Toronto is a city of love, passion and pride. Rarely do we encounter artists in electronic music that immerse themselves so much into their craft that they live their music. As Bassweek 2015 kicks off soon, we wanted to take a moment to remember why supporting our local artists are so integral to the stability of our community. Earlier this year I got to sit down with a local legend who’s helped shape the drum and bass scene in Toronto over 20 years. The one and only: DJ Lush.
I sat in a coffee shop anxiously awaiting the arrival of a man who’s presence around the city is felt, yet his illusive nature makes him more intriguing. There are no lights, no camera, no action, no plot twist. He is his own product. On this principle, he has built a career full of pride in himself, passion in his music and love for the city he calls his home. Well put together and not breaking a sweat, we opted to speak outside in his garden patio overlooking the city that knows him so well, the city that he owns.
The story behind his evolution as an individual and artist is a direct manifestation of hard work. And so it begins, raised in the suburb of Thornhill, he grew out of his childhood pastimes and made an early self-realization that music was his future. “When I became a teenager, I went into the direction of music. That really caught me.”, Lush begins. “The first thing I really became fanatical about was late 80’s early 90’s rap. Particularly, Public Enemy.” The mark of a budding DJ was already upon him. He wasn’t just a music enthusiast, he genuinely enjoyed all of the technical aspects he heard in early rap songs from Eric B & Rakim to EPMD. After playing around with his mom’s vinyl he had an epiphany. His interest was now clearly real and it all started after Gangstarr hit the rap scene.
“When Gangstarr came along and I discovered DJ Premier. That was it.”, Lush explains. “That’s when I realized I want to be a producer and a DJ.” And how did hip hop tie into drum and bass? Well, it was all about the technicalities – specifically, beats and scratching. Frequent trips downtown consisted of buying records, even without owning a turntable. “There were flyers also for the early raves. The coolest looking flyers we’re always at the front of the store and I used to take them and read them on the subway home. Simultaneously while this is happening, I started to listen to music other than rap.” Lucky for us, he had a cousin who was part of the first generation of ravers in Toronto going to Factory and early raves like Exodus and Chemistry. These events ultimately lead him into the underground world of raves.
Mainstream acid house tracks in the early 90s like, ‘Killer’ and ‘I Want To Give You (Devotion)’ sparked his interest and the energy in the music was attractive. Deciding to find out for himself if this was the right fit, he took a trip to a record store by the name of X Static, which kept appearing on all the flyers he saw, and purchased mixtapes from Grooverider and Dr. No. That was the solidifying moment of the move away from hip-hop into the world of electronic music.
Shortly after that, he began going to raves with his friends and studying the environment. From the DJs and promoters to the ravers themselves, his focus was 100% always about the music. “If there was 12 weeks in the summer we raved all 12 weeks Friday and Saturday. We totally immersed ourselves in it.” The nuances of the rave scene evolved over the years but the core ideology of how everything works has remained intact. The importance of promoters was, and still is, supreme. Every weekend Lush brought more and more people whether is was friends or supporters of his music. He soon became more recognized and the opening sets quickly turned to closing sets… or both depending on the night. “I would play at 9 o’clock and then 7 o’clock in the morning.”, Lush reminisces. “The next thing you know it’s a few years later and i’m djing every week.” Respect and admiration grew strong and deep throughout the scene for him during his rise from the boy in Thornhill with a dream to the man who would gain the respect of an entire city and beyond.
I then eagerly turned to the controversial topic of, ‘dubplate culture‘. The transformation of technology has been evident over the years in electronic music. From the classic dubplate to the ever so convenient usb key, it almost as if we’ve seen it all. Though tedious and expensive, there was a certain care and love that came into cutting plates and a commitment to doing so in order to be a DJ. The culture has no grey areas. Proponents believe its added viability to musical evolution and others say its just really expensive and a waste of time. I myself have grappled with the idea of dubplates as a lover of early drum and bass but Lush’s stance brought to light some of the issues surrounding that culture and why it had to die as the evolution of drum and bass continued. ‘The amount of time and money it took to cut dubplates was ridiculous.’ ‘I remember taking the TTC to the west end and cutting dubplates in a basement for hours.’ As organic as the process is, the amount of effort was almost unbearable. Cutting tracks one by one and the pace at which music was released provided much a feat although he was up to the challenge, he definitely wasn’t fond of it. ‘Dubplate culture is dead.’ The sterility in his voice and the disdain for the process made it clear that yes dubplate culture is dead, and yes, it should stay that way.
Beyond dubplates, the connection between technology and how it has affected the electronic scene was important for me to discuss with someone who’s essentially part of it’s creation. The way artists create and how consumers experience their media has drastically changed over the last 20 years. ‘I think this surge we’re seeing now in terms of popularity of electronic music is due to how accessible it is.” The influx of new gadgets and the ability to sync, copy, cut etc. has undoubtedly given artists much more leeway in terms of creativity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always evolve into quality but much rather, cookie-cutter, fill-in-the-blank prototypes that we are hearing at a unprecedented rate. As technology advanced the state of equipment declined and thus the beginning of a new era was in motion. ‘The way we dj is different. As early as 2003 I started playing CDs alongside vinyl and dubplates, but by 2009 all the turntables we’re unusable so I went fully digital’ For djs and consumers alike everything has become easier. There is no need to spend hours cutting a dubplate or having no ability to change up your set if it may be too similar to the dj before you.
Technological advancements will always be at the crux of the argument to whether or not its been a blessing or a curse. Specifically with regards to how DJs treat their music, how they play their sets and how we consume their product. Continuing on the topic of changes, I asked about how he felt about the current state of the electronic scene and he had a rather positive outlook grounded in personal preference. ‘The good ol’ days for me is going to a Sykosis rave. The good ol’ days for someone else is going to System Soundbar.’ ‘And the good ol days for someone else is going to be going to Digital Dreams.’ ‘It’s not as good as it used to be to me, its all relative because it’s never going to be as good (the scene) as when you first discovered it.’ During his reflections he made a poignant statement about one simple characteristic that takes a DJ from good to legendary and that is, passion. He spoke fondly about the one thing he think is missing the most saying, ‘The thing I miss the most is that because it wasn’t as accessible as it is now, the people that we’re in it were way more passionate than the kids that are in it now.’ After a few sips of water and a moment of nostalgia, we spoke about his current projects.
Over the past year Church Sundays have become a Toronto institution of faithful drum and bass seekers looking for a good night in the hands of some of Toronto’s finest DJs. Every drum and bass Moreover, his work with Marcus Visionary at their label, ‘Inner City Dance‘ is top priority on his list of things to do. When asked about DJ’s he’s currently impressed with he spoke of Oneman’s ingenuity but quickly moved forward and gave some major love to the wealth of production talent currently growing in the city. ‘I’m really loving all the work that not just the artists we are releasing on Inner City are doing but from all of the top tier guys from Toronto that are really bringing something fresh to the table. Everyone has unique sounds that remind me of how producers had to have more of an original identity like you needed to have back in the day. I’m very excited about the stuff that I’m playing and hearing from Artifice, Schematic, Dcision, RMS & Shotz, Code Red, Polaris and Hungry T, alongside my go to guys like Rene, Marcus, Gremlinz and NC 17″
His commitment to cultivating homegrown talent is undeniable and makes him a trailblazer for local DJs in Toronto from all genres.
Recently, we caught up quickly with Lush by email to touch base as its been a few months since we sat down to see what’s in store for 2015.”
“At the moment we are putting the final arrangements in place for our next three releases on Inner City Dance which will all be out in the Spring. Look out for a joint project between Marcus Visionary and Dancehall legend Cutty Ranks with Curtis Lynch. Following that will be the “In Our City” EP featuring cuts from Artifice, Marcus, Dcision, RMS & Shotz and Hungry T. Dropping after that is a Dcision, RMS & Shotz release which features a blazing hot remix from Schematic. Other than that keep your browser locked to Channel One (www.channelonestation.com) for the podcast’s and mixes that will soundtrack your spring and summer and catch me DJing here, there and every where.”
As we wrapped up our conversation and I couldn’t help but thinking about how amazing and rare it is to have people in our community that are so involved with the music and have core values that uphold its foundation. DJ Lush isn’t just a part of the drum and bass community, he’s a part of the future of music in our city. His talent and persistence have given him the title of a legend and we are so lucky to have him.
Catch Lush at the final weekend of Bassweek (both nights) and see him do his thing live in action!