Scene & Heard

SOUND SEEKERS: The trouble with sampling — Ottawa DJ D-Mass talks about the long road to his latest album

Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani

DJ D-Mass, aka Dene Swan, hosts a CD release party tonight called Beats ‘n’ Eats.

If you’re an MC, DJ, sampler, re-mixer, or some combination thereof, you inevitably run into artistic or technological conundrums particular to your genre of music-making.

Broken turntable needles are a quick fix. More esoteric issues take time to solve. For Ottawa DJ D-Mass, the trouble with making his first solo album was mostly dealing with a nagging sense that the work just wasn’t ready for release.

D-Mass started the record in 2000, finished it in 2006, and then shelved it for six years until he wrapped it up a few weeks ago. It’s called Graduate and he’s hosting a CD release party tonight called Beats ‘n’ Eats. (He’s making the beats and chef Dixie-Ann Culzac is doing the cooking, as is bartender Natalie Sole, who happens to be handy around a grill too).

Graduate brings to mind Massive Attack, Boards of Canada, Blockhead and the like. It has pasted-together samples mixed with instruments and beats. There is some rapping here and there and a sweet vocal from Ottawa singer Andrea Simms-Karp on the kick-off track. The whole album has that late-night, cinematic, chill-room vibe.

D-Mass — his real name is Dene Swan — was born in Bermuda. He came to Ottawa to go to university. After school, D-Mass, 34, spent a few years in the city’s kitchens and working retail and office jobs while getting his Canadian paperwork sorted out. All the while he was digging through hole-in-the-wall shops for wacky old records to rip and remix. He’d grab individual saxophone notes from one record, put them through a mixer and re-assemble them to create a new horn line. He’d sample a riff from another album and then play it backwards just to get the right feel from a small sample of a song.

The playing and re-playing of bits of music was a building-block exercise. Through fragments, full songs were created. It sounded great — but just a little too familiar.

“I don’t want to say it’s dated, but the concept had been done to death by the time I finished the record,” D-Mass says. “The instrumental hip-hop thing had ridden a course and fallen to the wayside.”

He shelved it until this year once he saw that a lot of the DJs who had originally inspired the record — including Kid Koala — were starting to return to the scene. There was another wave of chillwave and he wanted to ride it — maybe even lead it.

So what’s the harm if your album sounds like the music made by your idols? A million Ninja Tune fans can’t be wrong and having a back catalogue to reference allows for little album Easter eggs. On Graduate, there are fun winks and high-fives to other big-name producers through referential vocal samples, techniques, and storylines.

Reverent props aside, D-Mass wants to carve out his own angle, separate from the big-name DJs.

“You want to be the one people are comparing to,” he says. “No one wants to be called the next DJ Shadow, but I’m sure DJ Shadow is proud of the fact that everybody is being compared to him,” he says. “I want to be in my own lane.”

Beats and Eats takes place tonight (July 19) at Babylon Nightclub, 317 Bank St., with guests including visual artists Amy Hoare and Dan Metcalfe, new media artist Jeff Fennell and DJ/Producer ThreeSixty. 9:30 p.m., $4.

ALSO THIS WEEK:
Loviatar anchor a night of thrash and metal Friday at Maverick’s. While you’re there, check out the Ottawa act Rainbow Pony Power, who are also on the bill. They make hair metal seem cool again.

The Bruitals are an Ottawa six-piece who list college rock heroes and classic singer-songwriters among their influences. They launch their debut EP, Here come the Bruitals, Friday at the Elmdale Tavern.

Up & Up Music, the label run by drummer Phil Lafreniere, kicks of a new night called MaD FuNK Friday at the Mercury Lounge. Lafreniere’s band Phil Motion & The Easy Lo-Fi will play while Matt Cameron VJs with DJ Lance Baptiste closing the evening. Producer Jason Jaknunas will be recording the show on an analog tape recorder inside the club.

The DJs from two regular O-town events — Mindgames and Kitchen Party — hold a joint event Friday at Babylon. Imagine a rec-room-style party in a bar with hot new tunes mixed in with throwback floor fillers and you’ll know what to expect.

DeeJay So Nice and Prufrock hit the decks Saturday at Mugshots.

Kat Burns of Forest City Lovers debuts a new project called Kashka on Sunday at Raw Sugar Café.

Chad Van Gaalen, the Calgary dude with that haunting voice, plays Maverick’s Monday with Cousins from Halifax and Ottawa’s Her Harbour.