For most, being part of a legendary techno outfit like Orphx would be triumphant enough for one lifetime, but for Hamilton resident Christina Sealey, it's just the tip of the creative iceberg. Sealey earned a Masters of Fine Art from the Edinburgh College of Art in the UK and is currently an assistant professor at OCAD University in Toronto. Her paintings have been shown in the Royal Overseas League in England, Bau-Xi Galleries in both Toronto and Vancouver, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and the Frederick Horsman Varley Gallery, to name but a few. She's even painted a portrait of Margaret Trudeau. Her DJ sets are similarly phenomenal—she followed Helena Hauff's superb show at Unsound Festival a couple of months ago without batting an eyelid.
Perhaps most impressive of all though is her work with Toronto producer Naomi Hocura. Together, Sealey and Hocura started a program to teach electronic music classes to young women. "I wanted to teach classes to girls and women to get them interested in making electronic music, because I always found it kind of frustrating going to festivals and shows where there was never any other women playing, well not never, but not often anyway," Sealey tells THUMP. "We got funding from the Ontario Arts Council to help get the project on its feet. We then decided to work with a younger age group, like 14 to 18-years-old, in order to inspire young girls and getting them excited about electronic music and what they could do."
The program is called In The Loop and it's entirely free for willing participants. Of the young women involved, about 40 percent are from shelters, Salvation Army, and various youth centers around Toronto. In The Loop has also utilized guest instructors in the past, such as multi-instrumentalist Annie Shaw and Hyperdub artist Jessy Lanza to create a diverse range of opinions, all the while keeping them female so to encourage a more free-flowing learning environment. "We felt like if there were all female instructors, the girls would feel more comfortable asking questions," Sealey explains. "I think sometimes, as a female in a class or with a group of guys, it can be a bit daunting. This way we figured it would be a lot easier for the girls to inquire about certain aspects of the course without feeling embarrassed in any way."
As is the case with so many women who dare attempt to do anything good for their gender, Sealey inevitably encountered the usual throng of cretins, hell-bent on feverishly typing retorts to non-existent threats on equality. Thankfully it was not without resistance from levelheaded people too. "We did have a bit of a flack online when we first started the program," Sealey notes. "There were people on the site saying, 'Why are you doing this just for women?' and 'Women can just go online and learn like the rest of us,' stuff like that. But I think for every person that came out with those kinds of comments, there was another guy saying, 'No, this is a great program.' You do always notice the ones that speak out against it though, because it's like, 'Don't you understand that we're not trying to discriminate against guys, we're just trying to make things exciting for girls?'
Though the excitement has been on hold temporarily due to Hocura having a baby, Sealey has been approached by the LIVE (Large Interactive Virtual Environment) Lab crew at McMaster University, who've expressed interest in their workshops. As neurologists, LIVELab could bring a whole new aspect to the program, as well as a "neuroscientific understanding of how performers interact" and "incorporating technology and real-time feedback into creative performances," according to their website.
While Sealey is currently pushing technological boundaries and mentoring young women, she admits her introduction to electronic music was modest at best. "I guess it was my dad that got me into electronic music," says Sealey. "My dad is a mechanical engineer who plays the violin and he was always playing with new toys and gadgets and that sort of thing. He would pick up these early synthesizers, Casios, and samplers. I, of course, thought they were the coolest thing ever, but then he would take them apart, so I got to see how they worked too. Then, when I was 14, I got my first keyboard. I saved up and got a SY55, which isn't really the greatest piece of equipment [laughs], but it was a good starting point for me."
Through these early musical launchpads, Sealey bonded with her future sonic partner, Richard Oddie, after meeting in high school. The duo would later form Orphx and create music that was, at first, based in rising structures of dystopian drones amidst harrowing, eerie tones, but now is much more beat-driven. It pulses in techno's shadowy peripheries—just outside the city, hammering at the gates.
Despite being musically active since the early 90s, Sealey's interest in producing music is as vibrant as ever. "I don't think it's ever going to stop. I mean, I'm also a visual artist, I'm teaching half the time, and I have a child. So every once in a while I think, 'Oh God, it's just too crazy trying to do all these things.' Then you try to put it on hold, stop for a bit, and only get drawn back in. You can't really stop making music or art once you start."
It's her broad artistic spectrum that sets Sealey apart. Despite her dark, cold music, her paintings are often tender and warm. "I consider myself an artist first, and by an artist I mean both painting and music. I don't really distinguish between the two actually. They've always been connected in my mind. I'm thinking about similar ideas and processes when I'm making the two. Same process, just different outcomes."
Sealey says that there's another Orphx album in the pipes, one that will hopefully be out before the end of the year. The duo will also be performing at the aforementioned LIVELab on February 4, where there'll be "EEG caps and the whole works," according to Sealey. In the meantime, anyone who wants to see the multi-talented woman perform a DJ set can check her out on August 27th at Round Venue in Toronto, as part of the Archi-Textures night.
Daryl Keating is on Twitter.