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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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Yellowknife musician moves to the big city

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Dana Sipos is taking her music on the road, but not in the traditional way.

The 29-year-old singer-songwriter, who last spoke to The CJN in 2009 when she represented the Northwest Territories in a CBC music contest, will be biking from Toronto to Ottawa, stopping along the way for at least eight gigs as well.

The whole concert will be environmentally friendly thanks to special bicycles that will be used to power the stage. Audience members will pedal on the stationary bikes during the show to send power to the stage, so it’s up to the audience to keep the music coming.

“The format… really gets people involved, excited and inspired,” she said. “And without their pedal power, the show wouldn’t go on.”

Although it may seem like a daunting task, biking more than 500 kilometres from Toronto to Ottawa with instruments, Sipos has done a similar trek before, when she biked down the Oregon coast to northern California after playing in a Portland music festival. She said that trip took her two weeks, and she’s expecting the Ottawa ride to take a similar timeframe.

“It’s a good challenge for everybody involved,” she said, referring to the other musicians on the tour as well as the tour manager and founder of the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival, James Davis, who will be cycling along with her.

Biking is also one her of favourite methods of travel, along with canoe and skiing, “so the bike music tour is a way of combining a love of travelling by bicycle and really getting to know the countryside and a love of playing music and performing.”

Sipos is living in Toronto for the first time in more than a decade, having spent the better part of the past 10 years in Yellowknife. Even before that, she lived in Hamilton, Ont., and then Thornhill, Ont., so it’s really like her first time living in the city.

“It was definitely a really big change,” said Sipos, who arrived in the city last October. “You can’t really compare them [Toronto and Yellowknife].”

The sheer size of the city makes it somewhat difficult for artists to stand out amongst the crowd, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all, she said. Versus in Yellowknife, “if I have this awesome idea for a puppet show I want to do, there’s a good chance I’ll get a bit of funding to do it and a lot of support and the whole community will come out,” she said, so it’s a bit more accessible compared to Toronto, where there is a lot more competition for grants.

“It’s a good challenge to shift my perspective and challenge myself to be an artist in a big city,” she said.

So far, it’s working out for her, having booked several upcoming performances as well as recently taking part in the Northern Scene festival in Ottawa, where she performed at the National Arts Centre. Her next gig will be part of the North By Northeast Music Festival, the annual Toronto weeklong arts festival.

Sipos said her newest songs are largely the result of a recent break up, but the environment of the north has always had an impact on her music and that hasn’t changed, despite her moving to Toronto.

“It’s something about how raw the elements are,” she said. Whether the moon and stars are hidden as the city experiences the midnight sun, or when it’s 40 degrees below and the northern lights are dancing, “everything is very vivid, you feel everything very intensely there.”

Although Yellowknife clearly has fewer artists in terms of actual numbers, Sipos estimated that the city has a higher number of artists per capita than Toronto, which resulted in a community that’s really tightly knit and supportive. She partially attributes the number of artists to “how much raw influence you can pull from the landscape, the interesting people that live there and also how extreme the temperature is there.”

Another major change for her has been adapting to working full-time as a teaching assistant at Toronto’s Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School.

In Yellowknife, “I was doing some teaching but it was more leading songwriting workshops and teaching in a more alternative teaching environment,” she said. “This year, having a nine-to-five job, it’s been interesting to see how I need to work harder to make space for creativity.”

Although Sipos is enjoying her time in the big city, she said she doesn’t see herself staying away from the north for too long.

“It’s interesting to see how strong of a pull [the north] has on me, especially once I left,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t really shake it.”

Dana Sipos will perform at C'est What on June 14 at 8 p.m. For more information, visit danasipos.ca.

 

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