Category Archives: Andrea Routley

Film reminds: Pride is a global movement

Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride
Directed by Bob Christie
Reel Queer Film Festival, Vic Theatre, Victoria
June 30, 2013

Reviewed by Andrea Routley

It was a quiet evening at the Vic Theatre, not surprising for a Sunday night in Victoria. Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride was the final screening at the first Reel Queer Film Festival, organised by the Victoria Film Festival. I almost didn’t go because I was sucked into a TV series on DVD. But I thought, “Do I want to watch HBO actors call women cunts all night, or deepen my understanding and appreciation of a global human rights movement that has secured my legislative freedoms?” Yeah. I should go.

In this feature length documentary, director Bob Christie follows Vancouver Pride Parade director Ken Coolen, along with several VPS colleagues, as they travel to places where Pride is still steeped in protest, and even where queer sexualities are still criminalised. The group experiences first-hand the violent threats of anti-gay protestors in Warsaw, Moscow, and Budapest, and witnesses Equal Ground’s kite-flying Pride action in Colombo, Sri Lanka, an event which is only advertised after it has happened in order to protect those brave enough to attend. In Sri Lanka, homosexuality is still punishable with up to ten years in prison, and “curative rape” is a “common practice.”

Beyond Gay connects the Pride celebrations in cities like Toronto and Vancouver to a wider global movement with a call to action to support human rights around the world. Ken Coolen, a likeable big guy with a gentle demeanour, meets courageous activists around the world. In Moscow, he praises the group, led by Nikolai Alekseev, for their bravery, asserting, “You are not alone” as he shares a binder full of signatures from Canadian government officials for the Declaration of Montreal on LGBT Human Rights. The fear is palpable in many scenes, especially the action in Moscow where secret locations and meeting spots were necessary simply for a small group of people to stand outside the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with rainbow flags, and then walk 120 feet before dispersing to avoid violence. The anti-gay protestors and media showed up at the decoy location. Violence erupted when a Pride organiser responded to a media question by affirming that he was with an LGBT organisation. He was immediately pushed, and beaten.

The film is full of these heart-breaking struggles and testimonials, as well as awe-inspiring triumphs. Energetic club music scores much of the film, suggesting urgency while also evoking the intensity of Pride celebrations, and its origins in Stonewall. The music was at times heavy-handed: sombre piano music scores moments of reflection, which causes them to verge on campy. In these scenes, I think a “moment of silence” in the music would have been more effective, an austerity to convey the coarse reality of the human rights violations.

The motivations for the film are easy to understand. Pride celebrations in North American have come under much criticism for their commercialisation, which many feel demonstrates how we have “lost our way.” I often hear people cite A&W’s visible parade sponsorship–a restaurant that assigns heteronormative gender roles even to hamburgers– as an example of all that is wrong with Pride today. This year in Victoria, one group responds to the current state of Pride by hosting Alt Pride Community Festival, which was “formed as a reaction against experiences of oppression, exclusion, and lack of accountability during pride events and within queer communities.”

I’m not sure how I will feel about Pride this year. Things have changed a lot since I first marched in a Pride Parade. It was 1997, and I was sixteen. I walked behind a float blaring “We Are Family,” a drag queen in a purple spandex gown and silver wig waving to the crowds. But the cheers always swelled for us, the youth group, the only LGBT youth group I knew of, one which met at Bute and Davie in Vancouver’s West End Friday nights. (To attend, I had to travel for three hours on public transit, with no way of getting home before the buses stopped running.)

That was the first and only Pride Parade I marched in. This right to assemble and celebrate our diversity is one that many of us take for granted.

Andrea Routley is the editor of Plenitude Magazine, Canada’s queer literary magazine.

Tosca restores faith for disillusioned opera fan

Pacific Opera Victoria
The Royal Theatre
April 4, 6, 10 & 12 at 8 pm
Sunday Matinee April 14 at 2:30 pm

Reviewed by Andrea Routley

What comes to mind when you hear the word, “opera”? Viking horns and yellow braids? How about “Italian opera”? Sopranos in velvety robes, collapsing under the weight of their own agony? Lust, murder, star-crossed sort of thing?

Then you’re probably thinking of Tosca, one of Puccini’s most famous operas, which first premiered in Rome in 1900. It has often been dismissed by critics, but the singers, director, production designer, instrumentalists, and the many others involved in Pacific Opera’s production, as well as the audience which packed house at the Royal Theatre on Saturday, feel differently.

What is really praise-worthy about this production are the understated aesthetics and direction which actually made all this slap-stick emotional climaxing seem, well, almost genuine.

Production designer Christina Poddubiuk presents a set of rustic, bare wood scaffolding which plays the role of church, police chief office, prison cell and battlements. I appreciated this for the way it evoked the cages the characters find themselves in, but also provided a modern, muted aesthetic. This, combined with relatively simple costuming–solid colour dresses for Floria Tosca, unadorned uniforms for Scarpia’s henchman–compensated for all the flashy melodrama.

The highlight for me was tenor Luc Robert, who played the role of Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi. His voice is silky–almost boyish, but offered a nuanced, raspy quality now and then which gave depth to the character. Opera is not praised for the acting, something which typically takes a back seat to the musicianship (not to mention the years of practice in Italian diction and storming around stages without tripping over long heavy dresses). Not surprisingly, this was also the weakest element in this production, but Robert really impressed me. His movements were natural and organic–there was no cheesy arm-acting or “ta-da!” physicality from Robert. It looked as though he were really listening to what the other characters were saying, and responding authentically to that in a complex and elegant way. His response to Tosca’s coquettish insecurity in Act One, for example, was at once tender, patronising, and subservient.

This production also offered a colourful variety of voices. If you’re an opera newbie, you may think one tenor sounds just like another, but pay special attention to Scarpia’s henchman, Spoletta, played by Michel Corbeil. His voice has a watery, burbling quality to it that is totally exciting.

Finally, thank you to the director, Amiel Gladstone: The last time I saw a production of Tosca, I almost left after the second act. I stayed for the third. Stuff happened, then Tosca spun around and leaped off a fake building, in front of a fake pastoral scene. “Oh, for chrissakes,” I said, peeved.

But you, my dearest Gladstone, have waved your wand to give us a perfect death.



My faith in opera: restored.


Wong’s ambitious journey in Escape to Gold Mountain

Escape to Gold Mountain
By David H.T. Wong
Arsenal Pulp Press, 239 pages, $19.95

Reviewed by Andrea Routley

Many readers are probably familiar with some of the history of Chinese settlers in North America. Maybe they think of racist policies like the Chinese Head Tax, or the Chinese Immigration Act in Canada, which effectively banned all Chinese immigration for a quarter of a century. In Escape to Gold Mountain, David H.T. Wong tells this story through a narrative which spans generations of one family, from an aging father in 19th century Qing Dynasty China, the Opium wars, the construction of the Transcontinental railroad in the USA and the CPR in Canada, violent oppression including a massacre of Chinese miners in Wyoming, lynchings in San Francisco, through to the pioneering achievements of Chinese-Canadians and Americans in government, political activism and more. Sound like a big story? It is.

Although a fictional graphic novel, Escape to Gold Mountain is based on historical fact, and on Wong’s own family history. The character readers follow most is Wong Ah Gin, who endures a barrage of predicaments and situational conflicts. We gleam only a little insight into his personality through his relationship with an adopted son, but we must soon leave him behind. Maybe this reflects all histories: the way we touch here softly for a short time, then die, another faint stroke on the past, faint memory for the future. But this may disappoint readers looking to become emotionally invested in the life of one character. Indeed, as the novel progresses and the family tree expands, it is hard to keep up with who is who.

Still, Wong’s drawings do much of the work of individuating characters. The illustrations have a dynamic cinematic quality, with variation in the layout and dimensions of frames, close-ups and aerial views that reflect the scope of the story and the pace of change.

Of course, any story spanning these historical events would be the stuff of an epic novel, but I love this form—the graphic novel—for the way it reconstructs a pictorial history. There is a shortage of images from this time—how many photos have we seen of Chinese workers blasting the side of a mountain, or working at saw mills in places like Port Alberni? And to follow so many generations, each confronted with yet another kind of legislated hate or violent backlash, is exhausting. Even in reading this dynamic graphic narrative I thought, “Not another tax increase!” or “Not another attack!” as if the story were becoming repetitive. But that is exactly the point, of course. Even from my comfy spot on my couch with my coffee and decades (not to mention cultural heritage) between myself and many of these events , I am exhausted by them, a frank reminder of the persistence and endurance necessary for early Chinese Canadians to live in Canada.

I admit I have a soft spot for the historical graphic narratives. In high school, I was a big fan of shoplifting books like Nietzche for Beginners, Fascism for Beginners, or Maus. I can still picture Wagner and Nietzche on the same page, Wagner with his wild hair and “Humph!” expression on his face, having their man-crush fall-out. Okay, so maybe I missed some of the bigger picture. But any book that can make a teenager steal for History is doing something pretty remarkable. If I were 17 again, I might have stolen Escape to Gold Mountain, too.

(Don’t worry, I paid for it.)


Andrea Routley is a writer and musician based in Victoria, BC.

VIMA’s eclectic scene ready to roll

The Vancouver Island Music Awards (VIMA) is gearing up for the 9th Annual Awards show on April 28th. Some of this year’s nominees include the Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, Steph MacPherson, Woodsmen, Man Made Lake, and Carli and Julie Kennedy.  Andrea Routley recently talked with James Kasper, the founder and producer of VIMA, about what to expect.

So, 9th Annual Vancouver Island Music Awards, and you’ve been there from the beginning. You must have heard hundreds of submissions by now, and across such diverse categories like rock/metal, jazz, pop, spoken word . . . Have you noticed any musical trends over the years, or recurring themes? Is there a way to describe “Vancouver Island Music”?

There is definitely an eclectic scene here on the Island, with everything from blues to metal. But probably what I hear most is a kind of vocal-based organic roots-rock sound. I think it’s been like that here for years, from what I’ve observed.

Is there a particular artist or group that stands out over the years? Why?

Any artist who works hard and doesn’t give up despite the challenges and adversity . . .  Any artist who treats other artists and fans with respect and kindness no matter what level of success they achieve . . . Those are the artists who stand out to me.

The Awards show is a huge production. You’ve got 1,000 tickets for sale, up to dozens of performers, advertisers, media–camera crew, artist collaborations . . . So quick:  Best VIMA show moment ever?

Oh wow, where to begin . . . I like the moments where the audience is so excited to hear the winner’s name that people begin screaming even before the presenter is finished reading the card . . . This happened in 2011 when Aegis Fang won for Male Vocalist, and in 2012 when Lindsay Bryan won for Song of the Year. And really, the whole event is just a rush. I spend 8 months of my year preparing for the main event, and it’s pretty exciting to see it all crystallize into a 3-hour show.

Now, Worst VIMA show moment ever:

Hm, well, the cue cards have presented some interesting challenges over the years, including the first awards presentation in 2011 when the cue cards weren’t ready, and the presenters were left to improvise until I sent the hosts out to do damage control, which they they did just fine. It was stressful at the time, but some people told me later they thought it was all part of the act. Ha. Also, several years back, when David Gogo and David Lennam were hosting, they were asked to give out a door prize and they somehow procured an actual honest-to-goodness door in the rubble backstage and brought it out as a “door prize.” At that point, I shook my head and thought to myself, “I have completely lost control of this show.”

James, you are also a prolific musician, both as a touring musician and a recording artist. What can awards do for a music career?

I always advise independent musicians to just take advantage of any opportunity they can to expose their work and build their network of contacts. A music awards show is one such opportunity. And the Island Music Awards have always been much less about competition and much more about community, celebrating the Island’s music scene, and a way for a diverse array of musicians and music industry representatives to come together on one night and network with each other.

Last summer, VIMA’s put out a call for community support, seeking donations from businesses in order to continue into 2013. The goal was $100 from 50 island businesses. What happened with that?

To be honest, it wasn’t the result we were hoping for. There were some donations from a couple of businesses and a couple of musicians, which we were very grateful to receive, but the event is still in dire need of financial sponsors in order to stay afloat. Any Island business wanting to support this event can reach me at . . . because if we can stay afloat, it would be nice to have a 10th anniversary next year!

The 9th annual Vancouver Island Music Awards show takes place Sunday, April 28th at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, downtown Victoria. Tickets are available now. Contact

For the full list of 2013 nominees, visit


Life Underwater needs a little air

Life Underwater
Laurelle & Alexander (2012)
Boom Ting Recordings

Reviewed by Andrea Routley

Laurelle & Alexander’s debut-EP lives up to its name, with wet sounds of electric guitar and piano, and a synthesized wash to flood the remaining space, from gurgling, and in utero-like heart beats, to gulping bass details. Self-described as “Hippies with Computers,” they are clearly the west-coast variety; their saturated sound reflects the biodensity of coastal rainforest, and the submerged feeling of life under a canopy of grey cloud.

Life Underwater offers listeners five songs, two remixes, and an instrumental interlude called “Dream Wave,” a full-on hippy number, complete with the sound of the ocean waves lapping on the shore. And all of this is free to listeners. Every track contains an array of instrument sounds, yet they never feel cluttered. But the tracks that stand out for me are the ones that parse these sounds the most. They give me a chance to surface from the blur—after all, life may be underwater, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to breathe. Laurelle’s dry, breathy vocal tone and soprano range has a subtle forcefulness to it that could have cut through the damp and saved many of these tracks from drowning, but it is submerged in vocal effects: reverberating and far away, it’s lost in the wash.

Still, there are some stellar tunes on here, and any fan of ambient electronic will love this EP. “Moon Kids” has the catchiest melody, with a little retro 80s mellow-rock guitar that’ll make you feel like pretending you were actually cool in the 80s (or even alive). (How I wish this great melodic hook didn’t disappear after the first 45 seconds!).  And my personal favourite, “Lost Stardust,” because who doesn’t love a snare drum? And why do I love that snare so much? Because the presence of that one sound does so much to balance out this slippery sonic slope, giving my ear a little traction.

Laurelle & Alexander are currently working on a full-length album, Across Oceans, to be released later this year. I’m excited about what this talented pair will deliver, but hoping they’ll remember to breathe.

Fun Game: How many water puns can you count?


Andrea Routley is a writer and musician based in Victoria, BC. Reviewing other people’s music makes her nervous about what people will say about her upcoming album, “After We’re Here.”

Hush little babies, listen up: Sweet Lowdown Releases Third Album, “May”


The Sweet Lowdown

The Sweet Lowdown 2012

Produced by Adrian Dolan

Reviewed by Andrea Routley

If you’re a Sweet Lowdown fan, you probably fell in love with them for their rich bluegrass harmonies, formidable musicianship, and old-time folk sound. You’ll be thrilled with their third album (with 12 tracks), May.

As always, Sweet Lowdown delivers banjo and fiddle solos that impress the most experienced musicians, and for the rest of us, make us nod dumbly, follow with, “Wow. She’s good.” And just so you don’t forget that, May includes four instrumental tracks incorporating elements of bluegrass, celtic folk and even Indian-style melodies and arrangements as in “Lucknow,” a song inspired by an Indian city which banjo player Shanti Bremer visited. I’m not usually big on instrumental numbers, but I was sucked into this one instantly, with the fiddle mimicking a harmonium’s drone and the crazy Indian gypsy melodies in the banjo.

But May delivers an overall sound that I feel is signature Sweet Lowdown. With simple song forms, unadorned vocals, and three-part harmonies, May offers a kind of folk lullaby. The opening track, “The Heart Is A Hollow Thing,” evokes this lullaby quality not only musically, but lyrically, with lines like, “sticks and stones, Oh, hollow bones, bird take wing, fly high and sing.” This song is written by primary vocalist Amanda Blied (formerly of Balkan Babes), and her love of lullaby is evident in her other compositions, too, like “Hushabye,” which she calls “a lullaby for hard times,” and “What Goes Up,” a song about tobogganing on the winter solstice: “So just like Jack and Jill, we’ll go back up the hill. Just to ride right back down again like friends.” I loved this one for the Sarah Harmer-like melodies. You know the kind–the ones that feel like they’re coming to an end, but there’s still those last two words that carry the line downward in that suprising way.

I was also happy to hear Blied rip it up a little, vocally, in the cover of “Reuben’s Train.” Why “Reuben’s Train” in this album of water imagery, snow and flowers? Because every Canadian folk album must have a train song, of course!

But Blied isn’t the only songwriter with surprises. Banjo player Shanti Bremer showcases her talents in that exciting instrumental, “Lucknow,” and title track, “May.” And Bremer is a singer, too, with two of these songs on the album, “Please Take Me Home,” and “Drink It Down.” Bremer’s voice almost sounds timid on their previous album, but here she sings with steady confidence, while maintaining that angelic quality. Bremer pulls the album into the political with “Drink It Down,” a song about water rights and the impending shortage, and how she considers this in the context of the water-rich Pacific Northwest.

My favourite song on this album, though, is “Let It Go,” by fiddle player Miriam Sonstenes. It is the only song she sings, and I’m not sure why. Sonstenes voice has a clear, straight-forward quality that gives it a youthful naivety which I really loved. “Let It Go” is a song about visiting “old haunts with a dear old friend,” as Sonstenes writes in the insert. Having just recently visited my hometown for an old friend’s memorial service, I found myself connecting deeply with this piece. Sonstenes evokes a connection with place simply and poignantly with lines like “for every grain of sand there’s a tear that I have cried.” But my music-self loved the chorus best. With phrases of three measures, this asymmetrical pattern propelled the song forward in an unhurried yet exciting way. It’s a simple thing, but has a big effect. And you can always count on Sweet Lowdown to offer those simple yet stunning little juicy bits, whether in their stellar musical leads or little unexpected melodic thoughts.


You can see The Sweet Lowdown live–and pick up their new CD– at their CD Release show Thursday, Nov. 15 at the Victoria Event Centre:  Doors open at 7 p.m, tickets $13.