From Chinatown to Coke Town: it’s a battle of the bands and the (social media) buzz as Estelle takes on K’naan in head-to-head events.
For at least one night, music held a monopoly on TIFF. Supa fly Estelle was in town for Diet Coke’s big bash at the Hoxton (#KGW), and K’naan, Canada’s own gentle soul, was headlining the second annual Festival Music House at The Mod Club (#COL). But for some reason or another, many TIFF nights will either start or end at The Drake Hotel (#WQW).
There’s no doubt the venue remains a strong epicentre for all things film fest. And why? Because the hotel is so good at creating buzz. They’ve got a healthy Twitter following (17,000 strong), a robust Facebook presence (5,000-plus Likes) and the prestige of having revived West Queen West. They’ve got their hands in art, performance, fine dining, lodging; they are master marketers. So what better place to begin last night’s tale of “chasing the buzz” than Drake’s new—and very much talked about—stake in Chinatown?
6 p.m.: There’s a tasting scheduled for the newest pop-up resto at the Drake. Within a mere four days, the interiors team transformed the space into something new: Chinatown. It’s the second of three themed installations, and it was timed to coincide with the first day of this year’s fest. A new menu? A new look? Pair that with the likely prospect of celeb sightings (Heather Graham and Juliette Lewis so far today) and you’ve got a reason to go—there’s a buzz. On Wednesday (See: Vol. 1), when the Young Filmmakers Party took over the lounge, Chinatown was complete. Partygoers got the first glimpse of it, causing hungry eyes to flood the stairs leading up to the SkyYard. And the Drake designed it that way: get a bunch of industry types and more-influential-than-not city folk into a room on the eve of a huge, huge festival—and during a “fabulous” party, no less—and you’ve just secured reservations for the next week. It looks enchanting and mysterious. It’s red, and dim, and full of ornaments from the Orient tucked in alongside vintage film cameras. The walls are lined with waving cats (known as a Maneki Neko). Unlike the various fashion-mag editorials that have popped up over the last six months, Chinatown, and its decor, is interesting without being insulting.
7 p.m.: The dining lounge is usually closed on Monday, but Chinatown has been so in demand that the Drake did a rare thing and opened up for reservations. There’s also a party here tonight for The First Weekend Club. The meal’s barely started and already people seem more interested in what’s happening on the other side of the curtain. “How do we eat here?” asks a guy, on the stairs. Of course. Phase one of creating a buzz: accomplished.
7:30 p.m.: “Dinner for Two” is served: egg roll, lobster-and-corn soup, sesame and ginger cashew chicken, beef broccoli, rice. I’m no Karon Liu, but wow. It’s all so good. Marketing manager Jenn Godbout is telling us about the space, that this is technically its third normal night of service, and how chef Anthony Rose veered far from his beaten path on this one. There’s also a social media-esque contest happening right now where you can win a “passport” to Chinatown: dinner for two, cocktails, an invite to a TIFF party sometime before Sept. 18. It would appear that this is phase two of the strategy: get everyone else involved. But what about using social media to get people to your TIFF events?
8:45 p.m.: Festival Music House, Part 1. The FMH is the official music event of TIFF. It was conceived to connect filmmakers and producers with Canadian music. I’m chatting with the House’s lead PR gal, Abigail Van Den Broek, who says there is absolutely no photography allowed inside because the goal is to make the event comfortable and casual, with less emphasis on the media. Tonight’s supporting acts are The Midway State, Hannah Georgas and Dinosaur Bones. Hooded Fang just wrapped their set. Headliner K’naan goes on at midnight. Arts & Crafts, the indie label behind artists like Feist and Broken Social Scene, are handling the music curation. (There’s also an application process for younger bands.)
9:15 p.m.: We’re talking about who’s here. The 16-page RSVP list is full of industry people aimed at helping promote bands. Who’s expected to show up? Names like Paul Haggis, Harvey Weinstein, Jennifer Garner and Darren Aronofsky are being thrown around. Van Den Broek says they’re not going after traditional media, but looking for that “organic buzz that social media brings.” Last year, the festival attracted tons of press from tons of bloggers. It was quite a feat to pack FMH into the tiny Roosevelt Room, and this year’s venue change is designed to be industry-friendly, no riff raff. This year, there are about 25 media members slated to attend, half of which are bloggers. This works in an equally interesting way, thrusting a select few into the forefront of the Toronto blogsphere. (They “got the exclusive.”) In turn, FMH seems more exclusive, and, well, you really want to know what the hell is going on in there. Van Den Broek feels last year’s over-exposure allowed the team to “get who [they] need to be here to see these bands.” At the core, she says, it’s not about being “corporate.”
10:15 p.m.: And now the complete opposite. Down at the Hoxton, it’s the second annual edition of Diet Coke’s TIFF bash—and it appears to be a free-for-all. It’s the yin to Festival Music House’s yang. Indie vs. corporate. Cool vs. clusterfuck. But how can you be anything but thrilled to be there? There’s an open bar, oysters all around, all the Cola you can drink. Outside, there’s some sort of “Speaker’s Corner” where you can record a greeting or talk about how excited you are to be there (“We love Diet Coke!”). Inside, there’s a make-your-own-flipbook station with props and costumes. They’re handing out bowties for boys or pearls for girls on entry. (“It’s not a party unless someone leaves with a pearl necklace,” says a Fab Magazine editor.) The theme: ’40s Hollywood glamour. The Hoxton is dressed to the nines: huge drink cards hang over the bar telling you what’s in an “Elizabeth Taylor” or a “Richard Burton” (hint: they both contain Diet Coke). God, I love corporate money.
10:30 p.m.: God, I hate corporate crowds. And everyone you “know” on Twitter—and everyone who thinks they “know” you—is here. Basically, it’s become what you would call a “tweetup” under the guise of a film-fest party. Suddenly, throw some movies up on a wall and throw in the word “Hollywood” and you’ve got a TIFF event. In truest tweetup form, there’s a massive projection on the wall that live-broadcasts all tweets coming out of the party with the specific “hashtag.” In this case, it’s #DietCokeTIFF. You can see who’s there in real-time, and, awkwardly, all those who wish they were. The atmosphere is entrancing, though. The pace is fast, the energy is electric, the bar is struggling to keep up. Everyone’s excited because Coke’s calling it a “gala” and that sounds so fancy and so “what TIFF is all about.” Frankly, I’m with Toronto Life scribe Fraser Abe: “We need to call a moratorium on calling things galas.” He didn’t attend. But people are having a great time (really), and I don’t need a wall to tell me that.
10:45 p.m.: They’ve also got the music thing happening, but there’s a completely different approach to generating buzz. So why’d they all come? In about an hour, American Boy-loving Estelle is set to perform. Let’s face facts: Estelle is the only draw to this party. Until she hits the stage, we’re all going to continue to be annoyed by each other. When I ask Lindsay Tanchuk, social media integration manager for Mosaic (the firm throwing the party), she tells me they invited a wide range of people including media, bloggers, Toronto influencers, consumers, contest winners, brand advocates and so forth. There was an aggressive Twitter campaign, with tweet-to-win contests, TIFF ticket giveaways and more. The party’s invite-only, like Festival Music House, but, unlike FMH, the invite seemed a little less hard to get. That’s hard to swallow for the blogger queens of Toronto, who prize their exclusive invites above all else and look to keep the others in check. It’s a kingdom, this Toronto social-media sphere, and top blogs like to stealthily remind the rest who really owns the throne. One such queen even whispered to me: “I’m the fucking celebrity here. I came to meet my fans.” Maybe she was half-kidding, maybe not. Other, more traditional media—typically known to these avoid overly hyped events—were not so thrilled either, fans or not. “This isn’t really your scene, is it?” I ask a certain style editor. Her look of ennui was golden, and her response: “I’m giving Estelle until 11:30 p.m.” But, like it or not, we—bloggers, editors, writers, winners—are all here, by the hand of social media or by the lack of invite to The Bay’s Madonna dinner.
12:07 a.m.: Estelle. She’s magnificent and on point. She’s swearing like a sailor. She’s dragging guys up on stage to grind (“wine”) with her. Is she drunk? Who cares? By now, we all forgot about eating something with Diet Coke Sauce on it and, for at least 30 minutes, we can all just stop taking ourselves so seriously.
12:50 a.m.: Festival Music House, Part 2. K’naan is knee-deep into his set. It’s a stark contrast: the crowd is mellow, responsible with the open bar and enjoying a truly soulful set. The house is packed. I think that’s totally Sebastien Grainger (one-half of Death From Above 1979) over there. Everyone’s chill, everyone’s into it. No one’s yelling. One girl’s dancing. Tomorrow, the Festival Music House will welcome another set of bands including Sam Roberts and Lights, and they expect a lot more crashers.
And what about the social media impact? The buzz surrounding Festival Music House reached 28,140 people via 50 tweets (out of 142 tweets so far). For Diet Coke’s bash: they reached 24,182 people via 50 tweets (out of 1197 so far). Let’s just call it a draw.