This Vancouver resident and D&B defector has been making some serious waves of late
Attempting to put Queensyze's music into a pigeonhole is a fool's errand. The beats may most readily be described as "techno" but there's a definite house sensibility to the melodies and, in particular, to the vocals that grace much of her work. Cookie-cutter tech-house, however, it definitely is not.
Her Soundcloud page opts for the "deep tech" tag but we suspect that rather than confusing listeners or hampering her career in any way, such sonic flexibility is going to see her become one of those artists that both house and techno lovers are eager to claim as one of their own.
A stalwart of the Canadian club scene, she started out as a D&B producer in the mid-00s but a change of direction to 4/4 sounds has seen her star begin to grow internationally over the past few years, and with her next EP dropping on the legendary Nervous Records next week, that doesn't look like changing any time soon.
So we thought we'd find out some more about her, by employing the time-honoured technique known in the trade as "asking her some questions"…
You’re from Toronto originally. What's the club scene like there, and how did you get into dance/electronic music in the first place?
"I fell in love with electronic music really young. Toronto had these 'all ages' clubs where the DJs played underground electronic music and introduced me to artists like Louie Vega, Frankie Knuckles etc. The DJs played all the latest music coming from New York, Detroit and Chicago so my early influences are rooted from those areas, and then I got into acid house, breaks, then techno and then drum & bass. I was a sponge, and most of my musical inspiration comes from that seminal time in my life: those early years are definitely at the core of every track I make and how I curate my DJ sets."
…and now you're based in Vancouver. How do the two cities compare, musically and just generally?
"The landscape in Vancouver is drastically different than Toronto. Vast mountain ranges, the Pacific Ocean, incredible beaches and islands surround us. It’s absolutely beautiful and inspiring. I definitely spend a lot more time in the outdoors than I did in Toronto!
"Vancouver has a smaller population so our scene is pretty tight and thriving, representing all forms of electronic music. The local promoters are passionate about underground music and pushing the boundaries of sound. They care about DJ’s and curating the music with a holistic approach."
I gather you started out making D&B, and were in fact one of the very first female D&B producers in the country? Tell us more…
"Yeah, even though I was into the 4x4 early on, when I first heard drum & bass it sounded like nothing I'd heard before. I really wanted to be a part of it and I just loved the energy and the heavy basslines. The first track I produced did really well on the dancefloor, so I sent it to a Toronto label that was releasing local D&B artists – he picked it up right away and that was my first release.The production techniques I learned in D&B are definitely present in my 4x4 productions. I think this background gives me confidence to push my limitations."
How did you get from there to the deep tech sound you have today? I'm taking that term from your Soundcloud – is it one that you're happy with, or how else would you describe the music you make?
"I think my sound is multi-layered, but definitely rooted in techno with elements of deep tech and drum & bass. There are hints of nostalgic rave, techno and warehouse with an underground feel all wrapped up in my sound. It’s hard to truncate into one word but there’s an attitude and a frenetic edge that comes out in my music. I think this energy comes from my upbringing in Toronto, and I think living in Vancouver has refined my style a bit.
"What I make now wraps up all of my loves of underground electronic music into a techno format: it reflects my present surroundings but is rooted in where I’ve come from. I think this is also true for my DJ sets, as I DJ quite tough but with a refined power and edge where I like to move fluidly between the hard and subdued. I think my sound is very unique and true to me."
Many, if not most of your tracks that I've heard seem to feature vocals. For me vocals really help to 'focus' a track, giving the mind something to latch onto… would you agree?
"Yes, I totally agree with that. As an artist I feel that my vocals in my tracks gives a little piece of me to the listener which enables the listener to latch onto the track on a deeper level."
…and where do said vocals come from? Obviously some are sampled but I've noticed more up-and-coming producers singing on their own tracks, so is that true in your case?
"I get really excited about the vocals I create. When working with my vocals I take great lengths to process and resample them, to try and create something new and be true to the essence of the track I’m making. For example, in my track Gotta Get Up, the lyric in it says 'gotta get up' and it sounds like a guy, but that’s me, I just pitched the vocal down so the track would sound tougher.
"For Rave With You, which is coming out on my next EP on Nervous Records, I resampled my vocal and built it up to the peak, alongside a big bass build. And on Somebody Like You, I recorded me saying the lyrics in spoken word format, but then resampled myself and played the words on a keyboard, so that it sounds like I’m singing but I’m totally not. I love the process of creating a vibe for my tracks with my vocals – I use them like another instrument."
Your next EP's coming on Nervous on 26 July, and I know you've had releases on sub-label Nurvous before. How did you come to hook up with them, and was it a good feeling to see your tracks on such a revered, long-running label?
"Nervous released my acid track Gotta Get Up on Nurvous a few years ago, and at that time it was very early on in the acid revival. Gotta Get Up is rooted in old school acid and breaks sounds, with a tech vibe and bouncy baseline. When they released the track they promoted it saying, “Hey did you hear? Acid is back!” and then boom, within one year acid came back with a fury!
"I think Nervous are really in tune with what’s going to happen next in electronic music because of their history and knowledge. The fact that I get to release with them again for my first artist EP is the most incredible feeling… to know that my music will forever live on such an iconic label, I still can’t believe it actually! So many incredible artists have been on that label: Josh Wink, Doc Martin, Kerri Chandler and so on. The label continues to push the bar in electronic music and its ever-evolving forms. I’m so happy I get to be included in their history!"
There are three tracks on the EP, so talk us through them…
"When I wrote The Pretty Lights EP, my main concept was to encapsulate the sound of a warehouse rave – with big drums, tweak-y lines and a bassline in the break that makes you feel something. I wanted to bring the listener back to the first time they entered a rave. What that smelt like, felt like, the energy they felt that hit them like a brick wall when they entered the warehouse, and how for most of us there was never going back after that moment.
"The first track, All I Feel, has the warehouse frenetic aesthetic and is quite a heavy techno track. It has big drums and this razor-sharp acid line running through it from beginning to end. At the break, it slowly builds the tension with a deep Reese bass that peaks before the drop; it also has old school echoing vocals that builds as the bass fills up the room. It then powerfully drops into the theme. The title track, The Pretty Lights, is even tougher with a 303 line processed to sound metallic and a sombre vocal. And then the last track, Rave With You, is darker in tone: drum-heavy and kind of paranoid-sounding, but it reassures itself at the peak with my vocal that says, 'All I want to do is rave with you'. I think the EP is true to me and my sound of big drums, dark sounds, and foreboding bass with a hint of nostalgia."
I believe you also do sound-design and soundtrack work, so tell us about that? It must help, financially, to have more than just DJing and production as revenue streams?
"I like to try new things and I believe that artists should have the freedom to explore their creativity in various forms. I really respect artists like Mr Oizo, for example, who artistically works in various mediums. For me, I love exploring new ways of storytelling through music and sound design. How music can drive an emotionally impactful moment in a story on-screen, and how it becomes a character in itself. I’m also a filmmaker and explore my creativity visually through directing films and music videos. Directing music videos in particular is interesting work for me, as it combines both the visual and music and you can do whatever you want creatively as it doesn’t necessarily have to have a linear story.
"Every time I work creatively out of my comfort zone I get a fresh perspective on how to approach my music production or DJing. I think with each creative endeavour I take on, they feed into each other and it feels like a really important part of my creative process."
What's your DJ diary looking like right now?
"I have gigs coming up at my residency at Vancouver’s only legal after-hours, Gorg-O-Mish. This club is a lot like Stereo in Montreal: the vibe is incredible, people are always ready for the music and I get to play the music I love. The sets are three hours so I get to go through many emotional peaks and really work the push/pull of music."
Finally, what else is going on in Queensyze's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I’m excited for my next EP coming out , and I’ve been working on my next release and prepping for my next tour."
Words: Russell Deeks
The Pretty Lights EP is out on Nervous on 26 July - preorder it here.