By Jamie McNamara
CALGARY — Modern Math has been gracing Calgarians with the deeper, darker and usually more interesting side of dance music since 2009. Founders Dan Solo and Sandro Petrillo were mainstays in the Calgary bass music scene before life took them to carried them off to other cities. After a natural ebb in activity, the pair are queuing up a new crop releases and celebrating with a massive return to Calgary’s nightlife scene this month. BeatRoute sat down with Modern Math to talk about its beginnings, inspirations and comeback.
Sandro Petrillo: Dan was working down at the record store, Phonics [later named Giant 45], and I kind of weaseled my way in there. Dan was showing me the ropes behind the decks a little bit. I remember we threw a little party in the record store. That was really a jumping point for Dan and I to do some stuff together.
Dan Solo: We were really into this particular strain of music—dubstep, U.K. bass and the like. There was a small community of like 30 people that were into it at the time and we decided that to find a space where we could start playing this kind of stuff on the regular. We put it out there that we wanted a venue and wanted to do something different. I think we had a vision of what we wanted, but we never knew it would be as good as what we got when Sandro discovered Lord Nelson’s.
SP: It was just this weird, janky venue and people were like, “Whoa, we can really make this into something that’s really great.”
DS: We did it without any expectations. On the very first night it was completely rammed with like 150 people, most of which we’d never seen before but also most of which continued to come like every weekend over the two and a half year period. A lot of people that were there on that first night, those are the people that you see doing other bass music crews in town.
SP: We were able to bring in a lot of amazing acts. They were big players in the dubstep scene but they were still very underground. Our intention with our night wasn’t like, “Oh, we’re going to bring these people in and it’s just going to sell out and it’s going to be so tight and we’re going to make tons of money.”
The Modern Math night at Lord Nelson’s eventually came to an end after noise complaints from neighbours. After that, the two decided to turn the night into a record label to continue curating music. It’s a process that has moved at a variable but natural pace.
DS: I think Sandro and I both have an aesthetic that is kind of intangible that we can’t really articulate into words. Clean, minimalist, curated—things like that come to mind when I think of what our vision is. We want something that is uniform, yet organic. We want something that essentially tells a story and follows an arch.
After releases including a widely-praised EP by Sanctums, Solo and Petrillo eventually left Calgary for Vancouver Island and Toronto, respectively. The move resulted in a brief hiatus of Modern Math releases.
SP: We were moving around a lot and there are internal things with how the business is run. These things add up and I think what happens is that sometimes people get involved and visions can change. When that happens and there’s any sort of communication error it really slows things down.
DS: There was no conscious decision to stop what we were doing. We had another partner involved in the label at the time who wasn’t involved in the events series and didn’t really know the way Sandro and I worked and the way we kind of bounced ideas off of each other. That was the major spoke in the wheel that just wasn’t in time with what we were doing or what we were feeling.
DS: Sandro’s been doing his music and I’ve been doing a few other projects. It was about stepping back and saying, “OK, I gained all this perspective and all these lessons over the last year or so, now let’s apply them to this shared project we have.” Timing is everything, that’s another thing that we’ve learned.
SP: We’ve always been working on it, even when we we’re dredging through it. It’s great because we’re lucky enough to navigate our actions through this whole energetic field in a sense. Things, luckily enough, have sort of happened when they need to happen. Maybe it was meant to be now as the pivotal moment in Modern Math as a label, or brand.
SP: I think [leaving Calgary] has made it better. I’ve not lived in Calgary for only three months and I definitely miss it. We both invested so much into that culture, but when it comes to a label perspective it’s been great. I think it’s great to be in Calgary and, like I said, I will champion Calgary or any small place that’s really trying to push it. I come out here [Toronto] and tell people stories about what we’ve done in Calgary and people just don’t believe it. To me, it makes me want to push harder and wave this flag. Go to these big centres and be like, “This is what we did in Calgary and this is the Canadian sound that we’re pushing.”
DS: I think as far as how we said we want to represent local talent and nurture up and coming new artists, being in different locales, just gives us more artists to choose from. He’s got locals out there, I’ve got locals on the west, and then we’ve got locals in Calgary. It just expands our reach of who we can get to know in the underground.
DS: I’m a parent of three children and I could talk about my kids all day. It’s kind of the same with Modern Math. There are so many micro-stories and different things that we could go off on for hours. What I’m taking from this conversation that I may not have realized before is that the way it’s grown and the way it’s changed is much like watching a child grow up. There are the different phases of development that we’ve gone through and the ebbs and flows that come with them. Just like I’m excited to see my children grow up, I’m really excited to see where this goes.
SP: I just feel lucky that people still like the shit we’re putting out.
Modern Math returns with a special show featuring Piranha Piranha, Sergio Levels, Slope, Kline and Crimson at the Hifi Club on July 18.AB, Alberta, HIFI Club, Modern Math