Subtempo Guest Mix 023
With 20 years of DJing experience from Toronto to Montreal and now Canada’s west coast based between Vancouver and Salt Spring Island, Rich Nines leaves no genre stone unturned in connecting-the-dots that form the ever-evolving narratives of electronic dance music. Currently resident monthly DJ providing creativity-inducing moods at Art Battle live painting events in Vancouver and Victoria, co-host of the Currency Exchange show at www.saveonradio.com and co-curator of the Light Twerkerz LiT MIX series of booty bass music. Rich Nines is an anagram of Eric Shinn’s name, one alias representing all permutations of his personal musical vocabulary.
Hi Eric, first of all, thank you for taking the time to put together this mix for us and for the interview.
My pleasure! Thanks for the warm welcome. It’s an honor to take part.
I wanted to start by asking you about the mix. How, where and when did you record it?
This mix came together at such an unusual time, right during the pandemic outbreak in Vancouver. I felt I started experiencing time differently while slowing down my lifestyle, which accelerated inner emotional shifts. This was all accompanied by a heightened appreciation for polyrhythm in music, for “slow/fast” hybrid pulses. While living in isolation at my girlfriend’s apartment, I put together an 8-hour playlist of music with a triplet pulse, including mostly songs I felt with a 12/8 meter. It’s like the triplet has taken hold of my brain recently. I ran out of time to use my studio setup before I had to fly to Ontario to be with family, so ended up recording this final take of the mix during the flight, which was surreal, to begin with, due to all the public health precautions and everybody wearing masks and being kinda paranoid, but also was technically challenging as I had no monitor speakers, no controller or mixer to use at my seat, and no previewing/cue-ing capability just using my trackpad to work the virtual mixer display on-screen in the app while recording internally. It was like tightrope-walking without a net in terms of beatmatching and blending all just listening on the master output in headphones, and was actually quite calming to focus on recording without margin for error while high above the clouds.
Is there a theme for this mix?
100%. I love themes and the controlled freedom of working within constraints. I knew for this mix I wanted to do something with polyrhythms, as I share a deep love for them with Matsya who first introduced me to Subtempo. And I was really inspired by Michael Red’s mix for the series too, where he stuck to a specific rhythmic pulse at 130bpm to allow various syncopations to dance around the grid. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d go for a specific BPM, but then I decided on selecting 12/8 or triplet tracks at any BPM because I will often use these songs as pace-changers in sets at any speed, but I’ve never done an entire set of only tracks with this pulse. I think in general this is avoided in most electronic dance music, because the default rhythm quantization in most software is 16/4, and humans have 2 feet so most dances have symmetrical rhythm. But there are many dances from cultures the world over that use 3-patterns, or sustained 3-vs-2 or 3-vs-4 polyrhythms, and I’m noticing more producers work them into contemporary dance music which is exciting. So there’s some really new music in here that I find compelling for its syncopation, and some vintage selections too. Lastly, I will say recording a mix for Subtempo brought out spacious and melodic qualities in my selection of songs, while recording during the pandemic brought out more pensive and melancholy moods. So the theme is a heady syncopation journey to keep the listening brain active, while also a dreamy heart trip.Rich Nines recorded this set above the great plains, aboard a flight across Canada.
You are originally from Toronto but you’ve relocated to Salt Spring Island, off the coast of Vancouver. What drove you there?
I took the train out west in 2010 and relocated to Victoria for work reasons at the time which was managing humanitarian fundraising campaigns for Haiti earthquake relief. I immediately fell in love with Salt Spring when an old friend booked me to DJ a wild Halloween farm rave, and in no time I had moved there with dreams of farming with a family of my own, which in reality became commuting to Victoria to work as a fundraising manager in an office downtown while DJing at island farm parties on weekends.
What’s the scene like in Salt Spring?
It’s great. It’s an island of about fifteen thousand people between Vancouver and Victoria and Nanaimo, so it’s a meeting place for people who come from around the region, and really from around the world, to connect on the island. There’s full-time and seasonal residents, a few small public venues for evening events, and a rotating cast of locals who host all-night private and/or afterparties. There may not be the same frequency and scale of electronic dance music events that first drew me there a decade ago, but there remains an engaged community of music lovers and dancers on the island that I value maintaining a connection with, though I’m mostly based in Vancouver now for work and with a music studio I share downtown. Every time I’m back for an event on Salt Spring I realize what a pleasure it is to DJ for people who feel comfortable enough socially dancing to the rhythm and feeling of the music, rather than simply to “the beat”.
You also run & curate quite a few things, including a radio show and a podcast, correct? Tell me about those.
I co-curate the LiT MIX series of booty music DJ sets with Crystel Clear for Light Twerkerz, which is a body-positive dance community based in Vancouver. I value this outlet for my interest in up-front up-tempo fun playful bass music with attitude aimed at the dancefloor. I also co-host the Currency Exchange show at www.saveonradio.com with DJ Commoddity, which explores more of a heady deep listening vibe of underground dance music that we share. My main DJ gig is as resident DJ for the Art Battle monthly live painting events in Victoria and Vancouver, which I’ve done for 5 years now. These are 4-hour evening sets for a general/arts crowd of 100-200 people watching about a dozen painters in 20-minute rounds, so curating these events musically is a fun challenge of maintaining creative flow for the artists with energy and engagement for the audience, and I love the freedom to really paint a vast musical canvas of sounds from downtempo lounge to sound system club bangers depending on the mood of each event.Eric Shinn, aka Rich Nines, is a radio host, curator, DJ, activist & organizer, among other things.
I read you’ve been DJing for over 20 years so tell me, what’s your favorite place on Earth to play tunes at?
Anywhere among friends with an epic view at sunrise or sunset, especially around the Southern Gulf Islands of B.C.
What’s been the craziest situation you’ve found yourself in, during all those years of gigging?
Oh dude, so many. Of them all, I’d have to say the Unknown Unknown Halloween party at the Brickworks in Toronto in 2007 was the craziest. There was an inspired scene of reclaiming derelict urban spaces through noise-punk, hip-hop, techno, and breakcore raves happening around the city at the time, and we got together with various crews for a huge rager in the abandoned factory where the mud from the Don Valley was kilned into the bricks used for early Toronto building construction, it’s a very historic place. I remember the police showed up, took one look inside, and then left rather than have to deal with arresting 1,000 angry youth having an indoor bonfire and pig roast rave. I was DJing a vinyl ragga jungle set while wearing a gas mask for the smoke, and people were throwing flaming torches between the two dance floors, some people caught fire… this was a seriously dangerous party that got way out of control and I’m glad to have survived to tell the tale of how Toronto partied there before the site was remediated.
Wow, that sounds intense! And in terms of genres, are you one to stick to a single focus during your sets? Or do you genre-hop quite a bit? The mix you prepared for us is especially varied.
I love being really specific with what I’m playing while playing a variety of specific things. My favorite sets to play are either hyper-precise, like “only this subgenre from this specific time period or regional scene” levels of nerdy criteria; or “connect-the-dots” type sets where the event needs to go from point A to C or G through B, D, E, F, Q, Z and ? and I’m the transition DJ. I used to change my DJ alias every few years when I found a new genre to explore, but I’ve stuck with the Rich Nines moniker for the past decade as an anagram alias to encompass all permutations of my musical tastes. The downside to this is that I can be difficult to understand as a DJ from a branding standpoint, like what scene do I represent? I have some fans who I know think I play only booty house, or ragga jungle, or deep dubstep, downtempo or “world” or “retro” depending on which sets they’ve heard me play. And other people think I can’t stick to any genre because they’ve only heard me play meandering morning sets or weddings or birthdays, staff parties or dance retreats, activist fundraisers or fashion shows, art openings or whatever. Because I’m not DJing as a vehicle to situate and promote original productions of a certain genre, I’m quite free to roam musically. The plus side to this is having great relationships with promoter friends who trust me as a specialist they can task with niche sets, and having a core audience of music lovers with broad tastes who expect the unexpected from me as a DJ who will keep surprising them in different situations.Rich Nines at a recent live art event where he is a resident DJ in Vancouver.
What’s been your focus lately music-wise through your exploration and diggings?
I’ve been really feeling the 90-110bpm range of new hybrid bass music blending dancehall, techno, and reggaeton, 12/8 polyrhythmic music of all styles especially deep dubstep, afro-latin, middle eastern and Asian hybrid bass and psychedelic autonomic, turbo footwork jungle acid breakbeat techno mutations, re-millennium retro vibes like trip-hop, dark side tech-step and clicks n cuts IDM techno, industrial ambient post-“world” tribal noise, jazzy breakbeat records in 5/4 or 7/8, early bleep techno bass electro stuff from the late-80s, twerk, perreo, deep house versions of 90s pop, grunge instrumentals… I try to focus but keep seeing a kaleidoscope.
Do you collect vinyl or are you less picky about that sort of thing?
I do collect vinyl! I mostly bought ‘90s rave records in the early-00s when they were cheap and I would browse the shops in Toronto and Montreal. I have turntables at my studio in Vancouver and regularly play vinyl sets at the SaveOnRadio.com studio as well as at Art Battle, often with records I’ve just bought at local vinyl stores, Vancouver is so fortunate to still have a few good shops like Beat Street and Red Cat. I usually DJ a few retro parties each year where a friend will book me to play a vinyl throwback set of dubstep, techno, house, jungle, or downtempo set too, and those make it worth having lugged the crates around for so long to re-create those classic vibes. I mostly buy new music in digital format though because I go through such a quantity of songs playing such diverse gigs, but I’ll still buy the odd new release on vinyl if it’s a really special edition. The pandemic has reminded me how much I love going through record stores and actually crate-digging for rare gems and deals; it’s just not the same digging for tunes on the internet as feeling the vinyl on your fingers and smelling the sleeves.
What are your go-to tools to make your life as a DJ easier?
Categorizing music based on esoteric themes and indexed to past performances helps me find the right track at the right time like accessing a highly personal “living memory” of my DJing experiences. I really like to work the “Tap” function in Traktor to switch the bpm analysis of tracks mid-way through so as to assist with beatmatching in and out of the same track at different tempo. And I’ll use key-fixing to keep the harmony of tracks consistent while varying the speed. My favorite controller for Traktor is the XDJ-RX because it also works as CDJ with USB capability for Rekordbox. I also find using vinyl makes life easier, which is ironic because digital DJing is supposed to make everything easier, but having to work within limitations really does create focus. Giving myself limited timeframes to prepare sets helps me… I can overthink things if I prepare too much, but I find the best results when I focus on the present moment and play spontaneously.Vancouver in bloom, recently.
And you are also an activist, right? We have a mutual friend who was head of Greenpeace, and I believe you two met at a conference.
Yes, I remember being surprised to find out we both knew Shai Naides! I met him at the Web of Change conference at Hollyhock on Cortes Island in 2016 when he was working for Greenpeace in SE Asia. I was there while working for Public Outreach, which is a fundraising company supporting nonprofit clients including Greenpeace. I have huge respect for Shai’s work in SE Asia, like I know how challenging it can be to engage the public with environmental campaigns in North America, and he really opened my eyes to the realities of the work internationally in countries with less freedom of expression and assembly.
What sort of movements are you involved in? What’s important to you right now?
Environmentalism and social justice, humanitarianism, democracy, public health, and human rights. The pandemic has really revealed how interconnected so many struggles are, just how vulnerable many are in today’s society and economy including myself but especially those with the greatest barriers to wellbeing. So what’s important to me now is what we accept as this “new normal” we keep hearing about—whose new normal will it be? How are those in power held accountable during ongoing emergency situations? Who is controlling access to services in person, and information via social media in the age of fake news? Will universal basic income remain accessible to all? Will we keep bailing out failing industries? What jobs are considered essential? How will public health security measures affect the democratic process from elections to political gatherings? Now that we’ve responded en mass to minimize the threat of a deadly virus, how we will transition that political will to address the other crises of our time like economic inequality, social justice and climate emergency?
Do you see a link between your DJ self and your activist self? Or in other words, do you think music and activism go hand in hand? Or are they two completely separate worlds for you?
DJing and activism can go hand in hand or be completely separate for me. I love DJing cause-based events. But I also love DJing events that have nothing to do with activism, like an old school vinyl-only rave where I’m asked to play only tracks of a certain genre and year, or a party where someone asks me to play an hour of only minimal techno or bass at 130bpm with persistent false quintuplet momentum from hi-hats every third sixteenth note each bar. Even just to keep that original PLUR vibe of rave alive is inherently political to me, I’ve been partying since the ‘90s when it was a much more revolutionary counter-culture movement, and before COVID I was already lamenting the retreat into social isolation I’ve observed over the past couple decades due to the rise of social media. Let’s not forget how to dance together, ok?Vancouver is a bike friendly city, however this timeless transport is not for the faint of heart given the city's weather.
In recent years, labels like Ninja Tune and others have started doing small steps towards reducing the carbon footprint of pressing vinyl, by not sealing packages with shrink-wrap. Do you feel this is enough or do you think the music industry should do more?
I mean, it’s never enough. But every little choice adds up. I don’t think it’s merely virtue signaling to celebrate incremental wins. Individual decisions matter, influential corporate changes can have resonance so Ninja Tune tweaking business as usual will have some impact. Change needs to happen urgently at scale to be significant in addressing climate emergency. Physical sales of music products in the streaming age has such a small carbon footprint compared to the live music concert and tour industry, I think reducing the amount of human travel required to earn a living as a musician, and to experience music as an audience, is necessary.
We are doing this interview through this COVID-19 global pandemic. What do you think the role of music, musicians, and activists is at this time? Do you see any clear actionable path ahead?
The pandemic has really brought into focus how much socializing everyone took for granted as normal before social distancing and isolation. Experiencing the explosion of live streaming events as canceled in-person gatherings migrate to interactive social media broadcasting, has been really exciting to behold. But it’s been tragic to see how precarious so many musicians have been living, and how vulnerable our lives are to disruptions like this. So the role of music and musicians more than ever has been to entertain during tough times, to give voice to the feelings of the moment including the anxiety and grieving, and as catalysts for community connection through social media and virtual reality. The role of activists now is even more vital, as society’s most vulnerable feel the impact of the pandemic the worst. Activism is much more difficult during a pandemic, both to keep healthy and find the time and energy for it, to break through a news cycle fixated on a single all-encompassing issue, as well as to physically defend against injustices happening in inaccessible areas under cover of the emergency. The actionable path forward will require some new socially-acceptable means of assuring each other of our individual health risk levels before sharing physical space together again, while simultaneously ensuring that new public health protocols and in-person etiquette don’t infringe unduly on our freedoms and get exploited for profit at the public’s expense.
I’m guessing your future gigs are canceled at this time. Any new initiatives you’ve been thinking about to get your music out there?
You’ve guessed correctly, sadly. I was looking forward to playing summer festivals, I had quite a few gigs lined up. I DJ a lot under normal circumstances, so it’s actually been refreshing to take a breather. I’ve only done 2 live streams during the pandemic, both low key sets from my studio playing old school atmo jungle vinyl. I’m taking this opportunity to focus on physical and mental health, taking some deep breaths before diving back into shared space. New initiatives to get my music out there are putting time into original music production and starting a record label. And to keep on recording mixes, it’s not a new initiative but it’s something I still see as valuable both for the recording DJ’s creative process, and for the listener not having to choose the next song or have an algorithm do it for them. Making this mix was a welcome pursuit that helped keep me sane and creatively engaged for the past month, I appreciate the opportunity and am grateful to share it now for others to enjoy, wherever people may be in their shared/isolated experience.
Well, good luck with your endeavors and thank you for taking the time and for the mix!
- Alejandro Bento - Tonal [Subtempo, 2016]
- Clara Rockmore & Nadia Reisenberg - The Swan (Saint-Saëns) [Delos, 1987]
- Nils Frahm - Black Notes [Erased Tapes, 2020]
- Fluctuate - Shore [Subtempo, 2019]
- Lechuga Zafiro - Oracao (Pense & Dance) ft. Linn da Quebrada [NAAFI, 2020]
- Dengue Dengue Dengue - Decaón ft. Prisma & Martin Boder [Enchufada, 2019]
- Ruhig - Invoke [Semantica, 2020]
- JLIN - Blue i [Planet Mu, 2018]
- The Kurstins - Gymnopedie #3 (Satie) [Rouge, 2000]
- JLIN - Carbon 12 [Planet Mu, 2018]
- Steve Reich - Piano Phase (D Note’s Phased & Konfused Mix) [Nonesuch, 1999]
- The Seshen - Flames & Figures [Tru Thoughts, 2016]
- Stray - Fragile [Exit, 2014]
- Isaac Aesili - Rain Gods ft. Rachel Fraser [Bastard Jazz, 2020]
- United Future Organization - My Foolish Dream [Talkin’ Loud, 1993]
- Angélique Kidjo - Lonlon (Ravel’s Bolero) [Razor & Tie, 2007]
- Honey Oat - Wall-paint (Time Wharp remix) [Astro Nautico, 2019]
- Radiohead - Nude [XL, 2007]
- Dj Food - Hour Glass [Ninja Tune, 2001]
- Dj Food - Looking Glass [Ninja Tune, 2001]
- Pinch - Lazarus [Tectonic, 2007]
- Klaves - What I Like (DIFFERENT SLEEP remix) [Symbols, 2013]
- Congi - Somnium (VIP) [Deep Heads, 2014]
- Quark, Ruckspin & Planas - Miserere [Ranking Audio, 2007]
- The Cinematic Orchestra - A Promise (feat. HEIDI VOGEL) (PC’s Cirali Mix) [Domino, 2020]
- Max & Harvey - Big Amoeba Sound [Ninja Tune, 2000]
- Massive Attack - (Exchange) [Circa, 1998]
- Cio D'or - Triplet [Semantica, 2020]
- Lack - Inside [Livity Sound, 2020]
- Architectural - Fragment 02 [Semantica, 2020]
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