Archive for March, 2012

Meet the Nominees: deadmau5

Posted on: March 29th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

You’d probably recognize deadmau5 before you’d recognize Joel Zimmerman, though they’re both the same person.

Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and now based out of Toronto, the 31-year-old Zimmerman is the man behind the mouse head (or “mau5” head) – the iconic mask he sports at his public appearances and shows and which also doubles as the de facto deadmau5 logo. It’s a symbol that’s become internationally recognizable in the past few years, a result of Zimmerman’s award-winning electronic dance music.

In addition to his Beatport Music Awards, Grammy nominations and International Dance Music Awards, deadmau5 has also assembled a collection of JUNO Awards – in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, all for Dance Recording of the Year. At this year’s awards, on April 1, he’ll be up for that one again, along with nominations for the JUNO Fan Choice Award and Artist of the Year.

So just where did deadmau5 come from?

Strictly speaking, deadmau5 began his musical career in 2005, the year he released his debut album, Circa 1998-2004, though he’d been creating music since the 1990s, influenced by the chiptune and demoscene movements, semi-artistic fringes associated with early computer hacking and cracking scenes. It was while working on his own computer, in fact, that Zimmerman spawned his deadmau5 pseudonym – he claims to have found a dead mouse in his machine while replacing the video card and, while discussing this fact in online chat rooms, came to be known as “that dead mouse guy.” He would eventually adopt this as his chat-room handle, condensing it to “deadmau5” so it would be short enough for the chat-room server.

Now if all this sounds a bit techy to you, you’d be right. Zimmerman has worked as a web developer and also helped to introduce digital recording technology at music studios before going on to contribute to the development of an iPhone app called Touch Mix. His tech-oriented beginnings were indicative of his emerging musical direction, which has veered from the route of traditional DJs toward something much more original, innovative and technologically advanced. As Zimmerman himself has described it, “it’s a technological orgy up there” when he performs, because unlike standard DJs his sets are more like live instrumental shows, where he assembles tracks as he goes, often using cutting-edge computer software he’s helped to write himself.

“There are no CDs involved,” he says. “I try and keep it more my music than anyone else’s. If people come out to see deadmau5 I want them to hear deadmau5 music.”

This implicit dismissal of traditional DJing is something he’s stated much more openly in the past; and while it’s led to certain controversy, it hasn’t deterred his onslaught of fans. As a testament to this, he was the first electronic artist ever to headline at London, England’s legendary Earls Court Exhibition Centre, and his 2010 performance completely sold out the 17,000-seat venue. That same year he also performed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, was named house DJ (a term he no doubt balked at) for the MTV Video Music Awards, performed with old collaborator Tommy Lee at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and starred as a playable avatar in the video game “DJ Hero 2.” Somehow, Zimmerman managed that rare feat of appealing to both the clubbing cognoscenti as well as mainstream musical masses.

Since then, his success has only continued to build. On April 1, we’ll see if that translates into yet another JUNO.

“Ghosts N Stuff” by deadmau5

This Week in History: March 26 to April 1

Posted on: March 27th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Don Messer, one of Canada’s most beloved performers, died on March 26, 1973, in Halifax. For over 40 years, Messer entertained Canadians from coast to coast with his traditional Maritime “old time” folk music. The youngest of 11 children, Messer was born into a musical family on May 9, 1909, and grew up on a farm in Tweedside, New Brunswick. Messer’s indoctrination into music began at a very young age as he was encouraged to learn Scottish- and Irish-influenced violin, in part as a way to escape the depression.

“I never really wanted to become a musician,” Messer said. “It was sort of forced on me by the depression days.”

After years of doing local shows with family members and neighbours, a teenage Messer deemed himself good enough and began gigging throughout southwestern New Brunswick.

In the 1920s, Messer moved to Boston for a few years to receive his only formal music training, and upon his return to the Maritimes he began a radio career at CFBO in Saint John. In 1934 he was offered his own radio show, “New Brunswick Lumberjacks,” and at the same time he performed throughout Canada’s East Coast with his band, Backwoods Breakdown. In 1939 Messer was hired as CFCY-FM’s musical director and moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Five years later, he formed his most famous band, the Islanders, and landed a weekly show on CBC Radio. For the next two decades, Messer and His Islanders had the No. 1 radio program in the country, and its massive popularity, in part, allowed him to stage many celebrated cross-country tours.

By the latter part of the 1950s, Messer was invited to do TV appearances on the CBC affiliate in Halifax. So noteworthy were his stints, he was offered his own regional TV summer series in 1957, which morphed into the wildly popular CBC half-hour variety show “Don Messer’s Jubilee,” broadcast nationally from 1959 to 1969 out of the CBHT-TV studio in Halifax. By the mid-1960s, “Don Messer’s Jubilee” was the No. 2 television program in the country – a perennial bridesmaid to “Hockey Night in Canada.” Along with providing an excellent weekly outlet for Down East music, the show also gave national exposure to exciting new talent, such as Catherine McKinnon and Stompin’ Tom Connors, and made household names out of Messer’s colourful sidekicks, Marg Osburne and Charlie Chamberlain. When the series was suddenly cancelled, it caused a national protest. Although “Don Messer’s Jubilee” was picked up by Hamilton’s CHCH-TV – where it enjoyed a three-year run – Messer died of a heart attack before the fourth season was to go into production.

Messer’s name remains synonymous with Maritime folklore. He was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Honour in 1985 and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. And perhaps just as special as those two honours, one of his fiddles can be found in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Take off, eh?”

Peaking at No. 16 on Billboard on March 27, 1982, was one of Canada’s greatest comedy-rock songs, “Take Off,” by popular “SCTV” duo Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) and Rush lead singer Geddy Lee. The sidesplitting collaborative was the first single from Bob and Doug’s platinum-selling 1981 debut, Great White North. The album consisted of 18 hilarious sketches spotlighting Canadian stereotypes (beer, bacon, hosers, toques, etc.) and “unique” (to non-Canucks) life observations at the hands of the fictional brother act.

Having the talented rocker take part on the comedic masterpiece was a stroke of hoser genius too, given that Rush were at their commercial and creative zenith, still riding the mega-success of their multi-platinum-selling 1981 album, Moving Pictures… and not to overlook the fact that Lee certainly knows how to craft great songs. The McKenzie brothers were breakout “SCTV” stars in their own right in both Canada and the United States, but the tune, made up of insults and give-and-take banter, is downright catchy thanks in no small part to Lee and his “decent singing” on the chorus: “Take off, to the Great White North/Take off, it’s a beauty way to go/Take off.”

Great White North was nominated for a 1983 Grammy Award and won the 1982 JUNO Award for Comedy Album of the Year. Beauty, eh?

At the 15th annual Tokyo Music Festival held on March 30, 1986, The Nylons took home the award for best singer, which is amazing – and ironic, given the “best singer” trophy was presented to not one but four incredibly talented dudes from Toronto. All kidding aside, winning it made perfect sense given they are an a cappella group, consisting of (at the time): Claude Morrison, Paul Cooper, Marc Connors and Arnold Robinson. Formed in 1978, the group was nominated for their first JUNO Award in 1984 (Most Promising Group of the Year), but their win at the prestigious festival was their first big international award. With an impressive 30-plus year résumé that includes several best-selling albums, awards and a large worldwide following under their collective singing belts, the acclaimed quartet are still looking to land their first JUNO Award (in four tries). So let’s all hope the fifth time’s a charm and wish them the best of luck at the upcoming 2012 JUNO Awards!

Anne Murray’s “I Just Fall in Love Again” reached the top spot of the Billboard singles chart on April 1, 1979. Later that same night, the Nova Scotia lass celebrated in style by (in order of appearance) downing a dozen bottles of Alpine, picking a fight with both Stan and Garnett Rogers, and pirating the Bluenose II before beaching the iconic tall ship on the rocks off the coast of Lunenburg, N.S. Reportedly, her final words as she was led away by the Coast Guard were: “I don’t even like snowbirds!”! April Fool’s Day, everybody… except for the Billboard bit!

Next week: Elvis and Frank Mills

“St. Anne’s Reel” by Don Messer and His Islanders

Meet the Nominees: Drake

Posted on: March 22nd, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

A few years ago, I was doing a rather poor job as an assistant to a Toronto-based talent agent. He represented a variety of actors, at various stages in their careers, among whom was one in particular, a fellow by the name of Aubrey Graham. While my contact with him was limited to leaving messages about his upcoming auditions (often only to be told he was still in bed), the rumour around the office was that he planned to be in music: he was going to be a rapper. There was subsequent concern – perhaps understandable – as to how smoothly this promising young thespian could transition from the world of teen-oriented drama to that of stone-cold hip hop.

But a lot can change, and in a few months it did. I was “relieved” of my duties at the agency, and Graham, I learned, was promoting his musical career under his middle name – Drake. Within a few months his name seemed to be everywhere: rumoured to be dating pop starlet Rihanna, hanging with Lil Wayne and generally just having the most successful transition from teen soap to hip hop that anyone could possibly imagine. Today, he’s one of the most sought-after entertainers in the world and is nominated for four JUNO Awards: the JUNO Fan Choice Award, Album of the Year for Take Care, Artist of the Year and Rap Recording of the Year.

Just how did it happen?

While Drake may be one of the most well-known entertainers around, the story of his rise to fame is not so renowned. It began in October of 1986, in Toronto, where Drake was born. His father was Dennis Graham, a drummer who had worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, and two of his uncles, Larry Graham and Teenie Hodges, were also musicians; perhaps we can already see a pattern developing here. However, Drake’s parents divorced when he was five years old, and from that point on he was raised by his mother, Sandi Graham, in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill neighbourhood, though he continued to spend summers with his father in Memphis.

By 2001, around the age of 15, Drake had begun his acting career on a long-running Canadian drama series. He played was a basketball star who had been physically disabled after being shot by a classmate. The role ended in 2009 when Drake’s character (unlike Drake himself) graduated from high school. This opened the door for Drake’s musical career to take off, though he’d been interested in music long before then, releasing his first mixtape, Room for Improvement, in 2006, and following it up with Comeback Season in 2007, the same year he became the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have a music video featured on BET.

In other words, by the time his television days were ending, Drake had already established himself as a musician; and when he released So Far Gone, his third official mixtape, in 2009, there were big names like Lil Wayne backing it. It received over 2,000 downloads within the first two hours of release. By the middle of that year, Drake could be credited as only the second artist to have his first two Top 10 hits in the same week (the other being fellow Canadian and nine-time JUNO Award winner Nelly Furtado). He signed with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment following what Billboard referred to as “one of the biggest bidding wars ever.”

The rest, as they say, is history – very recent history. Drake’s official debut album was released in June 2010 and featured collaborations with superstars Kanye West and Jay-Z. Twenty-five thousand fans gathered at New York City’s South Street Seaport to ring it in, where Drake was performing a free concert with Hanson. After a near riot the show was eventually cancelled due to overflowing crowds. His album sold nearly half a million copies in the first week alone and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. His sophomore album, Take Care, was released a year later; it also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. By the start of 2012, just a few months after its release, it had already been certified platinum.

Yes, it’s a charmed life for some. We’ll see if that charm transfers into a JUNO win when the awards are announced April 1.

Drake – “Headlines”


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