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Smalltown DJs on the Resilience of Calgary’s Dance Scene

THUMP Canada's "My City" series continues featuring how Alberta's oil recession hasn't slowed the progress of its creatives.

by Pete Emes
Dec 16 2015, 8:15pm

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 Pete Emes, co-owner of Calgary's The HiFi Club and one half of the duo Smalltown DJs, discusses how the city's arts community has thrived despite an economic downturn.

In Calgary it's always been difficult for us to relate to the "starving artist" persona because there's always been lots of money and jobs for even the laziest of lazy art students. But this year has been different: the price of oil has plummeted, tens of thousands of people have been laid off, and suicide rates are reportedly 30 per cent higher than last year. Through all of this drama, maybe surprisingly, the dance music and arts community in Calgary is thriving like never before.

For starters, on the festival side of things, Sled Island is crazy good. It's like a less corporate wild west version of whatever multi-venue festival is in your town. Also, everyone religiously rides bikes to every show. Calgary's cycle track opened just prior to the fest this year, so if you're into bikes and music, it was basically like the scene in Fast Times when Phoebe Cates gets out of the pool.

A couple of the random Sled venues have also been hosting more dance parties lately, as the niche genres of electronic music start to fan out after the explosion of EDM. EMMEDIA and the downtown Royal Canadian Legion were the home to a bunch of underground house & techno events this year. The new techno kids in Calgary are serious and some of them have even been to Berlin. These shows were a legit option to back up the ones held at venues like Habitat nightclub or the cozy and new Good Luck Bar.

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There's been a bunch of great local producers putting out music as of late -- Beach Season are incredible. Their spacey bass production sounds like the future to me. Their label, Close To Modern, releases great music by them and other talented locals like Shaani Cage and Dominic Pierce. Pierce also releases on another sweet local label, Inner Ocean. Other original Calgary acts I'm loving right now are OAK, Simon Doty, Ivan Rankic, and Pleuto.

PK Sound is a local success story; they started out more than ten years ago building sound systems for raves and warehouse parties. I remember thinking at the time, Why do you guys want to build speakers? There are a bunch of good brands out there. What a dummy I was. How could I have been so blind to the bass? PK is now running production sound for a bunch of huge North American fests and promoters like EDC, Hard, and Insomniac. Plus, with their new Trinity technology they seem to be pushing the envelope of how loud things can get.

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One of the most unique PK Sound rigs in town is owned and operated by BassBus. These guys converted an old-school bus to be a mobile soundsystem and party bus, and they drive it around town like a Pied Piper of low end frequencies. Their Circle The Wagons festival drew a huge crowd and they are clearly doing it for the love. It's a really unique idea that turns up the city wherever they go.

I was running with my daughter in the Scotiabank Road Race and we rolled up on the BassBus in full swing on the side of the race path. It was awesome—everyone was loving it and you could literally see the energy and positivity they were bringing to the event. Despite the economic downturn, Calgary has a vibrant, intelligent, collaborative arts and music community that's stronger than ever.

Smalltown DJs is on Twitter // Facebook // SoundCloud

The HiFi Club is on Twitter // Facebook Pete is on Twitter.