Chordlust: Man, music, & machine
-By Danger Bay
“Techno is a few centuries and generations away in its scope of what the future is. Jungle is the future, but more like a future where you’ve been sucked through a wormhole to another dimension in some far off point in the universe so far ahead of where we are right now. What you consider reality is so over and so done, you can't even comprehend what you are experiencing, let alone where you are, or "when" you are.” -Chordlust
Twenty-Five years. That’s how long Chordlust has been mashing all kinds of music together on various mediums throughout his long and varied career. From Jungle to break-beats, to techno, he has an obsessive compulsion for digging, producing, and DJ’ing that’s second to none. When curating the Electric Sky line up, we wanted someone close to home to really represent the DNB genre, specifically the sub-genre, Jungle, and let me tell you… you’re all in for one hell of a show.
Chordlust keeps extremely busy. Whether it’s running his weekly radio show, Modulations, on Calgary’s University radio station, CJSW 90.9 FM, or managing one of three net labels he owns and operates, he shows no signs of slowing down and continues to release music and curate DJ sets that are consistently top quality and mind blowing.
As Chordlust prepares to close out the Beat Den stage at Electric Sky Festival on Friday night I caught up with him to ask a few questions about how it all began, life in Toronto, and the early days of Jungle and DNB in Eastern Canada. What followed was, to my delight, an in-depth account of the early rave scene from a DJ, producer, technology addict, and Dad. Here’s what followed. Thanks for reading. -Dane
Danger Bay: How old were you when you first started DJing? How did it happen?
CHORDLUST: When I was like 11 or 12 years old, this was a time when most kids used to sit listening to the radio and tape our favorite songs off the radio using a dual tape deck on a ghetto blaster or family stereo system. The first time I intentionally mixed separate audio sources together overlaying them and recording that to tape was when I was about 15 or 16. And that was from a belt drive turntable without pitch control, a tape player, and a 5 disc CD changer and a radio shack mixer, so there was no beatmatching just blends and fades in the mix like on the radio.
Danger Bay: You got involved super early on in the movement then for sure. So, for some of us who have only been into the music and the community for a decade or less, what was it like? How did you learn?
CHORDLUST: In the earlier times, most people in a party had no concern or idea what the DJ was doing or where they were getting the music or how it was being played, and for years, I don't even remember thinking much about it or caring. Not everyone wanted to be a DJ, going to a party was about experiencing music, and DJs played music, and you danced and hung out, that was it. There was no YouTube and barely anything of what is recognized as the internet now, it was rare to know a friend who DJ'd so there was no one to ask what they were doing or how. You learned by studying what you saw with your eyes DJs were doing with their hands at parties, and then by listening to the results of what you saw coming out over the speakers. The last and hardest thing to figure out was what the headphones were for and what was going on with the one record you could see the DJ pulling back and forth but you couldn't hear it over the main system. Once I figured that out, wow, it's such a simple thing, but my mind was blown. We also had no clue that the music the DJ was playing was made by other people, we associated tracked initially with DJs, not producers, we had no idea what tracks names were or where they came from.
Danger Bay: It was definitely more about the DJ in those times. When was the first time you mixed 2 vinyl records together?
CHORDLUST: The first time I mixed two records together I was about 16, first time I made a proper DJ mix tape, on a pair of Gemini belt-drive turntables and a two-channel battle mixer I bought, I was probably 17. I had a very decent Kenwood Soundsystem in my room I financed (my parent's cosigned for it) from Future Shop. We all had tape players in our cars or parents' cars, and some of us had or had friends with cars with monstrous competition level car stereo systems, which were common at the time, so DJ goals were as simple as just making a 60 or 90 minute tape with no major errors that you could play in your car and make copies for your friends to play in their cars. I had settled on the DJ alias SE7EN, which was a homage to someone who I considered at the time to be one of the greatest jungle DJs in Toronto and one of the founders in the early days of Syrous, whose alias was SIGMA7.
Danger Bay: Mix tapes were huge. I remember jamming out to an Aphrodite remix of Master P’s “Dear Mr President”, must have worn that tape right out I listened to it so much. So when did the producing bug hit you? What programs did you use to produce?
CHORDLUST: The first producing I did used was using a software called Propellerheads ReBirth (RB-338) in 1998 ish. I made 4-5 complete songs and put them on tape. Those tracks were all 140 techno because that software wasn't great at making much other than techno. And it was hard. So hard, I remember thinking to myself, why am I spending 30 hours on making a song when there are all these other songs already made that are so awesome and I can just enjoy myself mixing them all for fun? So I didn't stick with it, and I did not seriously do any more production until 2014 when I moved to Calgary. I created my current alias, Chordlust, and I produced an LP of downtempo and broken beats, and through that I briefly connected with and received good feedback and encouragement from not only people locally, but also from drum & bass artists I have a lot of respect for such as Fanu and Adam F.
Danger Bay: What were the early years of DnB / jungle like for you personally, what was the scene like back then?
CHORDLUST: In my earliest days, we had already been exposed to hardcore and proto-jungle here and there through all ages nightclub parties and one off events, and late night radio shows and tape and CD music compilations. Chris Sheppard’s various shows and CD series play a big role here. Electric Circus plays a role. Even Fashion Television on CityTV plays a role (the shows were sound-tracked with amazing new wave and house music). Like on some of these CDs and shows, all the main genres were represented at most parties in this era, usually in either multiple rooms with different music, or in the same room with music changes happening between DJs playing. Jungle was a music I did not initially understand, it was completely alien to me. I knew it was not completely random, but I could not follow the timing the way everything was sliced and chopped and sequenced and retriggered down to the 64th note. It was very frenzied and hectic to my ear. It was overwhelming, I can't think of any other way to describe it. But being a captive audience in rave after rave and exposed to hours of it, your choice was hang out in the chill out room until it is over, or give it a chance. I had somewhat of an epiphany when I finally "got" jungle. Once I did, it became one of my favourite types of music to listen to. The music was far too advanced for me to DJ at the time, so I was happy listening to it. The first records I was buying were not Jungle records. I was buying and playing house, breaks, and "cross-over music" that was popular on late night radio, at raves, and in clubs and easier to learn to mix with.
Danger Bay: What was your involvement like with some of these early crews?
CHORDLUST: My involvement at the outset, was first to just listen to the music. I had tapes from raves that my friends had picked up for me and given to me from a store in Toronto called X-Static. This was before I ever went there myself, and well before I ever went to a party or knew what a rave was. The feeling was just to go out and experience as much of the events and parties where this music was played as I could. To absorb all this truly new music. To have two identities. Going to a party was the highlight of your week. You became a different version of yourself and you entered another world. What was the feeling? It was creation, imagination, discovery, endless potential and possibility, mystery, connection, acceptance, harmony, evolution and revolution, empathy, hope, positivity, vibes, personal responsibility and contribution, a world within a world, a new era dawning ushered in by coming together to escape the outside world by listening to music, and dancing and celebrating together.
Danger Bay: Was it hard to first start DJ’ing in those times? Also, can you give us some details of what those raves were like?
CHORDLUST: To DJ at a party in Toronto was unfathomable at the time. You are talking full on raves in like the biggest industrial, cultural, and commercial spaces in a fairly large city that could easily draw 2 000 people, 5 000 people, to eventually nearly 10 000 people. We partied in convention centers, air force bases, warehouses, film set complexes, airplane hangars, factories, educational facilities, fields and parking lots and structures, and it was a collective experience as much as it was an anonymous one. This is Atlantis, Better Days, Liquid Adrenaline, Destiny, Syrous, Pleasure Force, Delirium, and Dose to name just a few from this peak era. There is no substitution for having lived, seen and experienced what was going on at the time. It is the stuff of both legend and fantasy for most people. To get a promoter’s attention and hand him a mixtape to try to get a gig, unless you knew or grew up with someone, was pretty much impossible. And again, that was not the thought process in our minds. There was no streaming or on demand everything, so your only chance to hear a lot of this music for hours at a time was listening to tapes or attending events. Many people were buying records and had turntables and systems just to play and mix and record tapes and listen to music and get through the times between parties, the thought you'd ever be good enough to play a huge event was not that common. To that end, even though I loved jungle, I didn't buy a lot of old school jungle records over the course of the history of me DJing, most of what I was buying and making tapes of were breaks (DJ Icey, Florida breaks) and cross-over club music (Armand Van Helden, Josh Wink, etc).
Danger Bay: Let’s move on a bit from the past. Like most of the early rave scene, the massive warehouse parties and squatting shows slowly came to and end during the late 90’s and early zeros. How did that play out in Toronto? Can you pinpoint a year when things changed? What did it feel like?
CHORDLUST: Things definitely changed in Toronto at the end of the 90's and early 00's when pressure from authorities following a few unfortunate incidents saw the end of big parties. I don't think anyone had really prepared or contemplated the end of the "big rave" era. To many, it was literally the end of an era. To some, it didn't mean anything was done, it just meant things needed to retreat into manageable sized parties in licensed spaces for the scene to survive. Not ideal, but better than just saying goodbye and walking away from the subculture completely.
CHORDLUST: During this period of time, I wrote something called "The Ravers' Manifesto" and posted it on the online forums at the time like Tribe and Torontojungle.com - it caught the attention of a promoter who reached out to me and asked if he could print copies and distribute at an upcoming event, and I said sure as long as you credit it to anonymous, because I had a junior position in a corporate job and was somewhat concerned about the implications of having my name all over this piece of writing if it ever took off (which it did, you can find that piece of writing being posted to this day). Through that, we got to talking, I met the other partner in the company, and we somewhat rebranded the company, formed a collective that included myself, and DJs Kinetic, Terra, Vice, Lathargix, and ist and MCs Stryka and Nai. The company was called Intimate Productions (not to be confused with Vancouver based promoters of the same name). This was drum & bass focussed, there was little to no Jungle to speak of (for me) after 1996/1997 when the sound changed drastically. We threw our own parties at various small 100-300 person venues in Toronto like B-Side, Una Mas, and Surface, and were invited to as a crew to play venues from London, Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, and all over the map for a period of time. We played radio shows once in a while on stations like CHIN and CKLN in Toronto and one of the first internet radio streaming stations I remember called Global Groove Network. We even threw a daytime boat party in collaboration with a breaks promoter called KickIt in the Toronto Harbour. The names of the places we had the opportunity to be invited to play have still stood the test of time: we played at Turbo Nightclub, System Soundbar, and even Limelight on the rooftop patio no less. In Toronto, getting 100-300 people was a fairly easy task - we designed the flyers through a friend, got them printed, and would drop them off all over town at record stores, clothing stores, hangout joints and cafe's, and at other events.
Danger Bay: Were there any notable artists that you saw, played with, or opened for? What were some highlights of those days for you?
CHORDLUST: We were interviewed as a crew by Denise Benson, booked parties with The Green Man from Germany, booked for our events and played alongside local established heroes like Mystical Influence, Sniper, and up-and-coming (at the time) artists like Stranjah (who I fully recall DJing with in my living room in my apartment in the Beaches in Toronto because he lived nearby). We featured not just MCs, but live vocals, as well as a live drum and bass band from Ottawa called Liquified. We had our own thing going on for sure while it lasted.
CHORDLUST: The biggest highlights for me - there are a lot - we had a party at B-Side where Capital J came up to the stage from the crowd and out of the blue and started scratching and juggling alongside our turntablist DJ Kinetic. When Sniper played "Music is the Key" just after midnight at a NYE party we threw at a space called Runnix, and I almost fell out of an open window with a bottle of champagne in my hands when the tune dropped and I realized what was happening. When Liquified covered "Inner City Life" by Goldie live at a venue that was known for discerning house music events called Una Mas, that was another one. The live drum&bass band played the seminal track flawlessly, especially the vocalist. Many misty eyes in the room. There was a rumor Clayton from Renegade Hardware was in town and in the room at this party, and that was the equivalent at the time for us of having Suge Knight in your living room essentially. Whether that rumor was true or not is another story, that night was rammed. I had a back-to-back closing set, and I opened with Adam F's Circles, and that moment was one of the most amazing performance experiences I've ever had to this day dropping the needle on that track on that night.
CHORDLUST: But the most notable gig I had was being invited to play a Circa Footwear and Red Bull sponsored event where I opened for Kenny Ken at a club called Mad Bar. Yes, everyone is drinking Red Bull now, and associates energy drinks like that with clubbing, but this was like nearly 20 years ago. After a few years of that, I began focusing on work, family, etc. Music always stayed in the forefront, just reverted to listening and enjoyment and house parties with close friends until moving to Calgary.
Danger Bay: Everyone must eventually take a break, it’s good for the soul, that’s some amazing stuff Kris.
CHORDLUST: Really though, the most memorable moments of these times are playing music and talking about music with friends. Plans you make, ideas you have, synergies you find, the values you develop and share. The trips around town (and out of town) to record stores, the drives, the hanging out, the finding new music, jamming together, and finding new and unique combinations of music when mixing and playing it.
Danger Bay: What do you feel changed and led you to playing techno as well as jungle & dnb? Most people sort of stick with one genre and focus on that, but you've branched out quite a bit. Producing and playing techno and breaks in addition to DNB. You’re quite versatile.
CHORDLUST: I wouldn't say I changed courses or was led down any one path or another. I was lucky enough to have grown up during a time where it was normal to appreciate and take in all kinds of new music, go to all kinds of events and clubs which were focused on all kinds of genres and attracting all kinds of people creating all kinds of different energies. You could be at a club one week and see Jeff Mills, and next week at the same club in the same room on a different night see Jumpin' Jack Frost. At Industry Nightclub in its golden era for instance, on a Wednesday or Thursday you could see Goldie and then Carl Cox on the weekend. Over the years, I have also grown to not only play multiple genres, but to play them in almost any kind of media or format, on almost any kind of equipment using whatever kind of technology. To this day, I still listen and play and enjoy all different genres. On my weekly radio show here in Calgary called Modulations, which I dug deep in my memory for hoping to name it after the record store that was on the same floor as X-Static in Toronto, you can hear myself and guests play deep vocal house one week, footwork another week, jungle another week, and techno another week. Figuring out how music should sound and should be mixed is a lot of fun for me. And I am trying to have fun, I am not here to save lives or take things any more seriously than when I feel it starts to take away from the enjoyment of music. DJs like John E from Toronto - super oldschool - everything got covered in these sets. I think that's a skill, and for the very, very small handful of DJs who can step up to play 2 hours of techno as effortlessly as they can play 2 hours of drum + bass, or 2 hours of leftfield breakbeat or 2 hours of acid house on almost any kind of equipment or setup in almost any medium and do it well, those have always been the people who shine brightest in the landscape to me. DJ Iain was another example – he played industrial, hardcore, techno, breakbeat and big beat, just everything.
Danger Bay: I wanted to talk about the genres you play. Jungle and Techno are not very similar at first glance, yet they are 2 genres that you absolutely crush at. I’ve heard your jungle mixes and they absolutely blow my mind and your Techno sets are no different. Something about both genres must have drawn you to them, what was it?
CHORDLUST: Well, in all honestly, being attracted and immersing myself in both from time-to-time does not have much to do with sonic characteristics or similarities that I know unless that's subconscious - both genres are very, very, very fun for me to play with and mix as a DJ, but for opposing reasons. Techno is fun because to me it is linear and relatively straightforward. You're trying to build something out of pieces, parts, raw materials, and tools with Techno. Jungle is fun to mix because it is chaotic, unpredictable, and very challenging. It's like you're trying to safely couple multiple runaway trains together that are moving at high speed so they don't crash and blow up.
CHORDLUST: Also, both are very much rooted in futurism. House music for instance directs my focus to the moment, to reality, to today and yesterday. Techno is looking to an uncertain but hopeful future in a reality and timeframe we can still sort of imagine and we can sort of comprehend we might get there by becoming robots and “living” to see it, or maybe using a form of technology we can wrap our heads around like a time machine to get there. Again, Techno is maybe a few centuries and a few generations away in its scope of what the future is. Jungle on the other hand, is the future, but more like you have been sucked through a wormhole to another dimension in some far off point in the universe so far away and so far ahead of where we are right now, what you consider reality is so over and so done, you can't even comprehend what you are experiencing, let alone where you are, or "when" you are. Jungle (like darkside, and hardcore where I would say it evolved from) is futuristic but so much so, it is completely untethered from reality for the most part.
Danger Bay: Do you find similarities between the 2 genres? What’s your preferred genre to play these days?
CHORDLUST: I want to say they are similar, but I like them mainly because they are not similar. It would be like if you had two cars in your driveway - one is a Corvette, and the other is a Hummer. You have them and like them for totally different reasons because each of them requires a different skill to drive and feels different but equally fun to drive - you don't like them for exactly the same reasons or anything they have in common, you like them because they are different and cater to different and distinct parts of your personality and how you experience and express your personality and emotions.
CHORDLUST: That said, everyone who knows me presently knows that Techno is the preferred genre to play, produce, and DJ. That is because of its fundamental underlying philosophy of futurism, its consistency or musical conservatism, and the function of each track as a tool when DJing. 99% of all music is not good to me, but Techno by far has been the most consistent and reliable genre over time. I didn't appreciate Techno enough to try to even want to mix it myself until probably 2007-2008 when I was digging into it. I found volumes of bad minimal, but also was surprised to find volumes of good music that had been released and that I had missed over the decades. I also realized a good amount of quality tunes were being released every week. With Jungle, the main sound I was in tune with was a temporary stop in the evolutionary ladder of hardcore basically. They are a couple distinct eras of the music I am really in tune with, but the genre evolved and evolves too fast and too far for me to appreciate it other than on the two or three points in time that I consider to be the best representation of what I appreciate myself. Yes, trust me, there are a handful of releases of what I consider to be good Jungle that come out annually, so there's just not enough of it for me to focus on that. There is just enough new Jungle music for me to collect stretch my legs and put together a couple jungle sets a year, and I do get very excited about these sets where someone has asked me to play jungle. This is especially true for Electric Sky.
Danger Bay: What's in store for us at electric sky?
CHORDLUST: I plan to open the flood gates on some serious music that I hope will pay homage and be a testament to the experiences and memories I have listening to the music in eras gone by. The fact that it is in a natural setting, and that the sun should be rising is going to add another dimension and element to the music's aesthetic that I hope people are going to appreciate and take the time to get into. Whether the tunes are new, old, or a combination, it’s going to be Jungle.
Danger Bay: You’ve been featured on some key Canadian labels throughout the years such as Substation Recordings and RF Records, what are some other notable labels you’ve released on?
CHORDLUST: In addition to RF, and Substation, I have had releases on Angry Rabbit Records out of Winnipeg, 19Box Recordings out of Japan, and VRNT and MAGNETASKOPE out of Calgary. I run TECHNO.BLACK, MAGNETASKOPE, and RENDER RECORDINGS, and host the Modulations Radio Show on CJSW 90.9FM, which has included Canadian guests from all over Canada including Rennie Foster, John Norman, and others. I have been volunteering as an organizer with Habitat Studio Social since 2015.
Danger Bay: Can you share some media with us from back in the day, any flyers or snippets?
CHORDLUST: This is before smartphones or digital anything, but I have attached a couple screenshots from old websites with flyers or referring to the parties I was talking about with the people I used to do them with.
Danger Bay: I wanted to end by getting you to share some music with us. Give us some of your favorite Jungle & techno tracks from any time frame. Stuff that’s influenced you and is representative of the genre in your mind.
CHORDLUST: Jungle Track: Babylon by Splash. Atmosphere, dub elements, amen madness, sci-fi fx, punishing bassline when it drops, bottomless bass hits. It is deep, dark, and deadly as they say.
CHORDLUST: Techno Track: - To me, the Shed Remix of Moderat's Running has a lot of the elements I love about techno and represents a great and balanced track. Subdued vocals, subtle strings, hypnotic, high energy and tempo, party atmosphere but still deep enough if you want to really think about it.
CHORDLUST: More importantly, here's a link to a CD I bought that featured hardcore broken beat techno music that led me into jungle music eventually. This is a really good window into how things were evolving and how alien and unique this music sounded to me at the time. The CD was called 2 Technocal, the Second Rave and listening to it when I first bought it was a major pivot point.
CHORDLUST: More breakbeat hardcore tracks that changed my life that are much more important than any jungle tracks.
Danger Bay: Amazing. Thanks for answering all the questions and giving us an insight into the early days of rave, jungle, and techno. We’re all super excited to see you play on Friday! Take care Kris.
Make sure you catch Chordlust, Friday night @ 3:30 am as he closes down the Beat Den stage with a Jungle set to end all Jungle sets.