Thursday, March 31, 2011

Little Scream

My interview with Little Scream is in this month's Exclaim!

The Art of Little Scream

Interviews breadcrumbsplit FROM THE MAGAZINE breadcrumbsplit Apr 2011

The Art of Little Scream

By Andrea Warner

Montreal-based singer-songwriter Little Scream, aka Laurel Sprengelmeyer, has plenty to shout about. Set to receive her Canadian citizenship later this year, she's just a few weeks away from embarking on a North American tour, and finally, after four years in the making, Little Scream's debut album, The Golden Record, hits stores on April 12. Though it's not unusual to spend a lot of time crafting one's debut, Sprengelmeyer laughingly acknowledges she took her sweet time getting here. After following a boyfriend to Montreal, the Iowa-born musician found herself distracted by her new adopted hometown. She played in a band, but didn't record anything until she started working on Little Scream songs in 2007.

I was working two jobs and playing shows whenever I could, but it kind of took a while to get everything together to record an album," she says. "It's been a little bit slow, but I'm glad it's finally happening!" The wait was worth it. The Golden Record is a moody, bold, artful declaration that Sprengelmeyer admits borrows from a host of influences: Joni Mitchell, Cocteau Twins and Ricki Lee Jones all serve as inspirations. But, ultimately it's Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre's Richard Reed Parry, who serves as the album's co-producer, that Sprengelmeyer credits with helping her shape a recording aesthetic.

Aesthetic is a word that comes up often when discussing Little Scream. Sprengelmeyer, who also painted the album's cover illustration, admits that crafting an overall creative experience is part of what makes Little Scream a labour of love. "I want to have everything that comes out reflect part of that aesthetic, and I don't always have time," she laughs. "I'm looking forward to focusing on other aspects of the creative process: sonic landscapes that are coming out in live performances, the visuals in live performances. It's this cohesive picture in my mind. Whether or not that translates into reality..." Sprengelmeyer trails off, a Little Scream with no words left.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Dodos

My feature on the Dodos is in this week's WEVancouver.

The Dodos are Logan Kroeber (left) and Meric Long.
The Dodos are Logan Kroeber (left) and Meric Long.
Credit: Supplied

MUSIC: The Dodos ditch the acoustic and amp up

Try as they might, even San Francisco-based duo the Dodos are hard-pressed to describe their sound. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Meric Long has a background in West African drumming, percussionist Logan Kroeber comes from metal, and together they’ve created a unique twist on indie-rock: a prominent percussive rhythm driven by both the guitar and drums. It’s a narrative that the Dodos’ pick up again with their newest album, No Color, their fourth full-length since 2005, which features supporting vocals from former honorary Vancouverite Neko Case. While driving between gigs on the Dodos’ North American tour, Long spoke with WE about spirit journeys, electric guitars, and Case’s new tattoos.

WE: Is the album title supposed to set a tone for the whole record?
Meric Long: Well, it comes from Logan. He kind of goes on these mystical spirit journeys in his mind when we’re playing the songs and sees these visions and stuff. Usually they’re associated with certain colours or images, and with the new batch of songs, he didn’t see anything really. Just kinda grey, ashy colours, and I think he was a little concerned when it first came to him, that it seemed kinda bleak. I think he said that it started changing recently, and just with playing the songs a little bit longer, some colour has started to appear.

I didn’t get anything bleak in listening to the album.
Nor should you.

There’s a driving pulse to the record, a lot of momentum.
That’s why he was kinda concerned. He was really digging the record, and me, too. We both really liked where it was going, and it was kind of a little strange that something we were both excited about had this other flip side that seemed bleak. We were like, ‘What? This doesn’t match up!’ You’re on the right track.

How did drums become so vital to the Dodo’s sound?
I have this very percussive style I play with. I like to use the drums to accentuate what I’m doing with the finger picking on the guitar. There’s a lot of crazy rhythms going on in there. It’s something that a lot of people lose maybe, or don’t notice, so we use big drums to accentuate the rhythms we use on the guitar and play off of them. It’s really fun and works really well, I think.

If people hadn’t heard your music and were just having it described to them, they wouldn’t understand how the influences gel together.
Yeah, we have a pretty hard time telling people what kind of music we play. Like if we’re in a restaurant or at a hotel and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re in a band! What kind of music do you play?’ it’s kind of hard to just rattle it off.

You’ve gone electric. Is there any going back?
It’s so much more fun for me to play. The acoustic guitar sounds amazing, but on stage it’s always having to compete for volume. The new record has a lot of electric guitar as well... There’s probably no going back, unless I break a string.

We take a lot of pride in Vancouver, trying to claim Neko Case as one of our own. What does having her around for some of the songs bring to the album?
It was amazing. I understand wanting to claim her as your own. You should go ahead and do that. We got to share some studio time with her for a little while and it was just super fun. She came to town when we were recording in Portland and she was going to get a tattoo, her first tattoo, and then she did. She totally got these huge tattoos on her arms. And then also stopped in and sang on some tracks. She’s really something in the studio. She’s at her best when she’s doing her own thing. If we’d had all the parts figured out that we’d wanted her to sing on and tried to teach it to her, I don’t think it would have turned out half as good. She’s able to just knock it out when she’s improvising and making stuff up on her own and that’s exactly what she did for a lot of the songs. I mean, obviously I told her what the lyrics were, but after that it was just roll tape and let her see what she could do.

I’m glad you ponied up and gave her lyrics at least.
She was funny, so much so does she do her own thing, she was kind of like, changing the lyrics on a few of the songs. She would get in her zone and do her own thing and do a couple of takes and the lyrics would start mutating and I’d have to remind her, ‘Umm, Neko? Could you actually change that back to the lyric that I sing? Sounds great though!’ (Laughs).

The Dodos play Thursday, Mar. 31 at Rickshaw, 8pm. Tickets $16 from Red Cat Records, Zulu Records and Ticketmaster.

Emma Forrest

My interview with Emma Forrest is in this week's WEVancouver.

Emma Forrest, author of Your Voice in My Head.
Emma Forrest, author of Your Voice in My Head.
Credit: Supplied

BOOKS: Emma Forrest looks back on a life less ordinary

It’s disconcerting to sit across from someone whom you’ve just met, but feel you know intimately. Anyone who has read Emma Forrest’s remarkable new memoir, Your Voice In My Head, would be armed with the same facts: a wunderkid music journalist who began wracking up major bylines in her native London at 15; tried to kill herself at 22; wonderful parents, amazing therapist, bad luck with men; funny, sad, self-aware and bipolar. She was also tabloid fodder thanks to a high-profile romance with Hollywood bad boy Colin Farrell, who may or may not be the Gypsy Man who broke her heart and became a key plot point in the story of her life.

It’s a life that Forrest writes about with the kind of aching clarity and black comedy that belies her 33 years. Sitting across from her in the lobby bar of a Vancouver hotel, she smiles warmly and passes on the proper tea-serving technique she learned from her dad (milk in first, or “MIF,” as he says). She jokes easily, and the wit and gallows humour that permeates the memoir translates easily off the page.

I wept openly in my office when I started the book, and had to take it home. How are other journalists handling interviewing you?
Well, you know what’s interesting. Absolutely the opposite in England. Because I’ve been a journalist for a long time there... I’ve been in the public eye from 15, a lot of the people who wrote about it in London were not crying in public, they were like, cursing me in public. (Laughs) People who, in writing about the book, were basically saying that they didn’t like me. That I was a good writer, but they didn’t like me. I mean, you can see it online, you can Google, but there was a Times review, and Observer review, and both were just really focused on my past as a journalist and on what they knew about me... There was sort of a generational divide in the English take, whereas the younger writers, the ones who are either my age or younger than me loved it, but the ones who remember me from way back when, sort of couldn’t get past that.

I first found out about the book from a Vancouver-based blogger who runs the website called
Holy fuck. She’s clearly fascinating. I was sent that piece and it was such good writing because literary criticism is hard, and it’s hard to explain why you like something as abstract as a book, especially a memoir. You know, from writing about music, it’s hard to describe why music moves you and it’s hard to describe why words move you. And, I just thought it was such a well-written piece and not just because she was nice about me. She must be one of those people like Jeanette Walls, who wrote The Glass Castle, who was a gossip columnist. And she wrote this amazing memoir, like serious, profoundly literary memoir about her family; and from the little bits I was getting from what Lainey was saying, I’m sure she’s got a big, serious literary memoir somewhere in her. It was a nice reminder that there really aren’t barriers anymore between high and low culture. Here is this Internet gossip blogger who, when she wants to, is writing in this very lofty and intellectual style. And when I looked at her site, the way she just writes about whatever she likes, but moves between the high and the low. And, I’m not saying whether I’m high or low culture, I think I’m both, whereas someone like Perez [Hilton] is just a grade-A moron. Terrible writer, horrific human being, downfall of the Western world...

It’s your memoir, but the book involves a lot of other people, which makes it their story as well.
I gave them the chance to read it before it went to press. Before I even started it, I contacted Dr. R’s widow and said, ‘I’m writing this book, is that okay?’ And she said, ‘Yes, but anonymise him.’ She read it before it was sent to press, but now that she’s read it as an actual book, she said can you put his real name back in for future editions, because she loved it so much. The boyfriends, there were like three boyfriends I gave it to to say if they wanted anything changed. One of them said that I had got stuff wrong, and I said, ‘Oh God, I’ll change it.’ And he said, ‘Don’t change it. You’re a writer, stick up for what you said.’ One of them loved it so much that he wanted me to put his real name in. I was like, no, over-ruling you. And, the other said, ‘You know what, I don’t need to read it, do what you like.’ Certainly if any of those people had said, ‘I hate it, you’re a terrible person,’ I wouldn’t be promoting it with such confidence.

The book is a fierce advocate for talking about mental health issues.
It’s a lot of responsibility because people want prescriptions. Some people do, anyways, or they want me to speak about this cause or that cause. It really is how I got better, and I’m not sure it would work — I mean I hope it would work for other people, but I don’t have a medical degree and I’m not a psychiatrist — so the best I can do is listen to people’s stories. A lot of the time I can only put people in touch with other people. I’m getting this letter from a mother and this letter from a kid, and I’m like, do you guys wanna talk to each other? There’s this great human connectivity, that’s the nicest part coming out of it. I’ll get amazing letter after amazing letter, and they’re usually really sad, but it’s all kinds of sadness across the spectrum, and weirdly I find that comforting, ’cause every one’s got some tragedy. That’s the gift of books when they work. It’s not even the specificity of what happened to me, but rather, again to come back to this idea of how hard it is to describe music, I think even having depression described with some clarity is comforting to people who suffer from depression.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sharon Van Etten

My interview with Sharon Van Etten is this week's WEVancouver music feature.

Sharon Van Etten is on tour in support of her new album, Epic.
Sharon Van Etten is on tour in support of her new album, Epic.
Credit: Supplied

MUSIC: Sharon Van Etten shelves softer side for ‘Epic’

Sharon Van Etten’s first album, Because I Was In Love, explored the darkest time in the young singer/songwriter’s life: six years in an ever-escalating abusive relationship. The scars-and-all honesty, coupled with compelling arrangements, made for one of the most achingly beautiful albums of 2009. Two years later, she’s touring in support of her follow-up, Epic, a louder, electric affair. As she tells WE, she’s finally ready to rock out and melt some faces.

WE: How does it feel to have a full band?
Sharon Van Etten: It’s fun. They’re just fun to be around. It’s a different way of performing and it’s cathartic in a different way. I’m learning how to rock out a little more. There are some people who prefer my solo stuff, because it’s mellow and sad and not as loud, but it’s nice to do something different for a little while. You get bored when you sing the same way for years.

You can really change it up on stage, I’d imagine, too.
I’m learning the balance. People don’t want their faces melted the whole set — well, some people do, I guess — but it’s nice to have a dynamic throughout the set, peaks and valleys, so to speak.

So faces will actually be melting on this tour?
As much as I can do. (Laughs) Just seeing heads bob is a big thing for me. I’m starting to use my pedal, but it’s funny, I don’t really know how to use them properly yet, so I mess up half the time live, and it’s either too loud when I hit it or nothing happens at all. In my mind, it’s like a joke, like Amelia Bedelia trying to rock out or something. But it’s fun to start learning stuff I always wanted to do when I had a band.

You come from a choir background. That’s as different from what you’re doing now as can be.
(Laughs) Yeah, totally. I always loved singing with other people and I didn’t really write much music in high school, but it was really fun to sing harmonies and hear moving parts and hear a cappela versions with voices acting as different instruments. It was always really interesting to me, like you don’t need an instrument to actually perform a song... That was the beginning of using my choir background to start writing songs. You can have dynamics with just vocals.

You’ve been open about your first album’s source material: leaving an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, for many women, there’s still so much shame attached to abuse. Were you consciously trying to change that?
If I didn’t have music, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it in a healthy way. A lot of it is therapy in hindsight... Even though I was hesitant at first to talk about being the girl in an unhealthy relationship, writing songs about it, it’s not as simple as that. I came to terms with knowing that it helps other people and that it is the core of the songs and I can’t deny that. I’ve grown from that experience and I don’t always write about my relationships now. I can talk about friends, or be general, or talk about an issue so it’s not so alienating to other people where they can’t relate to it. As cliché as it is, it’s helped me and I know it’s helped other people and it’s the only thing I know how to do. I’m not gonna skirt the issue, even though it is sensitive and it is personal.

Epic sounds like you’ve really layered your strengths. It feels resilient.
It’s definitely a more confident record for me... Feeling a lot more secure in my decisions and who I am. That’s what made me take up the electric guitar, and I just started writing differently. It was weird!

Did the electric guitar change your perspective as a songwriter?
Well, you know, playing the same chords on a classical guitar is going to sound a lot more mellow and a lot sadder. It’s really hard to bang on a classical — I mean, I tried. For years! (Laughs)
Sharon Van Etten plays with Little Scream, Mar. 29 at the Media Club, 8pm. $14 (RC, S, Z).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring concert picks

The 10 best concerts this spring.

Jenny and Johnny.
Jenny and Johnny.

MUSIC: Spring shines fresh light on concert scene

For concert goers, Vancouver’s winter season is a routinely barren wasteland, as grey and depressing as the weather outside. But, fellow music lovers rejoice! Spring is here, and with it comes a bevy of bands that will help us leave the SADs behind. Excluding everything that’s already sold out, including Fleet Foxes, Adele, and Twin Door Cinema Club, WE offers up the 10 shows we can’t wait to see.

It’s no surprise that this U.K. outfit’s name came from a dark Danish fairy tale. Their music is equal parts eerie charm and aching, crashing layers of melody and cacophony, exemplified by the band’s “Marching Song.” From personal experience, their live show is as riveting as it is confounding — the way noise pop should be. Mar. 26 at Waldorf, 8pm. $14 from Zulu, Red Cat Records, Scratch and

The Brooklyn-based indie-folk singer/songwriter is known for her confessional, heartfelt songs — after all, her first album was literally a form of therapy following the end of a lengthy abusive relationship. Her new album, Epic, finds her trading her acoustic guitar for electric, adding a backing band and cranking up the volume. Mar. 29 at Media Club, 8pm. $14 from Zulu, Red Cat Records and

World-renowned experimental electronic and hip-hop musician DJ Spooky presents his multimedia work, which promises a breathtaking, multi-sensory exploration of Antarctica’s landscape, fusing visual and sonic projections and live mixing on turntables with performances from string trio Infinitus, and piano music from Corey Hamm. Apr. 9 at Chan Centre, 8pm. $33 from Ticketmaster.

At first, the British singer seemed pure pop confection, radiating sparkle and sass on her 2010 debut Lights. But, in keeping one foot firmly anchored in the indie-folk world, offering occasional acoustic performances featuring just her and her guitar, Goulding promises the rarest of evenings: a well-choreographed dance party with built-in breaks. Apr. 10 at Venue, 8pm. $20 from Zulu, Red Cat Records, Scratch and

For many people, indie-folk-roots acts are the musical equivalent of men’s fitted plaid shirts: ubiquitous, tired and indistinguishable. But this Seattle-based trio manages to stand out in a sea of sameness, thanks possibly to its members’ sonically diverse lineage: the art-punk of Pretty Girls Make Graves, post-grunge of Hint Hint, and Cobra High’s prog-punk, but now with harmonica! April 21 at Biltmore, 8pm. $15 Zulu, Red Cat Records, Scratch and

This Swedish indie-rock trio, featuring famed solo aritst José González, returned in 2010 after a five-year absence. They promptly became every body’s favourite live act. If you missed them last year, here’s a rare second chance. May 3 at Rio, 8pm. $20 from Zulu, Red Cat Records, Scratch and

The electro-pop singer-songwriter ditched her native Sweden in favour of the hot noir of Los Angeles to write her second album, Wounded Rhymes. Her unique voice perfectly navigates the strangely beautiful landscape she’s created, weaving between pounding, tribal beats and ’60s soul. We can’t wait to see how the rich production is recreated live. May 27 at Vogue Theatre, 8pm. $32.50 from Zulu, Red Cat Records, Scratch and

The Californian dance-punk band, generally pronounced chk-chk-chk eschewed the traditional trappings of a name composed of letters, but they are committed to one old-fashioned ideal: rocking out. The sprawling act throws a dance party like almost no other band, perfecting the craft since 1996. Plus, we’re a sucker for any outfit that has a permanent horn player. May 28 at Electric Owl, 8pm. $20 from Zulu, Red Cat Records and Scratch.

Let’s face it: we’ll take Jenny Lewis any way we can. Her new side project with longtime boyfriend Johnathan Rice doesn’t pack the same punch as her indie-rock band Rilo Kiley, and shies away from the bittersweet laments of her solo efforts, but it does offer phenomenal harmonies between her and Rice, and rollicking Americana rock songs that have their own undeniable charm. May 29 at Venue 8pm. $18 from Zulu, Red Cat Records and Scratch.

Modern American soul can feel a little, well, soulless, but this Los Angeles-based seven-piece makes catchy, colourful music that lifts the spirits and gets one’s toes tapping. Their debut full-length Pickin’ Up the Pieces is the perfect kiss off to a failed love affair with enough sunshine and catchy hooks to help even the most weather-beaten among us segue into summer. May 30 at Venue 8pm. $17 from Ticketmaster.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Diamond Rings

 My interview with Diamond Rings (aka John O'Regan) is in this week's WE

John O'Regan mixes style and substance with Diamond Rings.

MUSIC: The substance and sparkle of Diamond Rings

Diamond Rings, also known as John O’Regan, takes WE’s call at a pit stop in Fredericksburg, Texas. He and his tour mates, Canadian indie-rockers PS I Love You, are stretching their legs outside a custom winery, en route, eventually, to their co-headlining Vancouver gig Friday, Mar. 11, at the Biltmore. “It’s hot,” he says. “Oh, with daily tastings! Maybe when we’re done, we’ll taste some wine.”

This life on the road is a far cry from O’Regan’s recent stint opening for pop star Robyn, and it’s an even bigger leap from where Diamond Rings got its start: as a collection of acoustic songs O’Regan, a founding member and the lead singer of post-punk outfit the D’ubervilles, wrote while hospitalized over the summer in 2008 for Crohn’s disease. Since then, O’Regan has transitioned into his Diamond Rings persona with the same glam-adrogynous fury that made David Bowie famous, and released his debut, Special Affections, to critical acclaim, fan fervour, and plenty of speculation about his personal life.

WE: I’m fairly sure this is the best art to have ever been made from a hospital bed.
John O’Regan: [Laughs] Thanks!

How did that experience help shape the sound?
It didn’t really. I mean, I wrote some of the songs, not the whole record, when I was in the hospital and they were all acoustic. Other than ‘All Yr Songs,” which, you know, I had a shitty keyboard and a shitty guitar and the drum sound on that album is from the keyboard, it’s Casio rapman, but like I didn’t even conceptualize the songs as being electronic pop songs until later when I was out and about, living in the city, and messing with Garage Band for fun.

Was there a part of you that had always wanted to make music that sounded like that?
It was more recent. I was really into post-punk and more straight-up indie-sounding rock music when I was younger, and this is the result of listening to more music and refining my palette a little, finding a certain sensibility that I’m drawn to and trying to achieve that sonically.

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yeah. It wasn’t very good, but I remember every song I’ve ever written. Well, at least the ones I write down and record.

So the ones when you’re just singing about getting out of the shower...
Yeah, I don’t really... I’m always busy, I’m always working on stuff, but I’m not the kind of artist who’s churning out a track a day. I think maybe even from the background I come from, studying art formally in school, having a degree in fine art, and the program I was in in Guelph was really based in conceptual work, steeped in theory, and what we had to do as artists was learning how to critique and defend our own stuff. I have a very sensitive filter to my own ideas, and if I’m not feeling something, I generally try to cut my losses and work on something else. It’s really hard for me to finish a song and have it be a throw-away. If I get to the point where it’s all done, I’m usually really happy with it.

Your music videos support that as well. They’re DIY, but very adorable.
We’re going for what we can do, we’re having fun. I work with my friends and family, literally, and it’s just about being active and learning. Every video’s been a learning process and we’re constantly trying to critique it and refining that whole process. With Diamond Rings, we, and by we I mean myself and Colin Medley, who I live with and who’s directed a lot of my videos, we didn’t want to wait. Typically so many bands in Canada, it’s all about recording an EP and recording an album and maybe you’ll do a video if it does really well. We wanted to do the complete opposite and I think a lot of people responded to that. When the first video came out, no one even knew I’d been recording songs on my own, so it was a big surprise. [Laughs] I think that’s always awesome, especially now. You have to do a lot more in 2011 to stand out away from the pack.

You have a strong aesthetic. Would you call Diamond Rings part performance art?
I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I’m necessarily a performance artist. I am an artist, that’s what I know. I know how to mix my paints better than I know the fret board of a guitar, but I really believe in the power of music to connect people... Performance artist, that’s someone like Chris Burton nailing himself to the roof of a Volkswaggen with the engine running. [Laughs] I don’t think I’m necessarily in that realm... But, maybe now we’re seeing a delineation between a typical gallery space and the concert stage. Maybe they’re not separate entities as they were at one time. I’d like to keep putting more art into what I do, but for now I’m a pop artist.

The media seem obsessed with your identity, specifically who you do or don’t sleep with, which also lends itself to the label of performance art.
People are going to bring whatever they do or don’t want to the table. Because what I’m doing is so striking visually, it ends up being one of the talking points, like, this guy’s wearing makeup, what’s the deal? When we started, it was never really a big deal, it was just the aesthetic I wanted to cultivate. It’s important to what I do, it’s fun, it’s liberating, but that’s all.

Diamond Rings and PS I Love You perform Mar. 11 at the Biltmore, 8pm. Tickets $13 from Zulu, Red Cat Records and

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Little Mountain stalemate

My story on the Little Mountain stalemate is online at OpenFile Vancouver.

Here's a preview:

Ingrid Steenhuisen has lived and breathed the Little Mountain public housing complex her entire life. Her parents, both new immigrants, moved into the complex in 1957 and Steenhuisen was born in 1958. It was the province’s first public housing, and went on to become one of Main Street’s identifying landmarks, stretching between 33rd and 37th Avenues. Its 224 units were home to a diverse range of dwellers, from war veterans to single parents, seniors and the disabled, to recent immigrants and low-income families.

Click here to read the rest...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Utopia Festival

My new cover story for this week's WE hits the streets tomorrow, but you can get a sneak peak online.

The Utopia Festival: Women in Digital Culture will
The Utopia Festival: Women in Digital Culture will "stage an intervention" for the male-dominated DJ and electronic music scene this Saturday, March 5 with performances by the likes of DJ She (pictured).


In the darkness, quick bursts of coloured light flash over a writhing crowd. It’s more disorienting than laser tag, but the motley assortment of strangers-no-more keep bumping bits with a practiced chaos, paying little attention to what’s going on as long as the music moves them. It might be silly, but rhythm really is a dancer, and lo and behold, it’s a woman behind the turntables, pulling the puppet strings, spinning these club kids into a melting-hot frenzy.

When DJ Betti Forde (aka Maren Hancock) started spinning in Vancouver in 1998, women in the DJ and electronic music scene were an anomaly in a testosterone sea. Thirteen years later, precious little has changed, hence the need for Utopia Festival: Women in Digital Culture. It’s a unique day-long conference that promises to unfold like a stylized mullet — business up front, party in the back, with an assortment of practical discussions, skill-building workshops (DJ 101), a keynote address from Canada’s electronic music icon, Peaches, followed by a wild late-night party showcasing some of the best women music makers in the business.

Peaches, Betti Forde, and Vancouver’s own DJ She (aka Tara Reeves) spoke with WE about making it as DIY artists, breaking down barriers, and why a festival like Utopia is more relevant than ever.

Peaches: [I started] out of necessity, before everyone had a home computer or even were making all the music on computers and things like that. I was in bands and people went away and I had to express myself. I had a machine and I just decided I was going to make this music and produce it myself, because I had a vision of just making it really direct and I didn’t want somebody else to tell me it was wrong, so I just went ahead and did it myself.

Betti Forde: I got into DJing completely by accident. I grew up in Calgary and I was a club kid–as much as you can be in a shit town like that–hanging at the goth bar religiously, and I was a go-go dancer and always stood by the DJ and trainspotted him. It was always a him. I was also an obsessive music collector. Then I moved to Victoria to go to university, and... I was doing this big fundraiser called Groovefest. This was the mid-’90s when everyone was like, ‘I’m a drum ‘n bass DJ, I’m a trance DJ’ and I didn’t want that. I wanted someone who was going to play James Brown, Diggable Planets, maybe some Archers of Loaf, and I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’ll just do it.’

DJ She: I went to raves in my older teen years and early 20s. I was always captivated by how much power the DJ held over people’s emotions... how the DJ could build up the emotion of a song and capture an audience and make them feel a certain way. I was kind of envious of that power. I also really love music. I grew up in a really musical household. My mom always had a lot of funk and soul playing in the house, and then I got into more hip-hop in my teenage years, and then electronic music. I had that dream of rocking a big crowd on a big stage.

Betti Forde: I was working as a barista for $10 an hour, and I saw a sign that said, ‘DJ needed for nightclub,’ and everyone was standing around laughing their asses off, because it was at this horrible bar, Kits on Broadway, like date-rape central and douchebag central. I waited until no one was looking and wrote down the fucking info ’cause it was like, $20 an hour. It was like, 1998, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, I can make $20 an hour playing music?’ So I went into Kits and talked my way into the job and got it, and did really well there, and became good. Then I bought some turntables and a mixer and threw my first night at the Chameleon, which was all funk. It was the first time after two years of being a professional DJ that I got to play what I wanted.

DJ She: When I first started six years ago, no, [it wasn’t a viable career choice]. (Laughs) It was hard to get paid decently, because you know, if you’re not really well known for doing something, it’s hard to justify getting paid well. In the beginning I did a lot of things for free or for the exposure, which is fine. You can’t expect to be paid top dollar if you’re still learning and train-wrecking. (Laughs)

[Ed’s note: Even established musician Peaches needed to prove the naysayers wrong when she began DJing.]
Peaches: People who DJ who are in bands, they’re the celebrity DJs, but I’m there to kick people in the face with music. Like, give the hardest and latest electro bangers I can think of... To me [DJing] is like going back to how I started old school, when I used just one machine or a bit of a playback. Back in the clubs, close to the people, and immediate reactions... [My set] is about things sprayin’ all over the place, people jumpin’, falling, getting back up. (Laughs) A big mess, a big mess.

The trouble with Lotus land
Betti Forde: I don’t want to Vancouver-bash too much, because the city’s been good to me, and WE in particular has always been really good to me. But it was a difficult scene in Vancouver as a woman, especially as the decade closed, when you saw a bit of a monopoly with nightclubs being owned by one of two groups. That was difficult because most of the people in charge of those groups weren’t pro-feminists, it was a boys’ club. I don’t want to accuse them of anything conspiratorial, but it got harder and harder, and Vancouver got harder and more expensive to live in. A lot of us left, and it’s partly in reaction to the club scene. We just couldn’t work in it anymore.

State of the nation
Betti Forde: I was a go-go dancer and I threw parties, but it never occurred to me to DJ, because I never saw a woman do it... When I started, there were only three of us. I could have counted all the girl DJs in the late ’90s when I moved there on one hand. And now I can name 20 off the top of my head, and if I sat down and really thought about it, I could name 40, all from Vancouver, and that’s really cool.

DJ She: The music industry is run predominantly by males, but there are women involved across the board, whether it’s DJs or singers or executives in the boardroom, CEOs running companies. I don’t think those women have submitted that much to the double standard. By saying, well, guys get more gigs and get paid more, that’s kind of leading in that direction, you’re really creating that double standard for yourself. You can go out and rock it just as hard as a male DJ, get gigs, get radio play, tour, it’s just a matter of whether you want it... If we want something bad enough, there’s no reason we can’t go out there and get it.

Achieving Utopia
DJ She: A lot of things have happened in the last decade in terms of women coming to the forefront, but we can’t necessarily be like, ‘Okay, we’ve come this far, that’s all we need.’ We need to keep pushing for conferences like this and platforms to speak.

Betti Forde: As a DIY artist, my success all came from finding people who were sympatico with me, either music-wise or politics-wise, and we helped each other. I took (Vancouver-based) DJ Rhiannon on a little tour, she got me a gig in Mexico, and this is what Peaches and I were talking about. All these stories of these artists, they’re kind of the same story, and it sounds kind of cheesy, but being a good person that other people wanna work with, and giving back what you get from people so they keep giving. A really simple concept, but it’s the driving force of anyone’s success.

Utopia Festival: Women in Digital Culture happens Saturday, Mar. 5 at W2 Storyeum (151 W. Cordova), starting at 10am. Full schedule, tickets, and information: