"One of the reasons why I think DJing was so compelling to me is that it’s a really creative and proactive way to do one of the things I really liked doing, which is listening to music. You’re listening to music but you’re also creating, and that’s why it’s so fun."
How has this Summer been for you so far, and what does the Summer mean for you both musically and occupationally?
The Summer so far has been busy, but in a really nice way. Very social. I’ve just been seeing a lot of people that I really love and that’s been really nice, but it’s been coming out of a Winter that was very hibernate-y for me, and a lot of people I’ve spoken to have been in the same boat. I’m feeling a little bit exhausted, but in a great way.
Is it because you’ve come out of that and immediately been thrown into a lot of social stuff?
It’s a transition that’s happened really quickly. It’s one of those things where a big change has happened, but you don’t even register it’s happened until you’re in it, and I’m just in it right now. It’s great. I’m in my mid 30s now so it’s not like Summers in my mid 20s which were just a whirlwind. I also feel like it’s flying by really quickly more than ever before. I don’t really know what that’s about, but that just tends to happen every year. And musically, it’s in the same vein as the transition from not being social to being social. I also haven’t really gone out to see many DJs or been to many raves, which is something that I really enjoy doing and have enjoyed doing up until the pandemic put a big halt on that. I’ve slowly been getting back into that. I’ve gone to a few really amazing parties and have seen some really impressive DJs, which has been really fun and inspiring.
I went to a rave recently, my first in a very long time, and I wonder if you’re familiar with it. It was in the middle of nowhere put on by Best in Town.
Yes, that’s the best party of the Summer. Those guys are amazing. Shout out to Best In Town. That scene is really, really cool. I’m almost a little bit hesitant to shout them out because they’ve done a really good job of building out that scene slowly and carefully, but that party is really, really incredible. I went last year for the first time, and when I arrived I just thought that this is what I always wanted a party to be. You’re biking out for like half an hour in the darkness and then all of a sudden it opens up into this utopian party scene with the most amazing sound system you could ever imagine, all running on lithium batteries. It’s just crazy. I find that to be really inspiring. They put on a festival as well which is really cool.
Are there any other parties you’ve been to that you want to highlight?
The Format and Apollo, those are two crews that have been doing great parties. Format does techno raves that I went to a lot before the pandemic. My taste has shifted away from hard techno towards more house and bass. Just a little slower bpm and a little less hardcore. Kerri Chandler, he’s like an old school house DJ, was brought in by Apollo. Those two crews have been doing warehouse raves for years. The Apollo raves brought DJ Stingray from Detroit in 2018, which may have been the first rave I went to solo. Before I started Djing, I thought the scene looked really cool: going out dancing, getting lost in the music. It’s like a therapeutic medicinal experience. The typical idea of what people think a rave is is so different from my experience of what a rave is. It’s very refreshing and therapeutic, it doesn’t even feel like partying. It’s barely even a social thing. I don’t talk to people and I don’t really want to. I have exchanges with people that are really nice, but it’s like energy. There was a dude I used to see only at raves. He was this short bald guy with glasses and he had this one dance move where he would always be doing this marching thing at the front right near the speakers, walking in a line back and forth. I started seeing him more and more and eventually I started doing that dance with him. I saw him at almost every single rave and we just became buddies through that. That was something that got lost in the pandemic. The whole scene kind of fell apart and then rebuilt itself.
It does kind of feel like it’s in a healing period. When a community has a rupture like that and people get scattered, it inevitably comes back together because there is that familiar thing.
And it’s a really special environment and energy on those dance floors. The day after a rave I wake up tired, but I also feel like my soul is refreshed in a really beautiful way that I don’t really get from anything else.
It’s very different from just going out to a club, or a dance party. Similarly therapeutic, but different.
I think at raves you also have people that do it almost religiously. With a dance party, people might be like ‘let’s go check out this party, and dance’, and it’s a one off thing, or it happens every once and a while. Whereas at a rave, people have systems. People show up and they have their tools, or whatever they’re doing. I even developed my own system when I started going. When I first started going, my scene of friends whom I love dearly really didn’t have it in them to get to the party, which I think is a hard step. A lot of these raves start at midnight and go to six, and it’s an intimidating thing from the outside, especially if it’s a dark warehouse. So, eventually I just gave up on my friends coming with me and I started going by myself, and when I did I had an incredible experience because I didn’t have to think about anything social. I could just take it in and stand there and watch this DJ, because at first I didn’t even know what a DJ did. It looks complicated for someone who has never seen it before.
It’s a bit of a spectacle.
Totally, but I was also thinking: are they creating the music with that gear, or are they sampling, or are they just pressing play on a playlist? The spectrum of what I thought it could be was so wide.
Were you making music at the time?
I’ve always been musical, but I wasn’t really DJing, and this is kind of the origin of how I got into it: going to these raves and seeing these world-class DJs like Stingray, Mr, G, Ben UFO. I needed to know what they were doing, because whatever it was was incredible. All DJs have a different style. Mr. G for example – he is a UK producer and he makes really gritty house music – when he performs he has a big multi-channel mixer and he’s making the tracks on the fly, versus most other DJs who are mixing tunes together on CDJs. So I was just figuring out how that worked. Then another friend of mine, Bambii – she’s a Toronto DJ and throws a party called Jerk – she’s really pushing the movement and the music forward in the city, and someone who I’ve known since highschool. I knew she was a really amazing DJ in the city, so I hit her up and said ‘hey, I’m kind of interested in how this works’, and she invited me over to give me a beginner’s lesson. I was getting into techno and house music, and she was like ‘you have to buy and download the music, because you can’t just stream it’, which was new to me. I hadn’t bought digital music in years, so I did that and she put me in front of my first set of CDJs and just showed me how it works.
And when was this?
Not too long ago. Probably 2018.
Did your style evolve since then, because your Work Redux Mix is very smooth and continuous, and it’s not always like that. Sometimes they are more selector style, placing songs, curating it, but yours was much more like an elongated feeling.
I picked CDJ mixing pretty quickly, but I had another group of friends who were really into mixing vinyl. I have a friend who has a set-up we call the Sunshine Booth in his backyard, Noah McGillivray. Really cool dude, amazing vinyl collector, his DJ name is Count Gemini. Him and a crew of dudes would hang out in his backyard and just mix, but I was never really a part of that. Then I started going to Invisible City, and they had a dollar sale on a bunch of shit and I just started collecting disco music. So, I brought a few singles over and he started to show me how to mix vinyl. I got really into that and went really deep on beat matching vinyl. So, I had those two skill sets. But in terms of the style of this mix, the thing that I find really interesting about a mix is recreating the feeling of a rave, imagining people on a dancefloor who want a full experience from start to finish. I love the selector style, which is like a bunch of really cool songs that work well together and that’s the journey, but I find it fun and creative when the journey is connected by the rhythm.
I was noting some of the elements keeping it seamless, like the rhythm, even the spoken word portions, and it made me think of collage, and I wonder what you’re thinking of when you’re assembling the mix and how you weave everything into a full tapestry?
Generally I start with the target audience. For this mix, I was aware that it was supposed to be listened to in a work setting, but I also wanted to use the opportunity to bring the rave into that a little bit. I think that music’s home is the dancefloor, but it’s really interesting sometimes to listen to it in the harsh light of day. It’s really amazing music, and it doesn’t matter if you’re on a dark sweaty dancefloor with substances coursing through your veins or you’re dead sober, it still has a lot of value and purpose. But in terms of shaping the mix, I just try and find songs that work together nicely.
Ya from memory, but the thing about music and electronic music is that when you get into exploring it it goes so, so deep. I’m still discovering stuff from the 80s and 90s that I’ve never heard of. Just the most obscure stuff. I find it so fun to just dig and discover. So, when it’s time to make a mix I first take all the coolest songs I’ve discovered most recently. I go through that and ask myself what I want to play and what works, then I go through my archive of what I’ve collected since 2018 and fill in the blanks and create the experience. Definitely a decent amount of work goes into selecting each track from start to finish.
Are you using any other equipment to supplement and blend the mix?
Not really. I’ve played with those things a little bit, but generally it’s just finding tracks that have extended drum breaks, or that kind of thing, and using that to loop and overlap. You can select a drum break in a track that can just go and go and you’ve done your own sampling on the fly. It’s a pretty common technique, just finding four or eight bars you like and just looping that on a CDJ. It buys you some time as well. There’s a few tracks in the mix, I think one by Logic 2000, that’s just tribal drums and some bass and those tracks are so much fun because they have so much space to build with.
Since we’re talking about the mechanics of the mix and how you put it together, I did have a question about the interesting choices at the beginning and end of the mix. I feel like you had a lot of intention in choosing those sounds.
Absolutely. With my favourite DJs, a mix starts somewhere totally different than where the majority of it is going to live, or what the vibe of it is going to be. We’re talking about music here, and to call yourself a DJ is like calling yourself an artist, it’s hard for me to even say it sometimes, it feels a little bit weird, but if I’m a DJ then I know music. If I’m going to blast you with some deep dark rave music, I want to soften you into and out of it. All of my favourite rave sets have that. The intro is a way to help people shed some inhibition or relax in the moment, and the outro is like ‘ok, we’re done, you did a really good job of listening to that and I can see you’re sweaty and exhausted, but before we send you home I’m going to give you something easier to take and bring you back to reality.’ That’s the beauty of the experience of dancing at a rave, you are kind of leaving reality. It’s this warm embrace of energy and people and darkness where you can be completely in your own mind and body in the moment. All the best DJs I’ve seen have really nurtured the transition into and out of that, so that’s my intention
When it comes to what attracts you to certain sounds, what makes you drop the track into the ‘cool shit I’ve heard recently’ list?
It’s very subjective, but for me there are certain sounds that just do it for me. A darker sound has always really spoken to me. I’ve actually struggled to identify the actual genre of what I like. I’ve even asked other DJs what the sound is. It’s kind of like drum’n’bass and jungle, but not at the regular bpm; like 130 versus 150 - 180. There’s this kind of breakbeat drum sound, and then heavy, heavy bass. I think it’s called bass music. I might get torn apart from people who know more about this, but I’m admittedly pretty fresh and a bit of a noob. I’m just having the time of my life exploring this thing. But, ya, there’s a bit of darkness, and when you hear it it’s just like ‘oh god damn!’
Yes, like the stank face.
You’re also a photographer?
Yup. Photography, video, visual content.
Are music and visual art two separate streams?
Visual art, photography, video, that kind of stuff, has been my career. I’ve gone out and photographed DJs before, or friends who were throwing parties – and photographing live music is always fun, like going to OVO fest and shooting the pit – but I find DJing is really nice because there is a big separation between the two creative streams. I’m not really focusing on DJing being my career, so it can just be something that is fun. When a DJ gig comes my way I can throw everything into it because it’s my passion project. Having had a creative career and gone through all the highs and lows of relying on the skill to make money, you start to get jaded and resent it. I’m sure a lot of DJs who do it for a living feel that way. For me, atleast at the point I’m at right now, I’m still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and loving every moment of it, and I’m hoping to keep it that way.
Do you feel like juggling the visual and sonic arts allows you to maintain that freshness?
Ya, and that’s always been a juggling act my whole life. Since I was a kid, I was always into visual arts, but I played music as well. I played drums in highschool, and played guitar in a couple bands. I was in a big ska band in Toronto, which is kind of embarrassing but funny to say. Music’s always been in my veins, but I hit a point in high school and looked at a lot of my friends who were considering a career in music and decided I don’t want music to be tied to money for me. I just always want it to be safe, fun, and beautiful and let music do what music is supposed to do, and not be tied to the need and worry of financial stability. I’ve always walked the line between visual creativity and music. One of the reasons why I think DJing was so compelling to me is that it’s a really creative and proactive way to do one of the things I really liked doing, which is listening to music. You’re listening to music but you’re also creating, and that’s why it’s so fun.
Work Redux is a collection of mixes made to be listened to while working. We work closely with local and international DJs to assemble thoughtful music that will carry members throughout their day and introduce them to new sounds. East Room is a shared workspace company providing design-forward office solutions, authentic programming and a diverse community to established companies and enterprising freelancers. We explore art, design, music, and entrepreneurship, visit our news & stories page to read more.