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.

She's not just a DJ, but also the head of the considerably massive Bass Coast Project, an annual summer outdoor festival in the woods near Squamish that only grows considerably larger with time.  A weekend-long party in the forest -- replete with camping -- the festival has seen considerable expansion (and considerable praise bordering on the near-rapturous, religious, and cultish) in its thus far short history and has become a brand in itself, playing host to recap nights and an annual Hallowe'en special back up in the forest.  As the curator of Bass Coast she provides not only a unique British Columbia experience to raving but also provides a wide open purview of dance music -- from dubstep to dnb to house to techno and everything else -- to a mostly hometown audience that otherwise might not be exposed to those same artists or styles.

Her mix here is a nicely compact summary of her careful and eminently refined DJing style: melodies swoop in and out and wind around each other, the mixing is quick but never whiplash, and she tip toes her way through some heavy material without ever giving into the cheap thrills of the womp womp womp.  Check the way her own gorgeous "Blue" naturally melts into Dark Sky's "Be Myself," and the range of her selections are inspiring, from the Finnish dubstep of Turn It Up to less classifiable producers like Doshy and Dizz1.  Be warned about that Tunnidge remix of Truth's "Puppets" (one of the dubstep tracks of the year, no doubt): it comes crashing in and it feels so right, before the mix settles back down and closes with Graham's amazing "Arctic Swallow," also her debut release.


Blue (Coastal Mix) - The Librarian
Be Myself - Dark Sky
Whoop - Doshy
Mt Angel - The Librarian
Turn It Up - Tes La Rok
Back Off - TMSV
Decay - Dizz1 (Forthcoming Black Acre)
Drama Lost - The Librarian
Puppets (Tunnidge Remix) - Truth
Resistance - Grimelock
Arctic Swallow - The Librarian


RYCE: You're not currently based in Vancouver proper, but have you ever been?  What do you think of the scene in Vancouver, and what's the community like in the city you're currently based in?

GRAHAM: I've lived in Vancouver 4 times over the past 10 years, but now call Squamish home.  I love it here because it's got the best of both worlds: Both city and nature are within reach and the community is young and vibrant.  Squamish is a quiet little town in winter but it comes alive in the summer with a  number of music festivals developing a new draw to the area.  They cover all spectrums of sound from live music at Live at Squamish to forward leaning electronic music at Bass Coast. Throughout the rest of the year there's not much music in Squamish so you have to head to Vancouver or Whistler to find electronic music culture.  I play in Whistler on Tuesdays with Mat the Alien at his weekly called Really Good Tuesdays.   Mat has built this night over many years and the styles have evolved over time from hip-hop to dubstep and everything in between.  You can always count on his night as a staple in Whistler's music scene.  

Bass music in particular seems to have fractured into many crews which each focus on a different subculture or sound.  This naturally separated the community for a little while.  But when W2 Storyeum opened, it provided a large space where multiple crews could be hosting different stages simultaneously and that contributed to building a community that is open minded and really supportive of local producers and DJ's. The music scene is growing and the sounds emerging from the city are fresh and mature.  Local artists are pushing boundaries and their music is undefined which is putting Vancouver on the map.

Do you think the community and artistic vibrancy of Vancouver and Victoria extends itself to the rest of the province?  

There are a few areas like Nelson, Vancouver & Victoria that stand out for their vibrant scenes and that support local and touring artists.  Each area seems to have it's own personality and sound that defines it.  It's hard to support yourself as an artist in the smaller towns around BC,  so many artists end up gravitating to one of these areas at some point. 

It seems like so many Vancouver DJs, producers and artists have trouble breaking outside of the considerably large Vancouver circles and crowds, why do you think this is?

The artists leading Vancouver's scene are talented and humble. They seem to be focussed more on production then hustling shows.  Though they are not all touring extensively,  more and more of these artists are gaining international recognition with their releases.  For example Calamalka, Prison Garde, Daega Sound, Self Evident, Max Ulis, Monolithium, HxdB & Taal Mala are just a few who have put out excellent releases this year [and all of whom you'll see gracing the pages of this blog - Ryce]. And Michael Red has been quietly creating a library of excellent sounds! Collectively they are creating Vancouver's identity with regards to bass music.  I think it's only a matter of time before more of Vancouver's artists will be seen more frequently outside of Vancouver.

What is the Librarian project and how long have you been making music under the moniker? How would you classify it (if forced to)?

The Librarian emerged just over 4 years ago.  Prior to that I had been exploring different styles as a DJ and as I discovered my sound, I was named The Librarian.  I wear glasses... and it was a nickname that I just couldn't escape!  My sound is rooted in low end frequencies and melody and my sets visit the different faces of bass music and touch on the roots of dubstep, grime, &  the many different flavours now emerging out of dubstep.  There are usually some my own tracks woven into a set as well as tracks from other Vancouver artists and beyond.   I like to tell a story. 

Recently my debut Arctic Swallow EP was released on East Van Digital.  The title track Arctic Swallow has been receiving some excellent support and is a percussive and driving dancefloor oriented track.  Blue and Drama Lost are both more hip hop and hyphy influenced tracks and Mt Angel is a melodic sunrise piece.  This is my first release and the feedback has really inspired me to get back in the studio this fall.

Can you talk a little about the Bass Coast Project? What it is, how it works, and what you do?

Bass Coast Project was founded three years ago by myself and two friends Liz Thomson and Andrea Oakden.  Our goal is to build events that promote BC's thriving subculture and to build community through art, music and our environment.   We produce a 4-day festival every summer and a halloween and new years event each year.   With each event we curate a selection of art installations, performers, and music with a heavy emphasis on West Coast talent but that also includes international emerging artists. The stages are art installations and we encourage participation from everyone in attendance. Bass Coast has grown into it's own vibrant community and has now taken on it's own life.

My areas of responsibility include programming, technical coordination, marketing, business planning, and talent coordination.  We've each naturally been drawn to different areas of the business which allows us to work in the areas we are passionate about.  

Has Bass Coast been a success so far in your eyes?  What are its best points, and some things that need to be improved?

Bass Coast has been incredibly successful so far. We are very thankful for the support of everyone involved and everyone who makes the journey up to our festival! Like every new event attendance was quite small in year one but it doubled in year two and again in year three. It now feels like Bass Coast has carved out a unique identity and has created it's own position on the festival circuit.  So many people have contributed to its success and the result is that Bass Coast truly is a West Coast experience; a platform for home grown talent and international talent. The music, layout, workshops, artists, volunteers and attendees all contributed to the overwhelming good vibes at this year's festival. 

We try our best to take in all feedback and use it to improve the festival from year to year.  This year we focused on stage design, sound design, relationships with the community, bulk water, vending layout, on site art, workshop programming, line up diversity, and talent hospitality.  We are really pleased with the improvements in each of these areas and are now are taking inventory of what areas we want to focus on for next year.  The biggest things that stand out for us at the moment are the front gate experience, ticketing, and sustainability throughout the festival.  

Vancouver is notorious for strict venue and licensing laws, what's it like trying to throw a multi-day all-night party in the forest?

It takes a lot of time and planning to obtain all the necessary approvals required for a special event permit.  It's been a huge learning curve for us and we really value the relationships we have with the different agencies who sign off on the event.  We do our best to ensure people's safety, that the natural environment isn't harmed, and to prepare for all the situations that could arise.   There are inevitably new challenges and surprises each year, so we have to work through them to find a solution.  It's always a challenge.

What's on the horizon in terms of your own projects in the near future?

I'm really looking forward to working on new music this fall and am hoping to put out another release sometime this winter.  I'm also working on some vocals for a couple co-labs.   It was such an inspiring summer and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to play festivals like Diversity, Shambhala, and of course Bass Coast!   With festival season now at a close I'm going to focus more time in the studio writing music as well as working on Bass Coast Halloween and next year's festival.  

I'll continue to play Tuesdays in Whistler with Mat the Alien and also have a few dates booked in Calgary, Victoria, & Vancouver in the coming months.

Can you talk a little bit about the mix you've done and what it represents?

This is a 20 minute mix that touches on some of the different styles you'd expect to hear me play live and it also features the 4 tracks off Arctic Swallow (East Van Digital). It represents an evolution out of dubstep that's sexy, powerful, and spacious.

Arctic Swallow is out now on East Van Digital.  You can purchase on Juno.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this:) Great article/interview. Real content...not just promo hype. Librarian; thank you!)