10 teens taking over

Ever wonder who you’ll be talking about in five years? In this special feature, NOW spotlights in no particular order young artists and activists who are making waves today and will surely shake up the city’s artistic and political future.

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1. The boy band Down With Webster

DOWN WITH WEBSTER with Samba Squad as part of the Beaches International Jazz Festival Streetfest (2210 Queen East), tonight (Thursday, July 24) to Saturday (July 26), 7 pm. Free. 416-698-2152. www.beachesjazz.com

There are seven tousle-haired teenage boy heads in Down with Webster. Some sport backwards baseball caps, some roughneck tuques. Some are crazy with baby dreads and some sport close-cropped cuts. This doesn’t seem important till you try to travel with the crew. We’re searching for an interview spot along Queen West. The usual (read licensed) hangouts are out of the question since these boys ain’t legal and their fake IDs won’t cut it.

Popsicles in a nearby park seems like the best plan. But over the course of a two-block march, band members start disappearing.

When we get back on track, MC-slash-guitar-phenom Pat “Rif-Raf” Gillett’s suggestion that I make the band cling to a string à la kindergartner ducklings on a field trip doesn’t sound so crazy.

In public they might seem like a disoriented street gang, but get Down with Webster in front of an audience and the haphazard posse is one of the tightest funk-hop outfits I’ve seen onstage.

Gillett and co-MC Bucky barrel through blistering rhymes at lightning speed, wrapping clever lyrics around founder Tyler Armes’s funked-up bass lines and Andrew Martino’s drum breaks. Toss in Matt Campitelli’s killer guitar riffs and wee blower Mitch Wong’s Miles Davis sax solos and they blow bands three times their age out of the water. They can stop on a dime, and their technical prowess is frankly awesome.

Not bad for a band that Armes and Gillett threw together for a junior high talent show half a decade ago. The rest of the members fell in through happy coincidence and the force of gravity.

“It was something different than what everyone else our age was playing,” explains Martino. “We wanted to come up with something different from rock or heavy metal.”

Gillett interrupts. “At the time the band was formed, I was playing a lot of blues, and Matt was playing a lot of blues when he joined. But funk’s a nice, steady, danceable beat – not too fast, like rock can get, and not too slow like the blues. Just right in the middle. It’s really good to jam over.”

They practise as often as most folks go to the grocery store. After they graduate from high school, they plan to shack up together. Music really is their universe. Chilling before a show, they’ll break into freestyles, improvised vocal riffs and beatboxing, pulling whole tracks out of thin air.

They’re well schooled when it comes to music – and not just trendy hipster shit. During a Sunday-afternoon rehearsal, they debate who are the dopest MCs (Jay-Z versus KRS? Common versus Gift of Gab?), decide Gillett’s been swiping a riff from an old Mary J. Blige tune, dish about the Allman Brothers and Steve Vai.

Their faces light up when they talk about syncopation, crescendos and chord progressions.

It’s this type of precociousness, combined with their wicked onstage energy, that landed Down with Webster a deal with music-biz management stalwarts Zack Werner (yep, the mean dude from Canadian Idol) and Cam Carpenter.

“We take it a lot more seriously now,” offers Gillett. “But it’s weird having a famous manager. When we were at the Air Canada Centre with him, everyone who walked by us did a double take.”

Bucky chimes in. “Before Zack started all that Canadian Idol stuff, I didn’t really think he was anyone important, but now he’s, like, on every magazine I own.”

The boys don’t seem fazed by the buzz around them. They even rationalize an odd corporate deal with Roots (the band played an in-store gig and gets free swag), claiming that the Canadian company’s a helluva lot better than hooking up with Nike.

“Well, shit,” snorts Bucky. “I don’t wanna have to pay for clothes, and if you’re gonna give them to me for free, I’d rather wear something nice.”


2. The DJ Mr Kicks

You’d think toronto djs would be jealous of Mr. Kicks (aka Michael Pounall). Not only does the 16-year-old boy wonder play more often than some twice his age, but he also has the unfair advantage of having access to his DJ father’s 25 years of record collecting, and the added influence of his older sister, local house diva Nicky Lawrence. Instead, anyone who’s actually heard him play can’t help but give him props for his already polished technique, deep musical knowledge and creative song selection. (Who else can pull off mixing Yakkity Yak into a house set?)

He first tried mixing on his father’s turntables when he was eight, and fell in love with it. Since then, the combination of his youth and confident mixing has turned more than a few heads. His gigs these days are split between playing hiphop and R&B for all-ages parties and playing deep house and classics under his dad’s watchful eye for people much older than he is.

When asked about his most memorable gig, Pounall pauses for almost a minute and smiles, as the memories of the past few years flood back.

“I’d have to say it was Montreal, when I was 12 years old. I really enjoyed what I did – I rocked the crowd at jojoflores’s party. He’d seen me DJ at Kevin Williams’s house party and thought I was really talented, so he brought me down to his night.”

Pounall plans to explore production and eventually wants to make that his profession – producing everything from house to hiphop to rock.

Considering what he’s already accomplished, there’s a good chance he’ll realize his dream of being the next

3. The comic Sabrina Jalees

sabrina jalees is joking about her dream sitcom. “I haven’t figured out the concept yet, but I think when Fox has me in the studio and offers me $1 million, something will come to mind.

“Hmm, maybe Sabrina The Teenage Bitch.”

TV execs, take note. Sure, the 18-year-old comic is riffing, but she also has a habit of getting what she wants. Without being a bitch about it.

Since stepping onto a Yuk Yuk’s amateur-night stage a year and a half ago, the straight-A student and part-time tennis teacher has achieved more in the world of laughs than some comics do in a decade.

Yuk Yuk’s professional stage? Doing it.

Second City? Yup, and even beat by a month Mike Myers’s record as the youngest performer ever hired by Second City.

(“Hmm, how can I phone him to tell him?” she ponders.)

Just For Laughs? Yes. Matter of fact, she was there just last week competing in the National Homegrown Competition.

“I set my goals pretty high,” says Jalees, her teeth minus the retainer she was sporting last fall.

“I want to write a movie, to be in a sitcom, to be on Mike Bullard,” she says. “It surprises me when I achieve them, but I knew I’d achieve them one day. The fact that it’s happening sooner rather than later is awesome.”

Watching Jalees rip through a stand-up routine about arranged marriages (her father’s Muslim Pakistani, her mom’s Swiss) or seeing her rub shoulders with Second City vets twice her age at a post-show improv set, you’re struck by her confidence, her fearless swagger.

It extends to her real life. After being introduced to Second City cast members before she got hired, she phoned some up and asked them to see her perform.

“I don’t think of it as fearlessness,” she explains. “I just want some stuff so badly that I can’t not do things. I want to get to know these funny people, understand them.”

She’s open-eyed about whatever labels people might stick on her. Teen comic. Muslim comic.

“The fact is, in my act I do talk a lot about Muslim culture,” she says.

She once blew up at her Muslim aunts after her grandfather’s funeral, at which the men got to sprawl out on sofas and the women, according to custom, waited cramped together in a hall.

“I don’t have problems with labels. As I get older, I’m sure I’ll broaden a lot.”

And down the road? Is she afraid she’ll be jammed into the generic ethnic girl slot?

“Obviously, there’s not a big demand for half-Pakistani, half-Swiss characters,” she quips. “I know right now the leads are mostly white. I’ll probably end up playing the friend. But I hope to write something one day and make it so it’s not just a black or white person.

“The whole world is so multicultural. There will definitely be more room for that – for me – in the future.”


4. The ingenue


Field : TV/film actor

Age : 16

Claim to early fame : At 10, Page saddled up in CBC-TV’s Pit Pony, then followed that up with Showcase TV’s Trailer Park Boys. Last spring, the Halifax native more than held her own opposite Molly Parker in Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s feature flick Marion Bridge. Planning a move this fall to Toronto, the rising star’s got a unique fire – think Molly Parker spiked with a shot of Parker Posey.

High school: Queen Elizabeth High in Halifax, plus lots of on-set tutors. Next stop: Toronto.

The perks of fame? “In school people yelled at me in the halls – in a good way.”

What do you dislike about Toronto? “In Halifax you walk down the street and smile at someone even if you don’t know them.”

Favourite Toronto hangout: “There’s this pizza place near Queen and Bathurst.” Not Pizza Pizza, not even Amato. Page digs Terroni.

What’s next? She stars in Mouth To Mouth under her second female director in a row, Brit Alison Murray.


5. The pop prodigies


Field : Music

Ages : Jenny Mitchell (pictured), 18 Geordie Gordon, 17 Little Johnny Jemeson Merritt, 16

Claim to early fame : Although they’re almost all still in high school, these mini-musicians have wowed the jaded T-dot with their oddball thrift-store-orchestra indie pop. They’ve snagged write-ups in local scene-making zine Wavelength, wowed NXNE, put out a self-produced disc (The Night Of The Party) and got local promoter legend Dan Burke raving about them – he even inspired a song on their new disc. And if that’s not enough, Guelph indie production Midas Andy Magoffin gilded their upcoming album.

Think : The High Llamas doing playroom duty, fronted by a more deadpan Liz Phair.

Artistic pedigree : Geordie’s dad is folkie James Gordon, and Johnny’s the spawn of roots rock songwriter/producer Scott Merritt.

High school: Jenny just graduated from Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, to which the other two return in September.

Extracurricular activities: “I read, drink coffee, cut hair and turn T-shirts into smaller shirts,” says Jenny.

Worst thing about being a teen? “Getting kicked out of bars we’re playing at.”

What’s next? The trio just finished mastering their new Magoffin- and Merritt-produced disc last week, and plan to start shopping it out to labels stat (local indies, take note). They also play the always stellar indie rock Hillside Festival in Guelph this week (see Concert Calendar, page 48).


6. The Tory toppler


Field : Social justice, education and trade activism

Claim to early fame : As if co-founding Stir It Up (the province-wide network of high school activists) two years ago weren’t enough, this student exec has also led the high school contingent against cuts to education (steering the Campaign for Public Education) and, of course, corporate world domination. Whether he’s organizing die-ins against war or speaking at rallies like Stop The Cuts, fighting for social justice both near and far can make for a long day’s work. But this wonder teen swears he won’t rest until those tax-cut-happy Tories are toppled.

High school : Just graduated from Ursula Franklin Academy

Best thing about being a teen : “When you do ‘something,’ they print things like this.”

Defining teen moment : “Thirteen, sitting in Queen’s Park as the Tories voted for Bill 160. My education was ruined that day, and it is one of the memories that motivates me to fight this government on a day-to-day basis.”

Why people over 20 are full of shit : “They’re not full of shit, they’re just broken by the myths and lies used to oppress Joe/Jane Citizen.”

What’s next? “In the fall I move to Montreal to study community affairs and public policy. Until then, I’ll be campaigning against the Tories. The decision-makers need to change. Look for me on the ballot in 2006.”


7. The drama princess


Field : Theatre actor/director/writer

Age : 18

Claim to early fame : With two parents in the biz (see below), it was a given that she’d be interested in theatre. But who expected the wise-beyond-her-years The End Of Pretending, the moving look at the death of a parent and childhood that Corbeil-Coleman co-wrote, co-performed and co-directed with Emily Sugerman at last year’s SummerWorks. The autobiographical piece won the fest’s audience award. Remounted this summer in Picton, it made summer stock history as the first piece there to include the word “fuck.” Fuckin’ A.

Artistic pedigree : She’s the daughter of Theatre Passe Muraille artistic director Layne Coleman and the late writer Carole Corbeil.

High school : S.E.E.D. Alternative (favourite subjects: native studies and math)

Why do you want to stay in Toronto? “Since I don’t have my driver’s licence, I have no choice.”

What do you dislike about Toronto? “That ‘noooobody’ needs qualifications to become mayor.”

Worst thing about being a teen? “Being carded at Tequila Bookworm while attempting to order a strawberry milkshake. Plus, all the fucking angst.”

Best thing? “Having yet to squander my youth.”

What’s next? “Waitressing, kissing my boyfriend, writing more with Emily Sugerman, auditioning, finding myself… the usual.” And The End Of Pretending airs as a radio play on CBC.


8. The trans champion


Field : Queer/peace advocate

Age : 16

Claim to early fame : Not long after Andy Scheim came out, full throttle, at the tender age of 14, this energetic, edgy teen started reaching out to others in rainbow-hued shoes through groups like SOY (Supporting Our Youth) and TEACH (Teens Educating Around Confronting Homophobia). But by no means is this trans supernova limited to planning Pride’s prom and the Fruit Loopz stage and stamping out homophobia at every turn. Andy’s also out organizing against U.S. aggression, canvassing for Greenpeace and mobilizing against the WTO, while starring in a queer youth documentary.

High school : Formerly of the Triangle Program, and heading to Avondale Alternative

Extracurricular activities : “I spent all the time this year that I wasn’t being an activist being a media whore.”

Why people over 20 are full of shit : “They’re all just as jaded as I am – they’ve just given up on trying.”

What’s next : “I have to focus on school a little more, because I didn’t do much work this year. And I’ve decided to start a Toronto chapter of Gay Shame, a group that challenges the corporate takeover of Pride.”


9. The designer guy


Field : Graphic designer/digital artist

Age : Turned 18 last Sunday

Claim to early fame : Barely two years in Canada, the Dubai-born Ijaz has shaken up the art world with his graphics know-how and digital design prowess (see www.prmthn.net). Currently planning a design company called mandilovesmee and a print version of his online magazine, Virgomag, he’s considering studying at Sheridan, although designers twice his age are already amazed.

High school : Formerly at Sir Winston Churchill in St. Catharines, “now I’m looking around for somewhere comfortable to spend my final semester.”

Why are people over 20 full of shit? “I depend a lot on those over 20 for money, so I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

Worst thing about being a teen? “Stereotyping, my mom waking me up and telling me to get a job, heartbreak, homework and puberty.”

Favourite Toronto hangout : “I keep hearing about all these great places I can’t go because of my age. Ask me in a year.”

What’s next? “Working together with some friends under the name mandilovesmee. Getting a girlfriend. Breakdancing. In other words, the big leagues.”


10. The municipal minder

Who: CLARA CHOW Age : 17

Field : Municipal politics

Claim to early fame : This savvy City Hall upstart is changing municipal affairs from the inside. The 17-year-old grad sits on the exec of the Toronto Youth Cabinet (a council watchdog) and the United Way and on the board of the Youth Action Network fighting against racism, poverty, the lack of affordable housing and any other social file that flies her way. When she’s not “taking it to the ‘hood” with her anti-oppression work or lobbying council on youth issues, she gets away from it all by teaching ESL and running her school rag.

High school : Freshly tassled by the University of Toronto Schools.

Best thing about being a teen? “You have time to try on different hats and be different people until you find the right fit – that experimental time.”

Why she won’t burn out before 21 : “There are no guarantees. I might find myself on a twinkie farm, but I think as tiring as running around to different meetings is, it’s also really galvanizing.”

What’s next? “I figure I don’t want to spend my life on the same piece of land, so I’m going down to the States for university. I’m part of the brain drain.”

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