“Any problem in the world can be solved by dancing…” – James Brown 

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I caught the dancing bug early in life. If memory serves, I was 8 years old at a summer camp sock-hop, when one of the councillors dropped Young MC’s Bust A Move and I was hooked. I had no idea about the racialized controversy that hip-hop was stirring up at the time in the early 90’s, I had no idea that the roots of the songs I heard on Dance Mix ’93 reached back into the burgeoning illegal rave scene in the UK. All I knew was that this was fun. Moving my body to music made me feel alive in a way that I had never before experienced. Over the next couple of decades Music would solidify itself as the focal point that my existence would rotate around, and dancing was always an integral part of that. I’ve had a tonne of peak experiences with writing, playing, and performing Music over the years, but the one I want to tell you about happened on the dancefloor in my early 20s and shaped me in a profound way.

I grew up in a rough little mill town in Northern Saskatchewan, and there wasn’t much happening that you could consider a music scene. Friends and I used to drive down to the big city to go to raves in my late adolescence, but by 2002 or so that scene had largely fizzled. So when a guy wanted to go dancing pretty much the only option was a scuzzy meat-market of a bar called The Outer Limits. The hipster in me cringed at the thought of the place, but I’ve never wanted to be the one guy not having fun because of a “too cool” attitude. So I would bite my lip and brave the terrible music, and usually my friends and I would end up having a pretty awesome time there despite my artist’s elitism.

The place was jam packed on the night in question. The DJ had been hard at work, whipping the crowd into a sweaty, alcohol induced trance with a steady barrage of early 2000’s Top 40 club bangers… And now it’s maybe 20 minutes before close… and there’s a sweet spot here. The crowd has long ago set it’s everyday cares aside, and they’re ready to really get down before they’re ejected out into the night after last call. There’s the opportunity to create some magic here if you can play just the right track, and the DJ switches things up with the song “One More Time” by Daft Punk.

Now if you don’t know this song, let me tell you that it truly is one of the greats. It combines Daft Punk’s inimitable skill for ceaseless repetition, with a joyful/celebratory vocal hook, and an insistent 4 to the floor kick drum. BUT, it’s got this loooooonnnnnngggg breakdown and buildup that many a DJ of little faith will mix out of due to a fear of losing his audience’s attention. Tonight was different though. Tonight, the DJ (bless his heart) let the whole breakdown play out, and indeed something magical did happen.

About mid-way through this long breakdown and build up (Celebrate and Dance For Free… … One More Time… … Music’s Got Me Feelin’ So Free…   …), I look up across the dance floor, and I see, no… I almost feel every single body in the room pulsing together. The crowd has momentarily stopped trying to get into each-other’s pants, and for the briefest of instants everyone in the building  is fully absorbed in the Music, dancing as if there was nothing else in the world. In that moment, I felt this enormous sense of gratitude for being alive. Yes, there is war and famine and disease, yes there is trauma and grief and pain, yes the world is a deeply troubled place and it often seems like there’s not a thing we can do about it. But this moment took all of that and encapsulated it in a deep, joyful, celebration. Yes life is pain, but isn’t it so good to be alive anyway? I met eyes with a friend briefly, and we both shook just our heads at this enourmous beauty. There was nothing to say, just experience it. I walked home that night a different person.

I think I’ve probably had more peak experiences with Music than I can count, but this one still sticks with me. It would be another seven or eight years before I would ever get it into my head to actually start writing Music for people to dance to. But that moment stays clear as something that I want others to experience, and it’s one of the reasons that I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing with my Life.

***

I’ve always had a bit of a Love/Hate relationship with electronic Music. Even going to raves as a kid in the late 90’s I was never really passionate about the Music, I just wanted to dance. The culture of DJ worship, and the all too common air of empty celebration have always rubbed me the wrong way. I spent my formative years listening to bands like Tool, and Radiohead… artists who had something real to say both musically and philosophically. That’s the kind of vision that I’ve always aspired to, and it’s definitely the intention that I bring to Sleepwreck. I believe that to truly confront the realities of being alive in the 21st Century (climate change, topsoil loss, mass extinction, social upheaval, etc. etc. etc.) is literally too much for any one person to bare. In the rare moments when I’m able to open my heart to it, I can sense this enormous ocean of emotional energy sitting just below the surface, dark and turbulent. A big part of making the Music I do is about attempting to express that inexpressible tide, both for my own benefit and hopefully for the benefit of those who feel it too and can relate.

The world is in a troubled state, and I’m just like everyone else in my confusion around what to do about it. However, I think one thing that is certain to help is for human beings to have experiences which allow them to transcend their individual narratives and experience themselves as a part of the larger human family, (and indeed the even larger non-human world beyond that). James Brown once said that “dancing is the one thing that could solve most of our problems”, and in a way I think he’s right. Without getting overly Messianic, I think that experiences like the one I had on the dance floor of the Outer Limits, shared in  acknowledgement of the overwhelming realities of modern life, are one important piece of the puzzle that will help humankind make it through the challenging times ahead. To me, it’s clear that we as human beings are undergoing a mysterious transformation, and the intention of my work as an artist is to serve that transformation as best I can.

 

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