Saturday, June 28, 2008

Personality: Davy Love

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, June 28, 2008]

He's spun his last record

Brit pop impresario, College Street icon and polarizing indie scenester Davy Love (born Dave Lovell) is a lot of things to a lot of people. Sober isn't usually one of those things, but that's what he was as he sat upstairs at Sneaky Dee's preparing for his last DJ set at his retirement party on June 21.

"This is the first time I'm going to DJ sober," he says with a laugh. "I figure it's going to be my last time, so I want to remember everything."

Most retirement parties are sombre affairs but the gregarious Lovell doesn't do somber. The owner of the 45 rpm record label Magnificent Sevens is best known as the force behind Blow Up, the weekly Brit pop party that ran from 1995 to 2005. It was the biggest accomplishment in his DJing career, which began in his teenage years.

"When I was 13, I worked at a biker bar and one day the DJ didn't show up," Lovell said. "The bar owner asked if anyone was a DJ and I said I could do it. The bikers thought I played great music. The owners fired the DJ and I worked there for the whole summer."

After doing the Orillia teen club circuit, Lovell moved to Toronto where he tired launching a number of nights to little success. Faced with a club scene that was still under the sway of grunge, he saw the possibilities of a niche Brit pop night.

"You'd go to the Dance Cave back in '94 and throughout the night, they would play a three-song set of all this good stuff like Ride and Happy Mondays in the middle of all this crap," he said. "This whole crowd of people would come out from the woodwork and fill the dancefloor and then you wouldn't see them the whole night. That's when I knew that if you did a club night that played that type of music all night, you would get all those people."

A trip to England that year gave Lovell a glimpse of what could be. When he returned to Toronto, he and some friends handed out flyers to the first Blowup party at The Red Raven (now The Pour House) at St. George and Dupont. "Lo and behold, it was packed - 150 the first night," he said. "It never did less than 150 people ever."

Initially a monthly event that moved to different clubs, popular demand caused Lovell to change Blowup to a weekly party; a decision he described as "liver killing." The party eventually found a home at the El Mocambo and led to a few excessive moments.

"We were standing in the DJ booth at the El Mo and we brought a blender in," he recounted. "We were smoking Cuban cigars and we started making margaritas in the DJ booth. We were looking out at this sea of people and realized that this is huge. It was a really great feeling."

Things changed for Lovell and Blow Up when the El Mocambo temporarily closed in 2001. Scrambling for a new home, the party would spend two years at Lee's Palace before winding down at Swallow Lounge. While he's cut down on his DJing duties in the past few years, a major life change forced him to give up DJing at 40.

"The lifestyle of a DJ will just wear you out," he admitted. "Most DJs I know don't even last until 40. They've had enough booze, drugs or whatever. And whether you do them or not when you start DJing, you end up becoming a part of that lifestyle. I had a baby and the lifestyle that goes along with DJing isn't conducive with being a father."

While Blow Up regulars have been increasingly telling how much they miss the night, Lovell has given up that fight. "It's like, 'Start your own club,'" he said with a shrug. "It was basically what we did with Blow Up at the beginning. I think it's definitely up for an uprising."

In addition to leaving DJing behind him, Lovell is leaving Toronto and moving "to a village of like 300 people" south of North Bay. Whether the country life will suit him or not, Lovell got surprisingly modest about he and DJ skills will be missed.

"It's flattering," he said. "I'm just happy to be part of it."

Link to story in National Post here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

News Story: World Nude Bike Ride

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, June 21, 2008.]

The naked and the tread
Nude cyclists say you too can do without pants

Over 50 used their bare bodies to protest petroleum dependency, body consciousness and the tyranny of pants last Saturday, as part of Toronto's sixth edition of the World Naked Bike Ride.

"The goal is to make awareness of the use of petroleum and try to convince people to go on a bicycle to save petroleum," said long-time rider Bob (who withheld his last name along with his clothing).

Riding a bike adorned with a sign stating, "This naked body burns calories not oil," Bob acted as a surrogate leader for a ride whose organizer was absent due to his daughter's wedding. The four bike cops that accompanied the official protest had no problems with the group. It was an eclectic crowd that included a cycle adorned with a surfboard instead of a set, an oddly large Ohio contingent and a rider dressed as a nude Ferengi, a Star Trek species.

"We came here on vacation, heard about it and thought, 'Let's live it up,'" explained Lauryn Campanell. "Trust me, this kind of thing would never happen in Dayton, Ohio."

The group departed from Coronation Park and as riders zipped past the Harbourfront Centre more than a few jaws dropped.

"This is a very strange thing," said David Umerah from the Harbourfront Community Centre's outdoor basketball courts. "But it's also a nice thing because it's good weather."

Although there were some yells of opposition, the riders were mainly greeted by cheers, honks and flashes from camera phones. Zipping up Yonge with detours through Church and Wellesley and Yorkville, the group caused a stir riding past the Four Seasons Hotel.

The near 10 kilometre bike ride ended as the riders rode down Spadina before stopping at Java House on Queen Street. For Campanell, who lost one of her friends from Ohio early in the bike ride when his rented bicycle fell apart on Bay Street, the experience was excellent.

"I turned around and it was a sea of nude," she reflected. "It was awesome."

Link to the National Post here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Standing Engagement: Teach at the Beach flair bartending class

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, June 7, 2008.]

Serving up flair, on the rocks

It's not unusual for objects to be flying around at Woodbine Beach Park on a weekend afternoon. Stray Frisbees, volleyballs and footballs were just a few of the objects whizzing through the air last Saturday. However, once a month, you can add weighted bottles to that list of items.

The popular Teach at the Beach flair bartending course kicked off its summer session last Saturday. Now in its fourth year, the free program is run by Bartender One, a private bartending school co-founded by Gavin MacMillan.

"I'm not under the any illusion that if you stop giving back to the community that the community will continue to give to you," says MacMillan, who was anointed Top Canadian bartender in 2005 at the Legends of Bartending championships. "If we really want to grow the sport of flair, we have to give people an easy way to get started."

Displaying moves that Tom Cruise could only dream of in Cocktail, Teach at the Beach provides participants with an opportunity to learn nifty bar tricks, such as tossing a bottle behind your back, over your shoulder and into a mixer, or tossing a bottle, catching it on the top of your hand and then flipping the bottle to your arm.

Typically, between 20 and 50 participants attend each session. "We have about four or five instructors that go around," instructor David Jennings says. "We can't do much one-on-one but we do a little bit with everybody. You learn something new and the next time you come, we'll build on what you learned the first time."

The class is unstructured with participants learning a new trick from an instructor and then taking to practise the moves individually. It leads to a lot of dropped bottles, laughs and shouts of encouragement among participants.

"Basically you start off one trick at a time and then combine them," explains instructor Dimitri Kobrin. "Anybody can pick up one of these tricks if they put in a little bit of effort and like 15 minutes. The reward does come rather quickly and a lot of bartenders are missing that 15 minutes of patience."

Participant Ming Lee was happy for the chance to "enjoy the sun and learn how to flair-tend." Lee passed by the class two summers ago, and has returned for every session. He sagely warns: "Don't go bare feet because when you throw those bottles and they drop, it's not a good thing."

Watching MacMillan, Jennings and the other teachers, it's hard to imagine that they have dropped many bottles in their training. The instructors often freestyle a variety of movies in five-minute bursts that display a grace more related to Tai Chi than bartending. However, MacMillan says, "The biggest thrill I get is seeing how fast people pick up on the stuff we teach them. We went through way more frustration learning the stuff ourselves than we ever do teaching somebody new."

Teach at the Beach runs on the first Saturday afternoon of each month at Woodbine Beach Park. E-mail to sign up for a session.

News story: Toronto Criterium

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, June 7, 2008.]

We'll call it the Tour de Front!
For a day, competitive bike racing returns to T.O.

After a 17-year absence, competitive bike racing returned to Toronto last Friday. The Toronto Criterium was a short circuit race that attracted thousands of spectators to the Esplanade and St. Lawrence Market on a rainy day.

"I think this shows that Toronto can put on global events and it doesn't detract from what we do as a city," said Scarborough Southwest councillor Adrian Heaps, who also chairs the Toronto Cycling Committee. "It adds value to us."

In the works for more than six months, the Criterium is an attempt to reconnect with the city's long bike racing heritage. (The Dunlop Trophy Race, which attracted North America's top cyclists, was held here from 1894 to 1927.)

Heaps admitted that it was designed to encourage cycling as transportation. "You need a spectacle to sometimes raise the profile of an activity just at a moderate level."

While the racers who participated in the three events (a kids' race, an adult amateur race and a pro race) worked up a sweat, they weren't alone. Patios along Front Street East and the Esplanade were packed and one of the servers at Flat Iron and Firkin's patio, located near the finish line, conveniently remarked that while "it's usually busy here because it's patio season, this is crazy."

One person watching from that patio was Ian Howes, who sporadically rang a bell he brought from home whenever the racers past.

"I think it's awesome," Howes said. "I'd be very happy to trade the Indy for this race. If we lost the Indy, a bike race in the middle of the city is a wicked pick up."

The participants would agree. The 100 spots available for the pro and adult races filled quickly.

Prior to winning pro race, North Vancouver's Andrew Pinfold remarked, "It's amazing the turnout that you get with downtown races.

"In B.C. we have the Tour de Gastown and this looks on par with that kind of race. For us, you're racing in front of people and that's what we live to do."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Graduates: Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner

Published in North Toronto Post: June 2008.

Jessica Simpson and Kate Hudson covet their coats
High school friends join forces with jacket business

Report Card
Students: Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner
Graduated: Branksome Hall, 1990
Best Subject: Smythe, English; Lenczner, History
Worst Subject: Smythe and Lenczner, Math
Current Job: Clothing Designers

Since its 2004 launch, the clothing line Smythe has been a major success. Working exclusively in jackets and coats, its designers, Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner, have seen their products adorn such celebrities as Kate Hudson and Jessica Simpson.

Although their clothes have gone Hollywood, the women behind Smythe trace the company's roots to the hallways of Branksome Hall high school in North Toronto.

"We bonded a lot over our love of fashion," says Lenczner. "We always dreamed of working together."

Although the school had a uniform policy, it didn't stop the two budding fashionistas from exploring their style. As Symthe says with authority, "Even though we wore a uniform, there's a way to wear it."

In those early years, the two would dream big about running their own store. However, after school, the two went on seperate paths in the fashion world. Smythe moved to New York where she worked as a designer at Gap. Lenczner stayed in Toronto where she worked as a buyer at Holt Renfrew. Over the years, they would catch up, and talk eventually turned back to their high school dream. One day that dream became a reality.

"Christie called me up in January 2004 to say that she was moving back," recounts Lenczner. "She said, 'Let's start a business,' and she had the idea of just doing jackets." Over five months, the two put together a sample collection that they sold immediately to Holt Renfrew.

However, there was a catch. "We sold it to them for that September, so we only had six weeks to do it," Lenczner explains. "It was a tight deadline."

The hard work and fast pace schedule paid immediate dividends as Smythe jackets quickly developed a buzz. Even though they were doing their own press, Smythe immediately found a home in the top Canadian fashion magazines. "The Canadian press were amazing," says Smythe. "Flair, Fashion, Elm Street - all of those people really got behind us."

It's no surprise, Smythe's line features classic coats that are both sophisticated without being over-the-top trendy.

Since that first year, Smythe has seen its products become available in America and Europe.

While the two are thrilled that they have international distribution and their products routinely appear in glossy fashion magazines, Smythe says that, "It's definitely exciting to see someone walking down the street wearing it."

With plans to extend into the winter coat market and a leather line waiting to be launched in the fall, Smythe is poised to continue their success. For Smythe, the key is "to not be trendy." Although they have done very well for themselves, the two continue to run all aspects of the show, which can lead to some issues.

"The hardest thing is having no tech support," admits Lenczner. "One of my pet peeves is that you have a computer problem, you have to fix it yourself."

For the two, taking care of the business and administration side of things is a small price to pay for living their dream. "We had visions of being 80 and 90 and looking through our scrapbooks. It's pretty thrilling," says Smythe.

It also helps that the two continue to be passionate about fashion. "All of our friends are fashionable," says Lenczner. "Whether they're lawyers, doctors or stay-at home moms, we're interested in style. We share that bond."

With a long history of fashion behind them, the two have impeccable sense of style. However, that doesn't mean that there weren't some fashion crimes that they committed in their past.

"I had the most heinous hot pink, velvet, tie-dyed, jacket," admits Smythe. "My husband still makes fun of it."

Graduates: Matthew Blackett

Published in North York Post: June 2008.

The urban defender
Publisher celebrates public space

Report Card
Student: Matthew Blackett
Graduated: Earl Haig, 1993
Best Subject: History
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Publisher of Spacing magazine.

Over the past decade, Matthew Blackett has been making a career of using downtown Toronto as his muse.

While working as art director at The Hockey News, Blackett self-published and drew "m@b," an autobiographical comic strip about life as a 20-something living downtown that ran in Eye for four years.

He also co-founded and publishes the National Magazine Award-winning urban social advocacy magazine Spacing, that evolved out of a downtown campaign against a city ban on postering. Despite this, Blackett still has his North York neighbourhood on his mind.

"I still has a really strong connection to the North York downtown area," Blackett says. "I really want to see that strip all the way up Yonge succeed. There are a lot of really good aspects in that downtown North York strip and all those condos there are adding a lot of vibrancy into that neighbourhood. It would be great to have wider sidewalks and more cycling up there. That seems to be lost from my time to some extent."

The proud Earl Haig graduate who still dismisses York Mills Collegiate as "full of rich kids" was an active student. While drawing a monthly comic for the student newspaper and editing the school's yearbook, Blackett played striker on the soccer team.

After graduating from Humber College's journalism program, he began working at The Hockey News, where he found himself taking passes from Wayne Gretzky.

"I got to do this media event where I represented The Hockey News for a shootout and it was during Wayne Gretzky's induction to the Hall of Fame," Blackett says. "I was actually getting passes from Gretzky. I was beside myself."

While hobnobbing with hockey stars, Blackett was also fully engaged with promoting his self-published comic.

"When I started my comic book in 1998, I wanted to share it with my friends and I wanted to share some of their talents as well," he says. "I was finding that everybody in the arts community was really interested in the other arts and that kind of harkens back to my days at Earl Haig where you would have gifted athletes being really good artists and vice versa."

Blackett threw popular release parties where he would team up with emerging indie rock bands like Broken Social Scene. He has since taken the same "cross-pollination marketing approach" to Spacing, where he has created enduring partnerships with community organizations like Wireless Toronto, Heritage Toronto and Toronto Society of Architects.

Initially intended to be an advocacy media, Spacing has turned into what Blackett describes as, "a somewhat decent, successful business." Now in its fourth year, Spacing continues to grow and Blackett clearly enjoys being his own boss.