My City is THUMP Canada's year end series where we get tastemakers in five different cities - Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver -- to reflect on their 2015 and tell us about the one party, artist, event, etc., that they feel defined their regional scene. Today, globetrotting DJ and Red Bull Thre3Style judge Skratch Bastid shares the story of how he found his favourite Halifax off-the-grid selector.
I first heard of Gwen West from a friend who worked for Red Bull in Halifax. "There's this new DJ that you've GOT to get involved with the Thre3Style competition this year," she told me. "She's got a great vibe and has been killing parties across Halifax." As a judge of the competition, I'm always checking for hot new leads on talent. I googled her name. Nothing. I figured I had misheard or something.
On visits back to Halifax, her name kept popping up; I would hear about dope parties or sets she played. Eventually I met her and we exchanged info. On word of mouth alone, I booked Gwen for the Halifax installment of my yearly party series Bastid's BBQ, but some unforeseen computer-related difficulties kept a set from actually happening that day.
I finally heard her playing a chill early evening set amidst some cocktails at Field Guide, a favourite 25-seater in the North End. It was no walls-sweating house party, but good DJs can play the right music in any setting, and I instantly understood why people were talking about her. She played songs I forgot I loved, songs I love, songs I didn't know; it was never too much for the space, but never "background music"—everything played effortlessly in a fashion that felt both improvised and well-planned out at the same time.
Fast forward to the annual Halifax Pop Explosion in October. On some last-minute-surprise shit, Gwen, DJ IV, and I played the closing afterparty for the festival. It was the first time I saw her rock a full-fledged party, and it was then that everything made sense. A healthy-looking front row of loyal fans lined the stage before she even dropped a tune; they were in her palm from that point forward. I'd list off a handful of the songs remembered, but it would cheapen the description. Whether it was R&B, synth-driven club favourites, or syrup-laced Southern rap, the crowd followed her every move as she finessed her way through the set. A friend and local promoter standing side-stage had an odd look fixed on his face the whole night. When I asked him what was up, he was simply in disbelief that he had not heard of Gwen before. I knew the feeling.
There's something to be said about a DJ who builds their name organically in a field that is increasingly less about the quality of music and selection, and more about posting memes, cheerleading, and ghost production. Gwen's energy on stage is totally infectious. Her song choices have the perfect balance of "I love this!" and "What is this?" and her confidence and passion to play lesser-known material is something that a lot of DJs could learn from.
So, what's next? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe Gwen will post SOMETHING online that references her dopeness (Google is still not much help). Or maybe you'll just have to check The Coast and see if there are any listings for a Gwen West party the next night you have off in Halifax. Regardless, I would try and get in front of any set of speakers she plugs into. If you can find her.
Watch Skratch talk about his year and show off his studio on today's episode of Daily VICE Canada here.