Since moving to the Canadian Riviera that is Vancouver, there has been one standout record label which has soundtracked my time. From secret-location quasi-legal after-hour parties held in inconspicuous office buildings to hosting some of the biggest names in underground electronic dance music – Pacific Rhythm’s timeless woozy take on House is a vital contribution to one of the world’s most exciting underground dance music scenes. Having just celebrated their fourth birthday, we caught up with Derek Duncan AKA DJ D.DEE – in Chinatown, one of the hubs of the scene, to talk Pacific Rhythm, the active Vancouver community, and the future of the city's distinctive laid back sound.
So I guess I should start with how Pacific Rhythm came together?
So it originally started as an online record store, that me and two other people (Dane Brown and Russell Cunningham) started. It was to just basically fill a void because there were a lot of people in Vancouver buying records online, but the reason they were shopping online was because there was nowhere to buy contemporary 12” or old house records in the city. We started things super freeform and experimental; we didn’t really know anything about it, I just agreed to put in $200 for some records. Then we kind of accidentally opened a brick and motor store in Chinatown, down from Bestie, which Dane owns. At the time Bestie wasn’t open up on Sundays, so we started doing this thing called Collectors and Selectors Fairs. Just like a record swap and more for a social meet up for local DJ’s and people that liked the music, just to sit and have some beers and trade and sell records
So the label began more as a Record Store than from throwing parties?
Well, I’ve been throwing parties in Vancouver since 2008, under different things–far more infrequent that Pacific Rhythm, but yeah.
Recently you have started a bi-monthly residency at Celebrities Underground?
More or less bi-monthly, everything I do down there is Pacific Rhythm related. I started Pacific Rhythm & Friends because basically DJing in Vancouver, or anywhere is fairly cliquey. I really wanted to do something weirder, with more random line-ups and people from different scenes playing together. It hasn’t been that different yet, but I am planning on broadening my skill provision a little bit, outside of the ten immediate DJ’s that come to mind. The goal of the night is a Vancouver community-building thing.
As the Vancouver scene grows how do you think the after-hours parties scene is going to be affected?
There has never really been a shortage of it. I think it’s really popular/common thing to fall into this trap that Vancouver is really expensive and that they are no venues or enough parties. Vancouver doesn’t really have the drive compared to Montreal and Toronto where after-hours parties are always in weird spots like converted dance studios, people’s apartments, random-ass spots in Montreal. Here it’s always in the same four places if one of them closes down it is usually because the person who has the lease is no longer interested in putting on after hours events, which is fair enough as it’s pretty stressful stuff. My friend, who does Morning Fever in Montreal, literally walks down the street knocking on doors, always strewing every outlet and avenue to find spaces. I don’t think I know a single person here, including myself has that does that. Vancouver has one of those copycat scenes, where people tend to look at spaces that have already been used, which is fine. I really want to make a conscious effort to throw parties that are a little less one-dimensional. Bring forward cooks, maybe not artists, but be more creative with the space. Instead of throwing parties for people eating pills till four in the morning.
Do you have any plans to re-open a store?
Honestly, if you asked me six months ago, I would have said no way would I ever do it again. But now I have second wind. It’s just about finding the right space. I don’t think I would start another store that was just a record store. I feel like the more successful ones are less one-dimensional. I really like the idea of opening a proper harmonious multi-use space sometime in the near future
Vancouver has one of the most healthiest underground music scenes in the world at the moment, are their any artists or labels that we should be checking out?
I know that the label Isla (founded by Daniel Rincon) is taking the plunge. It’s been a tape label for the past two years, and he’s going to start pressing records. He has a wonderful ear and he’ll do something really colourful with it. D. Tiffany is going to start a label, so that will be great. There are tons of people; there is so much stuff all the time. At my studio space Deep Blue there are like twelve studio spaces, and everyone in there is working on music constantly. I feel like there is going be generation split. If my generation was Mood Hut, 1080p, Pacific Rhythm–there’s going to be a new wave of labels, I hope it happens soon, as it’s important for the next generation to do their own thing.
Should they break away from the Vancouver sound, that labels like Mood Hut defined?
I think is far more interesting when you do your own thing. It’s always how I felt about Pacific Rhythm, I get so many demos but I never really want to release music from people that I don’t know. If you are trying to put music out or start a label I feel like you should have a strong identity attached to it, it should be something that is vindictive of where you are, what your own personal case is–rather than going on Soundcloud and finding some guy from across the globe. I just think it's kind of strange, like a weird separation, I get sent so many cool demos sent to me that are great, but it’s not Pacific Rhythm. I’m going to do a record with a friend from Montreal soon, but it more or less just comes down to relationships or someone I have spent allot of time with. Who has an understanding of my ideology behind the whole thing. People’s schedules are so competitive, labels like Lobster Theremin are a machine, it’s crazy, the same way that 1080p was, releasing music in a way, it’s impossible for me to digest things when it is that rapid.
Is there a Rhythms of the Pacific Volume 4. in the works?
I’ve taken the plunge, in deciding to become more of a serious label now, we are going to release four records this year–compared to the last three years where we have only released one. I’m kind of shelving the Rhythms of the Pacific concept for a little bit because I feel like I’ve really backed myself into a corner with it, and not really that interested in continuing to do the same thing. The idea for the label when I first started it was to release three records then take each artist from each record and release an album or EP with them solo. Now I’m at that point. D. Tiffany, Flørist, & Khotin already have releases out this year.
Any other future plans for Pacific Rhythm?
We are diversifying, but I don’t really want to get into, expanding the brand. Our end game is to have a centre, a community space or Pacific Rhythm HQ, mixed-use office space, I would love to have an incubator set up, pushing local business and music, but from a grass-roots position, like an innovation centre. There may be resources out there in Vancouver, but us musicians need help being legit. No one has ever sat me down and told me how to file my taxes, or how to set up a business sole proprietorship, how to formulate your brand, there needs to be more education on that. If there were a workshop on how to file your taxes as a DJ, it would be invaluable. BC Music Grant needs to concentrate more on that sort of stuff. Educating people how to be legit, because it’s a lot easier to do things under the radar until you back yourself into a corner one day.
You put on a night called Trip Advisor in a secret location every once and a while?
The space is normally used as a photography gallery; it used to be an art gallery. Trip Advisor has been under a lot of different names, but originally Dylan KF was always hounding my arse to just play house and techno, as primarily I just play a lot of disco and stuff like that, so I was like okay lets put on a night where we do that. We were calling it Deep Tech for a while, put we shed that idea. The idea is just a night of more straightforward club music.
On the other end of the scale, you have a weekly night called Vibe Corridor?
Vibe Corridor is a week I have at The Boxcar. The original concept for it was music that doesn’t normally get played at nights; it is sort of just whatever goes. That area that The Boxcar is in didn’t have any bars for a long time. When The Boxcar finally opened everyone started going there. My idea for the night is I literally want every DJ in Vancouver to play that night at one point. I want to hear everyone’s record collection– there is no emphasis or pressure to mix, or the please the dance floor. Just come and play music you like.
Thanks DJ D.DEE!
Check out D.DEE's weekly radio show "Pacific Spirit" live at 4pm until 6pm PST on No Fun Radio.