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Feast in the East celebrates five years with cookbook and compilation

May 03, 2016

The Toronto East End food, art, and music series heaps its plates higher than ever before.

Photo: Keith McManamen

For some stodgy Toronto West Enders, crossing town to the East Side to attend a show is an oddly unsurmountable task. Five years ago, the organizers of the Feast in the East live music series decided to sweeten the deal by offering the added incentives of meals cooked with love, weird and wonderfully immersive visual art environments, and some of the most stacked bills in town (all for $10-15). The concept and execution paid off, and the series is now set to celebrate its fifth anniversary with plates heaped higher than ever before.

The feastivities kick off with a two-night soiree at Anchored Social Club on Friday, May 6th (featuring Horse Lords, New Fries, Mimico, Carl Didur, and JFM) and Saturday, May 7th (with Matrox, Blonde Elvis, Germaphobes, and Castle If). Attendees of these events can also get their mitts on the first ever Feast in the East cookbook, featuring contributions from previous chefs and visual artists, plus a two-cassette compilation of 40 unreleased songs from Toronto alumni and beyond.

The trio serving up Feast in the East – tireless Burn Down The Capital show promoter Tad Michalak, Germaphobes musician Neil Rankin, and Canadaland/The Imposter producer Katie Jensen (replacing original co-founding DJ and artist Cameron Lee) answered some questions below. Read on and check out a few tasty samples from the compilation along with the first glimpse at the cookbook with a recipe from visual artists Alicia Nauta and Dmitry Bondarenko.

AUX: What were your original inspirations or motivations behind launching Feast in the East?

Tad: The lack of DIY shows, pop up dinners, and art shows in the East End was the main impetus. Both Neil and I lived (and still do live) out here and we wanted to create something that we could stumble home from. The cultural centre of the city has been steadily moving West and we wanted to try and draw people out to our neighbourhood for a change, to expand people’s view of what Toronto is. The food was definitely a big part of that. It’s still one of the best deals in town, the advance ticket is only $10 and that includes dinner. You’ll pay the same price for a mediocre burrito at a lot of places.

Neil: Yeah, we absolutely wanted to give people a reason to cross the Don River and a free cupcake for our first show was fairly enticing I feel.

Katie: I joined Feast two years into the series after reading about it in the now-defunct alt weekly, The Grid. I wanted to escape the music scene in the West and go somewhere new, somewhere that I didn’t know anybody. I wanted to go to a concert anonymously. Little did I know, both the East End and the Feast community are actually really tight-knit groups, and if you go to any Feast, you’ll most likely see a notorious East End homie.

At my first Feast, seeing Bella Akira, New Fries, and Mimico sweating it out in a tiny cement-floored room at Gerrard Art Space in Little India, I knew I had to get involved.

There’s something really special about the vibe at Feast; you can dance if you want to, you can get comfortable sitting down with a heaping plate of food, you can mingle and look at art. The novelty of having freshly prepared, healthy, cheap food at a show has never grown old for me. You can’t beat $3 for a vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free meal. I love that our contributors can participate in many different ways; lots of artists have played music, many musicians have cooked. It’s a really great way to experiment musically, artistically, and creatively.

Do you have any guidelines for the musicians you book to perform? What do you try to do differently than other promoters in town?

Katie: I always try to think about how the bands that I book will reflect my values as a community builder and a woman in the experimental music scene. We are all responsible for shaping the music communities we belong to. This means going outside of our comfort zones and not always booking our friends’ bands, or booking the same handful of racialized/female/non-binary performers that tend to be tokenized on bills.

As promoters, we are privileged to be in a position where we can build a supportive, safe, and inclusive music scene. This is top of mind whenever I program bills, write music reviews, or curate my community radio show. As a longtime writer for Weird Canada, I am drawn to bands that challenge my existing music taste: ambient drone, vaporwave, free-jazz, experimental electronic, contemporary classical. As a woman, I really want to be a strong pillar in the community, celebrating and publicly supporting the creative work of female/non-binary musicians. I want to help them book shows, because the scene needs more women helping each other grow and thrive.

At a certain point in my mid-20s, I realized that the scene won’t get better unless we all do the legwork. For me, this legwork involves learning from the experiences of women like Marie Flanagan, Julie Reich, Zoë Solomon, Ayo Leilani, Kristel Jax, April Aliermo, Brooke Manning. It includes a lot of research, collaborating, and amplifying the voices of women in my community.

Tad: There are no guidelines per se, we try to keep things diverse month to month. One month you may see four acts all working in the folk tradition, the next it could be a dance party, a bunch of punk bands or contemporary classical ensembles. The quality is always high, which I think helps people take a chance on something they may not otherwise.

Booking bands from the East End is also important, as often they don’t get an opportunity to play in their own neighbourhood. Building cohesive bills is something we focus on a lot, creating connections between performers. No one wants to see four bands that sound the same. It’s interesting when you see four bands that take you on a journey throughout the evening.

The majority of my booking beyond Feast focuses on avant-garde and challenging music, which influences my choices with Feast, but the fact that there are three of us collaborating on the booking process creates a good variety of styles and voices.

Neil: Tad and Katie covered a lot of what we aim to do every show so all I’m going to add is that we definitely focus on creating a safe space for all the musicians, artists, and chefs involved. Making sure everybody is happy and feels welcome and safe is a major priority.

What have been some of your most memorable meals, for both popular and unpopular reasons? I heard that one event where soylent was served didn’t go over very well.

Neil: It’s tough for me to remember exactly which meals they were but my favourites have all been when people come back for second and third helpings. Often times I do the same!

Tad: I really enjoyed how avant-garde the soylent meal was. Some people got mad, but it was advertised we were serving soylent for a month before the show, plus it does have all the nutrients you need. Zoe Solomon and Nitasha McKnight made a meal which was all black food once, that ruled. There was also a Feast pretty early on where Brandon Lim made sushi. He was also playing and releasing a zine that same night, so he was spread pretty thin. Just before the doors opened he enlisted pretty much everyone around to help roll sushi and it turned out amazing! It was a great team-building exercise.

Katie: The soylent was the only meal I refused to eat. I loved the borscht by Steph Fielding and Heather Rule. Last summer, I was arriving at Feast by the Queen streetcar when I stepped into a pothole and sprained my ankle. I had to spend the entire night on the couch icing my ankle with last summer’s freezies to keep the swelling down. Heather and Steph brought me beautiful heavy bowls of borscht garnished with dollops of sour cream and fresh dill. It was delicious, nourishing, and we had buckets of leftovers that we kept in the freezer, so I had lots to eat while I was recovering and couldn’t walk to the grocery store. That was my favourite meal for so many reasons.

Besides the music and food, you’ve always placed a big emphasis on visual art and creating ‘environments’. Why is that important to you?

Tad: There is so much crossover and commonality between music, culinary, and art scenes, that it’s sort of a no-brainer to put this stuff together. Having all these people presenting their work together offers a really good opportunity for new collaborations and dialogue about how these things work together and enhance each other. Being in a carefully curated environment vs. some dingy bar can really make all the difference in the way an audience experiences the music or food.

Neil: To be fully immersed in a show is an experience that everyone needs to have in my opinion and having installations/environments at the shows certainly helps that. It makes the night special.

Katie: Artists are a cornerstone of the experimental music community and their work should be valued and celebrated as such. Many people have overlapping, interdisciplinary creative practices and I love that Feast allows people to express different aspects of their work. I’m a person who gets bored easily between sets, so if there’s something for me to do, look at, or participate in, I’m in. Visual art and environs are essential to the vibe of Feast, and Cameron Lee was responsible for making that happen. He introduced dozens of talented artists into the Feast family and the series wouldn’t be here today without his work.

Feast in the East has moved around between a lot of different venues over the years. Do you think that’s helped or hurt you? Do you hope to stay at Anchored Social Club and/or the Jam Factory or will you continue to change locations as necessary?

Katie: Transience is inherent to the nature of DIY spaces; they don’t last forever. We’ve been lucky; every time we’ve been forced to move when spaces flip and tenancies expire, there’s always been a new space waiting with a supportive net.

Right now, we’re at Anchored Social Club, but this space will be turning into condos next year. Ben Dussault and Dani Kind, who run the space, are currently looking for a new location and we’re hoping to go with them there. I know we’ll find a home for Feast In The East regardless of what happens to our current venues.

The East End could really use another DIY venue – I would love to see something that combines artist workspaces, an affordable, experimental restaurant like The Depanneur, pop-up shops, and a venue. Something like Joseph Fuda’s OZ Studios on Ossington, before it closed due to skyrocketing rent. All of the Feast kitchenware is sitting in Tad and Neil’s house and it would be really nice to have a space of our own.

Neil: Exploring different areas on the east to find new venues over the years has expanded our knowledge of neighbourhoods and really connected us to more people so I think over all it’s really helped us stay fresh.

Tad: Each space comes with different challenges and benefits, so it’s been interesting to learn from and take advantage of those. I think it’s also exciting for the audience to go somewhere new, it’s like an adventure. In July we are doing a free Feast In The East at a park out in Scarborough, so that’s the next adventure. Hopefully people are psyched about biking to Scarborough and checking out a park they’ve never been to before. It would be nice to find a more permanent home, but we’ll see what the future holds. The currents have been pretty good to us so far.

Is there any special significance to the musicians, chefs, and visual artists you’ve booked for these five-year anniversary shows?

Katie: The anniversary double-bill could be described as a “best of” list of performers. When we sat down to plan everything out, we picked bands with a similar vibe: Friday will be louder, sweatier, hectic; a true Feast dance party. Saturday will be softer, lighter, melodic; a night of grooving out and winding down.

As with any show, it always comes down to who’s available and who might be playing a show that conflicts earlier in the month. Luckily, most of the bands we asked to play the anniversary shows said yes right away. All of the bands, chefs, and artists featured at both anniversary shows are present in the cookbook, which is a really special, unexpected bit of confluence.

Neil: We always like to bring people from previous years back for the anniversaries and this one is no different. Definitely just wanted to have the best bills possible!

Tad: Everyone who is involved with the anniversary shows is also featured in the cookbook, and like Katie mentioned they are best of bills, so everyone has been involved in Feast at some point over the past five years.

Click/tap the image below for an expanded view:

Can you tell me a bit more about the cookbook and compilation you’ve put together? What kinds of things are included?

Tad: The cookbook includes recipes by over 40 recipes by chefs who have cooked for Feast over the last five years. As we received the recipes, we’d send them out to artists who had done installation work for the series to create an original image. The recipes could be interpreted literally or used as a jumping off point. Each artist was encouraged to create work that made sense in the context of their practice. The results are really varied from textile pieces, water colours, digital collage work to staged photographs.

The recipes are equally as varied, including a soylent recipe by Tough Guy Mountain. There’s also a lot of more classic recipes like Dad’s Magic Granola (Marie LeBlanc Flangan), Thai-o Cruz Noodle Salad (Vita Carlino and Kathleen Lewis), Kale, White Bean and Bacon Soup (Alicia Nauta), Dark Green Torta (Natasha Pickowicz), Southwest Style Baked Potatoes (Stephanie Fielding and Heather Rule), as well as more adventurous fare like Raw Sunflower Seed Tacos (Brandon Lim) and Roasted Asparagus Soft Serve (Basil AlZeri).

The book includes two compilation tapes with 41 tracks by bands that have played Feast in the past. Like the recipes and the accompanying art they are also quite diverse.

I heard you’ve been staying up late to assemble the cassette compilations. Is Feast still a completely DIY labour of love at this point, and do you imagine it staying that way?

Tad: It is still very much DIY. The back of the cookbook has block made of eska board with cut outs where the two tapes fit in. We spent a weekend assembling 300 of those. It helps reduce the production cost of the cookbook if we do the labour instead of the printer. I think like with any DIY project it also enhances the value of the final product when you’ve really put your blood, sweat and tears into it.

It would be nice if Feast grew into something where there was a bit more money to pay the artists and ourselves for our time, which is something we have been working towards. We recently received a Toronto Arts Foundation grant to present a free Feast at a park in Scarborough, that I mentioned earlier. It’s the first one we’ve received but the plan is to keep applying and try to grow the series in that way as well.

I think it will always have a DIY spirit regardless of grant funding, or it’s growth. That kind of grassroots connection with people is really important and it’s what the series was build on from day one.

Katie: DIY for life!

Neil: I don’t think we know any other way!

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