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IMPRINTS: Substation Recordings

Where dubstep fizzles and techno sizzles.

Calgary has more of a reputation for country and western, than for house and techno. But now the city is thriving beyond its mainstream culture of hockey, oil money, and the rodeo bro bravado that recently made it a Mecca for dirty dubstep and in-your-face EDM.

Substation Recordings represents the local scene's transition well. The label has outgrown its origins as an aggressive bass music label in 2011, through a 2013 rebranding to reflect its coming-of-age as a taste-making platform for local dance music.


Crucial to this transformation has been the visionary involvement of Isis Graham. We spoke to her about steering the label's course through the shifting underground culture, while creating the support structures needed to keep the scene's creativity evolving and sustainable within a tight-knit community.

Name: Substation Recordings
Vibe: Western Canadian house and techno
Founded: 2011
Location: Calgary
Upcoming releases: The Remixes EP featuring Sergio Levels, Rusty Meeks, Audica, Haakonsen, Marco Cardoza, Adam All Day, Isis Graham and MannMade. Rhodes: March 2015. Audica EP: April 2015. Enno Karr EP: May 2015.
Artists-to-watch: Matt Caine with a solo EP on Nordic Trax and Alola. Sergio Levels and his collaborative works with Max Ulis and Grenier.

THUMP: Explain the name.
Isis Graham: The original guys (Dylan Kennedy, Casey McMechan and Shawn McNeilly) were looking for a play on words around "SUB" since they were a bass label. When we rebranded we kept the name because it was kind of a cool idea that the music is somewhat underground and we are pumping it out of a little station in the dirt somewhere.

Why did you decide to form your label?
Originally the guys wanted to create a local bass label that featured international artists and their own music. By 2013, the big dubstep wave was fizzling out and the guys were tired of working on a label with artists they'd never met. I asked Casey, "Why don't you change what you're doing, rebrand and try something else?" Calgary is teeming with new producers and great music and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to get some of that energy out into the world. So far we've released only artists from Calgary. It's working out pretty nicely.


Can you describe what Studio Social is, how it came about and what it does for the city's community of music producers?
Studio Social is a volunteer-based initiative started by about 20 music producers (including myself) in December 2013. Our goal was to create a muster point for music producers to hear their work on a big PK system, share their work, make connections and build relationships. It is a monthly meet up of anywhere from 40 to 140 people at Habitat Living Sound. We've hosted remix competitions, SOCAN workshops, we had Noah Pred doing an Ableton workshop, we had a record label forum and simple listening nights. It's a combination of connecting and education. The results have been astounding: producers are improving, they are engaging and leaving their studio, and they are working hard to meet deadlines. The artists are getting signed to labels, collaborations are happening and people from all genres are talking.

How do you choose the artists that you work with and plan your releases?
We have a list of the producers from our first meeting that are on our radar in Calgary that we would love an EP from at some point. Next, we get submissions from new artists. We try to let the artists come to us when they're ready with something they feel is their best expression of where they're at. We give artists a deadline. We are running at about a three to four month turnaround. This way we always have their freshest work and nothing goes stale on a hard drive somewhere.


What challenges do you face running the label?
Unless you've got a sugar mamma somewhere, every small independent label's challenge is going to be financial. We'd love a sugar mamma to just come around and help us out so we could take this thing to the next level, but for now, we are okay building it one small brick at a time. Another challenge would be of course, moderating people's music and not creating a butt-hurt situation when you have to cut tracks from EPs. Being in a small circle of pals makes that situation extra awkward.

Substation's pre-2013 releases aren't on the label's website, but are still for sale via online retailers…
Yeah, it's kind of like those pictures of me with blue hair and a soother from the mid-90s that are on the internet but I'm not really promoting their existence. Our whole back catalog is still up on Beatport because it still sells and some of the artists have gone on to do big things on labels like Rottun, Play Me and Mau5Trap. They worked hard and so the releases should stay. None of the guys from old Substation have released something on the new Substation except Casey (Rusty Meeks).

The AdamAllDay EP released by Substation in January 2015 is categorized as "bassline". Has the music come full circle and eclipsed our capacity to pigeonhole it?
We argued for hours about whether it was tech house or UK garage and Casey was like 'This is Street Bass' and we laughed because that is not a real genre; like, not even SoundCloud recognizes that as a hashtag.

What does bass music even mean anymore?
Isn't all electronic music 'bass music'? Like what's the point if there is no bass? Would we all really be talking about any of this if it was a MIDI pan flute orchestra with no kick drum for 30 years?

Substation Recordings is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud