Arts & Life
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Music groups have always said they can't do what they do without the fans.
That's what's made the COVID-19 pandemic so difficult for the music industry. Musicians have been forced to stay at home and concerts can't happen, owing to restrictions on public gatherings. That key link between entertainer and the entertained has been severed since March.
Winnipeg rock duo Mise en Scene — Stefanie Blondal Johnson and Jodi Dunlop — found a way to reconnect with and show appreciation for its devotees worldwide. The duo's fans have been put front and centre in a video for the group's latest single, Dance My Life Away.
Johnson and Dunlop asked fans, friends and even family members to submit video of themselves dancing in their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and even their bathrooms to go along with the song, which was released May 29. So much footage was sent their way the two had to send it to their label, Vancouver's Light Organ Records, to edit it and make it fit the three-minute, 10-second garage-rocker.
Johnson and Dunlop were supposed to be heading to Vancouver to film a video — a more traditional one — when the pandemic broke out. Instead of a video and a concert tour, Johnson retreated to her home in Gimli and Dunlop had to stay in Winnipeg. Then the idea hit.
"We were trying to find what to do," Johnson says, adding they recorded Dance My Life Away in April 2019 and eventually decided it could be used as a second single. "So we asked, 'Can you set up your camera horizontally and film yourself dancing, wearing different outfits?'
"We all teamed up a bit. It's so uplifting to see all the solidarity."
The result is a fun video that includes dancing doctors, parents prancing with their kids, dogs and dog owners moving to the beat, and a upbeat accompaniment to the gradual loosening of pandemic restrictions.
"It's interesting how timely it is," Johnson says. "We were just dancing it off and letting it go.
"It still brings a huge smile to my face. When it's over, I say, 'Oh no, it's over!' "
There are plenty of folks from Manitoba in the video, including Johnson and Dunlop, but fans from as far away as New York City, Austin, Texas, and Wrexham, Wales submitted videos. Johnson says the hardest part of filming was to remain in the frame because they had no camera operator or director calling the shots.
Dance My Life Away is the second single Mise en Scene has released this spring. The first, Angel, came out March 27, but like so much music released in March, was overshadowed by the frightening peak of COVID-19. That also meant an album, and the tour that was to go along with it, had to wait.
"The whole music industry is reassessing when are we going to tour again, go to a concert again," says Dunlop, who like almost everyone has few answers to those tough questions. "Every single week, we reassess it, and reassess the world."
In the meantime, Dunlop and Johnson have started a podcast, Conversation Ashtray, and are trying to keep up the songwriting momentum they built when creating the yet-to-be-released album.
"Jodi and I got in a pretty prolific writing phase," Johnson says. "There were so many songs, they just fell out of (us)."
Don't be surprised if dancing Mise en Scene fans make a return in the future. A lot of fun outtakes were left on the cutting-room floor, Dunlop says.
"There's a lot of gold there too."
Music lovers can't go to the West End Cultural Centre right now, but that's not stopping the WECC from taking its stage to fans' homes.
Bring Your Own Mic, a Saturday night online concert series, is set to begin June 27 at 7 p.m., with Winnipeg folk trio Red Moon Road performing. An online link that costs $2, purchased from Eventbrite.ca, will allow viewers to watch the concerts while supporting Manitoba artists the same way regular concerts do, says Jorge Requena Ramos, the cultural centre's artistic co-ordinator.
The difference between the WECC series and the many livestreams that have been performed during the COVID-19 pandemic will be the quality, he says.
"This will be done in a more thought-out, more technical way," Requena Ramos says.
Instead of an artist performing in their living room and recorded on a cellphone camera, Bring Your Own Mic performers will take to the WECC stage with a full sound setup — using their own microphones to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — and professional camera and sound personnel will record the show and stream it on the Vimeo platform to the online audience.
Requena Ramos believes the artists — who will receive most of the proceeds of the shows — and the $2 price point will attract an audience greater than the WECC can usually hold.
"We're hoping for 1,000 (viewers)," he says of the Red Moon Road opener. "These artists need to make a living."
Seven shows are planned on successive Saturdays, but only four have been set in stone. Bilingual vocalist Rayannah performs July 4, Anishinaabe singer-songwriter Leonard Sumner takes the stage on July 11 and Winnipeg's Micah Erenberg is scheduled for July 25.
To purchase a link to the June 27 show, visit here.
While the concert series is designed for musicians, a new compilation album aims to raise funds for the concert venue itself.
The first, Homemade Winnipeg: An Isolation Compilation, is a new compilation album that includes songs recorded by local artists such as Paige Drobot and New Wales during the early lockdown phase of COVID-19.
"The WECC has given me a lot over the years, I just wanted to do something in return," says Nicolas Friesen, who put together the collection through his label, Inservice Records. "Assembling a collection of new music from some of my favourite Winnipeg artists is just a fun way for us all to come together and celebrate the resilience of the local music scene."
To stream or purchase the album, visit this website.
Arts and Life Editor
Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.
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