Rave on

New documentary delves into Winnipeg’s electronic dance past

Maybe you’ve danced slick with sweat at the Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition (MEME), but were you ever at Wellington’s on Albert St. back in the day? Do the names Joe Silva and Ali Khan mean anything to you? Were you listening to Anthony Augustine’s radio show before electronic music gained mainstream recognition?

After almost a decade in the film industry, Amy Simoes realized the need to create a documentary about Manitoba’s underground dance scene.

As a creative communications student at Red River College, Simoes needed to create her independent professional project (IPP), a major component of the program. With Electronic Roots, she plans to tell the story of the underground music scene in Manitoba, but mainly Winnipeg, during the 1980s and 1990s.

Too young at the time to participate, she says she now feels a sense of responsibility to share the memories of those who were there and have entrusted their past to her.

Local producer and DJ Kelly Money says those early dance days were really special.

“For [the] few hundred of us who experienced the first years, nothing else can compare. Nothing ever could unless something absolutely new happens again,” Money says. “Unfortunately we’ve gone from art and craft to commodity. Now you can only hope for an interesting or well-conceived medium or delivery method.

“True raves were held in dark warehouses filled with artists and the musically curious, not with drugged-out scenesters.”

An experienced participant in dance culture, Winnipegger Leslie Fast says there’s been a real change in the scene.

“Promoters usually had a smattering of everything at shows. These days, events tend to have less genre variation,” she says.

However, Fast says a little change can be positive.

“I think that every scene has its crotchety elders that complain about how much better things used to be,” she says. “While I miss some aspects of the bad old days, Winnipeg’s electronic music scene has grown and diversified, which ultimately gives people access to more music.”

Simoes hopes to dispel stereotypes and relates a conversation she had this summer during MEME with Boddhi Satva, a Belgium-based producer and DJ, about breaking down assumptions.

“There is a lot of stereotypical thinking about electronic music, but under it all is a steady, calm beat that was there in the beginning of music, the beat of the tribe,” Simoes says.

Simoes has seen cardboard boxes stuffed full of old flyers and posters, as well as all kinds of old costumes, and even received a single copy of a VHS tape of an old event from Disco Kitty. However, when these parties were happening, the kind of personal electronic devices people carried with them were pagers. As a result, there is very little original footage available, and what there is often is very turbulent camera work.

Still, Simoes compensates for the lack of clear footage.“Half the events I’ve been to in the last six months I’ve had a camera in my hand. It’s always work, but it’s good work,” she says. 

Simoes hopes to have the final cut of Electronic Roots ready for next summer.

Published in Volume 68, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 13, 2013)

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