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How Drama Hands' Parties Brought Edmonton's Isolated Arts Scene Together

From basement raves with Purity Ring and Born Gold to digital label.
Photo courtesy of Drama Hands' Facebook.

How do you throw one of Edmonton's best parties? According to Drama Hands' Jesse Rhodes, there's a few steps. For starters, you have to pick the right location. Next, invite some of the city's best artists to play, including electro-pop duo Purity Ring, Cecil Frena's experimental pop project Born Gold, and producer Ghibli. Finally, remember the time-honoured saying about it being easier to beg for forgiveness.


"The underlying philosophy behind everything we've done as Drama Hands stems from the indignant DIY attitude that Edmonton's cultural isolation and frustratingly stagnant artistic landscape imbued within us," says Rhodes, who DJs as j.d. Rhodes and performs in hardcore band Spaewife. "Fill a small, dark room with sound, haze, blue lights, and bodies: make the walls sweat and the roof shake. Don't ask permission."

The room he's referring to is Rude Haus, a "disgusting old house" known for its basement raves on the southside of the city where he lived with his brother Dilan Rhodes and their roommate Greg Aylard in 2012. The three of them would form the core of Drama Hands, an Edmonton/Vancouver collective and now digital label.

"We were like, 'We've got this basement and we have friends who do electronic stuff. Let's see what we can do with it.'" says Rhodes.

For two years, they did exactly that, staging their own take on the clubbing experience, far removed from what happened at bars or nightclubs in the city. The parties were all on a pay-what-you-can basis and Rhodes estimates over 1,000 people attended events there.

But the parties eventually outgrew Drama Hands and the house they metaphorically built. So, they took them above ground, staging raves at scrappy, accessible venues such as Bohemia and Wunderbar, as well as some unconventional spots, like a streetcar going through Edmonton's Old Strathcona district.


After a string of successful events, the group toyed with the idea of becoming a label as well. Their first release, in winter 2014, was a compilation entitled Rude Haus Forever featuring associates such as Ghibli, Boogie Howser and Khotin. An EP by Spurz, Spirit Functions, followed several months later. Rhodes says that although the group never had any any grand plans to establish a label at first, they did want a platform for artists to expand beyond the limits of Edmonton.

"There's millions of people with these little labels releasing music. That's awesome, but a lot of the time you're looking at a Bandcamp or a SoundCloud that is just releasing stuff constantly. It's just overwhelming," he says. "We want to showcase a bunch of varieties of sound and, for Edmontonians, hopefully turn some more people onto the idea that there's a world of people making stuff on their computers and weird old machines."

Drama Hands will kick off 2016 with a string of releases in the spring, including EPs from Gumsmile, Hood Joplin, and Boogie Howser. Check out Boogie Howser's remix of Gunsmile's "Popped In" below.

Drama Hands is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud

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