Small town catalysts rock Tumbler Ridge

Joshua Newman mixes the tunes at the Small Town Catalysts event at the Tren mountain Hotel on August 17.

Trent Ernst, editor

A small town set in the middle of the Northern Rockies and home to a whole bunch of coal miners would not be the first place one might look for a vibrant electronic music scene, that typically the domain of London, New York, Paris, Rome or even Vancouver.

But for a crew of local musicians and artist enamoured with the art of spinning disks, there’s no reason why Tumbler Ridge can’t be ground zero for a beachhead of this style of music in the north.

At the core of the group is Joshua Neumann, a local artist who has been performing as a DJ since 2003. He says the whole thing started as an accident. A couple friends kept egging him on to play. He demurred, until meeting Brendon Hibbing through his brother. “Brendon was a basement DJ,” says Neumann, who was excited to meet the up-and-coming performer. So they started making plans to perform at the Coal Bin Pub, where they were joined by local rap artist Billy D.

“I had a hard time explaining to the owner at the Coal Bin that I was creating a set of music that I was mixing and people couldn’t just come up and request songs.”

The concept of DJ is a difficult one to explain for someone raised on the idea of a DJ being the guy who played the music on the radio, or the guy at the wedding who plays songs and takes request. A closer analogue is a club DJ, who not only plays songs, but combines them with samples, beats, and even other songs to create a new song or variation on a song.

Neumann was worried that most people wouldn’t understand the performance aspect of club DJing, but discovered his worries were in vain. “I didn’t know how it would work, but we decided to just try it out. The support that had come back has been awesome.”

The musical collective has performed two shows since; a second at the Coal Bin, then the most recent at the Trend Mountain Hotel, where the party began at 6:30 and went into the wee hours of the morning. Close to 160 people were at the show. “For us it’s not about making money,” says Neumann. “It’s about providing people with fun. And it gets us out of the basement.”

Because of the remix nature of electronic music, says Neumann, it has forced him to listen to music that he might never have considered before, from classical to jazz to blues to country. And electronic music is starting to invade everything, even country music.

Hibbing says that, while the group is interested in stretching themselves and the musical conventions, the performances are a negotiation between the artist and the crowd. “We’re meeting people half way. When it’s up just us jamming in the basement, we play stuff that nobody would have heard. When we play live its give and take. You have to meet them in the middle. Slowly you start throwing stuff at people that they might not be familiar with.”

Hibbing says his goals are bigger than Tumbler Ridge. “I was at Shambala this year,” he says (Shambala is one of the biggest electronic music festivals in Western Canada). “When I was out in the crowd dancing I realized I was on the wrong side of the deck. I’m going to keep at it. I don’t hold anything against people who play other people’s music but I want to start doing producing. I want to make my own music.”

To those ends, Hibbing has hooked up with Carter NeHring, a driller at PRC and rap artist to form the group Stretch. The two performed at the most recent event at the Trend Mountain Hotel.

For Neumann, though, he’s happy watching and helping Hibbing realize his dreams. “I have two kids. I’ve had my time. I’m good. Now I just want to have fun. I love watching my friends make it. I’ll play parties, and watch people have fun. At the last gig I was done by 11:30 and I was like ‘sweet, now I can just listen and dance.’ I love watching my friends get big. I push them to get big. I love teaching people how to play turntable.”