For earning the title "the pioneer of drum and bass in Toronto," Alan Lam is humble beyond compare. Lam, commonly known as Stranjah, was one of the first Canadian drum and bass producers to be recognized by British drum and bass elites and consequently one of the first to break out in Toronto's own scene. In 1999, at 19-years-old, Lam signed his first record to the UK label Flex Records.
"When I first learned about jungle and drum and bass, it blew my mind. It was the alternative style of music then and it really allowed me to let loose and express myself," says Lam. "The sounds were sporadic and twisted and totally outside of everything else that was out at the time. I always wanted to find something outside the norm and I found it in jungle."
In the late 90s, drum and bass' off-kilter rhythms and schizophrenic percussions were the bread and butter of Canada's early electronic music scene. While the sounds of hip-hop, Top 40, and house music were infesting nightclub speakers, drum and bass and jungle lived mostly in one-off raves. At the turn of the century, Lam found himself devoted to the genre and began looking for other Canadians making the same grimy electronic music as he was. He knew there was an influx of Canadian's DJing drum and bass, but it was more difficult pinning down the Canadians producing it. Nowadays, whether your heart beats for witch house or you've devoted your life to knitting parkas for miniature ponies, you can easily find a wackily liked-minded community within the depths of the internet. Back then; it was the clunking pixelated world of the Bulletin Board System (BBS) that brought Lam's future comrades and
collaborators to the surface.
"We would have this dial-up model, where you would dial a number into a network to log in. Each bulletin board system had a specific interest or grouping and there was one related to music," explains Lam. "I ended up finding this bulletin—which is like a forum—called 'Da Club.' It was a community for underground music producers. That's where I met some of the most important people who influenced me throughout my career. People like Dopegroove and Rippin' Snare. People who taught me how to use software and be a DJ."
But Lam's biggest splash into the scene came later, sometime in the early 2000s. After learning the ins-and-outs of FastTracker software with Dopegroove, Lam met his partner-in-crime Gremlinz on TorontoJungle.com. The website is known for being an instrumental part in connecting drum and bass producers, DJs, and promoters in Toronto and Canada. Together, their tracks trickled into the ears of pioneering drum and bass artists Goldie, L Double, Doc Scott, among others—spurring records signed to labels like Metalheadz, Renegade Hardware, and 31 Records. "Up to the early 2000s, you'd get thousands of people at a drum and bass event. In those days, drum and bass was the main raving music," says the 34-year-old. "Now, there are so many different genres in drum and bass."
Lam eventually expanded his reach with his now late label Version Recordings. In many ways, the label was a halfway house for emerging bass artists. Like Mutt for example, who's now known as Sean Roman, or Infiltrata, who now goes by 12th Planet. "Our sound was always a bit more…I wouldn't say left-field, but simply different. Different from what everyone else was pushing," says Lam. Unlike some of his fellow contemporaries, Lam's reflects on the changes in electronic music with fondness rather than with calamity. "Back then, we basically had to make music by painting numbers. You would look at numbers on a screen and somehow those numbers translate into musical notes. It was very mathematical. With what we have today…" he stops and shakes his head, smiling. "I have a much deeper appreciation for how music is made now. Before, we really had to get deep inside of a machine and sculpt our own sounds from scratch. Now with these presets and sample packs…"
Lam's penchant in music can be credited to his willingness to embrace and adapt. With over 30 releases to his name, his sound is a culmination of the jungle and drum and bass sub-genres that span the last 15 years or so years. But his newest project is, well, one hundred percent the opposite.
Skeezer is Stranjah's dancefloor bound, house-happy kid brother with a secret, cheeky trap side. It's a far cry from the darkness in his last Stranjah output, the highly acclaimed Visionz of a Future, but Skeezer holds its own ground. "It's a new take on bass-oriented music, for me," says Lam of his new project. He's quick to add that house music was his "first love" way, way back in the day. "It's taking all of my influences and techniques from jungle and bass, bringing the tempo down a notch, and making it something you can dance to." The debut self-titled album Skeezer is a five-track EP that includes the chugging, vocal sample licked track "Don't Cha," which features Torontonian producer/DJ SHFT. You can listen to the premiere of "Don't Cha" above. The EP is in tandem with Lam's second-newest feat, the Toronto-based arts and lifestyle brand, Rumpshakers.
"By bringing the bass sounds to a slower tempo, it's easier for people new to the scene to get it. Someone who's into house and techno might not get drum and bass right away, but they might get Skeezer." So if Skeezer surfs the line between recognizable drum and bass and digestible, danceable tempos, allow "Don't Cha" to be the wax on your board. Enjoy the ride.
Skeezer's self-titled debut album is out on June 25. UPDATE:
Listen to Skeezer's debut EP below.