visit one of these cities.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Brandon: If you want to get involved, beyond attending a show, contact toronto@sofarsounds.com. We are always looking for new bands, people who want to host a show in their space (whether that’s a home or business) and volunteers to help with production.

Novella’s May Feature: On Our Radar

Toronto is a diverse city filled with an array of talent in various industries. From music to fashion to foodies to artists to entrepreneurs and even to tech-savvy individuals, who make our lives a little bit easier with just a simple ‘click’, there is no question that the amount of talent Toronto produces is not only impressive but inspiring.

on our radar

For the month of May, Novella will highlight certain Torontonians who are bringing positive and influencing change to our flourishing city each day. Starting today May 1st, keep track of the city’s inspiring entrepreneurs who are making headways not just in our neck of the woods but across the globe as well. Stay tuned for our special month feature – On Our Radar.

ZVELLE Shoes: Interview with Founder and Creative Director Elham AyoubZadeh

Elle AyoubZadeh

After years working in retail, Zvelle’s Founder and Creative Director Elham AyoubZadeh (aka Elle) got the nerve to start her own shoe label in Toronto.  Her first collection “9 to 9” is inspired by real women with a tight agenda and for those who want to invest in pieces meant to be worn from 9am to 9pm.

Zvelle’s signature is a perfect reflection of the designer’s personality and style – high quality with signature staple pieces. The small details such as the heels shapes, innovative finishings and a youthful colour palette make for simplistic yet unique fashion styles.

How did you decide to start your own fashion brand? Why did you go for shoes?

Elham: I co-founded a luxury concept store in Toronto that featured designers from around the world. I wanted to develop our own products next so the plan was always there. I have always loved shoes and accessories. Shoes are the one item that can instantly transform your look and confidence.

As an entrepreneur, all the beginnings aren’t necessarily easy. What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Elham: One of the biggest challenges is finding your own voice in your products and making something unique. There are so many outside influences that sometimes you just need to lock yourself in a room and do what you think is right! I wanted to create shoes that were stylish and beautiful for professional women.

How do you see Canada, and especially Toronto, as a fashion market? 

Elham: I am an entrepreneur so I see opportunities everywhere. ​Toronto is a global city with sophisticated customers. As a fashion market there are many opportunities here.

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Could you describe your design and production process? Do you have any templates that you use and customize to come up with your designs? Or every design starts from scratch? 

Elham: I start everything from scratch, there are no templates. As a startup fashion and footwear brand I am building the foundations for every aspect of our company. With regards to the design, I don’t design collections for seasons, I design for occasions in a sophisticated woman’s life. With regards to production, everything is handmade and developed custom for Zvelle. We work side by side with our artisans to create our shoes and we pride ourselves in knowing all of our suppliers personally.

Where do you get your inspirations from in order to  create a collection?

Elham: My inspiration for the first collection was the professional and modern woman. I wanted to offer her something she can wear confidently from the boardroom to the ​cocktail party. The collection is designed for the  #9to9 occasion in the Zvelle women’s life. I am finalizing my next collection now. I get inspiration from a lot of places but it always comes down to the global Zvelle woman because she is my biggest inspiration.

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The name of your first collection is ‘9 to 9’…

Elham: The collection #9to9 is designed to take a sophisticated, stylish and global woman from 9am to 9pm. A professional and modern woman doesn’t have time to change her shoes for an after work commitment or event. With the #9to9 collection she can be equally comfortable in the boardroom and at a client or social event.

How would you describe Zvelle? What makes Zvelle different from other shoe labels?

Elham: We’re not trying to catch every fad or follow what other people are doing. We decided to be season less so we could bring new shoes to market year round and we always strive to create designs that we believe are classic.

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Describe the woman who would wear Zvelle? 

Elham: She is sophisticated, stylish and global.

Where are you going to sell your designs? Would you like to sell them in big retail stores? Or do you prefer to keep your brand image more personal, exclusive and especial?

Elham: We only sell Zvelle shoes on Zvelle.com. We offer complimentary shipping and returns in Canada and the United States.

Have you considered eventually expanding your brand internationally?

Elham: Yes. Any one anywhere in the world can purchase Zvelle shoes on www.zvelle.com.

If you could pick one woman from any age, time and profession to wear a pair of Zvelle’s shoes, who would it be?

Elham: One woman is very hard to pick because there are so many innovative women who I want to see wearing Zvelle. I want every Zvelle woman in the world to wear Zvelle shoes. Her age and career is not as relevant as the woman she is and the life she leads. She is passionate, generous and innovative. She inspires me and it’s a privilege to design and produce shoes for her.

Hot Docs 2015 Directors Patryk & Erinnisse Rebisz Discuss Shoulder The Lion

Photographer Alice Wingwall
Photographer Alice Wingwall

Shoulder the Lion is not your average documentary. The directors, Patryk and Erinnisse Rebisz, use abstract and poetic narratives to fully capture three gifted artists and the tragedies they must cope with, which have affected the way they create art. One is a blind photographer who questions the power of images in the image-saturated culture we have today. The next is a musician who was forced to leave his dream of playing music when he developed tinnitus (a problem with hearing). The documentary also looks at the life of a former boxer and painter-sculptor, who inspired the award-winning film Million Dollar Baby, as she tries to find herself and find a place where she belongs.

Shoulder the Lion made its international premiere last night at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. It also screens today, Thursday April 30th, at the Isabel Bader Theatre at 4pm as well as Saturday, May 2nd at the TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 at 3pm. They have also been accepted at the 55th Krakow Film Festival. Buy your tickets today for a documentary that not only steers away from the norms but also makes you question what’s left for you after experiencing such a traumatic loss.

How did you go about creating this documentary? Was the plan always to find artists that have gone through tragedies that affected the way they create art?

Erinnisse: Patryk and I are extremely different people even though we’re married and have a baby on the way [laughs]. So for me yes, these kinds of stories especially with it being artists, because there’s something very internal, very private and very sacred about making art. I came to realize that there is quite a wealth of artists who have had an illness or an injury, something that had tragically turned their life in a new direction, and how their art became a part of the process of addressing that and how they went forward. This was very appealing to me on a story level. For Patryk, he’s an ex-painter and for him it was less appealing because of his background.

Patryk: I needed more concrete things. It was important to actually see the transformation within the arts so you can see how it was before and after it [the tragedy] happened. So that was step number one for me. Also the second you start identifying your subjects and thinking farther about what the subjects represent, then you realize that those are the more important elements of making out who we are as human beings. We understand that it doesn’t become as niche when only talking about arts and disability, but it actually goes farther into defining qualities of people. That was quite exciting for me. Then the next step was how to translate that into visual and auditory because you can’t simply take complex ideas and simplify them by having the person sit down and say let me tell you how the visuals are like. That was the more exciting journey for us.

“We wanted to start pushing the boundaries and do something that’s never been done before.”

How did you get in touch with these specific artists?

Erinnisse: There was a lot of research. Alice is somebody who was included in a book about contemporary and historic artists. When we started to look at her work, she also had a bunch of writings she called “Position Papers”, where she went through the stages of the degeneration of the last percentages of her vision and what was left in that. It was very poetic how she expressed it and introspective and these were qualities that we knew needed to come from the people because we wanted to make sure that we went far beyond just describing “Oh I lost my vision over this period of time, in this physical world way”. Then Katie was the story from the film Million Dollar Baby and her realization that her very public story, on her boxing fight, and the brain damage that she incurred was the inspiration for that film.

Patryk: Right away, people relate. I know an aunt, a brother, sister [that have this disability] then you realize these tremendous amount of stories just like that. Something traumatic happens and it really shaffles peoples’ lives so in a sense it’s kind of like finding the right people who ask enough of it inside, enough of the transformation and something that also allows us to feed us our own sensibility as filmmakers to discover that we can actually go far enough with this material.

One of the fascinating things with that the movie itself, the fictional story of Katie’s life, changed her and influenced her. She really thought that somehow in an abstract way it was all her fault and had so much guilt about that and she couldn’t put a finger on the fact that no that’s not the case. It was a very cathartic experience for her to actually see that fictional version, which in the movie itself we have a clip from the fictional film from the actual fight and you’ll see a tremendous difference.

It wasn’t as Hollywood…

Erinnisse: The arena wasn’t quite as glamourous [everyone laughs].

Painter-sculptor and former boxer Katie Dallam
Painter-sculptor and former boxer Katie Dallam

Shoulder the Lion delves into the doc genre differently. There are these one on one moments between the artists and the camera. Graham standing still, while there is a buzzing in the background, Katie lying down on the floor symbolizing her defeat during the fight, etc. What made you want to shoot the documentary this way instead and were artists involved in creating these intimate one on one moments?

Patryk: Absolutely. So during the interviews, we didn’t only need the story from a verbal level. As filmmakers we needed to go ahead and create something from those descriptions. We’d ask for sights, smells, specific moments, and a bunch of material that could give us the final product.

Erinnisse: You know an interesting example where we don’t use the actual verbal quote of it but where we elude to it in visual ways is when Katie says the only thing she remembers from the fight is the “windmill arms” and we don’t use her saying windmill arms but that idea if you take that perpetual motion, the circulation of a windmill and that what was coming at her; we used that as we played with shadow in the film with her sequences.

“…Where is life beyond such tragic loss?”

All the artists did such a good job of explaining their experiences.

Erinnisse: And we did a lot of research and pre-production and how we’d shoot these formal elements. We were talking with them the entire time, we became friends and discussed how we should develop this visually. We’d come to them with mood boards and visuals so there’d be an element of collaboration. From the beginning the concept was exciting for them as artists to be so far reaching with their own stories and lives and in the making of it, that’s why they genuinely participated in almost being actors kind of playing themselves to a certain degree.

Patryk: The exciting part to your question is, why do that? Why go to such an extreme? The part of it is that when you watch enough documentaries, you realize that as commentaries, we can’t settle down in these established conventions. We realize that we’re too young to be settling down. We wanted to start pushing the boundaries and do something that’s never been done before. So utilizing the camera as a tool, to advance the experience and the ideas.

How did you create the buzzing Graham hears? As he was describing it in one of the scenes, it seemed like you really emulated the noise.

Erinnisse: It is very authentic and anyone who has tinnitus, have all confirmed how accurate the sound was designed and what it is they hear or there own troubles with it.

Patryk: It’s actually a great story. Our soundman, who is from France, wanted to discover who he was. He actually spent weeks at a monastery where he spent all day in silence. So he actually experienced noise of listening to your own thoughts. He told us he could recreate the sounds so he would sit down with Graham and, physically, they would recreate a very realistic presentation of his hearing.

Musician Graham Sharpe
Musician Graham Sharpe

We’re always trying to define art, which is ironic because it’s such a complex and intimate form of expression. Everyone keeps asking Alice why she continues to take photographs when she can’t see them. Why do you think that is?

Erinnisse: I think it’s our own fears actually. I think people will say that to Alice because they themselves are scared of how their own lives could be taken away from them or their identities to be taken away from them and that they wouldn’t have the strength to know how to go on really. It’s like where is life beyond such tragic loss? So I really think a lot of it comes from that for many people.

Patryk: We all know we live in such an image-saturated world, and the majority of the images don’t matter. The curious thing is that not only are we surrounded by the noise of images but also we’ve become less acute and stop noticing these things. I think we’re slowly getting to the point where we stop paying attention to the very vital things. It’s very dangerous because that means that people who know how to manipulate our thoughts and ideas with very basic images, of course advertising and commercials play a role, and part of that is basic manipulation. You’ll get a shot of a smiling face shining the product and majority of the people will say, “Yes I will use this product” and it’s enough for them to buy it. So in that sense we have started to get manipulated into things.

Alice mentioned that people see so many images they don’t value it as much anymore. Do you think the abundance of images, especially through social media, has made us numb to photos even tragic images that should be difficult to look at?

Patryk: Absolutely. When you imagine 10 years ago, 10 best pictures taken from space [for example], you’d spend a few minutes looking at every picture and now it’s just click, click, click [on to the next], you’ve seen them all. On one hand it’s scary but on the other hand, we have to accept the way the world progresses and the curious thing as filmmakers we have to ask, if that’s the case, what can we gain from that?

Erinnisse: In the comment Alice makes, it’s also a reference to time. The role that time was a very big part of our process and our own work as filmmakers to understand that you must spend time with something to allow yourself to really maybe understand it. So in some ways in the film, we will resist the impulse to want to cut faster, or move faster and actually ask no let’s sit and stay with these images a little bit longer so that we give ourselves the time to allow it to all of a sudden click for us in a meaning beyond just ‘I’m looking at a shot of the ocean for a long time’.

What’s next?

Patryk: Hopefully there are lots of people who’ll get to experience it. We’re working on this crazy project coming up. We’re like everyone else. We get bored quickly. We want to do something that’s not boring to make. We’re viewers too. We want you to experience something you’ve never experienced before.

Erinnisse: Next for us to keep going as extreme as we can, we just want to continue to find ways where we can look at genre and define it differently, and blend things to be as exciting as possible with the medium of film and just resist everything that’s in the norm. We want to take big risks and be okay to maybe fail.

Retail Spotlight: London Bespoke Club

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Article By Stephanie Small 

I find at times shopping can quickly become a nightmare. I’m 5′2″ and of slender build up top so I’m between sizes. Being petite means my shirts usually run close to children’s sizes or are extremely fitted and because I’m short, my tailor isn’t surprised when I show up with shopping bag still in hand for her to hem my pants before their first wear. The list goes on so, when I met Director & Master Clothier Steven Grewal from London Bespoke Club, I was all too eager to visit the store and have a custom tailored dress shirt made for myself.

The word bespoke is derived from the verb to bespeak, meaning to “speak for something”. The term is generally more prevalent in British English. Bespoke as a term for suits originated in the 17th century when clients would come into a suit tailoring store and select from materials on display in the shop. The material would then be spoken for with that specific client. As the industry evolved the term has come to represent that the master tailor now directly speaks for the client with the fabric merchants (securing the material) and during the garment construction process since he is familiar with their style, taste and measurements as he sews the suit together once the material has been cut.

You’re probably wondering what the process is like getting fitted for a custom shirt, especially at a store that caters to men. A variation of words comes to mind but the first is – relaxing. Steven welcomed me to the store and introduced me to his Business Partner, Kunal Arora. Steven and Kunal are very adamant about discovering who you are & your lifestyle before making suggestions. Steven & I had met briefly before – I’m sure he’ll tell you about the side eye I gave him but that’s for another day – so I told him in more detail, about myself. Kunal took my measurements then we sat down to discuss fabric, collar & cuff styles and monograms among other things.

The gentlemen at London Bespoke’s attention to detail is astonishing and there’s a lot to know about just suits! Don’t believe me? Here’s 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Suits. I do have to say, London Bespoke has so much to offer. It’s a store you go to sit down, have a drink (I saw the bottles of Jameson), and have your custom shirt and/or suit designed down to the very last detail. You can also pick up a pocket square, cuff links, lapel accessories, underwear, a watch and luggage. They’re currently delivering their first batch of fully custom shoes for clients now and in the process of locking down a sock vendor to carry in stock but are willing to place an order as needed.

The gentlemen behind this store are truly aiming to be “a men’s specialty store catering to the discerning man that has a true appreciation for the finer things in life.” Now Ladies, don’t you worry. I told the gentlemen more than once that women appreciate the finer things such as custom fitted clothing the same as men do and that’s currently in the works and will be ready for the public in 2 months.

I personally wait with baited breath for my first beautifully custom and perfectly fitted shirt and so should you. Visit the website, book your appointment and experience exactly what I did my best to describe.

I promise, you will not be disappointed.