DJ D. DEE's been running through the shadows of Vancouver's club scene all week by the time I track him down for a Saturday afternoon meet-up beneath a beaming West Coast sun. The city has been playing host to a variety of electronic music sets at venues of all sizes as part of the annual Seasons Festival—the previous night's program saw Swedish DJ duo Galantis delivering deep drops and hopping off speaker stacks at the 17,000-capacity Pacific Coliseum. DJ D. DEE kept things decidedly more chill later that evening at a just-below-the-radar warehouse event he was hosting in nearby Mount Pleasant, pushing an eclectic mix of vintage boogie tunes and newly loosened New Age-and-house-blending tracks from the hotly tipped Pacific Rhythm label he co-runs. The shows may have been under the same festival banner, but the crossover wasn't a given.
"Last night was interesting because, for the most part, the Seasons Festival is pretty entry-level, I would say, musically. It's a lot of trap and dubstep and trance, just pretty accessible mainstream music," the selector born Derek Duncan explained while eating pickled pinch tacos on an English Bay beachfront. "I was playing some jazz records at 11 o'clock, right when the doors opened up, and three people requested their money back from the door person because the music was too slow."
Despite the handful of local naysayers, Pacific Rhythm has more than staked its own foothold in the electronic music scene since Duncan co-founded the imprint with partners Russell Cunningham and Dane Brown in 2013. The label's initial trio of Rhythms of the Pacific compilation 12-inches have made waves in town and abroad via hazy, minimalist tracks from Vancouverites including Lnrdcroy and Slim Media Player. Earlier this spring, they pressed and immediately sold out of Flørist's twitchy, snaps-and-synth shuffle "DVOTE," which exquisitely manipulates the hook from Robin S.'s 1993 house-pop anthem, "Show Me Love."
Temporarily splitting from the beach scene to grab an iced coffee from the 3 Quarters Full Cafe, situated in a low-key mini-mall in Duncan's current West End neighbourhood, the label owner revealed that he was a little dicey about pressing the first 300 for public consumption.
"It's, like, a huge UK pop record," he said of the source material. "We were a little shook. The reason we pressed so few of them was because we were worried that we were going to get sued." When pressed about whether he and his business partners feel nervous about cueing up another 300 copies for a June re-release, he shrugged his shoulders zen-like: "It's already out there."
DEE further broke down Pacific Rhythm's release schedule while tip-toeing across a plane of algae-tipped rocks along the Sea Wall. Out soon are an EP of slow-crawl, lo-fi techno from local producer D. Tiffany, and an ambient LP from Khotin, both artists' graduates of the Rhythms of the Pacific series. Records are also due this year from Montreal beatmaker Adam Feingold and a handful of others. Despite the difference in geography, Pacific Rhythm's growing roster still reflects a blissed-out and tranquil sonic aesthetic. "It's very homegrown, a bunch of people sitting in front of machines making music, instead of some guy with a flamethrower behind him and his name in big lights," Duncan notes.
By nightfall, Duncan was getting back into the spirit of Seasons. He made his way to Davie Street's iconic Celebrities Night Club, where he hosts three events a month in its renovated, exposed-brick basement. D. DEE's second Seasons showcase of the weekend featured live sets from Pacific Rhythm deep house twisters Slim Media Player and ESB, as well as You're Me, a trio of ball-capped experimentalists who had over 100 silhouettes sublimely slinking across the spot's concrete floor to rainforest bird sounds and digital conga rhythms. Between sets, DJ D. DEE is teasing future Pacific Rhythm releases by playing demos from Khotin, D. Tiffany and more.
"What I try to do is showcase sounds that influence me, sort of part of the foundation of the aesthetic, the taste. Last night was soul and all that kind of stuff; tonight is all about contemporary music from Vancouver."
Duncan has spent the last year turning Celebrities Underground into a haven for on-the-fringes music fans. The offshoot venue was started up in light of Vancouver having a "pretty huge shortage of places to throw a party," according to Duncan. Unsurprisingly, soaring real estate conditions have knocked out a number of local venues this year; Pacific Rhythm's own downtown storefront/show space closed in 2017 owing to a landlord's proposed massive rent hike. One of the label's upcoming fourth anniversary parties is booked at Mount Pleasant spot Vancouver Arts & Leisure in the middle of May—it shuts its doors two weeks later.
The programmer laments the situation, though adds that taking up residence in the iconic Celebrities building has given Pacific Rhythm some security. "If we're going to continue on with this sound, we need somewhere that's safe. No one's going to build a condo on Celebrities, that's not going to happen," Duncan said.
The rise of Pacific Rhythm stands juxtaposed to Vancouver's ever-shifting, sometimes tenuous nightlife infrastructure, but the scene still basks in its local sounds the best it can. "There's always lots of work to do," Duncan said, hopeful of the future. "I've definitely realized that this is something that's going to be a many-years pursuit in order to make it feel the way I want to."
Presented by New Amsterdam Vodka