SHEROES #11: DUSTY SPRINGFIELD with JUDY VIRAGO, SIÂNTEUSE (THE SPHINXS), NANCY BOCOCK, VEE STUN (VAG HALEN), JEANETTE LYNES, NATALIA and SILK DEGREES at the Beaver (1192 Queen West), Thursday (June 28), 10:30 pm. Free. See listing.
Like so many creative endeavours, Rea McNamara's monthly tribute party to ageing female music icons can be traced back to a break-up.
A year ago, a friend that was going to New York asked her to cover for him at his monthly "experimental ambien" electronic music party at now-defunct Dundas West watering hole NACO Gallery.
The night typically featured free-form music and trippy projections so she decided to do a remix tribute to Joni Mitchell by chopping up samples from the Canadian folk legend's mid-seventies albums Hejira, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns.
"I had ended a long-term relationship I was listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell, specifically her difficult jazz era," she explains. "Instead of a typical tribute night, we were like, ‘ok we're going to celebrate this person but we're going to fuck around with it.'
"It was the kind of night that, if you weren't there on mushrooms, it was a fun kind of night," she adds.
At a friend's urging, McNamara parlayed her fucked-up ambient homage to Joni Mitchell's difficult jazz period into a monthly party called Sheroes, a tribute night that has since evolved into a web art party with a coterie of participants that joins in via social media platforms Google+ , Tumblr and Twitter.
She's since relocated to Queen West gay bar The Beaver and feted the likes of Tina Turner, Madonna, Erykah Badu, Yoko Ono, Dolly Parton, Chaka Khan, Marianne Faithfull and Grace Jones. Each party features performances, host Silkdegrees (a.k.a. artist Tony Halmos), music courtesy of DJ NoLoves, karaoke, an installation by artist Rusiko and projections of GIF (animated bitmap images) art curated by digital artist Lorna Mills.
Here's what last month's Grace Jones event looked like, featuring Lillian Allen & House of Monroe.
McNamara met Mills, a well-respected artist that shows internationally, on Google+, the search giant's big foray into social networking that has become a popular web hangout for makers of GIF art. She's galvanized a roster of international talent from as far away as Japan around Sheroes and each month they live tweet and post gifs during the event.
A writer and community arts program coordinator, McNamara has an academic interest the many facets of geeky fandom. Thus in addition to getting its revelers sloshed, Sheroes' mission is to examine "the iconography and cultures of fandom surrounding an ever-expanding ‘League of Legendary Ladies.'"
The Pride edition of the party will focus on Dusty Springfield, the late British pop singer and gay icon who lived in Toronto in the early 1980s when she was in a relationship with Rough Trade rocker Carole Pope.
Rather than ask a performer to cover a song, McNamara finds a less obvious connection between the local talent she asks to participate and the mega-star she's celebrating and lets them do their thing. For example, the performances at the Dusty edition of Sheroes will spring from the star's "secret Toronto history."
"It was always about the teased wigs and the panda eyes but what was behind it?" she says. "Here's this woman that was a tomboy and who deliberately shaped her persona based on drag queens but was a lesbian. If you look at what she was doing in the ‘80s and the ‘90s - like, bitch was wearing denim outfits and had short hair. I don't want to make assumptions but you could make an interesting argument that Toronto was where she started to be more out and was like, ‘Yeah I'm a dyke. Deal with it!'
"Dusty was living in a time when she was not very cool," she adds. "She came out in the ‘70s, which was not a welcoming time to come out, and she had this fan base that was like, ‘Bitch! Keep playing your sixties stuff! And she didn't want to do that. She didn't have a label that was supporting her. What we have at the show has come out of this place of let's think of Dusty this way."
For that reason, Sheroes is kind of about this perverse side of fandom that becomes fascinated with a female icon's struggle to age gracefully under immense public scrutiny.
"It's like post-Judy Garland, you love your divas really fucked up," she says. "I find it fascinating to think about because despite our neoliberal tweet tweet tweet world being so progressive, we still have very backwards attitudes around women."
After Pride, there will be two more editions of Sheroes.
One at The Beaver on July 26 dedicated to jazz singer Nina Simone, and an all-day and night art and music festival co-presented by Whippersnapper Gallery called Virtual Season. That will take place in Kensington Market on July 29 and feature performers Mantler, Lido Pimienta, Kids on TV, House of Monroe, BizZarh, DJ Cosmic Cat and more.