Electronic Music Promoters In Newfoundland Are Trying to Keep “Skeets” Away By Throwing Safer Events
The influx of the skeet subculture in St. John's is why some promoters are throwing invite-only dance music events.
Photo by Martha Houston
Unless you're a native Newfoundlander, you're probably never heard of "skeets." Think of it as the Newfoundland version of a "chav"—the British pejorative epithet used to describe people from working-class backgrounds who "wear fake designer clothes and commit petty crimes." "Skeet" is obviously a derogatory stereotype, but ask any Newfoundlander and most will vehemently confirm their existence. For instance, St. John's comedian Justin Hawco and Troy Maher, who recently published a semi-viral video about "skeets," describe them as ''Coors Light lovers who love Fox Racing, have no fear and will sucker punch you and your mother.''
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually identifies as a "skeet", but for many Newfoundlanders the so-called skeet subculture is real—and it's violent. St. John's promoter and psytrance DJ Russell Squires, aka Razziki, says that the influx of the skeet subculture is why he started throwing invite-only electronic music festivals and parties under the banner Neon Satori. "We keep the festival private, somewhat secluded, and it works well...skeets would bring glass bottles, throw 'em around, and make fun of people who are dressed as rainbow fairies," he says.
Razziki attended festivals in New Zealand a few years ago, where he soon felt the need to come back and start throwing similar events at home. "I realized we had nothing like that in Newfoundland," he says. Not all their events are invite-only, but this year's edition of the three-day Neon Satori Summer Soulstice Electronic Music Festival was held at the end of a secret trail in the woods just outside St. John's. Acts mostly included local talent, like electro DJ NOMAD, hip-hop/scratch DJ SPANK and glitch hop DJ Emetiic. About 200 people showed up.
"It's not about excluding people, but about fostering an environment of self-expression, art, music, and community. Everyone is friends and takes care of each other, and we have a Leave No Trace policy. We've also got a pagan theme going on...this winter I built a ten-foot by fifteen-foot Stonehenge replica out of fiberglass for the DJs to play under," he says with a smile.
Only a few years ago, almost all electronic music acts were held at clubs on George Street, the main bar strip in St. John's, and while not everyone agrees, the street has a reputation of being the epicenter of drunken violence. "We got tired of that scene," says fellow promoter, blogger, and DJ Adam Harding, who runs Yung Dumb with partner Denver Drake. Coined after the D12 lyrics "young dumb and full of cum," Yung Dumb is a promotions company created in 2010 by their friends Jeremy White and Jarred Kennedy.
"Before these parties started to happen, a lot of people didn't want to come out...I've seen people get stabbed outside of afterhours clubs. Dance music used to be focused on skeets, bikers, violence and drugs, and we don't relate to that subculture," he says. Yung Dumb is based on nu-disco, techno, and deep house sounds and is held monthly at the only gay club in the city, Velvet. They support local and Canadian talent by booking artists like Hunter Siegel, RYME, Toronto techno staple Gingy, and local producer Bangtek. On big nights, Velvet fills with up to 500 people. "The fact that it's a gay club helps keep certain crowds away," he adds.
But while the stigma surrounding skeets culture is palpable, not everyone is buying into it. "Skeet is a well-loved word in Newfoundland these days, but it's a class thing, not a subculture. It's more of a joke with an edge that allows people to pass negative comment," says Dr. Philip Hiscock, a folklorist from the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He says that words like "skeet", "chav", and "sketchy" are more of a reflection of modern post-capitalism culture, and adds that blaming violence on skeets is like "blaming the right-wing economy on jews."
"People use those words to build walls against people who are doing them no harm...but skeet is as skeet does. People who are aware of the perceived danger of skeets coming into their parties are not primarily judging people by their clothes, but by their attitudes. They're just trying to keep their parties safe," he says.
Whether skeets are a subculture of violent thugs or merely a token of Newfoundland folklore, the bottom line is that there's a whole new generation of promoters and DJs who are pushing for a safer, more welcoming electronic music scene in St. John's. Events like Neon Satori and Yung Dumb are offering new platforms for local artists, like moombahton and house DJ Potemtole (Adam Martin), house DJ Krystle Hayden, techno DJ and producer Bowzer and dozens others. "A few years ago, people here thought electronic music was limited to Top 40s and Benny Benassi. Now, it's a whole new scene," says Adam.
Natasha is on Twitter.