Rhythms West Coastal Producers Harness Tech Among the Trees

Rhythms West Coastal Producers Harness Tech Among the Trees
I don't know what the secret ingredient is, but there is something special happening here," says Evan Bluetech, who discovered supernatural BC while on tour for his down-tempo classic, "Prima Materia." "I call it postgraduate rave culture," says Bluetech, describing West coast's uber-activated electronic community. "There is all this forward movement of energy from the party scene into the world, and I find it truly refreshing."

At the Pacific's edge, backed by the wilds of the Cascadian Mountains, Vancouver can still feel more frontier city than urban jungle. And the rest of BC, with its mile-long beaches, endless mountain peaks and dense rainforests, stretches out like a rugged playground for snow boarders, kayakers and THC-loving outdoor enthusiasts. Once the all-natural bastion of the acoustic guitar and never-ending drum circle, Canada's Western outpost has been cultivating a new figure. From the depths of basement jam spaces in Vancouver's funk-defined east side, or from home-built studios littered between coastal cedar groves, seated behind a sound card and jacked into an ethernet cable, up and coming West coast electronica producers are fusing urban, rural and global realities into one of the world's most promising audio frontiers.

To the matured dance floor across the Atlantic, Kris Palesch, owner of Arbutus Records, says that the West coast's melodic, laidback beats are like a breath of fresh air. Excited to represent such in-demand producers as Vancouver resident techno superstars Matt Jonson and Ben Nevile, Palesch says, "Vancouver is a great place for the label and for producers because it is a very inspiring town. Producers and DJs from all over the world love to come here. The scene is younger and not stale. It is always growing and that in itself is very inspiring."

Bluetech was so impressed with BC's dance music culture and burgeoning artists that he located his nascent label, Native State, to its shores. He says, "I'm totally open to music from all over the world, but I want Native State to first and foremost be supporting the West coast scene here." With a nod to a diversity of sound, Bluetech notes West coast dance music is endowed with a certain sunny oceanic feel accompanied by an ever-present ear towards the organic — even in fully digital compositions. Renowned for his melodic, Reaktor-based tracks, which have been called everything from space-hop to dub for extraterrestrials, like an Eno of the software age, Bluetech has invariably made his own mark on many a producer's .wav files. His label's newest release, Left Coast Liquid, consisting of tracks from primarily West coast artists, wears a lush and polished digital aesthetic that plays like a page out of his production book.

Michelle Irving, aka Granny Ark, is another producer drawn to Pacific shores. Appreciative not only of BC's laidback, nature endowed lifestyle, but also its open-minded audience, she especially enjoys Vancouver's lack of scene cynicism and competition, as well as its embrace of noise experimentation. Within the West coast flavour for freshness, Irving says, "You can kind of go out on a limb here without too much risk."

Having lived in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto, with a residency in Berlin along the way, Irving currently parks her laptop and turntables in Vancouver's east side, where she is completing upcoming techno and IDM releases for European and Canadian labels. At the same time, she is finishing an MA at Simon Fraser's School of Interactive Arts and Technology where she is researching how laptop musicians relate to the computer as a performance instrument.

Responding to questions about supernatural BC's collaborative effect on West coast producers, Irving notes a certain marriage between the external environment and the internal hard drive. "The lifestyle here is more into the environment and respecting nature. With the computer you are stepping outside of the straight-up electrical sounds because you can take any sound that you record in the environment and explore it."

Though most producers are reluctant to pigeonhole the West with one particular sound, many agreed that the nature at your doorstep and laidback lifestyle does inform the creative process. "Your environment affects whatever your artistic output may be," claims Palesch.

Bluetech, whose daily hike brings him to several waterfalls, concurs — "culture is influenced by the landscape" — and credits tapping into nature's flow as leading to his distinct brand of organic digitisation. Others, however, are more resistant to the idea of a "West coast" sound, organically infused or otherwise.

Techno producer/DJ Noah Pred points out that one's aural geography is no longer necessarily based on one's locale. Renowned for deep and driving techno that has put him on the international dance music map, Pred spent three years in Montreal and has recently returned from the more lucrative Eastern clubscape to a 10 x 20 cabin tucked between the firs on the Sunshine Coast. Pred is ever-conscious of the global music meta-logue and cross-pollinating virtual audio stream, wherein a Japanese techno producer can download a track from a Swedish artist whose sound is sweeping the dance floors in Brazil. Perched behind his PC, Roland keyboard and Technic 1200s in the spartan upper story of his cabin, he admits that while the uber-natural environment may provide a common thread for some artists, in general, "You don't listen to a Matt Jonson record and then put on a Ben Nevile record and go ‘Wow these are both West coast.' Enfolded within both of those artists you have influences from Cologne to Paris. A common creative thread could be found amongst artists all over the world using the same software plug-in."

Of his time out East, Pred says he values the exposure and opportunities Montreal brought him as well as the chance to work in the city's more established DJ-friendly music scene. He credits Montreal with exposing him to a broader sense of the forms and functions of techno as well as gifting him with an appreciation for a certain quirkiness. Smiling he adds, "There is a fair amount of quirkiness in West coast music as well."

This year, while continuing to pump out deep techno for global dance floors, Pred is also finishing a full-length artist album under his downtempo moniker Shen. At the same time he is launching two techno labels, Metapath and Sentient Sound. While he says the labels were conceived in Montreal, Pred responds to questions about their rural birthplace in BC's temperate rainforest by saying, "Keep in mind the main distributors are based in New York, Madrid and Frankfurt." He points out that with the internet he has the same access to record store databases and promo lists, adding that the very nature of global dance music engenders a consumer drive to seek out more obscure locations.

Pred's home — where mail collection may be interrupted by a bear at the post box, and the closest event is a waterfall a few hundred yards from his cabin — has made an impact on his artistic output. For Vancouver's New Forms Festival this year, he embarked on an organic-based techno composition that had him taking samples from the forest surrounding his cabin — clacking rocks, gurgling creeks, sounds of birds and frogs — and digitally transforming them into isolated percussive and melodic components.

Serving many a West coast producer's audio bank, mother nature's music studio provides more than simply a place to put your hard drive, and BC's uber-natural environment can not help but have a collaborative effect in a literal or thematic way. While virtual data streams and distribution channels have allowed BC's artists to thrive unhindered by geography, the fact that many of its most successful producers have sought to keep their studios outside of a large urban centre speaks a lot about the creative environment.

"We went for walks in the woods with data recorders, banged on logs, and played water rhythms," recounts producer/DJ Adam Shaikh discussing the origins of both feel and sound for his CD Drift. The musical child of several months on a small coastal island in collaboration with ambient guitarist Tim Floyd, Drift embodies Shaikh's free-spirited production and love of nature-infused rhythms, both of which sit on a backbone of formal musical training, a global scope and a DJ's sensibility of what makes a dance floor move and a chill-out room unwind.

For Shaikh, music embodies a certain sacredness that defies simplistic divisions of "acoustic" or "electronic." He hopes to discover "the unpredictable creative thing that as a musician I am always seeking out." His latest CD Fusion, consisting of groove-based ambient and dance floor-driven worldbeat, is an audio illustration of its namesake.

Shaikh credits a steady diet of CBC's Brave New Waves as well as never-ending jam sessions with other West coast musicians for fostering an appreciation and eventual love of electronica. He says early inspirations came from Vancouver warehouse raves as well as from acoustic jams on remote coastal beaches. The fact that Shaikh often refers to music composition as a journey in and of itself reflects both his penchant for auditory exploration and a borderless ear.

A former Queens University music student, Shaikh says he interpreted his composition teacher's statement about musical understanding coming from following ones inner voice to mean for him to hop on his motorcycle and head west. Twelve years later his inner voice has led him to the Kootney Mountains, where he stations the once-nomadic Sonic Turtle, Shaikh's reconditioned highway coach turned music studio.

Rural living nine hour's drive from a major urban centre hasn't diminished the demand for Shaikh nor limited his avenues of collaboration. Laden with tour dates and a list of remixes for international artists as well as diverse sound design projects, Shaikh is one of BC's busiest producers.

A label Shaikh often produces for, Interchill Records, sees living away from an urban centre as an advantage. Based on Salt Spring Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Vancouver, label owner Andrew Ross Collins says, "If you live in Toronto or Vancouver, you often get very preoccupied with what's going on in Toronto or Vancouver." He adds that the label's visiting artists are usually impressed with what drew Collins and company west in the first place — the liberal attitudes and nature-bound lifestyle.

The small pool of artists spread over BC's large distances has worked to hinder genre confines. As producer and veteran house DJ Tyger Dhula says of places like his hometown Victoria, "If you tried to stay within your own realm, you'd be hanging out with two people." The result: an open ear and a wealth of collaborative opportunities that are redefining techno in the garden city and on global dance floors.

With his fingers dipped in numerous audio pots, Dhula most often works with vocoder and jazz keyboardist Daniel Tate, together creating Dante and Dhula, a rhythmic mixture of jazzy ear candy and lounge-y head beats. Their other project, Cobblestone Jazz, which also includes techno wunderkind Matt Jonson, intertwines minimal techno and ambient influences between a sophisticated blend of nu-jazz and house. Both projects are supported by long-standing and exploratory creative relationships, which Dhula confesses is what keeps him enthused and in town.

Another electro-fusionist, producer/DJ Jacob Cino says of his genre-defying tracks and long list of musical collaborators that fusion is "where the magic happens." The brainchild behind Third Eye Tribe, a collaborative effort between himself and local artists, Cino individually is known for his sub-melting bass lines that move from dub to dancehall, thumping out techno and breakbeat in-between. Drawing from a punk and hip-hop background with influences ranging from Bad Brains to Apache Indian and Kraftwork, Cino began his career producing beats for Kinnie Star, and he later swapped his live gear for a pair of turntables and then CDJs in order to incorporate original music. Now providing back beats to diverse artists from MC Bounty Hunta to electronic violinist Kytami, Cino says Vancouver's open-ear dance floor and barrier-less collaborations have bred unique artists, but often ones that are difficult to market externally by a music industry so set up for specific genres. In the commercial music market singular titles such as "deep house producer" can be more easily packaged and sold.

Looking forward to an upcoming collaboration with Jamaican dub poet D'bi Young at Vancouver's Folk Festival, Cino claims he was one of the first to bring electronic music to the event five years ago. Shocking acoustic loyalists, he recounts chuckling, "It was the first time at the Folkfest they ever heard someone say ‘Can you turn more of the sampler up in the monitors?'" He is thankful to the fest's art director, Doug Simpson, for understanding that folk is not specific to beards and banjos, but is music of the people and especially of the youth.

For artists west of the Rockies the music of the people has been and continues to be nourished by mother nature. Within the electronic realm, organic undercurrents infuse both creative energies and digital sensibilities. At work and at play in BC's nature-endowed landscape, Pred sports days at the studio that include a walk in the woods, Bluetech takes a daily hike that leads him to five waterfalls, and Dhula enjoys a studio commute framed by the Cascadian mountain range. Streaming into the global music crosscurrents and its infinite distribution channels and audio banks, the West's up and coming electronica producers offer a dose of both frontier spirit and creative pragmatism, blowing aside genre confines and fostering an ever-present eye and ear outside — not only on the local landscape but the global soundscape as well.

Ones to Watch On the West Coast

Underground Hero • Jacob Cino
Taking credit as the first musician to bring a sampler to the Folkfest, local favourite and electro-fusionist Cino provides a bass-heavy heartbeat to the city's dance floors.

IDM Instigator • DJ Michael Red
Van City veteran soundscaper, Red cultivates the best of urban chill-out with downtempo driven events such as Fire Light Lullabies and the Environment Series.

Techno Fusionist • Tomas Jirku
Collaborator Jirku references everything from rave culture, musique concrète, electro, and new age while bringing decidedly techno undercurrents to everything from hip-hop to house.

Bass Maestro * Jeet-K aka The Mazeguider
Hold on to your sub!

Sophisticated Rhythm Makers • Cobblestone Jazz
Thankfully making dance music for grown-ups, Dhula, Jonson and Tate bring a touch of class to the club floor.

Too Talented • Marlin Hanson
Playing most instruments — from the piano to Technics 1200s — on his electro-acoustic diamonds "Grid Mode" and "Calrizio," Hanson credits influences from Dr. Dre to his stepfather's banjo playing.

Too Cool • Hunab Crew
Sunshine Coast's elfin-styled rap group and beat boxing puppeteers, Hunab Crew ride conscious coastal hip-hop with unique style.

Labels to Look Out For

Interchill Records
Run from its base on Salt Spring Island and working with artists at home and abroad, Interchill has spent a decade training its global ear on "organic electronica for expanding minds."

Native State Records
Gracing global chill-out with elegant and organically infused electronica, Native State's brand of plush and polished production is out to redefine the international ambient expanse. Bringing freshness to the dance floor, this Van City record label infuses Europe's dance floors with West coast beats.

Iswhatitis Records
A roster of serious production talent makes feel-good house and techno for this Victoria-based record label.