I was born in downtown Toronto, and I still live here. When I was a kid, I had a particular affinity for electronic 80s music, which is clearly still in place today. I loved Tears for Fears (and still think Songs from the Big Chair is a great album), and I especially loved Madonna (and still do). In fact, there’s a semi-secret Madonna track on this mix, which becomes identifiable and hilarious once the vocal refrain unexpectedly kicks in.
When I was a teenager, I primarily listened to completely non-danceable indie rock, including a lot of my older sister’s dusty riot grrl CDs. I still have a small collection of vinyl of this variety, although I obviously don’t play much of it out in clubs. Since then, I’ve returned to my childhood affinity for 80s electronic music, as you can clearly tell. I suppose I specialize now in rare Italo, although I’ve only included one actual Italo track on this mix!
The DJ Bug?
I can’t say that I was particularly interested in DJing when I first started – it’s something that my partner at the time, who is a DJ, urged me to do. I thought it was kind of ridiculous, and maybe still do. In fact, I think I would consider myself more of a collector than a DJ, in that my interest is largely centred around digging and uncovering obscure records just for the sheer joy of finding something unexpected or interesting. In that regard, I guess I’ve “launched” a couple of tracks through my YouTube channel: notably, Blue Gas’ ‘Shadows From Nowhere’, and Kinga’s ‘Sexy Boy’, which I’ve included in this mix.
Oddly, I’ve remained kind of impervious to outside influence, and I know almost nothing about other DJs and ‘scenes’ compared to most people who are DjJng. Again, I think this is because I’m primarily a collector, so I’m guided almost exclusively by my idiosyncratic taste (which is maybe kind of terrible).
That said, I’ve had a bit of a trajectory in terms of my ‘sound’; that is, I started more with cosmic Italo and synthpop, which I still love, although I’ve branched out into all manner of synth sounds from the 80s, and particularly from Europe and Canada. This mix kind of speaks to the fact that I have a soft spot for ‘happy’, electro-tinged sounds that belie a kind of silliness. Some of these tracks are actually kind of hilarious, which is not to say that I don’t enjoy them!
I have basically no background in music, but I come from a fairly musical household: my dad is a collector, specifically of jazz. I taught myself to play piano by listening to Tori Amos and figuring out her songs by ear (feel free to judge), and I played the drums in my middle school band. That’s kind of the extent of my training, however, so when I listen to tracks, I’m honestly listening as an amateur (which shouldn’t be surprising for anyone who has musical training).
My ex-partner of almost five years was a trained musical savant, and he used to describe my taste as ‘pippy’ and ‘jokes’. I kind of love that for how ridiculously simplistic that is, and his description is probably apt. There are a few permutations of what catches my attention, and they are generally: robot kosmische (1977 onward); melodic pipping synthpop (1982 to 1988 – for Italo, no later than 1987); plodding New Beat (1987 and 1988); awkward New Wave across the 1980s. I told you that I’m an amateur!
Because I’m “that person,” this mix is recorded in one go using vinyl-only, save for two tracks, for which I literally had to burn a CD to play on this crappy CD-J 800 I have in my house. I am not high tech ...
I have no idea about producers right now.
I have one Lauer record? He’s great, and he’s on the mix. I like Starion, Mozaika, and I’m very humbled to call Donald Dust and Luca dell’Orso friends – total nerds, like me! I apologize that I can’t speak more to this. I’m excited that Vince Degiorgio of the legendary Canadian label Power Records takes an interest in me! I’m a huge fan of his work.
That said, I am mostly inspired by other strange, similarly-minded diggers, including John Zahl (JAZ), Giles Walker (The Nightlark), and Ryan Todd (who incidentally has the greatest collection of VHS ever). As a DJ of Italo and adjacent sounds, it’s great to share space with other women like Lauren Hansom and Bianca Lexis – especially since our genres are almost exclusively male-dominated. Lauren I’ve played with before in Australia, but it would be great to play with Bianca (if, you know, DJing and DJ tours are even possible in the future).
What is the Toronto Drop-in Network?
This is where I work! I have a full-time job, and I love it. I coordinate supports, including training and resources, for 59 drop-in centres across the City of Toronto that work with marginalized and homeless people. I also advocate for these organizations and the people they support at the political level. Toronto, including Scarborough, has a population of 3.56 million, and a homeless population I’d peg at 11,000 at least.
Right now, during the pandemic, I have two roles: one, ensuring that the drop-ins that I work with have ready access to resources and information to keep their services running, as people experiencing homelessness have largely been abandoned by all levels of government in Toronto. The other role is frontline: I’m using vacation days to work frontline once or twice a week at one of the 10 drop-ins that still offer indoor space for homeless people to go (understanding that being able to be indoors is a basic need – no one can live outside 24/7). Like most people in my field, I’m working 60 hour weeks just to keep people experiencing homelessness safe, connected, and well. We don’t have much access to PPE, so our work is inherently unsafe, but it would be wholly unethical to abandon homeless folks, so we keep doing what we’re doing because we believe our work is socially just.
As I said, I also do a lot of political work as well advocating for the thousands of people in Toronto who are homeless. I’m more likely to be your next elected representative than a successful DJ, to be honest!
What's happening post COVID?
I think my DJ residencies are moot now, but I used to have three monthly residencies: two in Toronto at The Embassy Bar and The Little Jerry, and one in Detroit at the Whiskey Disco. I can’t say what the landscape is going to look like for DJs or the music industry overall, but I know that we will be fundamentally changed. I don’t think that I’ll be going on tour anytime soon, or ever again! But personally, I can live with that.
I will say that in terms of my broader work in homelessness services, there is ample opportunity to push for a more just society that recognizes the rights and inherent humanity of people experiencing homelessness. Although I never had to sleep on the street or in shelters, I’ve been homeless myself, couch surfing wherever I could, and stereotypes and biases against people who have been in my position and in situations significantly worse need to be recognized as people, deserving of respect and support.
Of course, beyond just people experiencing homelessness, we all have an opportunity to create a better society that supports every person instead of exploiting them. What this means for music is, again, quite a mystery to me, but I think collectively we can figure it out and move forward in a positive direction. I do know that DJ culture won’t be predicated on the same kind of high-capitalist model and sense of ‘celebrity’ we’ve seen in the past, which I think is inherently a good thing. I’m a socialist, clearly!