Monday, September 26, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: Bartel

Thus far the Futureproofing Vancouver series has focused mostly around what I'd suppose you would call "dance music," but there's no shortage of interesting ambient, experimental, and whatever music in this city as well.  Whether it's the Quiet City nights put on by Panospria head Constantine Katsiris (aka Scant.Intone) or any number of shows and concerts put on at semi-legal venues in run-down parts of town, there's no shortage of either soothing ambience or noise in Vancouver.  Bartel doesn't really fit into either of those categories, though I guess if you had to pick one he slots more in the ambient section: making gorgeous tracks that are somewhat beat-oriented, Bartel's sound is marked by its warm, tactile textures and organic soundscapes.  Incorporating guitar and other "real world" sounds, and a deeply complicated bed of ambient sound, he finds a way to suffuse electronic music with a distinct and tangible humanity it can so often lack.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: Prison Garde + Eames

Though he's only been in Vancouver for two years, for me, Prison Garde is the epitome of the city's current inspiringly wide-open outlook on dance music.  He defines what Vancouver's club music should be like: witnessing one of his live sets -- particularly in the past year -- is to witness an hour plus of unfiltered, unleaded, unpretentious dance music: drums, bass, synths, all hitting the right places at exactly the right moments.  On the one hand it's almost simplistic, on the other hand it's bewilderingly genius.  He's produced as part of the outfit Megasoid and formerly as Sixtoo, with a long and storied history in his hometown of Montreal, but his material as Prison Garde might be his best yet.  With roots in hip-hop, his sound has been moving all over the place in the past year, and the free album he released just prior to this year's Bass Coast festival -- Systeme Hermes Vol. 1 (which I reviewed for FACT Magazine) -- is an excellent showcase for his diversification, spanning BPMs from 74 to 150.  House, hip-hop, dubstep, techno, whatever, you name it and it's probably swimming somewhere in the Prison Garde stream.   (He also runs the Catalog Gallery in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood.)

Then there's his recent partner in crime, Eames, aka Kevin Ehman.  Ehman as a DJ is maybe a bit more of a house head but shares the same appreciation for both hip-hop and a wide swathe of dance music.  A mainstay in Victoria's bustling scene (soon to be profiled via Victoria kingpin Chris Longshanks) for the past year, he recently relocated to Vancouver and has used the opportunity to maximize his collaborations with Squire, and the result is a wealth of tracks under the name Garde + Eames, subtle but devastatingly effective tracks that pull bits and pieces from each producer's musical personality and turn them into streamlined, purified slabs of silky seduction.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: The Librarian

It might be an unusual pseudonym for a dubstep DJ, but trust me, this is one Librarian who's more than happy to let her hair down. (Sorry).  Based in the beautiful town of Squamish just north of Vancouver itself, Andrea Graham isn't your typical dubstep DJ either.  She calls her vision of dubstep "sexy, powerful, and spacious," and though I might be the "writer" here truth be told I'm having a hard time coming up with a better description. Her DJ sets are something to behold, building sensually and organically into a climax that's paradoxically as gentle as it is explosive.  There is something to be said for "spacious," and her selections have a tendency to bounce around and between the walls of a room as if feeling out the empty space: you need to hear her in a large fucking room to understand.  As focused on elegant melodies and clean lines as much as bassweight, hers is a sound that verges on polite (certainly pleasant) but isn't afraid to dip into the down-and-dirty at just the right time.  It's an enviable balance between the tear-out violence of so much modern North American dubstep and the kind of graceful 2step variations that have since sprouted, halfway between the UK and the West Coast and all the better for it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: Kuma

Name: Kuma (James Graham)
Hometown: Vancouver
Vancouverite since: "the age of three or four"
Associated labels: The Konspiracy Group, Immerse
Associated acts: Gunshae
Essential tunes: "Dawn Stepped Outside," "What It's Not," "The Blood Of Heroes (Kuma Remix)"

When we're talking about this whole "dubstep" / "post-dubstep" / "bass" / whatever shit in Vancouver, my mind always goes back to one figure: James Graham, better known in the city as Kuma and under any variations of the pseudonym involving bears.  Or "Captain of the Great Dubship." You get the idea. One of the very first musical connections I myself made while exploring the city, Kuma has been enlightening in outlining the recent history of the city's electronic music scene, partially because he played such a big hand in it himself.  This is the man who brought Kode9 to Vancouver to the infamous "Secret Location" all the way back in 2005, before most people in North America had ever heard of "dubstep.'  Though his role as a promoter has definitely receded in the past few years, he remains a persistent spectre haunting the Vancouver scene: you're likely to encounter the looming stature of his person at the city's best musical shows, he runs a label and collective called The Konspiracy Group, and is also deeply entrenched in the city's flourishing ambient scene as part of the duo Gunshae with Lady Eve.  He releases on his own TKG label -- the recent "What It's Not" single comes with a hearty recommendation from yours truly and also a Greivous Angel remix -- and he's also released on Bristol-based Immerse records, where he actually managed to rouse Horsepower from their hibernation in 2008 to remix his immense "Dawn Stepped Outside."  If that weren't enough, he does a radio show on Thursday nights called Art of Beatz, which has become an institution over the years and even hosted local writer Andrew Ryce (har har) for a year-end retrospective late last year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: HxdB

I just recently did a profile on Warsaw label Concrete Cut, highlighting the label’s virtuosic versatility in the larger context of an underappreciated local scene with a vibrant cast of characters with as much to offer as any better-documented hub (London, Berlin, Los Angeles, et al).  Well, I like buried treasure -- a lot.  My hometown of Vancouver -- in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada, for those unfamiliar -- sits in a similar position to Warsaw, with a large, colourful and close-knit scene that could rival many of its better-known counterparts.  We can brag about having Kode9 play all the way back in 2005, and an early support system and love for dubstep -- ahead of much of the rest of the world -- has laid the groundwork for an exciting and deeply experimental dance music scene that mirrors London in the ongoing brilliant reinventions and incorporation of other genres (house, electro, juke) into what was once the dubstep template.  All of this is why I’ve decided to start a series of features on the best the city has to offer, featuring interviews and mini-mixes of original material, an aural snapshot of what each artist is about and a chance to see inside one of North America’s most inspiring electronic music hotspots.

Photo by Vasho Pekar

Name: HxdB
Hometown: Vancouver
Vancouverite since: a long time
Associated labels: Gradient Audio, Tectonic, Brownswood, Surefire Sound, Friends of Friends, Crude, Innovative Leisure, Aufect, 10Pin, Mindset, Formant, Palms Out, East Van Digital
Essential tunes: "Typewriter Tune VIP" (Surefire), "New Sense" (Crude), "Booyant" (Tectonic)