Babe Rainbow makes Toronto a little uncomfortable
When Vancouver's Babe Rainbow moved to Toronto earlier this year, the west coast's loss was Ontario's gain. Warp Records artist Cameron Reed has been settling into the city's electronic scene, and will open for New York rapper LE1F this Friday at Moskito + Bite.
The day before Reed's thirtieth birthday and just two days after he returned from a five week tour of Europe, we hooked the producer, musician, organizer, and writer up with one of our favourite Trinity Bellwoods dogs--the photogenic Otto Krahn--before Reed headed downtown to buy his first ever winter parka.
After Reed and Krahn made fast friends, Reed answered questions about Friday's Babe Rainbow set, touring in experimental R&B artist How to Dress Well's band, writing Canadian politics for Vice Magazine, and his smooth transition from Vancouver to Toronto.
You have so much going on that I don't know how we're going to fit it all into one interview, so let's get to Babe Rainbow right away. What's your set going to be like on the 16th?
Cameron Reed [CR]: I'm currently working on a set that consists of two or three long form ambient piano-based pieces that I wrote on the road. I'm trying to put some really low-key, minimal beats under it, but the core--the way it was written--was as three, ten minute long ambient pieces where I want to try to naturally play the piano, and then have the ambience and all the other production coming in and out on top.
I'm hoping that it'll be ready--that's the plan. Otherwise, I may do one of my Babe Rainbow live sets, which is a cross-section of a lot of the music I've produced over the last few years, with a bunch of new stuff I've written in the last six months--but I'm really working hard on this.
What have you found is an ideal live show for Babe Rainbow, from the line-up, to the venue, to the audience?
CR: I've actually played with a pretty decent collection of different artists; I played in a church with Oneohtrix Point Never, which was an awesome experience and I mostly did a sort of low-key, ambient set that night; I also have really enjoyed playing bigger rooms where it's more of a dark dance vibe. When I did a short tour with oOoOO a little while ago, we played a show in LA with Pictureplane, and it was more of a dance vibe. I think with that sort of line up--where you have other artists that have darker aesthetics even though they might be making hip-hop based music or rave throwback music--similar aesthetics and approaches really help to set a vibe. Even if your music doesn't necessarily work together on paper, the energy of the crowd [tells you that] they get it; they see the line between the artists involved.
I feel somewhat fortunate that a lot of the music I've produced in the last four or five years is diverse enough that I can pick and choose what I want to play in different settings. I do really like doing those small church shows, but I also really love playing parties.
I think Babe Rainbow's going to be a great opener for LE1F: you have a similar dark but cheeky vibe, yet you achieve very different sounds. Do you know him at all, and do you think you'll ever collaborate?
CR: I met him very briefly in Vancouver and Portland, while I was performing in How to Dress Well. He was opening for Lemonade and it seemed like they had a similar route to us--we kept ending up at the same shows--and we were able to have a few drinks after our show in Vancouver. He seems really nice. I've worked with a handful of people that have produced for him, but I've never really approached him as far as doing anything with him. This might actually be the opportunity to talk to him about that.
I think he's a phenomenal rapper, and understated--I think a lot of people are paying too much attention to the scene that he is allegedly coming out from, and not enough people are saying outright that he is just a fantastic rapper, and has a really great vision in terms of the type of production that he works with. He's a really great performer, too, so I look forward to that.
You recently moved to Toronto from Vancouver, where you were really connected to the music scene. Why did you make the change, and how's the transition been for you?
CR: The transition has been pretty seamless. I tried to not make a huge deal of leaving; I love Vancouver and it was difficult to leave, but by joining How to Dress Well's touring band and knowing I was going to be on the road so much, it made sense for me to give up my apartment in Vancouver. I was already resigned to the fact that I would be giving up a lot of the things that kept me in Vancouver, like music festivals I was involved in (Music Waste and The Victory Square Block Party).
When I did end up here it felt natural: I have a lot of friends here. Everyone that I've met since I got here, and in the music scene has been really awesome, open, and inviting. I'm still slowly navigating it as you will in any city, but it's been fantastic. I really enjoyed my Toronto summer; I tried to do as many Toronto things as I could. I went up to cottage country, went camping, and went to the island. The only thing I didn't get to go to was a Jays game, and though I'm not a huge baseball fan, I think that would be a cool thing to go to.
Have you found the music scenes in Toronto and Vancouver different? In what ways?
CR: I was involved in a number of scenes in Vancouver over the years: going to a lot of punk shows, then post punk stuff in my early twenties, then really going into noise and weird punk. I played in a punk band for a while. Then after that band broke up, I slowly started doing Babe Rainbow and getting a bit more into the electronic community and DJ scene, and while I can't necessarily speak to Toronto's weirdo punk scene or noise scene so much, everyone that I've met in the electronic and DJ community has been really awesome, and I do see a lot of similarities.
I would say that main difference is more in terms of environment: Vancouver doesn't have a great deal of bars, so you'll find a lot more events and DJ nights happening in a lot of the little bars in Toronto, whereas in Vancouver those sorts of events are almost exclusively at clubs. I would say that's the main difference: though I was never for want of venues in Vancouver, there's more variety out here.
You've been touring in How to Dress Well's band. Can you tell us about what you do, how you and Tom Krell meet, and how long you've been working together?
CR: We met through mutual friends. My good friend Patrick runs the label Acéphale, which is putting out How to Dress Well's Total Loss in North America, as well as a number of acquaintances through the music industry. Tom and I linked up and chatted online. He was looking to create a live band and was looking for people with the know-how and who also were musicians, and I started looking at some of the music--I thought I'd be able to figure something out.
We created a pretty dynamic set--myself and Aaron Read, who plays synth, pedals, sampler and violin in the band. I play piano, synth, drum machine, and I also do a lot of samples, and launching any backing tracks or samples that are needed.
Are you on the new How to Dress Well album at all?
CR: No, that's all him, and a producer.
You've been touring most of the fall. Do you enjoy being on tour, and what have been some recent high points?
CR: I really enjoy being on tour; I think it's a great way to see the world and definitely see cities that you wouldn't necessarily visit otherwise. I don't know whether I would have ever visited Philadelphia, or Lucerne, Switzerland. I like seeing the way that different countries, different people react to different music and I really like performing live. Playing the Pitchfork Festival in Paris was definitely a recent highlight. That was definitely the most people that I've ever performed for-- easily over a thousand, maybe more.
What's the strangest place you've ever played a show?
CR: On this last tour, we played in Hamburg in what was an anti-aircraft gun tower and munitions cargo space, and it was just this insane, enormous fifteen story structure with five or six foot-thick walls of concrete. We got to go up on top of it and look over Hamburg as the sun was going down, and they still had the areas where the anti-aircraft guns would have been placed--the kickback from those rifles would have been so intense, they had to have another block of eight foot thick concrete underneath them. That was the weirdest place, but it was also an awesome show.
You're also a writer: can you talk about your column on Canadian politics for Vice Magazine? How did that begin, what are you trying to achieve, and what's your head-space like when you're conceiving and writing these pieces?
CR: I was working in advertising, and right around the time that I was laid off from the agency where I was working, myself and a bunch of friends had created a website called ShitHarperDid.com, which was a pitchy humorous site that would remind voters during our last federal election of some of the more questionable policies, characteristics, and beliefs that our prime minister has. The site became viral, and CTV news asked us to create a short sketch comedy series about Canadian politics. We created a series about a group of young people who tried to start their own political party.
Eventually we created an agency that took on work for organizations like Green Peace and our civic party in Vancouver, Vision Vancouver. I'd been working in politics in this way for about a year or so when I was approached by Vice about possibly doing some writing about Canadian politics for them.
My approach has always been to use humour, or at least a light-hearted approach, as a way for people to engage with politics more easily. All politics can be very difficult to engage in when you're not that aware of what's going on. What I wanted to do with Vice was try to write about something as serious as the environment or the new budget, and both provide a summary of what was currently happening in a way that was approachable and easy to read, but that was also somewhat humourous in tone.
I'm one of those people that while I'm watching or reading the news, I'll just yell at it--even yell at the newspaper--and I'll need someone nearby to rant at. So I try to channel these ideas I think are absurd or just generally wrong, and put them on paper.
Do you feel your music and your political writing and beliefs are connected, or separate?
CR: I don't think of them as similar, but if I were to look at myself, I would say that when I'm reading an article or looking at a political issue, it's the ability to try to find the thing that's not there--the thing that's unsaid--and highlight its relevancy or absurdity. You could say that when I sit down to produce music, often I'm not trying to create something normal, but rather trying to find the sound that evokes something other than just the regular emotions.
If you're able to create a melody, song structure, or sound that's able to evoke some sort of anxiety or insecurity--those aren't necessarily emotions that people are trying to get at. Like many producers, I'll take a traditional house structure and bring something in four bars later, then add something else four bars later to make something totally different but still using the same basic loops--I like the idea of completely transforming that original sound. Not building on it and bringing in new elements to intensify one emotion, but rather changing the way the people were thinking about that first thing they heard.
You've released two EPs on Warp Records and an uncountable number of free tracks and remixes online. What's coming up for Babe Rainbow?
CR: I'm excited about these ambient piano pieces I've been writing and I'm really hoping to get those into a place where I can record them. One thing I've been inspired to do playing with How to Dress Well is actually going into a studio and getting people who play cello or violin to record these pieces I write, and recording them as more of an ensemble piece, rather than relying entirely on electronics. I would prefer to do that, and manipulate it in the mixing and arranging. It would be cool to pretend to be a composer for a day.
I'm sitting on a handful of other demos that I was working toward being the next EP, but I haven't been able to find the time to go back to those lately. Hopefully I'll finish those up soon. My friend Markus and I (he was formerly in LOL Boys) are working on a record that's a lot of really dark jazz samples. We jokingly say we're trying to make a trip hop record, but ultimately we're just using dark jazz and basic electronic structures.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite Toronto neighbourhood? Where I live! (Trinity Bellwoods)
Best eats in Toronto? Woodlot
Dog watching, or people watching? Dog.
Favourite Toronto venue? Parts & Labour
Double plaid, or double denim? Double plaid.
Favourite Toronto album or EP from this year? Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces
How to Dress Well at Pitchfork Music Fest photo by Tom Spray.