Down With Webster gets down with Samsung in Vancouver


Who offers the hippest mobile phone? In recent history, most people in Vancouver would probably answer with the iPhone.


But Samsung, the ninth largest corporation in the world, is hoping to change that perception next week with the launch of the sleek new Galaxy S III, which has been described by PC Magazine as the "most powerful, capable Android smartphone".

Last night at Venue in Vancouver, Samsung hosted a party replete with dancers—some of whom looked like they had arrived from the future. They were dressed in white and performed on a blue stage, which was a nod to Samsung's corporate colours.

A smartphone was integrated into one dance routine.

Samsung held similar parties in Toronto and Montreal in advance of the June 27 North American launch of the Galaxy S III. Vancouver's event was attended by Samsung Canada president James Politeski, an engineering and business-school grad who's been with the company for seven years.

Earlier in the day in an interview with the Straight he described the Galaxy S III as a "speed machine" with a "bright, gorgeous" screen.

"This is the first phone ever launched which has a host of intuitive things," Politeski said.

As an example, he pointed to four quick links at the bottom of the screen, which offer options for using the phone, text messaging, a camera, and email. With a touch and swipe of his hand, it went straight to either function.

He then demonstrated how a text-message stream could be converted into a phone call from the screen. The screen can also be kept on for extended periods so a person can keep glancing at it periodically while working on documents.

Next month, Samsung will open its first retail store in Canada under the skylight at Metropolis at Metrotown.

Politeski described Metropolis as one of the highest traffic malls in Canada with a young clientele.

"From our standpoint, it's a natural place to be," he said.

One dancer's arms moved in some unusual ways.

Later in the evening, partygoers enjoyed some live music from the Toronto hip-hop band Down With Webster, which signed with Universal after being approached by Gene Simmons and Timbaland.

The violin added some sizzle to the night at Venue.

I chatted with two members of Down With Webster—vocalist Cam Hunter and vocalist and guitarist Pat Gillett—whose single "Whoa Is Me" went platinum in 2011. Their album Time to Win, Vol. 2 made it to Number 9 on the Canadian Albums Chart.

The band formed in middle school in the late 1990s, and their name was inspired by the 1980s TV show starring Emmanuel Lewis.

"By the time we realized that maybe we should change the name, it was too late," Hunter explained. "We had played too many shows. Our friends knew the name, then it stuck."

On the upside, he said, nobody has tried to steal the band's name. So if anyone searches those words, they'll end up with the real deal.

As their audience grew, the labels started knocking. Gene Simmons of KISS fame, Timbaland, and Universal all wanted to sign Down With Webster.

Hunter said that at the time, Simmons didn't have a label and none of the infrastructure was in place. He described Simmons and Timbaland as "musical monsters in their own right", but said that the band couldn't let themselves be overly influenced by their star power, so they went with Universal.

Gillett added that the band had already been playing for a long time by the time the pitches came forward in 2009. Down With Webster was already about to sign when Simmons showed up on the scene at the last minute.

"We had been sort of getting deals offered to us for maybe over a year by that point," he said. "And a lot of the deals at this point in time aren't the most fair deals for the musician."

Gillett said he grew up on classic rock, blues, and hip-hop, citing Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Soundgarten, and some New York rap music as his influences.

Hunter said his favourites leaned more toward rap, citing the Wu-Tang Clan, Cypress HIll, and the Beastie Boys.

"I think that's one of the strengths of our band—it's not a group of like-minded individuals," he commented.

Hunter cited a sellout show in Massey Hall in Toronto as one of his biggest musical thrills, mainly because he had been walking by the venue since he was a kid.

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