A survey of great dance music coming out of Vancouver. Including DJ-Producer Pomo, Hybridity’s Malcolm Levy, and Blueprint’s Matt Owchar


Despite constant reminders that the nightlife is better elsewhere, Vancouver is punching well above its weight class with respect to the electronic-music talent it’s producing. Sleepy Tom recently collaborated with Diplo and opened for Madonna. You can watch artists from the label-collective Mood Hut streaming to a global network of fans from their dingy Chinatown studio on the Internet’s go-to destination for underground dance music, Boiler Room. Vanic is poised to play Coachella and then release an album on a major. Ekali was sampled on Drake’s last album and appears to be thoroughly destroying SoundCloud and Hype Machine with each successive release. And earlier this month Bob Moses did an Essential Mix for Pete Tong on BBC Radio 1, a first for an act from this city. Though based in New York, the duo played tracks by locals Harrison Brome, Lnrdcroy, and Pender Street Steppers as a shout-out to their hometown on dance music’s biggest and most esteemed stage.

When was the last time you heard about a band from Vancouver accomplishing anything close to that? Aside from a lot of hemming and hawing, the quickest answer you’ll likely get to that question is “No one cares about bands anymore.”

This brings us to the sixth annual incarnation of the Seasons Festival put on by Blueprint. The five-day event is bringing together all the different electronic sounds that you’ll hear in the stadiums, nightclubs, and warehouses of Vancouver, with a healthy dose of hip-hop thrown into the mix as well. Last year the citywide bash drew 20,000 people, and this year it’s expanding and boasts more than 60 artists at over 30 shows across eight venues. The main card is a two-nighter at the Pacific Coliseum headlined by ODESZA and Porter Robinson, who will both be performing their own music live.

“They’re more ‘indie cross-over electronic acts’ than EDM acts. They straddle the line. What they reflect is people’s evolving taste,” Blueprint’s Matt Owchar says of the headliners. “There’s no question that [EDM] is disposable music and that it has reached its shelf life.”

While laptop bro-ducers pulverizing you with bass drops may be on the way out, dance music, of course, remains unprecedentedly popular, despite entering year umpteen of detractors predicting its demise.

“Some people are in it for the party and the experience,” Owchar says over drinks at Six Acres in Gastown. “I’ll see those people every week for a year straight, then all the sudden they’ve up and vanished and you never hear from them again. On the flip side of that, you have people come to the events and then you see their tastes slowly start to evolve.”

If you fall into the latter category or aren’t up for partying with the great unwashed in a hockey arena, there are numerous events happening around town that shine a light on Vancouver talent. It’s what has Owchar most excited about Seasons this year.

“In my opinion, it’s unprecedented how much talent there is right now. It’s insane,” he exclaims. “Our philosophy is we want to take the vast audience we have access to and be like, ‘Hey, check out this other stuff that’s happening in our own back yard.’ ”

In addition to Ekali getting a slot at the main event, this includes showcases for labels like Hybridity, Monster Cat, Nordic Trax, and Pacific Rhythm. Making all this happen meant bringing together acts and curators from disparate, subterranean scenes that might not want to align themselves with the biggest promoter of EDM in the city.

If you want to get an idea of what he was potentially up against: about a year ago the Straight contacted Mood Hut, producers of celestial, hazy-sounding house beats widely regarded as the “Vancouver sound”. These guys are so detail-oriented about their parties that they sometimes craft custom scents for them. They’re also endearingly cagey. An informal coffee date was politely requested, and shot down in under an hour. Then one of them tweeted “Don’t talk to that reporter.” Shortly thereafter, Boiler Room host Bradley Zero, who releases their tracks on his label, stopped responding to our emails.

But the scene as a whole is facing bigger problems than the potential loss of precious underground cred.

“Everyone in this community, big and small, is having trouble because of the currency exchange. It’s a huge, huge issue,” Owchar says. “People ultimately realized we’re all in this together. We’re going to have to explore these different paths of collaboration. If not, how are we going to sustain the growth in this city?”

Some of Seasons’ showcases will be taking place in nonclub settings. There’s Open Studios, which will be programmed by Pacific Rhythm’s Derek Duncan, and Celebs Underground, the tentative name of a new, 4,000-square-foot space in the basement of Celebrities, which will be christened and curated by Hybridity’s Malcolm Levy.

“One thing Hybridity always likes to do in our events is do them at new and unused spaces,” Levy says via Skype from Los Angeles. “It’s important to the art form and the movement that we’re a part of. One of the most important things, I think, is creating new, neutral, positive spaces. Clubs come with rules and regulations and histories. Spaces that are undiscovered allow for a completely new context and way of taking it in.”

Levy would know. In addition to being behind Hybridity and the kaleidoscopic image and video app Generate, which has over 400,000 downloads, he has introduced this city to hundreds of electronic-music artists since he launched the New Forms Festival nearly 20 years ago. Undoubtedly, New Forms, which took 2015 off, inspired a lot of the music coming out of the city today. Fortunately, a new iteration of the festival is returning later this year, along with ongoing programming. As with Hybridity, a through line for New Forms is it has always held many of its events in previously unused spaces.

“Nontraditional spaces help create that warehouse vibe, feeling, [and] aesthetic that has really underlined underground music, whether it’s punk, indie, or electronic. Underground music in general comes from that want, that interest, that feeling of having these spaces where people perform, where you can celebrate that art form in a multitude of ways. They create a context where there is a fresh slate, so to speak,” he says.

For Levy, Hybridity is less about being a “monolithic, monetizing beast” and more about collaborating and “putting out really good music and enjoying it”. Its showcase reflects that community-minded mandate and includes a selection of its roster and friends.

Free to attend if you RSVP on the festival website, this three-night warehouse party will feature multimedia installations as well as visuals made with Generate. Music highlights, many of which will be live-streamed on YouTube, include performances by acts tapped for releases later this year, such as house and techno producer Sergio Levels and electronic folk act Speaker Face. There’ll also be DJ sets from Levy, who’s an accomplished artist in his own right; LorneB, who helps with A&R at the label; and Humans, who are hot off a 2016 Juno nomination for best electronic album, a first for the label and the group.

“I’ve been saying this for a number of years now, but I think now it’s more true than ever before. Vancouver definitely has a very distinct sound and a reputation that’s only continuing to burgeon at this time,” Levy notes.

The events taking place at Celebs Underground and across town at Open Studios are happening under the city’s newly created licence that sanctions late-night parties in alternative spaces. This licence is a result of a 15-year conversation with the city that Levy was at the forefront of.

“It’s legitimizing what’s already been legitimized, but now in a way that’s legitimate,” he quips. “The thing that I’ve always tried to do through my own work and through organizations such as New Forms is really help lead the discourse on the importance of those spaces and the understanding of the respect for culture that happens in them.”

Open Studios has long been a petri dish for underground music in Vancouver. This trend continues during Seasons, when it’ll play host to three nights of underground acts, including an evening showcasing acts from Pacific Rhythm; Sadar Bahar, an OG house DJ from Chicago; and a live performance by RAMZi, a producer of electronic soundscapes that sound like they were crafted in a forest on an alien planet.

“I feel like it’s an extension of theatre. With software I feel like I can create a world,” RAMZi, born Phoebé Guillemot, confirms via Skype while in Los Angeles on tour. “There’s RAMZi’s world, then there’s the aliens and zombies who are invading the land.

“This tension in my music that oscillates between light and darkness can also be translated through those three main forces on a battlefield,” she explains. “For me, this is not just an allegory, the danger is real.”

RAMZi moved to Vancouver from Montreal a year ago, a reverse of the long-standing tradition of our city hemorrhaging creatives in the other direction. She credits Mood Hut, who played a track of hers on Boiler Room, and the New Forms Festival, which she’d heard good things about from friends, with piquing her interest in the city. But when she got here, she was surprised to find that the community was as small as it is. It’s something you hear frequently from touring acts. To outsiders, the city’s dance-music scene has a larger-than-life reputation.

“Oh yeah, I had that feeling. It’s funny,” she recalls. “It’s really interesting, the distortion. It’s still a really small scene and I’m glad that it’s not full of tourists.

“Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t want people moving to Vancouver because of the scene. I need to keep it secret.”

She has no plans to leave Vancouver anytime soon. RAMZi’s debut LP comes out this summer on Total Stasis and she intends to release music by her friends on her own imprint, Pygmy Animals.

“I think people are trying to push forward the limits of electronic music and I’m hopeful to see more results in the coming year. I like to think that Vancouver is more about a community than a scene. But we do need more spaces to give a place to experimentations besides the club-music scene that tends to push out live acts for the profit of DJ sets,” she says.

Creating a better live experience is something that’s important to David Pimentel as well. Better known as Pomo, a nod to his hometown of Port Moody, he’ll be debuting a set with a full band for Seasons at Fortune Sound Club.

“I love DJing, but my passion isn’t to become a great DJ,” the young producer says at Milano Espresso Lounge in Gastown. “I love dance music, but I love playing instruments and I feel the audience gets something out of watching a live set. I wanted to put together a dope band and showcase what I’m really into: great musicians and great grooves.”

Since graduating from the Nimbus School of Recording and Media, Pomo has found fortuitous happenstance a recurring theme in his fledgling career. He didn’t spend countless years slogging it out in a van and playing to empty bars across the country. Instead, while living in Montreal, he sent a demo of his second-ever dance track to Kaytranda, a shit-hot DJ–producer from Quebec.

“Without asking, he put it in his mix. He named it ‘So Fine’—that wasn’t even the name. And it just started to take off on its own,” he recalls. “It was funny. I thought it wasn’t done yet.”

The soulful track then caught the attention of his Los Angeles–based label HW&W, which swiftly signed him, as well as Disclosure, the U.K. duo who made everyone remember deep house existed for the first time in a decade and introduced Sam Smith to the world. After that, Pomo spent two months opening for Disclosure in the States and Europe in front of crowds of up to 6,000.

“Playing to that number of people every night was a big learning thing for me. When you’re used to playing smaller clubs, you feel the audience really close to you and you hear them. Out there, you feel kind of naked. You’re alone on a big stage and everyone is so far away,” he says.

Earlier this year, Pomo produced the standout track “Am I Wrong” on Anderson .Paak’s latest album (the two connected over Twitter), and also received a Juno nomination for best electronic album (this was a total surprise, as he had no idea his label submitted his album). So it’s a good thing he got the jitters from playing in front of large crowds out of the way. Given that the big-room sound is shifting from bangerz to acts like Pomo, who’s to say he won’t be a main-stage festival headliner in the near future?

After all, the attention Pomo and others mentioned in this article are attracting is approaching what acts that are higher on the bill receive. In addition to regular coverage on popular dance-music-centric sites like Dancing Astronaut, Resident Advisor, and Your EDM, it’s not uncommon to read about Vancouverites on the likes of Billboard, Pitchfork, and Spin. On Spin’s 2015 year-end listicle of the top 40 dance tracks, four were by locals (Sleepy Tom, DJ Fett Burger & Jayda G, Cyril Hahn, and Pender Street Steppers) and a fifth was by a New York act released by Vancouver-based label 1080p.

You look at that and their play counts, social-media followers, and busy touring schedules, and it’s hard not to think that a lot of these artists are a bigger deal as soon as they hop a flight and land in another city. But with support from festivals like Seasons and the increased legitimization of the spaces where the music lives and breathes, it appears that the world-class talents out of Vancouver won’t be in the shadows in their hometown for much longer.

photo by www.rebeccablissett.com
this article was originally published by the georgia straight in march 2016.

Rambling about my stupid cattoo

here is next week's cover story for the @georgiastraight.

A photo posted by Michael Mann (@michaelmann) on

It’s a good story. I swear!

Read about my dumb tattoo here

Vancouver DJ Promoter Cherchez La Femme for the Georgia Straight

@cherchez in the paper!

A photo posted by Michael Mann (@michaelmann) on

“Why’d you call? To tell me my press release sucks?” a defeated-sounding Cherchez La Femme asks when the Straight rings her up. Even though the press release does suck—boasting the endearingly unprofessional subject line “Hi man here is my Free Association event any press would rule!”—the purpose of the call isn’t to admonish her, this time.

Cherchez immediately begins weeping when it’s revealed we want to arrange an interview about her Free Association party at the Imperial. During the three-minute chat with the Vancouver nightlife fixture, known as Natasha Lands to her six siblings, a broad spectrum of emotion is covered: joy, denial, excitement, suspicion, and then back to joy with a few more tears. Welcome to the manic, ADHD mind of one of the city’s most creative and prolific event promoters.

An hour and a half later we meet at her apartment in the West End, which is above a Korean restaurant that appears to have videos by Girls’ Generation playing on a continuous loop. In her IKEA-outfitted bachelor suite are camera and computer gear, a loft bed with less than two feet between the mattress and the ceiling, an inordinate number of Teen Vogue issues, and a copy of Social Media Marketing for Dummies.

“Cherchez La Femme is a Napoleonic-times thing,” she explains of her moniker. “It means ‘to look for the woman’—it has a negative connotation. When something fucks up, look for the woman, because she’s behind it.”

Fucking things up is what Cherchez excels at—meant with a positive connotation. For the past seven years she’s been a force of nature in Vancouver as a party-rocking DJ, a promoter, a gallerist, a label owner, a community-builder with a passion for highlighting emerging talent from a variety of disciplines, and a self-identified weirdo with flamingo-pink hair.

“Whenever someone asks what I do for a living, I say ‘Anything I want,’ ” she proclaims. “I don’t wake up every day thinking how much money can I make. I wake up thinking about what creative, weird-ass idea can I do.”

These weird-ass ideas come to life at her events, where, on any given evening, alongside local and international DJs, bands, and rappers, there could be drag performances, skate ramps, art and zine shows, giveaways of flexi discs she had made for the party, stages built to look like the basement from Wayne’s World, snow machines, fashion models walking a runway, appearances by Terry from FUBAR, or inflatable Twister mats.

“I’m really interested in people’s movements and what they’ve created. I try to bring as many people together as possible,” she explains. “I don’t have as much money as the big event companies. I don’t own a venue. So instead of competing, I’m doing what I’ve always done: highlighting what Vancouver is all about.”

The latest example of this is Free Association, which, fittingly, is free to attend if you show up before 11 p.m. It’ll be an all-locals bonanza with seven dance-music producers on the stage, five visual artists projecting their work on the venue’s movie screen, a fashion show with 10 lifestyle companies, and a variety of pop-up shops selling DIY tchotchkes like shirts and zines.

“You’re not gonna hear Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’, although that’s a great song,” she’s quick to note. “Maybe you’ll hear a remix they made of it? I don’t know.”

Don’t let the uncertainty surrounding whether or not you’ll hear any Bey discourage you. Last year the event was on a weeknight and had 1,200 people through the door, and this year’s iteration is on a Friday and has an equally stacked music lineup. It includes dance acts like Michael Red, a mainstay in the scene and the Low Indigo label boss; Shaunic and Silence, beatsmiths from the Chapel Sound collective; and Syre, an up-and-coming house producer whom Cherchez is particularly excited about.

“He’s got 13,000 followers on SoundCloud and was referred to me from my friend Ekali,” Cherchez recalls. “A week later I asked Syre to headline Fortune. He’s 19 and was like, ‘I’ve never DJed in my life.’ I thought, ‘How bad could it be?’ It was incredible. The kids that are coming up now in Vancouver are superhuman creatives.”

Giving people their first shot is something that’s very near and dear to her. While earning a “Bachelor of Fuck All” in photography at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and beginning to play in clubs, she found it difficult to get booked for anything better than a 9 p.m. set time.

“When I first started DJing all I knew were guy DJs,” she says. “We all grew up collecting records at the same time, but I was never good enough. So that’s why I started throwing my own parties. When you give people opportunities it very rarely goes wrong.”

Free Association will also be the de facto launch for Cherchez’s creative agency of the same name—she’s stepping away from the hellacious grind of doing weeklies. On the horizon is a series of parties called Free Grants. Their aim is to inject a bit more accessibility into arts grants while giving young talent a chance to showcase itself to new audiences. The idea is that you submit a proposal with a pitch for an event, and a jury awards the best ones funding to execute the nights at venues around town.

“I want to get creative kids paid and allow them to do what they want and not leave the city,” she says. “I’m not seeing a lot of investment in creative culture, which I think is really important to have in a world-class city. Vancouver’s still young and there’s room to grow. I love it. It’s like the Wild West. You can do whatever you want here.”

And if you’re looking for evidence of that, how about the fact that someone like Cherchez is able to exist and even thrive in Vancouver, despite that hair and those substandard press releases?

“I don’t know if there are pink-haired weirdoes running massive club nights anywhere else in the world,” she concurs.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in february 2016.

EDM Producer Vanic for the Georgia Straight

“Quite frankly, it weirds me out that you have 150,000 fans on Facebook,” I accidentally blurt out about halfway through my chat with local EDM producer Vanic. “And 200,000 on SoundCloud. Where does that come from?” he replies, seemingly as perplexed as I am.

Not that everything in life should be a social-media dick-measuring contest, but it’s impossible to ignore that the 26-year-old New Westminster native’s network on Facebook is over 200 times bigger than mine. It practically dwarfs every local act not named Nickelback, Mac DeMarco, Marianas Trench, or the New Pornographers. Yet this young upstart, who also goes by Jesse Hughes, is far from a household name around these parts.

“I was never in a band. I never did anything like that. I’m not really the kind of guy who wants to go hang out in the studio and make local connections. I’m kind of just like a hermit that made music and the music kind of works,” he says.

“Kind of works” is a modest understatement. Some of Vanic’s melodic trap remixes have accrued over 20 million plays combined across SoundCloud and YouTube. But all the intimidation inspired by these impressive metrics quickly dissolves when we meet at the JJ Bean in Yaletown. He’s soft-spoken, but friendly and enthusiastic. Earlier in the day he was out shooting some new photos and he’s eager to show me his latest Instagram post, which is a rather dangerous-looking video of him walking along the steel beams on the underside of the Second Narrows Bridge.

Maybe it’s still the adrenaline talking, but who could blame him for being excited after experiencing such a rapid rise? A little over six months ago he was working graveyards as a forklift driver while studying business at SFU. Today, he’s pursuing music full-time, something that’s been in his blood from an early age, though it wasn’t always of the un-tss-un-tss variety.

“I played piano since I was three. I used to play in piano competitions and I took it pretty seriously,” he says, while enjoying a chorizo breakfast wrap. “The Royal Conservatory standard way you learn music—I wasn’t a big fan, so I stopped and I kinda learned some jazz and some ragtime and some stuff like that. It was only way later, maybe three or four years ago, that I started trying to produce music.

“The first remix I did was Taylor Swift’s ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’. Some YouTube channel uploaded it and six months later it had a million views. I thought that was cool. Looking at it now, it’s not really that much.”

Although he’s not working in his home studio in New West with the likes of Tay in an “official remix” capacity, artists like Swift make the stems of their songs available. With lesser-known acts, which Vanic and his manager sometimes discover on sites like the Hype Machine, the producer is able to work on a more collaborative level.

“I guess ‘Circles’ [by Machineheart] and ‘Skinny Love’ [by Birdy] were two tracks that really broke me out. ‘Circles’ is good. It was so popular it got adopted by the band as an original track,” Vanic explains. “So they relooked at the song and how they wanted to play it and took my version and made it their own. That track just blew up on Spotify. It was a viral top-10.”

Once a track is completed, having some marketing smarts comes into play. Earlier in Vanic’s career, after a song was released he’d offer it up for free, provided you follow him on social media. It’s known as gating, and it presents a very agreeable value proposition to music fans in 2015: give me a like and I will give you music to download. It’s how he built up an initial chunk of fans, but he’s since moved away from it.

“Now that everyone is doing gating, if you’re not doing the gating it’s nice,” he says. “They don’t have to like you here or follow on Instagram or follow you on Twitter and like your picture and tweet about you and all of this stuff.”

Despite the huge online following, Vanic hasn’t played in front of many large audiences yet—especially not in this city. That’s about to change when he takes the stage at the Contact Winter Music Festival. The annual two-day rager at B.C. Place features stadium-level EDM acts, including Above & Beyond, Hardwell, Steve Angello, and DJ Snake, and it’ll be the biggest show of his fledgling career.

“Online, you never know if that’s a real world or it’s all fake numbers,” he posits.

Well, looking ahead to 2016, Vanic has plans for a cross-Canada tour with Adventure Club, which includes two nights at the Commodore Ballroom in February, an EP with a major label, and gigs at massive festivals in the States. So, no, those numbers certainly aren’t fake and it is a very real world indeed.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in december 2015.

NYE at the Hotel Vancouver

Hotel Vancouver NYE

We just launched the website for New Year’s at the Hotel Vancouver. If you’d like to come, be sure to get tickets soon as this event always sells out.


SoManyDJs for the Georgia Straight

this week i talked to rapper, dj, and twitter icon @chippyxnonstop for the @georgiastraight. #somanydjs

A photo posted by Michael Mann (@michaelmann) on

Oh hey, I’m doing a bi-weekly Q&A with interesting local DJs in the Georgia Straight now.

Click here to check it out or simply pick up a paper.

Odesza for the Georgia Straight

Seattle electronic act ODESZA’s story isn’t one of artistic woe. Its members met in university, jelled quickly in the studio, and released their 2012 debut album for free. Then the band became very popular—it’s just that simple, for all you angsty bedroom producers taking notes at home.

Today, the duo composed of Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills can sell out two consecutive nights at the Commodore Ballroom plus a DJ set at MIA with ease, along with a hundred other shows on their current world tour. Given how busy they are, the Straight is somewhat surprised that Knight picks up the phone before a gig in Detroit. Forget dodging interview requests, he’s actually happy to discuss his career.

“It’s nice to talk to people in the press,” the 27-year-old producer says, likely the first time a successful artist has ever uttered that phrase. “You guys shed light on things that we don’t always do. I see where you’re coming from—a lot of producers are pretty introverted people, but we try to be open and communicate with our fan base as much as possible.”

Knight later continues the charm assault by declaring strong affinities for the Seattle Seahawks and the new Justin Bieber album—two things that aren’t especially hip for indie electronic producers to ’fess up to.

“It’s pretty awesome to see how someone in the pop world has opened themselves up to these new and unique producers. Very cool,” he says of the Biebs’s latest, Purpose.

Knight counts himself a fan of former Vancouverite Blood Pop, who worked on a lot of the tracks on Purpose. And it’s easy to hear the similarities between his music and ODESZA’s, which a lot of people have labelled chillwave. But would ODESZA actually step into the studio with a commercial act to make Top 40?

“I’m open to anything. If it feels right and doesn’t feel forced, I would be more than happy to see what happens,” he says. “You don’t want to force any sort of collaboration. It’s all about being comfortable in a creative space. That’s the best product. Trying to force some sort of collab never ends well.”

While ODESZA’s growing legion of fans doesn’t have a nickname yet—a sure sign you’ve made it—they appear to be approaching the rabidity of the 12s cheering at CenturyLink on Sundays or the Beliebers scurrying to buy tickets for his world tour. Its sophomore long-player, In Return, which is full of dreamy and shimmering tracks start to finish, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart when it came out in September 2014. And then last week it reclaimed the top spot ahead of EDM heavyweights Avicii, Disclosure, and Major Lazer.

“People are still discovering it, and it gives a new life to it,” Knight says of the album, which has spent over 40 weeks in the Top 10. “I feel it’s a genuine piece of work that we did. We tried to be honest with ourselves as well as our listeners through it, and I think that kind of paid off. People can really connect with that.”

Something else people are connecting with is ODESZA’s live show, which is significantly more exciting than what many electronic-music artists on the circuit are doing. You won’t catch them hiding in the DJ booth and geeking out on their laptops. Instead, their set features Knight and Mills playing drums, samplers, and synths alongside backup musicians on horns and guitar.

“As far as the show’s concerned, we’re trying to do something different. We could go up there and do a DJ set and play some of our tracks in between other popular stuff, but we really wanted to try to make a unique experience and give people what they want and try something new. It gets boring doing the same thing. So we’re always trying to expand and add on and try new pieces and just really evolve as a show in general,” Knight explains. “There’s been a couple tours early on that shed a lot of doubt on what we’re doing. But as much as you hate some of the shows, when you step back and look at it, you’re performing your music for people. It’s a pretty awesome privilege and a humbling experience.”

Despite the, gasp, musicianship on display, there are still the accoutrements everyone loves at a good EDM show, specifically: mind-bending visuals complemented by ample confetti. Just how many tiny pieces of paper have they gone through so far on this tour?

“Not nearly enough. I think we need to do more of it, honestly,” he says with a laugh. “Any chance we get, we’re gonna blast people.”

So it turns out ODESZA has experienced artistic woe after all: there’s simply not enough confetti in the world to cover all their fans. Quite sad, indeed.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in november 2015.

Sleepy Tom for the Georgia Straight

Sleepy Tom suggests meeting at an hour typically described as “ungodly” by those in the EDM community: 10 a.m. When he arrives at the JJ Bean at Davie and Bidwell, he’s decidedly unsleepy in appearance. He’s well-dressed and well-groomed, and there are no telltale signs like bloodshot eyes or the aroma of vodka and Red Bull to suggest he just left an after-hours rager. Not only that, he informs the Straight he’s already completed a morning run. Frankie Wilde he ain’t.

You could forgive the 25-year-old DJ-producer, born Cam Tatham, if he wanted to spend the whole week kicking around in sweats and watching Netflix, though. His previous weekend was a hectic one. On Friday he was in Sudbury, Ontario, for a club gig, and on Sunday he was in Miami, Florida, to play at Day Off, a touring festival put on by his label, Fool’s Gold. Oh yeah, and on the Saturday he opened for a little-known act named Madonna in Washington, D.C., on one of the first stops of her Rebel Heart tour.

“It was all pretty surreal,” the Squamish-born Vancouverite affirms. “I think it went well. It was definitely the craziest and most nerve-racking thing I’ve ever done. I’ve played in front of four to six thousand people a couple times. But it’s totally different when you go in cold to an audience full of people who don’t care to see you.”

Tatham didn’t get to meet the Queen Mum of Pop in Washington, but he may still get a chance, as he’s already getting more dates on the Rebel Heart tour. (He’s tightlipped about whether one of these is Vancouver on October 14.) So far he’s among distinguished company. Other acts that have been tapped by Madge to open for her include one of the funniest comedians on the planet, Amy Schumer, and one of the best producers in the solar system, Diplo, who released a song on his label Mad Decent with Sleepy Tom called “Be Right There” in late August.

“At first I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ ” Tatham recalls of the plum booking, which was confirmed a mere three sleepless nights before the big show. “But it was more or less because of the Diplo song I just put out. They’re close. I think she looks to him for advice on cool things, as one does.”

The timing of their collab couldn’t be better for Tatham. If you’re just tuning in, Diplo is responsible for two of the biggest tracks of the year, “Lean On” with Major Lazer and “Where Are Ü Now?” with Jack Ü. But “Be Right There” might be the most danceable of the bunch.

The song started as a bootleg, built around vocals from Jade’s early-’90s R & B jam “Don’t Walk Away”. Tatham, who previously remixed Diplo’s “Set It Off”, sent it off to Mad Decent, and it quickly got heavy rotation in the tastemaker’s sets. An official release for the song on Mad Decent was next, with Diplo and Tatham enlisting vocalist Priscilla Renea and then teaming up on the production front.

Exciting stuff, especially for a guy who is so into dance music, he once dressed up as the Fool’s Gold mascot—think an anthropomorphic gold bar with a giant head and Mickey Mouse gloves for hands—just so he could get involved with one of the label’s shows in Vancouver.

“I did that on the hottest day of the year, sweating my balls off in a suit and, like, this wooden cheese head,” he says, laughing. “In my demo email I told them this story. They were like, ‘What the fuck? Who is this guy?’ So that probably helped me.”

It did. In 2013, Fool’s Gold released his debut EP, The Currency, a banging, dance-floor-friendly electro house sampler highlighted by an especially dark title track. Initially hesitant to reach out to one of his favourite labels, he was encouraged by Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat, Fur Trade, and Mounties, who mentored Tatham while he attended the Nimbus School of Recording & Media. (Madonna seems to have a thing for grads of Vancouver’s postsecondary schools, as Blood Diamonds, who went to Vancouver Film School, coproduced two tracks on her latest.)

Being a rising talent in the EDM scene wasn’t always the dream. His background is in live music. In fact, Tatham recently joined Fur Trade to play guitar, something he’s done since an early age.

“I started writing songs when I was 12 or 13. I wanted to be a rock star throughout my childhood,” he confesses. “Then 2007 came around and I’d already been making music with GarageBand. I think I hadn’t thought of the DJ thing as an actual thing yet. I just always related it to Electric Circus on MuchMusic. Those people looked so corny. I thought it was like a weirdo thing. Then MSTRKRFT, Crystal Castles, and Justice came around and my world blew up.”

Looking ahead, Tatham has more shows planned throughout the States and the U.K. as well as a busy production schedule that includes plans for a sophomore EP in the new year. Like “Be Right There”, the EP will see Tatham continue to work with vocalists and inch closer to the pop-music realm.

“It’s what I want to do. I think that’s what comes from me writing songs with a guitar and coming from that background. I don’t just want to be in the dance world. I want to be in the pop world too,” he says.

Being an EDM or pop star seems infinitely more appealing than being a rock star these days, and Sleepy Tom is in good company to help him achieve either. Besides, the cocaine parties and trashing of hotel rooms that go hand in hand with being a rock star don’t seem like this early riser’s thing.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in march 2016.

Fall Eyewear Trends at Durants Sessions and Bruce in Gastown

oh hey, i wrote that cover story on fall eyewear at durant sessions for this week's straight.

A photo posted by Michael Mann (@michaelmann) on

“Have you ever thought about getting your eyes lasered?” asks a friend with corneas so exquisitely curved they put the Fibonacci spiral to shame. You, bespectacled and with an astigmatism so bad you probably shouldn’t operate a motor vehicle after sunset, have but one reply to this oft-asked question: you tilt your head downward and stare at them over the rim of your glasses. Though your friend with a 20/10 looks a little blurry, at this moment you are their superior.

The eyes are the windows to your soul, the adage goes, which makes your eyewear the window to the windows to your soul. And as we move into fall, Vancouver retailers have plenty of options to help you project your strongest features with stylish specs. Or, if you’re a glass-is-half-empty type, use them to run sleight of hand and distract people from your worst ones.

Eric Dickstein has been a fixture in Gastown since 2006, when he opened dutil (303 West Cordova Street). But long before he established what is likely your first stop in the neighbourhood if you’re looking for quality jeans, eyewear was his passion. Located five doors down from the denim destination is his recently opened and hiply designed shop Durant Sessions (315 West Cordova Street).

The eccentric and friendly owner is quick to demonstrate his vast knowledge on the subject of eyewear by identifying the glasses worn by his interrogator: a four-year-old pair of Dita Statesmans. (Key benefit: they make you look a bit like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, so you can order breakfast all day at any fast-food joint.)

“Fuck exclusivity. It doesn’t exist,” Dickstein proclaims. “You can go online and find it anywhere. It’s a little bit of a farcical conversation to be having with the consumer. It doesn’t exist. So I thought: how can we take an optical store to another level?”

The answer was customization. Onsite, you can tint your lenses or frames with a variety of house-concocted colours. With frames, you can get especially wild by, say, mixing up the colours on the outside and inside of the arms and rims, then switching the finish from polished to matte, or vice versa.

“We want to up the ante and really be a part of the creative process and also let the consumer be a part of the creative process,” Dickstein enthuses.

Creativity doesn’t stifle convenience, either. Dickstein claims you can pick out a frame, have it all customized, and wear your new glasses home in a few hours, provided your prescription isn’t too complicated.

Despite Dickstein’s skepticism about exclusivity, there are rare gems available in-store. There are thick acetate frames inspired by Bob Dylan from L.A. brand Jacques Marie Mage (starting at $628); subtle wooden ones from the Midwest’s Anni (starting at $628); and sleek metal designs from Japanese line Eyevan 7285 (starting at $398). The latter, Dickstein believes, embody the move away from plastic frames.

“It’s natural to shift when everything is one way. In fast fashion it’s really easy to make plastic frames, and it’s hard to tell a $350 plastic frame by aesthetic from a $58 plastic frame. With metal frames you can’t hide inexpensiveness,” he explains.

Down the block is another optical boutique that requires little introduction: Bruce Eyewear (219 Abbott Street). Bruce has been a destination for stylish glasses in Gastown for a decade and last year opened up a second location, Bruce Too, in Mount Pleasant (3553 Main Street). Its equally welcoming and knowledgeable owner Nada Vuksic also notes the move away from plastic frames. However, she points out a shift towards…well, it won’t be a big surprise if you’ve ever set foot in East Van.

“The trend is towards more artisanal products. People want uniqueness and they want craft. They don’t want mass-produced,” she says.

Styles she highlights utilize vintage vinyl records, courtesy of Hungarian brand Vinylize (starting at $509); welded nails, by German-designed, Italian-crafted line Kuboraum (starting at $529); 3-D–printed polymers, from Germany’s Mykita (starting at $629); and buffalo horn, on a collab between Mykita and Damir Doma ($2,299).

“Because of what we do and the product we carry, we’re really big on asking people to come in with an open mind,” she says to those perhaps weary of stepping outside their comfort zone and forking over more money to artisans. “Come in and let us take you on a little journey.”

You’ll be in good hands with her as a guide on your vision quest. Mykita has designed and named a pair of frames after her, and Vuksic deftly identified the well-worn, Bruce-purchased Statesmans as well. An employee at the store also noted the coating on the lenses is all but gone while giving them a complimentary cleaning.

“A frame is basically constructed to last two years with daily wear. And your prescription should be redone every two years,” Vuksic confirms, then suggests owning more than one pair might be wise.

“If someone goes to the opera and then is, I don’t know, a garbologist, you’re going to have different needs and different wants and you want different looks. It’s like having one pair of shoes that you wear to everything. You’d never do that.”

So time for a new pair, or maybe two. Sure, they’re likely making remarkable advances in the field of reshaping your eyeballs with lasers. But it’s probably best to put that off a few more years and maintain your superiority over those with better visual acuity by looking sharper.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in august 2015.

Dîner en Blanc and Ce Soir Noir Attendees are Equally Terrible

diner en  vs blanc ce soir noir

diner en blanc

image via facebook

Fuck the federal election. Tonight’s the night you have to make the biggest, most important decision of the year: is it gonna be Dîner en Blanc or Ce Soir Noir? Well, for me the answer is the same as it’ll be on October 19. I’m gonna abstain and watch Netflix because I don’t give a fuck.

A bit of background for those of you who have amazingly been able to avoid all of this: Dîner en Blanc is a thing that some people really like. You get to dress up in white and get drunk with 4,500 other people at a secret outdoor location.

It is also a thing that other people really do not like for harmless reasons such as its air of exclusivity and its whopping $45 admission. Mostly you can chalk this all up to basics loving to complain about any event they’re not invited to that costs more than free.

Out of this tension arose Ce Soir Noir, which is essentially Dîner en Blanc: Cynical East Van Hipster Edition. It’s a free gathering at Crab Park in the DTES where everyone is welcome until some of the park’s regulars inevitably start hurling obscenities at you. One day when I was eating lunch at Crab Park a drunk man kept yelling at me, “GET OUT OF MY YARD” and I kind of couldn’t argue with him.

The organizers were probably banking on 50 of their friends showing up, but the event went viral so quickly it’s astonishing the Fat Jew didn’t aggregate it. Last time I checked, around 2,000 people had RSVP’d for it on Facebook. (Let’s be real though: it’s the sort of thing that people like to say they’re attending but don’t actually go to. Like art openings, protests, and your band’s first show.)

Meanwhile the city’s population—minus 4,900 or so would-be park partiers—is sick of hearing about all this bullshit. I get it’s a Tuesday night, but c’mon. How depressingly dire are things in Vancouver right now if this is what people are getting excited about?

Sure, if you’re lucky there’ll be some inflatable foil letters or those balls emblazoned with “LOVE” to pose next to, but that’s a below average Instagram opportunity at best. Hell, I’ll pay you $45 if you can recommend a bar that isn’t rife with those sort of narcissistic assholes that self-identify as “creatives” and think flash mobs are still relevant. Sadly, I think this means I’ll never make it past the HR department interview at Hootsuite.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against people gathering in parks and having fun. That is totally fine unless it’s after 8 p.m. and you’re in the one across the street from my condo. (I love my bohemian neighbourhood, but seriously, I’m trying to get my kid to sleep.) It’s just that the build-up to these mundane events has been the social media equivalent of a slow, never-ending Brazilian wax. (It’s a habit I picked up in prison.)

Of course, counter-events are nothing new. The Slamdance Film Festival started as an underground alternative to the Sundance Film Festival. Closer to home, artist entry fees to the now extinct New Music West are what inspired Music Waste. (Did that even happen this year?) But in 2015 we have competing colour-coded picnics in parks that’ll draw identical, equally terrible, over-sharing douchebag crowds.

Pick out a good movie and keep off the internet tonight, because it’s going to be bad. If only Pretty in Pink were available on Netflix. John Hughes sure knew how to tell a good story. With black and white divisions between the rich preppies and the cool kids from the wrong side of the tracks, it was so easy to decide who to cheer for. Unfortunately, with Dîner en Blanc and Ce Soir Noir the only side the rest of us can root for tonight is rain.

Fan Mail about Taylor Swift and Angela Merkel

this was delivered to the @georgiastraight office via homing pigeon.

A photo posted by Michael Mann (@michaelmann) on

Discussing Pregnant, Naked She-Devil Statues on CKNW 980AM with Drex

I snapped a photo of pregnant, naked she-devil sculpture across the street from my apartment, and immediately became rich and famous beyond wildest dreams.

Read all about it in the Straight, CTV, Vancity Buzz, Vice, Buzzfeed, Death and Taxes,Dangerous Minds, and probably a few other places I missed.

Thanks to Drex for having me on the air!

Drake Fest 2015

drake fest 2015

drake fest

At 1:20 p.m., the Squamish Valley Music Festival app sent out a push notification posing a question: You charged up for Day 2? You likely were if you immediately knew that was a reference to the Drake and Meek Mill feud that’s consumed our lives these past few weeks.

For many, the whole Squamish Valley Music Festival this year was Drake plus 80 or so other acts they didn’t know, didn’t care about, or forgot about years ago. Who even knew that guy from the Killers was still kicking around? I figured his guylinered ass had long been relegated to greeting hefty conventioneers at some dilapidated Las Vegas casino like Circus Circus.

Yeah, you probably noted a few shit-hot rap, EDM, and banjo dudes when the bill was unveiled a few months back. But all our eyes kept going back to that one name at the top: Aubrey Graham, he who started from the bottom and overcame his beginnings to teach us all to YOLO. Drizzy, he who thoroughly trounced Meek Mill in the Great Rap Beef of 2015.

Champagne Papi, he who followed that up with a performance at last week’s OVO Fest where he proceeded to piss on Meek Mill’s grave then have an afterparty so great multiple people were shot. Wheels or whatever the fuck his name was on Degrassi, he who couldn’t be hotter right now and is undeniably the biggest thing in rap music.

But his performance was hours away and there were non-Drake acts of note to see.

Luckily, there was plenty of festival fun to be had in the meantime—like binge-drinking in a Pokémon costume—despite overcast skies and the ever-present threat of heavy showers. Thankfully the music festival gods would never dream of fucking with the 6 God. But would they smile upon your cellphone’s battery life too?

Kicking off shortly after 4 p.m., soul-revival outfit Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings delighted those over at the Tantalus Stage. If you are a fan of “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse or “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson—which I’m pretty sure everybody on the planet is—be aware that many of the Dap-Kings played on those songs.

However, as good as the band is, the group took a backseat to inimitable Miss Sharon Jones, who put that “Evolution of Dance” YouTube video your grandmother sends you every year to shame. After informing us that we’d be getting “None of that twerking”, she went on to demonstrate the boogaloo, the jerk, the pony, the twist, the funky chicken, and more.

The crowd ate it up and attempted to mimic her moves with varying degrees of success—I told you she was inimitable.

All this was especially impressive considering the 59-year-old soul woman recently beat cancer. Jones addressed this between songs and even during “Get Up and Get Out”. As things ended with an inspiring performance of “100 Days, 100 Nights”, it stopped raining, the clouds parted, and the sun actually began to shine down on the festival.

Actually, that didn’t happen and it began to rain harder towards the end of Jones’ show. But just go with it, okay. I’m trying to be fucking poetic or something here.

Apparently Aussie duo Peking Duk playing EDM and Top 40 club bangers at the Blueprint Arena can make the rain stop though. Still, crowds were somewhat sparse at the festival’s dance music stage; apparently, for some, 6 p.m. is too early to turn up.

“We came all the way from Australia. Let’s fucking rave,” came a command from behind the LED DJ plinth.

Female festivalgoers were hoisted onto shoulders, wrists were flicked, and the bass was dropped. Then, to demonstrate Peking Duk’s total control over us, we all laid in the mud at the behest of the lovable dude bros so they could play “Sandstorm” for “the ultimate tribute to Darude.” (People who check their dignity at the festival gates appear to have a lot more fun at these things than the rest of us.)

As I ran off, one of the Duks gushed, “You cunts are bananas and we love you.” If you’re unfamiliar with the culture Down Under, this is the highest praise an Australian can bestow upon you.

Anticipation was high among the large, high crowd over at the Tantalus Stage for the pretty motherfucker who reps Harlem. All the bad bitches in Squamish—and I’m sure a few good bitches too—jockeyed their way upfront as two lesser members of the A$AP Mob, Nast and Twelvyy, took the stage and started with “Hella Hoes”. Then the stylish A$AP Rocky and his impressive gold grill appeared and did “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)” then “M’$” from his latest album.

“How the fuck y’all feeling out there? It looks like y’all came to party,” Rocky astutely noted, before drawing attention to an R.I.P. Meek sign that someone in the audience was holding. The next song, “L$D”, got dedicated to all us trippy motherfuckers and a sing-along ensued.

Then the show got weird. After virtually every song A$AP Rocky commanded us all to show our titties. True, women flashing their breasts to rappers is a time-honoured festival tradition, but this time it got a little too lecherous. (I guess some performers check their dignity at the festival gates too.)

Near the end of his set, we got the bombastic “Wild for the Night”, and we were pounded with beats produced by Skrillex as well blasts of confetti and smoke.

The only way to follow that up, obviously was further requests for “Titties!” and “Can I please see some more titties?” Clearly, Rocky is not an ass man.

Back at the dance stage, A-Trak was on the decks and giving us even more A$AP Rocky and Skrillex tracks—people kept their shirts on this time, though. Once again, there was a pretty mediocre turnout. Especially so considering the guy has been a world-class talent since he was winning DMC DJ battles at 15.

Now 33, A-Trak’s skills are still untouchable,. But despite his immense talent and credentials (he runs Fool’s Gold Records, and is one half of Duck Sauce, which is responsible for that “Barbra Streisand” song) who could think about dancing to his remix of Alesso’s “Cool” when Drake was imminent?

Okay, deep breathes now everybody. This is really happening. Get your cellphones ready. It’s likely only got a 20 percent charge at this point in the day but that’ll be enough.

After a video introduction, Drake took the stage and began with a brief version “Legend” followed by “Trophies”, this to the delight of everyone in attendance.

“Oh, I see y’all charged up. I go by Drake. I’m the Canadian guy that’s making all the American guys mad, ” he remarked before performing “Headlines”.

Dressed all in black, and grinning ear-to-ear the whole time, Drizzy rapped and crooned and was charming and engaging as shit. In addition to giving us offerings from his deep catalogue of hits like “Energy”, “Hold on We’re Going Home”, and “The Motto” he also performed ones he’s guested on like ILoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” and Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter”.

The biggest treat of the evening is when he performed “Back to Back”. This is only the third time the absolutely devastating diss track has been performed live. A testament to its power is it hasn’t been out two weeks, but everyone there knew all the words, especially the haymaker lines. Christ, the sort of the nationalistic pride this song has inspired among certain people is typically reserved for Olympic hockey tournaments.

“Do my ladies feel like singing a little more?” Drake asked, even though the answer was obvious. “That’s what festivals are for. You gotta sing the songs.”

Yes, yes the ladies did. Pretty much the only thing you can hate on Drizzy for is his ability to completely mesmerize every woman in attendance, and most fellas too. Seriously, faces were all glazed over as the crowd sang and danced along to every, single song. It’s impossible to comprehend what would have happened if Drake commanded everyone to take their tops off.

At one point, as rappers tend to do, the MC divided the crowd in two and tried to get both sides to turn on each other. We were competing from Drake’s affection as each side took turns singing “Started From The Bottom”. It was a close decision but the left side was declared the winner. That was my side and I’m pretty sure I was on the one who pushed us over the top. You’re welcome, left side.

Before the right side started attacking us with discarded glow sticks and empty mickey bottles, Drake united and conquered the audience by encouraging us all to sing “I was runnin’ though the 6 with my woes” for “Know Yourself”. This unforgettable show ended like it began, with him, fittingly, performing “Legend”.

How do you follow that one up? A raging EDM party back at the Blueprint Arena with Porter Robinson certainly works. It was suddenly mission impossible finding space to dance though. Dance addicts and LED-encrusted robots with laser pointer fingers on stilts crammed the joint, as the young producer played euphoric numbers like “Sad Machine” and “Divinity” late into the evening.

If you’re weren’t at Squamish Festival on Day 2, and are reading this, it’s too late. You’re going to have to settle for the Instagram photos and Snapchats of your friends. And even then, you’ll still only see a small fraction of what you missed out on as there’s no chance in hell anyone’s cellphone lasted the whole day on a single charge.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in august 2015.
photo by amanda siebert www.amandasiebert.com

Taylor Swift 1989 Tour at BC Place for the Georgia Straight



Spending an entire evening with someone who won’t stop bitching about their ex isn’t something any sane person looks forward to. However, it’s different when that someone is Taylor Swift—the biggest superstar in music and probably the most powerful woman on the planet.

I used that “probably” qualifier because Forbes disagrees and ranks her as the 66th most powerful woman. But that list is pretty suspect as they rank Angela Merkel in the top spot and I’ve never fucking heard of her. Can you blame me? Merkel sends out Facebook updates to her paltry 1.1 million fans in German, and doesn’t even have an Instagram account. Tay, on the other hand, has 77 million Facebook fans, which is comparable to the population of Germany, and consistently pushes out great pictures and video across multiple platforms.

Given Swift’s mastery of social media and the extraordinary commercial and critical success of her fifth album 1989, it’s no surprise she was able to sell out B.C. Place with ease. The 1989 Tour was Vancouver’s biggest concert since, well, two years ago when the 25-year-old phenom last graced us with a visit. Said another way, for the benefit of people born before 1989: this had the potential to be like catching Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour.

The Swifties were decked out for what was sure to be the best night ever. Elaborate LED-laden outfits and signs were lovingly made well in advance. If, gasp, you didn’t have an article of clothing or sign that lit up, you were in luck as an LED bracelet was waiting for you at your seat. Following two opening acts, whose sole purpose served to get you there early and buying the uninspired merch, our bracelets all magically lit up in unison. It was time for the main event.

Remarkably, the show started early—a first in Vancouver’s history. This was especially impressive considering Swift is so wholesome, she was probably busy the whole day healing kids stricken with blindness, leprosy, and paralysis at B.C. Children’s Hospital by merely smiling at them. Taking the stage in sunglasses, a purple skirt, and a sequined top and jacket, Swift opened with “Welcome to New York”. Deafeningly shrill squeals of “OMG” ensued and a new city record for selfies taken in a two-hour timespan was subsequently set.

“Good evening Vancouver. I’m Taylor Swift and there’s really nothing in the world I love to see more than a sold-out stadium of 45,000,” she informed her giddy disciples before launching into “New Romantics”. This was but one of many times she addressed the faithful. Sometimes she even went on five-minute-long motivational sermons. (tl;dr: Don’t let your mistakes define you.) If that wasn’t enough, there were lengthy video interludes featuring Swift squad members Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, HAIM, and others doling out even more valuable life advice. (tl;dr: Taylor Swift is a great human being and women gotta stick together.)

T-Swizzle did pretty much all of 1989 with a spattering of hits from her previous albums. Notably, “Sparks Fly”, which hadn’t been performed on the tour yet, and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, which had one of the more spirited singalongs of the evening.

While this was happening, Swifties were treated to standard pop concert theatrics like costume changes, lasers, and a catwalk with neon trim that raised 25-feet in the air while rotating 360 degrees (Okay, that was a new one.) Joining her on stage were some other people, who appeared to be playing instruments, as well as a dozen male back-up dancers, whom she frequently had flirtatious exchanges with—even the eight-year-olds in attendance weren’t buying that, though.

Throughout the concert Swift teased there’d be a surprise guest. This was big news as at previous stops she’d invited out the likes of Lorde and the Weeknd. Was it going to be her beau Calvin Harris? Swift did seem to have a postcoital glow early on in the show. (Her squad can’t use this bracelet to track me down can they?)

Instead we got Nico & Vinz. I’m far more familiar with the work Angela Merkel, but the three performed Nico & Vinz’s hit “Am I Wrong” and, like every song this evening, it was extremely well received. Swift also pointed out that the Norwegian duo were there of their own free will even though they weren’t getting paid—an affiliation with Tay is better than money. That’s why Keds had photo booths inviting people to take “shoe selfies” set up all over the concourse.

The final song of the evening was, naturally, “Shake it Off”, which she performed on the raised catwalk with all 12 dancers. As she belted out her “fuck you, haters” anthem, confetti sprayed everywhere, fireworks went off, and the LED bracelets all went haywire. The people attached to the bracelets did too.

Following that transcendent experience, 44,999 rabid Swifties jubilantly exited B.C. Place Stadium. Hell, even the middle-aged dads tasked with chaperoning weren’t looking nearly as downtrodden as they are at the conclusion of most pop concerts. But at the end of the day, this show was like most by-the-numbers pop concerts, and won’t go down as legendary performance by a superstar at the top of her game. Oh well, let’s try this again in 2017, Tay. Maybe Forbes actually does know what’s up and we should give that Merkel lady a closer look in the meantime.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in august 2015.
photo by rebecca blissett www.rebeccablissett.com

Pemberton Valley Music Festival 2015 review for the Georgia Straight

pemberton 2015

finally found someone to produce my album.

A photo posted by Michael Mann (@michaelmann) on

There was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air as you approached the Pemberton Music Festival on Saturday for Day 3. Riding on the shuttle from Whistler to the festival, you passed a sign that said it all: “Welcome to Pemberton, You Lucky Bastards.”

The horsehead-sporting festivalgoers were in for a real treat today. On the docket was hip-hop’s current It Boy Kendrick Lamar, still incredibly relevant music and fashion icon Missy Elliot, and Jack Ü—the duo comprised of Diplo and Skrillex, two of the biggest and most exciting producers in the world, and… oh, shit. Sorry, I read the schedule wrong. This was the day featuring none of the festival’s topline talent and was to be headlined by Jane’s Addiction, Weezer, and a few other acts you probably don’t give a fuck about unless you’re stuck in the early ’90s

But as Mike Usinger aptly noted in his review of Day 2, the music at this fantastic event is almost secondary, and it’d practically be impossible not to have a good time. Even if, on paper, the lineup was a full day of acts you despised in high school coming back to haunt you.

As you walked in the gates around 2 p.m., Earl Sweatshirt was already hurling racial epithets and leading those at the Pemberton Stage in a rousing chant of “I’mma fuck the freckles off your face, bitch.” In front of a smallish, but enthusiastic crowd, the critically acclaimed rapper later asked “Y’all smart enough to learn a song right now?”

Unfortunately, we weren’t as it involved a very complicated hook. Like we’re talking four lines. Unperturbed, Earl Sweatshirt performed “Grown Ups” off his latest LP I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. (The irony of performing songs off this album outdoors was not lost on the ex-Odd Future member.)

It should be noted that the artist born Thebe Neruda Lanu Kgositsilee was actually not wearing a sweatshirt, as that would have been absolutely insane. There was no escaping the heat and sun. While it didn’t deter many from wearing fuzzy Pikachu costumes, if you’re a pasty white guy who applies SPF 80 sun block with a paint roller, you likely didn’t make it through Sweatshirt’s whole show.

Walking past the Whistler Stage, you asked yourself was Moon Taxi seriously covering “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine? Or was that sunshine-induced psychosis coming on? Quick, double-time to the Mount Currie stage for Father John Misty.

The bearded, suited, and absolutely hilarious Father John Misty opened with the title track off of his latest I Love You, Honeybear. As great a musician as he is, it can’t be stated enough how exceptional J. Tillman’s between-songs banter game is. He’s probably funnier than anyone who performed on Pemberton’s Laugh Camp stage this weekend, and you almost wish his “chorus-less hits” would end sooner so you can hear him joke around some more.

“Look at this adorable poop,” he remarked at a mini-totem an attendee was waving that had the poop emoji on it. “What did we do for thousands of years of civilization before we could tell people what smiling pieces of shit we felt for them?”

He then grabbed the totem and waved it around while singing “Bored in the USA”. The song features a canned laugh track, but it was hard differentiate that from the cackling coming from the audience.

At the Pemberton Stage there is no fucking way Bleachers were covering “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. That must be a heat stroke coming on. Run, don’t walk, to the misting tent, which was on the way to Bass Camp where Ryan Hemsworth was about to begin.

The Haligonian DJ-producer was getting things going with a rather mellow set of R&BDM. (Is that a thing?) At least one woman with a rainbow-coloured LED unicorn SpiritHood was duly impressed.

While the Bass Camp is the single most dangerous place in our province for people prone to seizures, it’s also the place you’re least likely to hear Rage Against the Machine or Fleetwood Mac covers. So it’s worth the risk. Unfortunately, my visit there was brief and it was time to hoof it back across the field for Jane’s Addiction.

Let’s give the 56-year-old Perry Farrell his props. Lollapalooza, which he founded, is at least somewhat responsible for North America’s insatiable appetite for music festivals. And him and guitarist Dave Navarro undeniably still have charismatic stage presences, even though Ritual de lo habitual came out 25-years-ago and they probably could have done that set in their sleep.

Farrell wailed, and his voice held up. Navarro delivered ample guitar solos, and may have even made eye contact with the audience once or twice.

Random weirdness during their set kept things interesting. Specifically two dominatrix-looking types who made sporadic stage appearances to molest each other while wielding what appeared to be lightsabers or possibly large anal probes. And then during the show’s final number “Stop!”, two Suicide Girl-types were suspended 20-feet in the air by hooks that went through piercings on their backs.

Yeah, that’s a thing. Live a little, you prudes. (Anyone else absolutely terrified about goes down on the Jane’s Addiction tour bus?)

If you’re into gimmickry, Alice Cooper, a 67-year-old who is famous for being in Wayne’s World, delivered the surprisingly awesome show of the day. The shock rocker escaped from a straitjacket, impaled someone, and even found time to sing a little despite being decapitated by a guillotine.

The highlight of the show was when he got electrocuted during “Feed My Frankenstein” and transformed into a 10-foot tall monster. A guy and a girl next to me, dressed up as Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, began doing “we’re not worthy” bows at the end of the song.

Ending his set with “School’s Out”, of course, Cooper received many more “we’re not worthy” bows and signs of the beast from the faithful. When the applause died down, you could clearly hear Weezer performing “Hash Pipe” on the next stage over, which obviously means you run in the opposite direction to see Chet Faker at the Bass Camp.

You’re probably right to be somewhat suspicious of Chet Faker. He’s a white dude from Australia who makes hipster R&B and broke through with a cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”. But the “No Diggity” cover provided a rousing sing-along opportunity, and he followed that up with another favourite, “Drop the Game”, a track he did with Flume.

Sure his music sounds like the sort of thing cheesy dudes put on when they’re trying to be seductive, but in spite that—and no bass drops—Chet Faker satiated the sweaty, shirtless, and party hungry crowd. They liked the way he worked it.

While Broken Social Scene played on the festival’s largest stage to only a few hundred people, the biggest show of the day with Ludacris went down at the Bass Camp. I couldn’t even fight my way close enough to be able to see the Atlanta rapper.

This was one of those rare festival moments where I wish I was with a buddy so I could sit on their shoulders. (I’d even flash my tits if Luda asked nicely.)

“I got too many hit songs. I don’t remember them all,” the star of three Fast & Furious sequels boasted.

For an hour Luda delivered non-stop club rap hits like “Area Codes”, “Pimpin’ All Over the World”, “Southern Hospitality”, and “Stand Up” as well as tracks he’s guested on like Usher’s “Yeah!” and DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win”. While doing that, he gave shout-outs to alcoholics, weed smokers, and women with real asses.

“This might very well be the loudest motherfucking crowd I’ve ever performed in front of,” Ludacris exclaimed before ending with “Move Bitch (Get Out the Way)” and “Get Back”, songs he was reluctant to perform as he feared they might start a riot. They didn’t, but it was close.

As darkness descended upon Pemberton, the testosterone managed to go up yet another notch at the Bass Camp with trap DJ-producer RL Grime. Smoke blasts, lasers, strobes, and LED visuals ensued while RL Grime dropped explosive numbers by Drake, Kanye, Kendrick, and Jack Ü as well as his own original tracks and remixes.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to wear a pink hardhat while dancing with a gigantic Molson Canadian patio umbrella, this as good as it gets. And if you’re not, you still likely walked away with a wicked contact high.

The final act of the evening was 51-year-old Paul Oakenfold, who, eons ago, was the biggest DJ in the world. Starting his set with “Generate” by Eric Prydz, he kept the party going till well past his bedtime with progressive bangers. Shortly into Oakie’s set, a guy beside me remarked “He’s old as shit, but look at this. He’s still got it.”

He does. And sure, the Day 3 lineup was heavy on old dudes. But it didn’t stop the Pemberton Music Festival from delivering the wildest party in the province to us lucky bastards for the second year in a row.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in july 2015.

Your EDM screencap of the deadmau5 cat story


A photo posted by Michael Mann (@michaelmann) on

deadmau5 cover story for the Georgia Straight all about cats

deadmau5 for the Georgia Straight

I recently wrote a cover story on deadmau5, which was all about cats, for the Georgia Straight. You can read it here or below. The awesome cover shot is by Rebecca Bissett www.rebeccablissett.com

You can make a strong case that deadmau5 is the most interesting figure in all of Canadian music, and the most recognizable brand in all of EDM.

For evidence of the latter, look no further than the launch event for Jay Z’s music-streaming platform, TIDAL. On-stage among music’s royalty was the Niagara Falls–born deadmau5—looking as comfortable as one can when one is wearing a mau5head and flanked by Madonna and Kanye West.

Also, deadmau5 is a cat guy.

But what makes the 34-year-old electronic musician, born Joel Zimmerman, truly fascinating, aside from his massively popular catalogue of progressive house tracks, is his life is a social-media popcorn flick. Calling out the people he regularly shares the stage with as overpaid, talentless hacks. Proposing to his former fiancée, Kat Von D, via Twitter. Taking Rob Ford on a Tim Hortons run in the Purrari, a Ferrari 458 Italia Spyder with a hilariously gaudy Nyan Cat wrap.

This modern-day theatre plays out online for everyone to see.

Plus deadmau5 has two kitties. Their names are Professor Meowingtons pHd and “the other cat”. He is undecided what discipline Meowingtons earned the doctorate of philosophy in.

His prolific online presence isn’t a one-way broadcast. You’d be hard-pressed to find any major artist more engaged and forthcoming, and lengthy live-stream video Q & As with fans are a common occurrence. In a recent one, which went on for five hours, he covered TIDAL (the launch was awkward, but he likes the platform because it rewards artists rather than labels, who fuck over music-makers on streaming royalties), releasing Skrillex’s breakout EP on his mau5trap imprint (Skrillex would have blown up with or without him), career advice for aspiring musicians (make human connections rather than online ones), and how he got his start in music (his first official release was a remix of Revenge of the Egg People’s “I’m Electric”, which he did under the moniker Karma K. Listening to it makes him cringe).

But did you know he’s got multiple cattoos, including one on his neck? So let’s talk about the cats, because every other topic has already been discussed and debated, ad nauseam.

Speaking with the Georgia Straight via Skype from his home in Campbellville, Ontario, the EDM superstar won’t confess to being a crazy cat guy, despite a mounting body of evidence that suggests otherwise. If you’re looking for the smoking gun, it might be that he humoured a 30-minute catcentric interview without calling his interrogator a fucking idiot.

Some of the questions were lighthearted: who likes lasers more, people who go to dance-music shows or your cats? “The cats. People are over lasers. They understand them. The cats just can’t seem to grasp the concept that it’s a light source coming from a little pen. It’s always magical to them. So weird.”

Others were deeply personal matters: you famously got your name because you found a dead mouse in your computer. Did you ever think that maybe a cat killed it and put it in there as a gift for you? “Doubt it. Didn’t have one at the time. It definitely crawled in an exhaust fan and just roasted on a video card.”

Even though his mother paints rather awesome pop-surrealist portraits of her son with Meowingtons and “the other cat”, deadmau5 didn’t grow up with cats. Rather, he turned to them later in life for the same reason a lot of us do: companionship. Meowingtons, a chubby tuxedo male, was adopted from the Toronto Humane Society five-and-a-half years ago, and “the other cat”, a runty grey female, made it a menagerie two years ago.

“They don’t have opinions,” he says of his fondness for the cuddly little critters. “I don’t know what my cat is thinking or planning.…I get to make up how he’s feeling, myself. They’re so enclosed and so withdrawn from the world that they think they’re the only fucking things in existence, which kind of gives them that air about them.”

Meowingtons is his favourite, and has active social-media profiles, shirts with his face on them, and his own line of headphones for cats. He had a mau5trap tour and compilation named after him, and appeared on the cover of deadmau5’s 2012 LP > album title goes here <.

“It was my album, to be fair. If it was someone else’s album I’d be impressed,” he says, modestly downplaying the cat’s impressive accomplishments. “There’s no real thing to the cat. He’s just a domestic shorthair cat. He doesn’t have a mustache and all that other shit. So he really doesn’t have a whole lot going for him in that department, which is why we can’t have some major cat-festival appearances.”

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of festival gigs for deadmau5, who, as noted, will be headlining FVDED in the Park, a two-day rager at Surrey’s Holland Park. If his recent power-outage-inducing show at Governors Ball in New York is any indicator, everyone should turn their lights off a few hours before his set starts to help conserve energy. Assisting in burning through countless gigawatts of Surrey’s electricity are R&B sensation the Weeknd; trap kings Flosstradamus; hip-hop shit-disturber Tyler, the Creator; and house DJ-producer Afrojack, who is also a former beau of superstar DJ Paris Hilton. Both have been popular online punching bags for deadmau5.

Despite Meowingtons lacking the “it” factor needed for superstardom, the cat and Paris have at least one thing in common. “I’ve always had this idea of doing a cologne for Meowingtons. Not for cats, but by a cat. And do a Meowingtons-shaped bottle,” deadmau5 schemes. “It would have to be some generic thing that you buy for the bottle. There’s no way Paris Hilton’s cologne is the best. Just make an awesome bottle, put your shit on it, and sell it. I was thinking of calling it Pussy Whipped.”

After discussing literal pussy, it’s tough to steer the conversation towards his live show and 2014 release while(1<2), which he refers to as his first “artist album”, as opposed to a compilation of dance singles. This was initiated by asking how he feels he’s pushing things ahead musically so he’ll be able to provide for the cats for years to come.

“I think a cat could live a full and awesome life on less than $20,000.”

While that figure may seem a little high, keep in mind that deadmau5 recently purchased Meowingtons a miniature LP 47 Superveloce. “It’s a Lamborghini, so he has his own little whip,” he explains. “We took out the steering wheel so he could fit in, and put down a little cat bed and stuck it in the office so he can bug my assistant all day. When he’s tired of doing that he just takes a little nap, and it’s pretty funny.”

The Internet agreed. A photo of Meowingtons in this luxurious bed received nearly 47,000 likes on Instagram.

But for those of us who follow deadmau5 online, there has been an alarming shift from cat posts to high-performance-automobile posts over the years. Where do his priorities lie?

“Like, do you mean if they were both going to fall off a cliff and I could only save one?” he asks for clarification. “Uh, I guess it would depend on the car or cat. Yeah, if it was Meowingtons versus a LaFerrari, I’d help Meowingtons out on that one.”

It’s worth noting that a LaFerrari has a sticker price of over a million dollars. It’s also worth noting that the car’s manufacturer sent deadmau5 a cease-and-desist notice because of customizations done to the Purrari. In the past week he’s settled similar disputes with the Toronto Fringe Festival, over a parody titled Deadmouse: the Musical, and with the world’s biggest rodent, Disney, over “mouse ear marks”. We can all sleep well knowing the musical will happen, there’s room in the world for Mickey ears and mau5-heads, and a Nyanborghini is in the works.

Looking ahead, deadmau5 has no feline expansion plans, which is a shame. “Two is enough. I don’t want to be a crazy cat guy with cats everywhere.” But as great as cats are at cleaning themselves obsessively, sleeping in hilarious positions, and shedding on everything you own, they simply cannot be trained to protect your property. It has been an unfortunate and regular problem at deadmau5’s Campbellville estate as random people keep showing up in his driveway, presumably to catch a glimpse of Meowingtons. Still, he’s enthusiastic about the solution.

“I actually did some research. In Canada, if someone is on your property or breaking in, you can have a [firearms] possession-and-acquisition licence, but you can’t shoot anyone. You couldn’t even beat the crap out of them. But, as it turns out, if you post signs every 50 feet that say ‘Beware of Dog’ and you get a couple of trained fucking killers it’s fair game. I’m actually in the process of working with a guy who’s got a litter coming of interbred wolf/German shepherds,” he explains rather devilishly. “I’m sure the dogs will be cool and not rip my cats apart.”

Whether dogs and cats and mau5 can peacefully coexist under one roof remains to be seen. What’s certain is it’ll all unfold online, and we’ll be sure to ask him all about it next time he rolls through town for a headlining festival gig.

Beyoncé 101: The Best Thing I Never Had | Elective Magazine

Beyoncé 101: The Best I Never Had

I wish they offered a class on Beyoncé when I was in university. True, I graduated before Destiny’s Child disbanded, but since the trio’s 1999 album The Writing’s on the Wall the writing was on the wall that Bey would be lionized in academia with 300-level Sociology courses in schools across North America. My term paper would be on “The Duality of Sasha Fierce and Beyoncé”, and I’d be sure to include a photo of Blue Ivy on the Works Cited page—as if any prof who penned a syllabus for this course could resist writing A+ next to that kid’s face.

I am not a pupa in the BeyHive, but at the same time I don’t have a death wish and wouldn’t take the course just to spew contrarian platitudes such as “Bey’s overrated. Why isn’t there a Jay Z class? This is reverse sexism.” (There’s always one in every single class.) However, I am a firm believer that you should take as many dumb electives as you can. The more dubious in educational merit they are the bet- ter, as they’ll help hone your bullshitting skills. These will prove valuable later in life if you ever want to win friends, influence people, or, you know, procure employment that doesn’t make you cry like a decidedly un-fierce also-ran in the shower every Monday morning.

I spent many sleepless nights slaving over essays on Shakespeare. Over a decade removed from school and still no one wants to yak about Hamlet with me—the real tragedy is most people into the performing arts are on life support and in a vegetative state. Dropping knowledge from that mandatory 100-level Stats course never charmed the interviewer for that plum gig I desperately wanted. And then there was a class on the weather. Yes, the weather. Somehow Clouds 101 was deemed essential for obtaining a degree. While my cumulonimbus identifying skills are unfuckwithable, every time I point one out to the person next to me on the bus they end up switching seats.

I should have been studying Mrs. Knowles instead. Bring her up to that same cloud-hating asshole and they’ll be hanging off your every word. Yoncé is all on our collective mouths like liquor.

Don’t fret the inevitable “Yes parents, I am taking a class on Beyoncé and this is a perfectly sane thing to do with the tuition money you’re giving me” conversation. They’ll see the light when you eloquently break down why Kanye is right and she deserves all the Grammys using a third-wave feminist critique. Besides, you can add, Religious Studies is a thing, and the Queen Bee is more popular, influential, and relevant than at least three of the top five major ones.

Nothing about the Cultural Hegemony of Bey, Gentrification and Craft Beer, the Intentional Communication of Ronaldo’s Abs, or Rihanna’s Instagram: Why We Can’t Even on the docket this semester? Doesn’t matter. The scholarly world moves at a glacial pace, and doesn’t recognize genius as quickly as you do. So put a ring on your education, and opine about “The Political Economies of Game of Thrones” (Poli Sci), “Grumpy Cat and the Theatre of the Absurd” (English), “Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, and Oedipus” (Psychology), or the “Cultural Appropriation of Twerking” (Sociology). Just be sure to hurl around a few Marxisms like “commodity fetishism” or “means of production” and you’ll do fine regardless of how flimsy your argument is.

“Who needs a degree when you’re schoolin’ life?” you ask. Well you can accomplish both when post-secondary educa- tion is in line with your interests. So fill up your tub halfway with dumb electives and ride them with your surfbort over the next four years. That, or you can spend the rest of your life lamenting missing out on that Beyoncé course as you keep a careful eye on the offerings in the Continuing Studies department.

this article was originally published by elective magazine in march 2015.

Ariane Grande Honeymoon Tour review for the Georgia Straight

Ariane Grande

If you’re an out-of-touch 35-year-old male, attending an Ariana Grande concert is great way to be confronted with your own mortality and irrelevance. Quite frankly, up until a few days ago I had no fucking clue who she was apart from what I’d gleaned from tabloid headlines. But apparently, while I was taking a nap, she conquered pop music this past summer and can pretty much sell out Rogers Arena now.

If you’re equally clueless, Grande initially gained fame for playing Cat Valentine, a lovable, vermilion-haired ditz on Nickelodeon’s Victorious—think a musical Saved by the Bell with a far more jarring laugh track. (Yeah, I watched a few episodes. What of it?) This is a vital detail because the elementary-school- to high-school-age girls in attendance were all wearing cat ears as a nod to this character.

If you didn’t bring your own cat ears, the kind people at the merch stands were selling them in two varieties: black lace ($20) and light-up ($40). Other hot sellers, which made parents uncomfortable, were shirts with Love Me Harder emblazoned across them ($40) and booty shorts with I Got One Less Problem Without You on the posterior ($30). The mob scene for these keepsakes put iPhone launches to shame.

At 9 p.m. on the button, Ari took the stage for the Honeymoon Tour, this much to the delight of the faithful, nicknamed the Arianators. (Meh. Too bad Arian Nation was already in use.) Pairing a sparkly black skirt and top with her trademark thigh-high boots and a set of cat ears, which, astonishingly, were not available at the merch table, she opened with “Bang Bang”, a collab track with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj.

The show immediately started ticking all the good pop-concert boxes. An eight-piece band who didn’t do much or warrant an introduction. A dozen backup dancers bouncing out of trap doors. Costume changes galore. A massive LED wall complemented by smoke machines, lasers, and pyrotechnics. And, most importantly, Grande had already flown around the stage twice by the sixth song—once on a cloud and once on a chandelier.

But here’s the problem: virtually every other song the 21-year-old hitmaker has done features guest vocals. So you’re spending a lot of her set listening to the canned voices of Minaj and the Weeknd or watching videos of her boyfriend Big Sean (twice), Childish Gambino, and Mac Miller rapping. While this is happening, Grande just sort of shakes her hips while waiting to unleash maddeningly inoffensive lyrics ranging from “Here is what you need to do to get with me” to “We are broken up now and I sorta regret it.” Again, this all played well to those in attendance, and what the fuck do I know anyways?

We got all the megahits like “The Way”, “One Last Time”, and “Break Free”, and the show went as scripted. Except for one moment following a video tribute to her recently deceased grandfather. During “My Everything”, the title track off her sophomore LP, Grande actually choked up, missed a verse, and had a tough time composing herself. Did an errant piece of the confetti-snow that was falling from the rafters during this emotional number get in her lungs? Or was it possible she wasn’t grown in a vat of synthetic amniotic fluid by Nickelodeon’s marketing department?

Shockingly, it was the former. Up until that point, audience interaction was strictly of the “What’s up Vancouver?” and “C’mon, make some noise!” variety. But then she piped up and humbly thanked the crowd for supporting her music and sending funny tweets that make her laugh. “This is such a surreal experience. I’ve felt like crying all day. I never thought I’d be here,“ confessed one of 50 most beautiful people in the world, according to People magazine.

The precisely 90-minute set ended with her biggest hit “Problem”, which had video-screen guest vocals by Iggy Azalea. A huge bottleneck ensued on the way out, as the satiated jostled to purchase what shirts remained. When asked what he thought of the whole scene, one parent replied, “Well, it’s over. Ask the kids.”

You didn’t need to. Even geriatric Ariana Grande neophytes such as myself recognized that the selfie-stick-wielding hordes all looked like that hearts-for-eyes emoji at the end of the night. They are the future. Consider yourself warned.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in april 2015

Vancouver’s subterranean dance-music scene is the new punk

Dance music fans in Vancouver haven’t had it this good since newly legal club kids were in preschool.

At a mainstream level, international acts are bringing bass drops to town every week and there are so many massives going on it’s doubtful your body could handle attending all of them. And at an underground level, intimate after-hours gatherings go down every weekend night and the local acts playing them are getting international attention on sites like Boiler Room, FACT, and Resident Advisor.

The scene hasn’t been this vibrant since the heyday of the Lotus Sound Lounge, and the idea of opening a store that dealt exclusively in phat pants was a viable business plan.

At the forefront of the mainstream side of things is Blueprint, a company that’s grown as fast as EDM has in recent years. “Blueprint, which used to be a two-to-three-person operation, is now a 400-person operation,” explains Blueprint’s digital marketing manager, Matt Owchar, interviewed at the Charles Bar in Gastown. He is pretty on the ball considering that the grand-opening bacchanalia for the company’s latest property, M.I.A. nightclub in Gastown, has just gone down the previous evening.

Under Blueprint’s expansive, fun, and fur-lined umbrella are five other nightclubs and an equally large number of dance-music festivals. One of these signature blowouts, the Seasons Festival, starts today (April 1). Inspired by Seattle’s Decibel Festival, this five-day citywide happening includes over 20 shows at all of Blueprint’s clubs as well as a two-day, all-ages main event at the Pacific Coliseum headlined by international tastemaker Diplo and the king of melodic big-room dance, Eric Prydz.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Seasons bill this year is that alongside EDM heavy hitters like Dillon Francis and Tritonal are local talent Bear Mountain and Sabota, as well as artists from underground dance-music labels 1080p, Genero, and Pacific Rhythm. If you were to describe some of these as EDM at one of their shows, the music would abruptly stop with a loud needle scratch, and the entire warehouse would stop dancing and stare at you.

“In our back yard we have all these amazing acts that are making waves internationally. And they’re awesome and they’re credible and they’re worth supporting and putting on a bigger platform,” Owchar declares. “It’s personally satisfying to take a label like 1080p and put it next to all these big-name DJs.”

This is what’ll be going down at the Free Association party on Thursday (April 2) at Fortune Sound Club. Organized by Natasha Lands and Chad Murray, this free event features three floors of electronic beats from some of Vancouver’s top underground labels. (Noticeably absent from the bill is Mood Hut, whose artists are touring Europe.)

With ample posters, photography, videos, and zines made by locals on display as well, it’s safe to assume that most attending this art-school-friendly show won’t be dancing in their underwear and a SpiritHood to Diplo this weekend.

“Going back seven, eight years, people that are now in the underground dance-music scene in the city, they were more in the punk-rock scene. They were dudes in punk-rock bands,” Owchar recollects. “It’s funny how the remnants of that scene have moved into this.”

It’s true. If EDM is the new rock ’n’ roll, then underground dance music is the new punk. An example of this is 1080p, whose sound might primarily be uhn-tiss-uhn-tiss, but whose ethos is pure punk. Launched by New Zealand transplant Richard MacFarlane nearly three years ago, the frenetic label has over 40 cassette releases from local and international acts.

The appeal of cassettes is that they’re fast and cheap to produce. All assembled by hand, they’re more of a limited-run, lo-fi, objet d’art reward for purchasing the MP3s than something most are bumping in yellow Sony Sports Walkmans.

“A lot of people criticize this trend where house and techno has become popular with people who had previously made guitar music. But I think it’s really amazing and I’m coming from that zone,” MacFarlane admits at Matchstick Coffee in Chinatown. “It’s good people are discovering this. In my opinion, it’s a lot more fun than going to see a show with three bands.”

DJing under the name 1080p Collection, MacFarlane will share the stage at Free Association with one of his New York acts, techno DJ-producer Max McFerren (“Everyone wants to come to Vancouver because they hear there’s this insane house and techno scene”), and local celestial house architect Friendly Chemist.

Soledad Muñoz of Genero echoes 1080p’s DIY sensibilities. Her all-female, multimedia project, with a label component, had its first cassette release this past summer, featuring the wyrd electronic pop of Stefana Fratila. Since then, two more have followed courtesy of deep-house and techno producers Regular Fantasy and D. Tiffany.

“I felt like there wasn’t enough female representation within the electronic realm,” she says of Genero’s inspiration, interviewed via Skype from a Portland coffee shop. “I come from a very critical-theory-based practice. But I also think that academia has this separation from reality. I’m very into pop culture. I’m very much into music. And I’m very much into getting together and making things happen.”

If critical theory doesn’t sound exactly, you know, fun, Muñoz rejects the idea that being an academic feminist and having a good time are conflicting notions.

“That’s how it has to be. C’mon, I’m not just inside a room reading books all day,” the Emily Carr grad jokes. “To me it’s about opening the doors and being ‘Yes, we are here and we’re doing it. Everyone come dance with us. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be great, and also we’re very good musicians.’ ”

Performing at Genero’s Free Association showcase are house and techno DJ Jayda G (“She can carry a whole party if she wanted to with her energy”), rapper and R&B singer MamaRudeGyal, and tropical electronic soundscape weaver Ramzi.

Muñoz is quick to point out that the project wasn’t started as a “fuck you” to everyone else in the local dance-music landscape. “I appreciate what all of our friends have done for this scene in Vancouver,” she explains. “The community has made Genero. It’s not just me.”

In fact, none of these upstart labels are concerned about competing with each other. D. Tiffany, whom Muñoz can’t say enough kind things about, has also released tapes with 1080p. At Free Association she’ll be playing in the Pacific Rhythm showcase, and the label plans to release her work on a forthcoming vinyl compilation. Additionally, Pacific Rhythm has a brick-and-mortar store (441 Gore Avenue) where you can buy everyone’s cassettes.

“More and more people are getting into it. 1080p came along. Now there’s Pacific Rhythm. And us. It’s growing and, hopefully, it doesn’t stop at all,” Muñoz says optimistically.

There’s a pretty palpable sense of community bubbling up in Vancouver right now. A healthy underground and a healthy mainstream are byproducts of one another, and this year’s Seasons Festival is building a bridge between the two. When the stadiums and festival dance tents need new sounds to keep partiers moving, they look to the warehouses for inspiration. And when the novelty of the lasers, confetti cannons, LED walls, and DJs hucking cake at you wears off, there’s always room for one more on the city’s dingier dance floors.

this article was originally published by the georgia straight in march 2015