Kanye West likely won’t be in attendance this time around for the Smalltown DJs set Saturday (Dec. 15) at the GLC, but it shouldn’t make a difference for the globetrotting duo, who’ve been rocking out on some of the world’s biggest stages for over a decade.
Banking on their growing success in the past few years — which included a private set for Lollapalooza featured artists like Kanye, Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead in 2008 — Calgary’s Pete Emes and Mike Grimes are wrapping up another jet-setting year that saw them push even closer to the forefront of the ever-fickle electronic music industry.
The longtime friends were instrumental in fostering Calgary’s nascent electronic scene, founding Hai Karate, a weekly showcase of the best hip-hop, dance and house music, which just celebrated its 13th anniversary.
“We basically started a DJ night together in Calgary a long time ago and it kind of grew from there,” said Emes. “It’s grown into this thing that was bigger than we imagined when we started out just playing records that we liked.”
Since then, the turntablists have developed into highly sought-after producers, with some of the world’s biggest DJs spinning their tracks, including the funky Boom Ha featuring Canuck rapper Shad and fellow Calgarian Wax Romeo, which appeared in an episode of the hit HBO series Girls this year.
“We knew that the song had been licensed to an HBO show, but I didn’t know (which one). Then when it aired a bunch of people hit me up, and my wife was like ‘Hey, I can’t believe your song was on Girls!’” said Emes. “It’s sometimes hard for people to relate to what you’re doing, but with something like that it’s pretty universal, it has a way wider audience. When you’re working hard and making music, it seems like a tangible payoff. Financially, it’s not huge but it’s more like a good way to get your music out there.”
The international exposure that the Smalltown DJs are now enjoying can be traced back to 2008, a year they spent playing weekly shows at the Mandalay Bay’s Eyecandy bar in Las Vegas. (Whistler’s own Mat the Alien played Thursday nights that year in the same bar.) Following their Friday night shows at the world-class casino, promoters paid to fly the boys wherever they wanted to go in North America. Instead of trekking back home to Calgary, they would often venture to different venues in the U.S. that had never played before.
“It really opened up a lot of different markets for us in the States because we were more mobile and more able to reach these different spots,” said Emes, who admitted that they now count fans across the American Southwest because of their stint in Vegas.
Coming of age in the ‘90s, before the prevalence of the Internet and the widespread availability of cheap music production equipment and software, the Smalltown DJs have been privy to the transformation of electronic music from a small niche genre to a worldwide phenomenon that has translated into big bucks for record labels and event promoters looking to cash in on its growing popularity.
Electronic music’s move from the underground to the mainstream has been a longtime coming, said Emes, and he’s happy to have played a part, however small, in the scene’s growth.
“There’s a bigger audience in North America now, which is phenomenal. A lot of people hate on some of these big producers that are doing really well, but I think that it’s opening doors for everyone,” he said. “It’s really cool to see because we always looked to Europe for inspiration because it was so big over there in the ‘90s and 2000s, so I feel like there was always the desire for that to happen over here and … it just seemed like it was taking forever, so it’s gratifying to see now.”
With a seemingly endless supply of new DJs and producers sprouting up online every day, Emes said a lot of newcomers forget the most important aspect of DJing: rocking the crowd.
“I think sometimes people end up wanting to DJ not necessarily because they love the music, but because they love the idea of playing music in front of people,” he said. “Everybody does it for different reasons but for us, we want to throw the best party every time we play … Having fun with it is key because at the end of the day, it is a job but it’s probably the funnest job you could ever have.”
Smalltown DJs return to Whistler Saturday at the GLC, with the show starting at 9:30 p.m. Call the venue at 604-905-2220 for tickets. The first 100 will be $10, with the remaining tickets available for $15.