Thursday, June 21, 2012

Futureproofing Calgary: Dan Solo

Over the past year, the Futureproofing blog seems to have shifted from a personal outlet for my ramblings and showcases from some of my favourite artists (Peverelist, Kevin McPhee) to something more centred around my local scene here in Vancouver, with the Futureproofing Vancouver concept becoming far more comprehensive than I ever expected, and whether or not it was planned, I can't say I'm not proud of the shape everything has taken. While mulling over who to spotlight next (I'm still waiting on you, Mr. Michael Red), I received a promo from a Calgary-based label (Crude Records) whom had previous released some of my favourite Vancouver artists, this time featuring Dan Solo, a producer I had already been acquainted with through both hearing his name thrown around and through his semi-ambient Sanctums project with fellow Calgarian Evangelos Typist, which caught my ear earlier in the year.

The latest Dan Solo release on Crude represents the most fully-formed and confident effort I've heard from Solo yet. The tracks fall firmly (or not-so-firmly) in the nebulous nexus of 'bass music,' and like so many other producers in Western Canada he's come out of the whole dubstep camp armed with a sound much sleeker and sexier, focused on minimal tracks where small percussive sounds resonate formidably. "Arcan" represents potentially his best production yet, shades of broken techno with iridescent pulses, but what makes it most interesting is something which Solo discusses in the interview below, incorporating hip-hop elements that manifest themselves in twitchy little drum machine sounds that dance around the squalls of bass, which act as an anchor and magnetic centre for the seemingly dislocated percussive accents. The whole idea of "trap music" being floated around by North American producers is a little problematic for a number of reasons, too complex to be delved into here, but regardless Solo's work here represents one of the most seamless incorporations of those vague ideas yet.

Same goes with "Soothsayer," which takes the template of "Arcan" and breaks it up even more. The track carries itself with a dub techno swagger (repetitive, reverberating pulses), but throws it with an unstable arc that owes a lot more to garage, skipping frantically over fearsome vibrations that recall suppressed dubstep. The EP is rounded off with "Platypus," another track built on the same model of carefully-swung percussive wireframes on top of thickset bass foundations, but here the drums lose their sense of restraint and go haywire, with snares nearly saturating the track's top end in some sections as if they're trying to blot out every last iota of empty space with their trebly snap.

The Crude Records EP felt like such a massive (and I want to say instantaneous, but that's probably not fair to him) improvement and self-realization that I felt it necessary to tap Solo for a mix and interview as I had done with Vancouver artists, so lo and behold, the makeshift "Futureproofing Calgary." What Solo has provided me is completely up to par with the rest of the series, a 27-minute mix that weaves through his own productions, all of his own aliases and styles, dipping from highly melodic sections to heavier, more stripped-back club bangers. You get a taste of his recent stuff (both "Arcan" and "Soothsayer" make an appearance), some older bits, unreleased material, his Piranha Piranha project, and his Sanctums project. It's a strange, restless little mix, but needless to say it's a fun ride with a particularly fun ending through the Sanctums remix of Little Dragon and the Dan Solo remix of Vancouver favourites HxdB and Self Evident—both of whom have contributed their own mixes and interviews to the series in the past.

RYCE: How long have you been based in Calgary for, and where did you live before, if anywhere?

SOLO: I was born in Calgary but grew up on opposite sides of the country, first Halifax then Vancouver before moving back to Calgary for my teenage years.  When I finished high school, in 2000, I went traveling around Asia, Australia, and parts of the USA for about two years before settling in Vancouver. I lived in East Vancouver from early 2002 to late 2007.  In 2007 my girlfriend (now wife) and I were both feeling the need for some change. Vancouver wasn't working out for us at the time—mostly on the job/cost of living side of things—so we decided to move to Calgary with the intention of saving money and perhaps moving abroad to either Europe or NYC. However after only a few months of being here, we got pregnant with our first of two children and kinda got stuck here.  We've made the most of it, and the city has really grown on us, taken care of us. We've made it our home (at least for the time being). We talk of moving back the West Coast often—or maybe heading East like our initial plans were—only time will tell.

How would you describe the health and size of the scene in Calgary? Do you think it's nurturing to artists and Djs?

The scene here is very strong and has been for as long as I can remember...people come out and support shows/events of all different styles numerous times a week.  Parties are always well attended, the scene I'm most active in with TheRinseOut Crew/Modern Math/HiFi Club is a very tight knit group of people. We know almost everyone who come to our events and have created a really nice community of friends with a lot of them. The crowds are both educated on what is happening in music and open to new things, which is about all I can ask for as DJ. All of the artists in the city get along (for the most part) and there isn't too much of a competitive air in the scene... at least not for us.

If there's one thing I love the most about Calgary, it's the people, especially the people in my direct environment.  The underground music & art scene(s) here are supported by so many talented & friendly people. Calgary often gets painted with a redneck image, but I've found the people here to be some the most open-minded, humble, and honest people I've encountered anywhere.

Is Calgary a good place to go out? What are the good venues, and who is doing the best work in terms of programming and booking interesting acts?

Calgary is a good place to go out. There are few really good bars, and lots of good new restaurants/lounges if you're in a conversational kind of mood. It's a good thing we have good places to go out and a good scene to support them—because there isn't a lot else to do here (especially in the winter). I'm lucky because my two favorite venues (HiFi Club & Broken City) are the two venues I do my weekly events at.

HiFi Club is the best dance club in the city by far.  It's the only bar that from its inception has only booked underground, emerging, and forward-thinking artists exclusively. It's run by artists, so artistic integrity has always been part of its ethos. I do a weekly party there called Northern Lights on Wednesdays, and Northern Lights has turned into the city's main night for forward-thinking music of the bass persuasion. We are coming up on our two-year anniversary at Northern Lights, and over those two years we've hosted a wide array of talent from the global bass / UK dubstep community, to techno, drum & bass, beat-centric hip-hop and just about every other microgenre that has perked our interest.

Broken City is the other venue I really love. I do a Saturday night hip-hop party there called Natural Selection. We focus mostly on 80s/90s-era stuff (which is my first love in music) with some new rap thrown in for good measure. It's always lined up down the block with a diverse mix of people ranging from 18 year-old skater kids, to hipsters, punks, and folks in their mid 30s-40s. Because it's in a gritty rock'n'roll bar it keeps the gangster/chongoe set away which has always been the problem with hip-hop nights in any city I've been to.

What sort of music is most popular in Calgary... dubstep? Is it an open-minded scene?

Between 2008-2011 dubstep was definitely the most popular music here - at its peak in 2010 this city was hosting between 2-4 headlining dubstep acts per week. When it first took off with our Modern Math parties in 2008, it was a really exciting time for Calgary's scene. The parties were legendary, it was something completely new for Calgary and the crowds supported it wholeheartedly, and DJs loved coming to town. No matter what day of the week the crowds were responsive.

However, as the sound became more mainstream and formulaic and profitable, other promoters (with less integrity in my opinion) exploited the sound for monetary gain. Parties went from costing $5-15 to attend to $25-80, which is preposterous for a DJ show. This, along with people getting bored of the halftime aggro sound, has led to a big decline in dubstep's popularity. Thankfully people have moved on and evolved their tastes as have many of the city's DJs/producers. Rather than trying to beat a dead horse our scene has adapted with the times. Techno and house are doing really well here, and we recently started new monthly event called "Shapes," which is a strictly a house & techno night and has been a huge success so far (with lots of the dubstep heads coming out to dance).

The other style really taking off here and everywhere in North America is the new hybrid trap/juke/booty bass club sound. I'm personally really excited about this sound, and don't give a shit that people are calling it "the next dubstep/moombahton" or whatever. First, coming from a hip hop/rap background of course I'm going to like it, and secondly, in my opinion this is a bass music genre North America can legitimately call its own.

How long have you been DJing for, and how long have you been making music as Dan Solo for?

I've been a DJ since I was five years old, making mixtapes for friends/family and exploring new sounds anywhere possible, and fine-tuning my musical tastes. However I've only been really DJing for about 11 years, and producing for about eight years (and only been serious about production for about two-three years).

How has your own music evolved over the past few years? How would you describe your music in terms of style, influence, etc.

I'm really happy with the way my music has evolved over the past few years. I'm finally at a place where I'm confident, including my own music in my sets. I have a really hard time describing my sound—definitely not purist in any way. If I set out to try and make a specific style or genre it always ends up sounding like a weird hybrid sound, like, I've never made a song that could be pin pointed has a dubstep song or a house song. I've tried to do both, but it always ends up its own thing. My main influences are hip-hop (specifically New York from 1986-96), Radiohead, classic punk rock, & 80s synth soundtrack music. But I make music thats sounds nothing like said influences.

Can you talk a bit about your Sanctums project with Evangelos Typist? When it started, what it is, etc.

Sanctums has been an amazing project from the get-go, and I have grown more as an artist through this project than I could have ever hoped. We started Sanctums in early 2011, a time when we were both quite bored and not interested with club music in general. Aggressive dubstep was all that people seemed to want at the time, and we wanted nothing to do with it.

We wanted to write music for the sake of writing music, without the pressure of fitting it into a box so it could work in a dancefloor/club atmosphere—we wanted to reach people in another part of their lives.
We share a few common loves in music: classical, film soundtracks, hip-hop and Radiohead, and with these influence's we started to build a sound. The process we have together is really fun and natural.
We released a full length album in early 2012 (self-titled), and hope to have a follow up LP released before the end of the year. We already have a bunch of new material we will be playing at shows this summer. The sound has already evolved so much from the first album, so it's very exciting for us.

What's your release schedule like? 

I started 2012 with a couple remixes, first was one for my good pal, Wax Romeo, that came out on Bigfoot Records; kind of a UK funky inspired number, and percussively one of my strongest tracks.
Next was a remix for Vancouver cat Frank Grimes on Crude Records; I did a half time weirdo 160BPM juke/trap remix that I still enjoy playing out. Then came the Sanctums self titled album which we self-released via bandcamp for free.

On June 22 I have a solo three-track EP dropping on Crude Records. Two of the tunes from it I included on the mix; 128-133 bpm bass music styles, UK funky/garage influenced. In July I have an EP coming on Mat the Alien's Really Good imprint that I'm very excited about, it's called the Prism Face EP and features two original trap style club tunes of mine, along with some really amazing & diverse remixes from Wax Romeo, Self Evident, Mr Geography, DJ Cure, SKLTN, & Crimson.
I also have a remix of HxdB & Self Evident's "Hot Mustard" which is forthcoming on East Van Digital this summer. I also hope to have some new Piranha Piranha and Sanctums material released by the end of 2012.

Can you talk a little bit about the mix?

This mix was a couple of firsts for me. This is the first all original mix I've ever done; it's nice to finally have enough material to be able to compile a whole mix with. Secondly, this was the first mix I've ever done in Ableton.

In the past I was of the attitude that a mix should be done on the medium you perform with live, and for me that's turntables with Serato.  My mind has changed on this subject, however, and because this is a mix of my own music (which I wrote using Ableton), I decided to use the program to blend the songs as I saw fit. I wanted to have a diverse mixture of my productions. All of the songs were produced over the last 12 months except for "One Hitter" by Piranha Piranha (which is my other collaboration shared with Mr Geography), that was made in 2009. Lately I've mostly been making hip-hop/rap/trap style beats, but I didn't want the mix to be one dimensional so I only included the one (Hot Mustard Remix) at the very end. I chose songs that I have played in the club and work in that environment, but also have a listenability to them.


Sanctums (Dan Solo & Evangelos Typist) - Did You See Me? (Unreleased)
Dan Solo - Arcan (Crude Records)
Wax Romeo - I Hope I Hope I Fall Down the Stairs (Dan Solo Remix) (Bigfoot Records)
Dan Solo - Nebulae (Unreleased)
Dan Solo - Quartz Riddim (Unreleased)
Dan Solo - Vaults (Unreleased)
Dan Solo - Soothsayer (Crude Records)
Piranha Piranha (Dan Solo & Mr Geography) - One Hitter (Unreleased)
Piranha Piranha (Dan Solo & Mr Geography) - 095 (Unreleased)
Little Dragon - Ritual Union (Sanctums Remix)
HXDB & Self Evident - Hot Mustard (Dan Solo Remix) (East Van Digital)


Should you want to explore more, Dan's SoundCloud page has a wealth of his own material, often streaming full tracks. He's on twitter as @djDANSOLO. You can check out the Sanctums material—including the debut eponymous LP up for free download—on their Bandcamp page, and there's also TheRinseOut, his online music collective and blog. The

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