In an age where the tools of creation, production and distribution are more accessible than ever before, the concept of independence has morphed. Still a requirement for the most ambitious and self-sustaining work, for many creators, independence is also a critique of a creative machine that has historically distributed the fruits of control into the hands of the most powerful. Granted, this has also arrived with social media, which has made it easy to feel the overwhelming and consistent presence of competition. But in the midst of a contemporary landscape where anyone can be their own boss, the question remains: what elevates someone’s work from background noise to centre stage? Here’s how five artists are reworking our perceptions of creative agency, and how they got there.
Myst Milano. — Multi-disciplinary Artist, Rapper
According to myst milano., a multidisciplinary artist originally from Edmonton, now anchored in Toronto, genres are designed to coalesce. With an approach that blurs the borders between eras, sounds and stylistic territories, myst is a crucial arm of Toronto’s legendary queer nightlife scene. Since releasing her BADLANDS EP in 2016, she has steadily risen to become one of the city’s most in-demand DJs, playing sets across the country. Percolating throughout her work is an undying confidence in the strength of the underground and its potential to imagine new artistic horizons. But to experience the ambition of myst milano. is to witness her live set: a powerful and calculated execution of skill and precision wrapped in unbridled energy. Now, as one of the co-founders of Raven’s Vision, an arts collective dedicated to fostering inclusive spaces, she’s become a force of nature in her community.
There’s this Phylicia Rashad quote that’s like this: “Before you can write, you’re drawing. Before you can speak, you can sing.” so [to me], creativity is a part of everyone and it goes so far back in your development. Being DIY and independent came about because I didn’t have any other options. I had this hunger to create, and now that everything is so accessible, you can just download a computer program that’ll help you produce. It’s like how house music started. The [Roland TR] 909 went on sale because the [Roland TR] 808 was so popular. So all these poor, black, queer people in Chicago started buying 909s and that’s how house music was born: death of disco, birth of house. Once you open up accessibility, people you would never expect—people who can’t play instruments, people who don’t have past experience—can create amazing stuff from nothing.
Jonathan Raksha — Goldsmith, Jewellery Designer
Before you think twice, we’re going to tell you that you’re already familiar with Jonathan Raksha’s work. Perhaps adorned on the teeth of rap’s newest masterclass like Lil Uzi Vert, ASAP Rocky, and Post Malone. Or maybe around the neck of Kanye West on the cover of his iconic Harper’s Bazaar cover with Kim Kardashian. After launching Toronto Grillz when he was still in college, Raksha quickly acquired a dedicated international following, finding fans in hip hop’s elite inner circle. Because where his competitors might elect to hide their work in photos disguised as style, Raksha puts his pieces front and centre, letting the quality and prowess of each stand on their own. His craft is the product of a work ethic—derived from a meticulous approach to execution that includes plans that think 20 steps ahead—necessary to meet the aspirations he’s crafted for himself: to have people purchase pieces of his own design. “Right now I’m in the stage of making things I’ve had in my mind for years.” For Raksha, his approach derives from the very spirit of the city that he claims.
I take a lot of inspirations from by background, being Persian and Scottish. It’s like being steeped. I’ve been steeped in very rich cultures which are quite old, and in terms of art, both very advanced. Going to Scotland as a child and exploring some of the rock pools gave me an appreciation for the ocean and being near the coast. Nature is perfect design: There’s engineering to it; it’s functional. Then there’s the aesthetically pleasing side of it, the geometry and the ratios. Being Persian introduced me to Persian art and floral design, and Persian poetry, like Rumi the brilliant poet. A lot of people are surprised by my background and mix, but Toronto’s the kind of place where that mix could occur. Together, the blending of the two, has given me an infinite source of inspiration.
Jimmy Chiale — Visual Artist
A prolific visual artist, Jimmy Chiale and his art have become ubiquitous elements of the Toronto community. His colourful, abstract pieces embody his confidence and magnetizing mystique, conjuring duelling feelings of fun and fear. Originally from Paris, Chiale started developing his dualistic style as early as he could remember, doodling constantly while gathering experiences. After immigrating to Canada, he fought through adversity to dedicate his life to his art. With a drive and passion as rich as his talent, he broke through and began finding interest for his paintings and commissions. From boutiques and barbershops to backdrops for Bieber and some of Toronto’s busiest street corners, wherever you find his work, it’s always unmistakably Chiale.
My work, physically, is me. It represents me. It looks like me. It’s mine. But my mindset, I feel like that could inspire others. It’s like Picasso. I love Picasso. Or Basquiat. I love their work, but I don’t paint like them. I don’t want to compare myself to them. I like their mind. Their passion. Their commitment. It doesn’t matter what I do, right next to my family, my work is my first commitment. That’s what inspires me from other artists. The mindset. It’s the feelings. The way they feel about their work. Or how they respect it, how they love it.
Skratch Bastid — DJ, Producer
It’s hard to imagine someone loving their job as much Skratch Bastid loves his. His admiration for music runs deep. He has a respect for the medium that radiates from his joyous face—which let’s be real, in DJ circles is a rarity—whether he’s rocking a massive crowd in Asia, or spinning records for fun in his living room. His devotion to the turntable and music has taken him around the world. For Scratch, the real reward is uplifting and nurturing the culture that brought him his success by mentoring up and coming DJs and musicians. Although he’s a skilled turntablist and producer, with an insane wealth of music knowledge—with the vinyl collection to back it up—it’s Skratch’s positivity that sets him apart. Regardless of the stage he’s on, he’s always approachable. He could be playing the most gutter track and he’d still be smiling. As much as he loves it, Skratch Bastid isn’t just doing this for himself; more than anything, he’s here to share.
I’m inspired by what has come before and what’s happening now. I feel like amazing things are happening all the time. Things either get left behind or overlooked because maybe it wasn’t “their time” when it came out. I learned that through hip-hop music, through sampling. When I first got into music, I came across so much amazing stuff that I later found out was inspired by older music. They came back to me a second time. And sometimes, I would hear a song for the first time and it wouldn’t catch my ear until it was reinterpreted. This idea of ever-evolving art and of things maybe not always being at the right time tells me to pump it out and just put it out there. Don’t be afraid of the current result, as long as you believe in what you do. Don’t shoot for instant gratification. Just continue building on everything and continuing the ongoing conversation that is music. Looking at music like this truly gives me the chills, and that’s something I’m always looking for. If I can make someone feel that, then my job is done.
Brittany Farhat, Director
For Brittany Farhat, a multi-hyphenate who deals in bringing imagination to life, DIY is more than approach to work. It’s anchored in believing in the merits of your own capabilities; it’s an opportunity. As a music filmmaker who’s created videos for artists as broad-ranging as Scott Helman, LOLAA, Hollerado and Our Lady Peace, Farhat has a unique ability to bring the spirit of her subjects to the forefront of each video, while retaining her unmistakable visual aesthetic. Inspired by pantone flashes of colour, where vibrant flashes amplify the artists she features, for Britt the tools of her craft are the only accessories she needs to try something completely new. With two feet planted firmly in the ambition of swinging counter to whatever’s trending, Britt’s vision for the future is, by her own design, refreshingly untethered.
It’s amazing how a community comes together when you’re creating art, especially in my experiencing filmmaking and working alongside the music industry. It’s a very collaborative effort. That’s why I love working with bands and musicians — because I get to work with their art and create around that. I always say that if I don’t have a nice camera, it’s not going to stop me from doing a really cool thing. I don’t think it’s the gear that you need; it’s the willingness to try and take risks. That’s DIY. I do this thing where I commit to something before I know if I can actually do it or not, and it forces me to work really hard to do the thing that I said I would do. Big ideas definitely need a team. You can still be the leader, but you definitely need your team. As long as everybody has the same mentality, you definitely can benefit from working together.
Music: “Plejur” by Shagabond. Check it out here.