Interview Music

Behind the Lens: Photographers and Live Music

A glimpse into two university students and photographers’ experience shooting live performances and participating in music culture.

To delve deeper into the relationship between photography and live music events, Concordia alum Sydney Gastaldo and third-year student in professional music at Toronto Metropolitan University, alongside third-year photography student Jordan Markle at Dawson College, proudly share their respective journey taking professional photos of live concerts. 

Being in charge of capturing a moment in time, especially in an atmosphere as lively and busy as a live music event—both visually and sonically—is no easy task. When asked about photographers’ aim in capturing the energy and emotion of a performance in any venue, Markle said that he really tries to focus on capturing the emotion and energy of live music in Montreal, no matter its scale: “Each picture is carefully constructed in a way that channels the energy and atmosphere of the event, giving viewers a sneak peek into what it was like to actually be there.” 

As for Sydney Gastaldo, she personally always tends to come back to the concept of movement and DIY approach in photography since she doesn’t like photos that look staged. “Some of this happens in post/editing but some of this experiment can happen in the moment through experimenting with aperture, angles, exposure etc,” Gastaldo shared. She also noted how some of the best photos she’s taken have come from in-between moments like while the show is being set up, the singer is talking to the crowd between songs, or when the stage is being set up for the next track or right at the end of the act. “It can be a great way to capture authenticity from an artist as they tend to be less “on” during those moments,” she said. 

There can also be a process of preparation that happens before the action of a show which can impact how the approach of photographing will unpack. “I start preparing by taking a deep dive into the artist’s discography meaning I’m listening to them all day before the show,” Jordan Markle stated. By doing this, he can understand the emotion and feeling of what the artist is trying to portray to their audience on a deeper level and then capture that energy authentically. 

Logistic preparation is also crucial. In regards to this, Gastaldo always ensures she has enough storage on her camera or enough film, as well as charged batteries and a prepared kit. Moreover, she makes sure to back up anything from past shoots and to develop all her older films beforehand. Checking out the weather if it’s an outdoor show is also part of her routine. 

Challenges can be encountered when documenting the ephemeral nature of live performances. Markle shared how a venue might only allow photographers access to the photo pit for the first three songs. If this is the case, Markle avoids taking the same type of photos for all three songs to offer more variety in the shorter amount of time that is offered to him. To essentially counter this problem, he experiments with different techniques and employs varied shooting methods, sometimes using long exposures or action freeze frames. 

As for Concordia Alum Sydney Gastaldo’s biggest challenge, the lighting for underground or DIY/indie shows can be quite unpredictable. “It can be really hard to capture the in-person feel of a show when it’s happening in low lighting or with flashing light / over-saturated set design,” she said. Matching the pace of any movements on stage is also something to navigate, but these challenges, Gastado said, are just “trial and error.”

A visual artist, in this case, a photographer, retains a certain role in preserving and celebrating music culture since it acts as the bridge between the performing artist and fans, the internet, tabloids, etc. When asking Sydney Gastaldo and Jordan Markle how they see their work contributing to this broader cultural narrative, they provided similar opinions. 

Markle seeks that his work tell someone’s story and preserve memorable moments for years to come. “I see it as a means of capturing the intersection of music, art, and human experience […] whether it’s through documenting live performances, capturing intimate moments backstage, I want my photos to tell stories,” he said.

Gastaldo shared how for her, photography in the realm of live music cements these seemingly small moments that can often feel big for those attending. Moreover, her work focuses on underground and more obscure kinds of music or smaller bands/artists existing in the local scene. “A lot of them split apart and/or don’t end up making a living out of their craft and all that is left of their work is people’s memories and photographs/videos. But regardless of how successful they may be in a broader sense, the impact that their music had on their fans and the community and the beauty of their live performances still means something and I think capturing that and cementing it in history can be beautiful,“ Gastaldo proudly answered. 

From utilizing a small-budget camera or owning professional high-grade equipment, from capturing a small local stage to a large national music festival, live music photographers, like Sydney Gastaldo and Jordan Markle, make sure to remain intentional with their craft. They deliver the most authentic representation of the evening through passionate intentions for the art and story behind each frame. 


Turbo Haüs welcomes another live jam session

Jam sessions are still alive and well

Turbo Haüs welcomed its second Growve MTL event of the month on Sept. 15. The night was met with a packed venue space and filled with a lively audience. Many members of the crowd were excited as they had attended said event on previous occasions. One individual called Growve MTL a “must-see event every young musician in Montreal has to be a part of at least once.” Before going into the bar, however, COVID-19 precautions such as vaccination status were necessary to check before enjoying the live show.

Growve MTL is an event that hosts live jam sessions at different venues: Wednesdays are at Turbo Haüs and every other Thursday is at Blue Dog. Shayne Assouline, a Concordia student in the jazz studies program, is the host and co-founder of the event, alongside Shem G. who is a professional beatmaker in the Greater Montreal area. They are both part of a band called The Many, and met three years ago at a bar called Urban Science, which hosts jam sessions under their “le Cypher” event, according to Marcus Dillon, a member of the Dust Gang community.  The Many are the main act of Growve MTL, and are associated with the community known as Dust Gang.

The aim of Dust Gang and their event Growve MTL is to bring together artists who are so comfortable in their respective musical craft, whether they play drums or bass or even the flute, that they bring something new to the table each time. In doing so, they make every show unique, even if they play the same song for multiple events. For example, a new musician will come to the stage with a saxophone and perform differently than the other woodwind musician, just because of their different influences and past environments.

When asked what the main genre of music played at Growve events, Assouline said “They focus on mostly hip hop and jazz since they come from the same roots.” Dillon, a member of their group, replied “Mostly Black American music,” since they welcome other categories such as funk and blues. This could open the door to many musicians who want to take part in these public jam evenings. The majority of the music styles we know of today have ties to music made by African American communities, ranging from rock to alternative, to even metal.

The niche for the night’s event was “The Internet Theme,” which brought covers cherished by the internet like “Them Changes” by acclaimed bassist Thundercat, and “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan. After the internet theme, a jam session followed, which saw a plethora of musicians make a statement to the crowd and converse with The Many, the main act of the night. Overall, a total of 20 musicians played together, feeding off of each other’s energy and musicality.

After the show, the crowd thanked Assouline, Shem G., and Dillon for the colourful night. The performers there were humble and it showed; there was no ego, only the need to lose themselves in the music. All they asked the crowd in return was to “Bring more folks next time!” Despite the pandemic and the new regulations that circulate around COVID-19, a congregation of unique musicians created a wonderful event that night. It is comforting to know that there are individuals out there working hard to let people escape their present-day troubles with opportunities for musicians to come let loose during a live jam session.


Photographs by Saro Hartounian


PHOTO GALLERY: Tyler, the Creator at Place Bell

Tyler, the Creator at Place Bell on September 12, 2019

Photos by Mackenzie Lad (@macklad)

Student Life

Dive into an 1830s opium bar

Bar Datcha switches vibes with jazz and tarot every Thursday

Walking through the doors of Bar Kabinet on Laurier Ave. W., adjacent is Bar Datcha. The warm yellow light in the entrance dances off the walls and drink glasses at the bar, creating a magical atmosphere. Patrons sit drinking and chatting with the bartenders, while a low hum of jazz music emanates from within the walls.

To the right of the bar, black curtains lead the way to the main event: a jazz band performance, and tarot card reading. Opposite to the entrance, the room has pitch-black walls with dim lighting and cloud-like smoke, setting an “1830s Parisian opium bar” vibe.
At the table across from the band sits Samuel Bonneau Varfalvy, organizer and tarot reader, waiting for his next client. He’s lively and interactive, making it feel like those who speak with him already know him. Varfalvy is an artist, manager and musician, who also teaches music. With his partner, Isaac Larose, a nightclub promoter, he brought to life the idea of jazz and tarot in a nightclub. “This whole [tarot reading] thing started a couple of years ago,” said Varfalvy. “I became a little obsessed with tarot after reading about it and learning.”

“He went crazy and started bringing his taxi drivers in the apartment for readings,” Larose said with a laugh. “We’re roommates and I was just like ‘that’s not okay.’ My girlfriend then suggested we look for somewhere to do this in.”

The duo started the concept of jazz and tarot last year, at The Emerald on Park Ave. That only lasted about five months partly due to, according to Valvarfy, misconceptions about the nature of tarot. “There’s a very strong Jewish community [there], and a lot of Hasidic people associate tarot with dark magic and witchcraft,” Valfarvy said. “They thought I was a sorcerer or something.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

After the Emerald, the pair found Bar Datcha and thought it was the exact embodiment of their vision. “I think a lot of people would not necessarily go see a tarot reader,” said Larose. “If you put it in a different context where it’s really easy to just try it, people might end up liking it.” The aim of this unusual pairing was also to encourage people who would perhaps not go on their own to have a fun and unorthodox experience.

As for choosing Datcha, Larose, who has worked with other clubs such as Tokyo Bar, wanted to take the already popular vibe and see what else could be added to it. “We wanted this little bar where there’s tarot, and we feel like we’re in an opium bar in 1830s Paris,” said Varfalvy. “And Isaac said, ‘Oh we should add in some jazz,’ and we were like ‘Let’s call it Jazz and Tarot.’”

Varfalvy’s main influence in the world of tarot reading is Alejandro Jodorowsky, a mystic, healer and cult filmmaker who has studied tarot reading in depth. “He’s a psychedelic movie director,” Varfalvy said with a smile. “[Jodorowsky] found the old Tarot de Marseilles from the 16th century, technically the original cards, and he reprinted [them] using this old tarot card printer in France.”

To Varfalvy, tarot is a performance art in a way. “There’s nothing magical or mystical about tarot to me,” said Varfalvy. “It was a sort of card game, and for some reason, people started using them for like 16th century psychology.”

Varfalvy has a methodology he follows when reading cards. His technique revolves around two foundations. The first is accepting that it is not magic, but psychology. The second is accepting that the future cannot be known, simply anticipated. “The cards point to a relationship with the future that you have,” said Varfalvy. “It’s one of two things: you either desire it or fear it.”

Varfalvy gives the deck of cards to his client and asks them to think of a question while shuffling it—for orientation and direction. He then takes the cards and spreads them in a semicircle on the table, and asks the client to pick three cards out of the pool. According to him, the first one to his right is past, the middle is present, and the last one is future.

“I’ve never done tarot reading before, so there was some apprehension and skepticism going in,” said Cameron Begin, an event attendee. “My friend told me to try it for experience, and often there are people who are good at connecting. Immediately, I felt that I connected to Sam, and kind of surrendered to him and what he had to say. As the cards began to fall and he read them, it felt like he did have a strong intuition. It gave me food for thought.”

At 11:30 p.m., Datcha switches to techno and becomes a full-blown nightclub. In the meantime, Varfalvy continues doing readings for those Larose brings him.

“Bring me my next victim,” Varfalvy said with a laugh, welcoming the next person to the chair across from him.

Bar Datcha (98 Laurier Ave. W.) hosts Jazz and Tarot nights every Thursday.

Feature image by Fatima Dia.


Witness the rebirth of real southern rock ‘n’ roll

Photo by Andrew McNeill

Honest-to-God rock ‘n’ roll is long gone, kaput, defunct; it crumbled alongside Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, dried up, and floated away in the 1970s.
Wrong. And no, it’s not hiding.
The Bright Light Social Hour doesn’t want to be Austin’s little rock saviour secret, but when they roll into Montreal’s Club Lambi to a crowd of about twenty, we’re pushing them into that corner.
It’s a terrible shame, because these four southern boys bring more talent to the stage than this and last year’s crop of emerging indie bands combined.
This is hard, gyrating, blues/funk rock that oozes simple and unabashed sexual desire, gratification, and invincible optimism.
Curtis Roush, Jack O’Brien, Joseph Mirasole and A.J. Vincent began playing together as an art-rock collective  just under five years ago at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. They spent the past year and a half touring around the states, building a reputation as a real high energy, mustachioed, dance floor-arousing live rock band.
These guys know what they’re doing. They’re as proud of their long luscious manes as of their musical ability, and each is unafraid to gloat their solo skills on drums, bass, guitar and even keyboard. Have you ever seen a rock organ-keyboard solo? Didn’t think so.
Mirasole’s drumming alone whips feet into a confused frenzy, while O’Brien, Roush and Vincent’s three-part vocal harmonies echo the yearning of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and AC/DC’s Bon Scott.

Photo by Andrew McNeill

After the release of their self-titled debut album, The Bright Light Social Hour swept SXSW’s 2011 Austin Music Awards and immediately hit the road for their first North American tour.
Now, their shows sell out to thousands in the south, and after clenching hot ticket status at last year’s SXSW, you’d think this group of gentlemen would have SOB egos to boot.
Over a year later, and still touring strong, their live show is polished, polite, yet confidently dirty—even when playing to a handful of people.
Montreal, you really missed out.


The Box rocks for the young and old

Photo: Andrew McNeill

An impromptu snowstorm certainly didn’t scare The Box junkies away from Montréal en Lumière’s downtown festival site Friday night.
At long last, a festival experience where cigarette toting twenty somethings are outnumbered by miniature humans dressed in technicolor Ewok snowsuits.
Quebecois baby boomers wrapped up their wee ones, lugged them up on their shoulders, and marched through clumping snowflakes to Place des Arts to rock out to the ‘80s New Wave band that once topped the charts and dominated the airwaves.
The Box assembled in 1981 at the hands of Jean-Marc Pisapia, one of the first members of Men Without Hats. The band hit mainstream success in 1987 with their album Closer Together, disbanded in 1992, but reassembled in 2002 to spin out a few new tunes and reunion concerts.
The Box is mom and dad pop-rock in its most uncomplicated format. Its sound is stereotypically New Wave, and dependant on upbeat yet playful male-female vocal harmonies and catchy choruses. Despite its harmless and agreeable disposition, The Box’s sound didn’t survive the turn of the ‘90s, as listeners looked for something darker—and found it in grunge.
But while The Box’s denim cut offs, hairspray, and Jheri curl days are over, they still know how to get the crowd shaking. Friday’s show was for older fans and their obligatory offspring.
The Box knows they won’t be reigning any new converts, but their live show keeps all the energy of late-’80s Canadian New Wave intact. Dragging toddlers out in the snow past bed time isn’t easy, but this was clearly a show families didn’t want to miss.


Mark Bragg ignites Your Kiss on stage

Mark Bragg either has a multiple personality disorder, is one heck of a storyteller, or has some serious explaining to do.
The Newfoundlander’s latest ECMA-nominated album, Your Kiss, reveals details concerning a kidnapping, a run from social services and a burning desire for the boss’ daughter.
“It’s straight up fiction,” clarified Bragg, “dark, character-driven, narrative fiction.”
The wacky rocker will bring bizarre, eye-bulging stage antics and every Your Kiss character to L’Escalier on Feb. 24 and 25.
“Before I started playing music, as a person, I was intolerable,” confessed Bragg. “Now that I’ve found a way to channel all that, I’m completely laid back. I get it all out on stage.”
Your Kiss is a collection of short stories, but music is the medium, and each track a different tale. It is energetic, theatrical, and much more than a studio session. It successfully simulates the live stage performance.
The lyrics alone are undeniably dark, but Bragg’s rollicking voice, yowling horns, wailing organ and crashing drums bring a more celebratory than morbid quality. His sound is impossible to generalize. It’s punk, country, rock, jazz, and everything in between.
“I get to know these characters pretty intimately in the process of writing and rewriting, but I get to know them even better when I’m performing with my band or touring,” explained Bragg. “I embody the characters and play it out on stage.”
For Bragg, it’s all about the performance. Your Kiss was over five years in the making, but even after producing and releasing the album, he claims that he only finds true satisfaction in performing.
He’s no newcomer to the Canadian music scene, considering his two previous albums have already sent him on tours across Canada and Europe. Music is his trade, but if he isn’t working on his own material, he’s producing or doing session work for other artists.
Born and bred in Newfoundland, Bragg has the St. John’s music community to thank as the driving force behind his talent.
“The music community here is very supportive, but the bar gets set pretty high now, there are so many great writers and musicians,” said Bragg. “It really challenges you, but it’s friendly competition, we push each other.”
“It’s a culture of storytelling around here. Everywhere you go, whether through music or other mediums,” said Bragg, “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Bragg has a knack for musical fiction, and despite admitting that he’s not planning on writing many personal songs, one very truthful tune managed to slip onto his album’s track listing. He is a newlywed, and the ballad he wrote for his wife, “The Fool,” is nestled in between songs about a dirty colourblind pirate and an overweight teenager’s lust.
“It’s challenging, but what we need from the people that we love can be a bit of a guessing game. At the end of it all, when you find out what it is, it seems so simple, and I guess that’s love,” admitted Bragg. “[‘The Fool’] was my way of trying to get to the bottom of it.”

Mark Bragg opens for Guy Pharand on Feb. 24 and headlines on Feb. 25, both at L’Escalier. Doors open at 9 p.m.

Exit mobile version