CANADIANA 002: We Explore the Humble Origins of Vancouver's Dance Scene

A handful of kids made electronic music in British Columbia what it is today.

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Sep 10 2014, 11:45pm

Before electronic music became what it was today, prolific crossover artists such as Justice, SebastiAn, and Digitalism bridged the gap between live performances and digital production. In this edition of CANADIANA, we're going to explore how these artists made Vancouver what it is today, and how a handful of individuals grew the scene from dive bars to sold-out stadiums in just a few years.

I reached out to Matthew Owchar of Blueprint Events, a veteran of the scene and unparalleled tastemaker, for a history lesson. "So everybody knows this guy, Paul Devro," he tells me. "In around 2005 Paul Devro and his brother Erik were throwing tons of parties along with My Gay Husband (Jason Sulyma), who were putting on events with these guys Tony and Tyler called 'Half Alive'. These parties in Vancouver are really what blew the electro sound up." The events started off as hipster parties in East Side dive bars and were completely separate from the city's existing scenes; so separate in fact that when ClubZone approached Half Alive to list their events and boost exposure they told them that they'd pass. Matt recalls the time fondly: "It was a really crazy experience because all the music was new. The style of dress was new, the music was new, and it just got bigger and bigger. Half Alive ended up moving to the Richards on Richards (when that still existed) and they were the first guys to bring Flosstradamus, Simian Mobile Disco, and Digitalism. I remember Paul and Eric brought Justice to Vancouver for the first time. Justice, Busy P, Medhi, SebastiAn, all the Ed Banger dudes. Back then the landscape was completely different than it is now. This was prior to electronic music being as big as it is now—right when the first Justice single came out—at the time, the popular kind of music were mash-ups and electro."

During a recent trip to LA, I managed to link up with Paul Devro at the Mad Decent HQ and asked him about his time throwing parties in Vancouver. "At one point I had five nights," he explains, "I had a grime night on Tuesdays, I had an R&B and house night at Ginger 62 on Fridays. I had a night at Shine, at Section 3. We also had a party called The Kids that we would do with My Gay Husband and my brother Erik, and Andrew. Then Alvaro from Blueprint got in touch and basically said 'Yo man, let's just have fun,' so we did and it was great. I learnt a lot from Alvaro and we started doing bigger and bigger shows." If you told a young Vancouver music-lover today that the head of A&R for Mad Decent used to work for Blueprint's Alvaro Prol they probably wouldn't believe you at first, but it certainly explains the company's long standing relationship with the label. Dillion Francis, Baauer, and many more all got their first showings in Vancouver courtesy of Blueprint before blowing up in the scene.

Paul Devro eventually left Vancouver to live in LA and help Diplo, Derrick, and Jasper found Mad Decent, but the city's love affair with electronic music refused to slow down. The city's most popular long-standing night, Stereotype Fridays at Celebrities was founded in October of 2006 and started off catering to purist trance, techno, and house fans before growing to book acts such as Deadmau5, Skrillex, Avicii, and Laidback Luke for their first ever appearances in the city. U-Tern of DJ duo Oliver played regularly at Shine Nightclub along with a host of weekly left-field guests and then in 2010, Matt Owchar and Alvaro Prol brought emerging electronic sounds from Hypem and SoundCloud to their largest stage yet with a night called Youngblood Sundays at Venue. Youngblood took the best from Ed Banger, Dim Mak, Mad Decent, and the first big wave of dubstep, and showed the city what electronic music could be.

From sold out stadium shows to all-vinyl house throwback nights, you'll be hard pressed to find a scene that isn't catered to in the city these days. Like all cities, Vancouver has an EDM crowd that don neon tank tops at progressive house shows, but beneath that furry boot-fueled layer that "coolness" of exploring electronic sub-genres lives on. If we hadn't started with those dive bar parties, who knows where we'd be by now.

Instead of our usual current Canadian selections, enjoy these Vancouver artist throwbacks and look for our full interview with Paul Devro at the Mad Decent HQ next week.

Ziad Ramley lived in Vancouver and is on Twitter: @bluuuuueeeeeee

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