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Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
Band Rock Cabaret




"NXNE: The Beginning (June 15th and 16th)"

"... Finally, I wound up at El Mocambo for what would be the last show of my night. I arrived just in time to see the end of A Lull’s set, which struck me as hissingly melodic over the thunder of two drummers. After that burst of percussion, I headed upstairs to see Tomboyfriend’s set, which was as delightful as it was surreal. The stage was crowded with band members, dressed in costumes that made it look like all the denizens of the Island of Misfit Toys decided to play a show (my favourite was the lion with black angel wings). Singer Ryan Kamstra appeared to be a bleeding, zombie clown, roaming into the audience, dancing in the kind of graceless, ecstatic way that little kids do. Part glam rock and part kindergarten laboratory, their set made a lovely mess. Exhausted, I biked home, feeling as though I was already dreaming." - Canada Arts Connect Magazine (June 2011)

"NXNE: Thursday Night"

"... I ended up at the El Mocambo (upstairs) after all this hubbub and stumbled upon one crazy/cool, theatrical, mind blowing performance by the band Tomboyfriend. They had bizarre outfits on and the singer had this sad clown lipstick etc painted on his face that fit his voice SO WELL that I wanted to cry. In a good way. Hands down this was the best discovery of NXNE for me, so check them out, mang." - Music She Blogged (June 2011)

"Tomboyfriend: Don't Go to Schoo"

It is quite fitting that Ryan Kamstra, the leader and songwriter of the expansive Toronto art-rock outfit Tomboyfriend, bares such a striking vocal resemblance to one Frank Black, and it has nothing to do with any explicit stylistic debt that his band owes to the Pixies. Far more theatrical in their approach than that legendary band’s direct, abrasive pop, what Tomboyfriend shares with the Pixies is a refreshing lack of reverence for rules and decorum, a rejection, on Kamstra’s part, of modern indie’s current tendencies towards the politeness of Arcade Fire, the ornate psychedelia of Animal Collective or the move towards ironic bubblegum that many a celebrated 2010 newcomer embraced. Kamstra takes obvious delight in complicating things, though mercifully without sacrificing the directness of his music, allowing even something like the eight-minute standout track “Goldfinch Goospoo” to wind and twist through a perverse narrative (delivered as an unsteady boy/girl duet against a climbing piano refrain that is genuinely lovely) to remain melodically satisfying. This is most likely due to the fact that, even with his tendency to colour well outside the lines, Kamstra is no snide pop hater, as evident in his liberal, loving sprinklings of lyrical references to everyone from Elvis Presley to Patti Smith to Sinead O’Connor to Nelly (yes, Nelly!) throughout. If Kamstra’s wildly erratic muse cannot help but lead him into some questionable directions from time to time (the mangled electro-rap pastiche “Big in Afghanistan” is a garish mess), his ambitious musical voyages are still a pleasure to listen to play out far more often than not. - - By Jer Fairall (Jan 21, 11)

"This45: Luke Champion on music collective Tomboyfriend"

You’d be forgiven if Tomboyfriend slipped under your radar the past year. With only one album (2010’s Don’t Go to School) and virtually no touring, the band can still be considered undiscovered territory.
Tomboyfriend is a collective of “nonmusicians” led by Ryan Kamstra who just happen to make some of the most emotionally relevant, lyrically poignant music you’ll find this side of just about anywhere—and that’s rare. It’s unusual to find a band so fully formed, so direct and developed in their songwriting and so absolutely heartbreaking in their delivery.

Think of them as a bittersweet Venn diagram where joy, despair, and hope all connect under an umbrella of sinister punk-rock fairytales—part Jim Carroll and Patti Smith, part Island of Misfit Toys.

Stand out tracks like “Almost Always” and “Lovesickness” have this desperate urgency that enters through the ears and just swells in your chest until you find yourself clutching your heart for no reason at all. They’re songs that make you grin uncontrollably because despite all the despair they are ultimately songs of hope and humanity that bring us increasingly closer to that point of holiness. It’s precious, brave and beautiful and seriously worth the listen." - This Magazine (Aug 9, 11)

"Pride Playlists: Owen Pallett"

June means many things to many people — the end of school, the beginning of spring, Father’s Day. Here at Flavorpill, we’re also celebrating LGBT Pride Month. It’s an intense moment for queer rights, from the frustratingly slow progress our federal government has made on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the two-steps-forward-three-steps-back fight for same-sex marriage. And tough times call for great music. That’s why we’ve asked several of our favorite LGBT musicians to put together non-traditional pride playlists to soundtrack this year’s festivities. You know, so we don’t have to endure hour after hour of “I’m Coming Out.”

Our second mix comes from Owen Pallett, formerly known as Final Fantasy. Earlier this year, Pallett released Heartland (Domino), an orchestral pop symphony with some of the year’s best lyrics, to great and well-deserved critical acclaim. His playlist is a seamless combination of new, queer indie rock (Girls, The Hidden Cameras), classic post-punk (Public Image Ltd., Pere Ubu, Wire), and delightful randomness.

1. Girls — “Lust For Life” (from self-titled)
2. Huggy Bear — “Pansy Twist” (from Taking The Rough With The Smooch)
3. Fifth Column — “Kangeroo Court” (from To Sir With Hate)
4. The Hidden Cameras — “High Upon the Church Grounds” (from Ecce Homo) (live version)
5. Altered Images — “I Could Be Happy” (7? version)
6. Life Without Buildings — “The Leanover” (from Any Other City)
7. Imperial Teen — “Our Time” (from On)
8. Lykke Li — “Dance Dance Dance” (from Youth Novels)
9. Katie Stelmanis — “Believe Me” (7? version)
10. Public Image Ltd. — “Flowers Of Romance” (from Flowers Of Romance)
11. Wire — “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W” (from 154)
12. Pere Ubu — “Ubu Dance Party” (from Dub Housing)
13. Tomboyfriend — “Dance Dance Revolutions Co.” - flavor wire (2:06 pm Wednesday Jun 9, 2010 by Judy Berman)

"Taylor Swift, M.I.A., Das Racist, Arcade Fire, and Other Great Listens of 2010"

Tomboyfriend: "Almost/Always." Lo-fi but with no chill in its wave, this Toronto collective led by a poet-activist friend of mine plays camp straight and sincerity skewed, and tells stories that can move from a scalpel-sharp story of sex and love—"The backseat was too hard, their first touch was too charged/ Breakfast came too early, hesitation set in too late/ They knew each other's foibles, microscopical, by the time he groped for a second date"—to a sociopolitical fantasia set "in the African Union, under universal heath coverage/ where everyone spoke Esperanto, underneath the ground," without losing riff-factor drive. - Slate (From: Carl Wilson Posted Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, at 5:40 PM ET)

"The Production Front's Venn diagram of creative exploration"

The Production Front, an arts collective invented by writer Sheila Heti and painter Margaux Williamson - "so they could do things with other artists and call it one thing," - is set to release a troika of linked projects under the banner of MFA this fall. The trilogy includes Heti's new novel, How Should A Person Be?, Williamson's feature-length video Teenager Hamlet, and the debut album from Tomboyfriend (led by musician and poet/author Ryan Kamstra), Don't Go To School. The three pieces could stand alone perfectly well as distinct and self-contained works, but they work even better together, as the content and production of all three are intricately bound together through the meaning of friendship and the blurry boundaries between reality and fiction.

Heti's novel is fiction, however it's told in the first person by a character named Sheila, whose life and art have seemingly come to a standstill after her marriage ends and the play she's trying to write is going nowhere. To discover where she's gone astray, why she seems to want all the wrong things and can't even get them, she embarks on a sort of experiment using her friends as guinea pigs to tease out the secrets of human existence: how to be an artist in an era where the greatest art form is the blowjob, and how to be a person when you don't really have any clue how a person should be.

In addition to the more conventional spots of prose, the novel is also composed partly of transcripts of conversation that the real Sheila Heti had with her real-life friends (including her friends Marguax and Ryan). But by the time these discussions make their way into the novel, they can't really be said to be "real" anymore; torn from their native context and sewn in somewhere new, they end up inevitably meaning something different than they once did. This is part of the conundrum being worked out, that question of how to be an artist and still be engaged in the world as a real person with real friends and a real life at the same time.

"I think when people feel that things are urgent and imminent - like issues with the economy and the environment - literature can feel like a frill. Chraracters (as opposed to real people) can seem like trivial things to engage with," says Heti. "So it might be smart to compose a work of literature that employs the techniques of philosophy (where the philosopher is the "I") and journalism (where no people are made up). People are tricked into dealing with characters! As I tricked myself!"

That same tension and ambiguity about the boundary between the authentic and the artificial, and searching for meaning through the testimony of friends, are at work in Teenager Hamlet. The film shows, in a documentary-like style, Margaux Williamson's search for a way to break through the apparent insignificance of life in general, and the artist's life in particular.

Just like Heti does in How Should A Person Be?, Williamson looks to her friends and fellow artists and the creative power they have at their disposal to attempt to find some answers. In the film, she learns of a singles party for art-types at a permanently-docked ship at the harbour, and figures this would be a great place to recruit people to be in her movie. With a series of screen-tests, she selects a few whom she thinks might be able to teach her something.

"Some of the people on the boat talked a lot about injustice and their own impotence," she narrates. "We called these people The Hamlets. Other people on the boat were preoccupied with beauty, and the power of beauty. We called these people The Ophelias."

Much of the film is dedicated to "interviews" with these various Hamlets and Ophelias, with many of the interviews conducted, of course, by Williamson 's best friend Heti (in a blonde wig and big sunglasses, which Williamson had her wear "to remind the subjects that they were being recorded and not to betray themselves too much").

How Should A Person Be? and Teenager Hamlet share a lot of common ground, aside from both featuring many of the same people. They are both about themselves, and about being about themselves. The Tomboyfriend album occupies this same space. Aside from featuring performances by people who are in both Teenager Hamlet and How Should A Person Be? (including Ryan Kamstra himself), the album's very existence is owed, in part, to his friends and The Production Front who started a campaign to sell tracks in advance of the release and tickets to a fancy dinner, all to pay for the mix of the album.

Much the way Teenager Hamlet highlights the distinction between actors and aktors, Don't Go To School is open about being performed by mostly non-musicians. According to Kamstra: "Long before there was an album, Tomboyfriend began as the stubs of 12 songs that in theory anyone could play. I was very conscious about writing songs that were diverse enough to be interesting but relied on chord patterns that anyone, with a little experience and a few basic chords in their possession, could contribute to. It was a conscious effort to collaborate with Toronto at large, performer/artists both amateur and more seasoned - a concept based on a lot of ideas that were floating around our community at the time, and a concerted effort on my part to recreate the conditions for a musical entity that was not merely aesthetic but a living social fact."

And that's fundamentally the essence of the MFA concept: more than their characters or circumstances together they represent a reification of a social existence that permeates us all in an almost holistic way but which is really only now coming to be acknowledged in art. At a time when Western civilization refuses to admit the philosophical value of non-facts, and where most of the popular music, film, and writing celebrates its own shallowness and disposability (where our cultural heroes are blowjob artists, for example), The Production Front has managed to deliver three complete artworks across three distinct yet mutually dependent media, presenting a multidimensional snapshot of our contemporary reality that is also thoroughly engaging and a genuine pleasure.

A joint launch party will be held in Toronto on Oct. 14 at 8 pm at Stone's Place at 1255 Queen Street West. Sheila Heti will read from her book, Tomboyfriend will play a set, and a clip from Teenager Hamlet will be screened. - Broken Pencil (By Richard Rosenbaum)

"Mutating queer collective Tomboyfriend drops first disc"

Meanwhile, in the African Union,
Under universal healthcare,
Where they all spoke Esperanto….

Think back to the first time you listened to Le Tigre. Admit it, you wished that Kathleen Hanna and co had prettier voices.

But their buoyant compositions, aerobic delivery and grad school–calibre observations won you over. And you’re glad they did.

Because you came to love the faults. You came to love the anyone-can-play-guitar punk philosophy. You came to recognize that loving average-sounding voices (as deceptive as that turned out to be) is, in a way, a kind of political statement.

As with Le Tigre, so with Tomboyfriend.

At turns slack, joyful, dark, scarred and sibilant, Ryan Kamstra’s less-than-virtuoso voice turns out to be one of Tomboyfriend’s strongest assets.

“Admittedly, it’s a bit of a connoisseur’s taste, but, I mean, those old blues recordings where people just sat down for two or three hours and cut an album…” says Kamstra. “It was a very rough, open delivery. I love those things. I love early punk recordings, too, which were terrible.”

Kamstra will be familiar to some Xtra readers. The bisexual performer had two books of poems and two solo-ish albums under his belt before the Tomboyfriend project took root.

And Tomboyfriend is already, um, kind of a thing. Although its first album is set to launch mid-month, Tomboyfriend has been sharpening its songs against the iron file of live audiences for four years.

Those audiences have either turned into fans or, just as likely, been prone to text their friends a three-character assessment along the lines of “WTF.” And that’s not really surprising, since Tomboyfriend is, well, complicated. At their heart, the songs are both enthusiastic pop rock and coolly ironic commentary on themselves.

“It’s kind of a double irony appearance to the material, which is, on the one hand, gratuitously sincere and, on the other hand, plays up its emotionality. Its emotionality is both sincere and tongue-in-cheek,” says Kamstra.

It’s also a giant conceptual experiment — Don’t Go to School is a 12-track album featuring a large cast of non-professional musicians drawn from other creative disciplines, especially visual art.

“It was important for me to make a community band that was viable as music and still having artistic pretensions on top of that,” says Kamstra. “The songs mutated with the performers, which is what was supposed to happen. And as things mutated, I went back and rewrote the songs.”

The results? Kamstra calls it “baroque, over the top,” “sprawling and elaborate.” It is at turns ragged, lush, lovelorn and political.

Political, indeed. In fact, it sounds a little like Judy Rebick rewrote the book to Hedwig and the Angry Inch — other than the small matter of Auto-Tune, which dominates the mid-album thumper “Big in Afghanistan.”

Kamstra giggles before tackling the question.

“To play to my punk roots” — Kamstra begins the first of several attempts to explain his use of the synthy pitch-correcter made famous in Cher’s “Believe.”

“It’s taken as a given now that even those of us who have pretensions toward a higher culture, that we are all okay with pop culture,” he says next, then stops himself to recalibrate.

“The politics of the music business are transparent to us all, especially now as we’re watching the industry collapse. One of the things about the aesthetic of the big music industry is its over-engineering, its over-precision. I can’t quite shake off the fascist connotations of turning human voices, for example, into these things that are no longer human, basically a machine articulating it for you.”

And then one more try.

“I’m not writing off the surface pleasure; it’s still pleasurable, but…”

That’s exactly what Kamstra is after — holding simultaneously multiple understandings of the songs, ones that are by turns cultural critique, methodological innovation and, simply, pleasurable.

As Kamstra points out in “End of Poverty”:

From the galaxy of Gutenberg to the Videodrome, teens and tweens, they want to rock and roll.
Catch Tomboyfriend with writer Sheila Heti and filmmaker Margaux Williamson on Thurs, Oct 14, 8pm, at Stone’s Place, 1255 Queen St W. No cover. - (Marcus McCann / Toronto / Thursday, October 07, 2010)


1.) Don't Go To School
(2010 - Blocks Recording Club - BRC065)
1. The Swan (2:52)
2. Almost/Always (6:32) *
3. Hotel Supermart (4:47) *
4. Skank (4:32)
5. Anything CAn Be Loved (3:39)
6. The End of Poverty (5:28) *
7. Big in Afghanistan (3:28)
8. Romantic Shut-In (3:57)
9. Hardboiled Wonderland (3:44)
10. Karaoke Singer (5:01)
11. Goldfinch Gluespoo (8:16) *
12. Lovesickness (5:46)

2.) EP - King of the Animals
Independent - Jan 2012
1. Alexander McQueen *
2. Margaux
3. The Commons
4. Hot Divorcee *
5. The Heart Needs a Home (to Break in)

* Denotes tracks streaming online via website and social media sites.



Originally an agit-pop conceptual art project born in Toronto garages, and in front of Toronto art galleries,
Tomboyfriend mixes a poet with artists, and activists with musicians. Morphing over the years into a consistently exhilarating stage show, energetic, theatrical sets alternating between dancey stompers and literate torch songs, and a purveyor of sleeper, pocket anthems, Tomboyfriend is a queer-mixed glee wonderland, drawing on Toronto's many diverse creative communities. Known for flattening musical genres, Broadway musicals, post/disco punk, tin pan alley, garage pop and Tori-Amos-gone-Gaga all twist around a solid core of expressive minimalism, and the distinctive poly-vocals of Ryan Kamstra, Marlena Zuber, Sholem Krishtalka as well as down-at-the-heels chorale arrangements of back-up troupe The Glory Hogs.

Tomboyfriend has been called "a performance-art whirlwind" (Sarah Liss 2008), "some of the most emotionally relevant, lyrically poignant music you’ll find this side of just about anywhere," (This Magazine 2011) and "One charming motherfucker. But a motherfucker nonetheless," (Said the Gramophone 2006). In June 2011, This Magazine recognized Tomboyfriend as one of the 45 best (cultural outfits) in all of Canada. Their efforts also have been recognized by the likes of Spin Magazine, Slate Magazine, and New York Times magazine. Their debut full-lengther "Don't Go to School" was released on Blocks Recording Club in late 2010.