By Jonathan Crane
CALGARY — November 30th marks the release of Airplane Mode, the new EP from Calgary house music artist and label executive Casey McMechan, known professionally as Rusty Meeks.
It’s his first solo release since late last year. It presents an opportunity to reflect on everything he’s done in the interim period, as well as the progress made by Substation Recordings, the label he runs alongside fellow Calgarian artist Isis Graham.
“We have had a few breakthroughs this year. It’s all been up, it’s all on the up and up,” says McMechan. “We finally had our very first featured release since the rebrand, which is not an easy feat on Beatport.”
The rebrand in question took place towards the end of 2013 when the label transitioned from its bass-intensive origins to its current house-focused iteration. It also served to shift the focus to local talent.
“We had some pretty big singles, but it always felt kind of weird because I’d say 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the artists that we signed to that label were in other countries on the other side of the world… Now I think what we’re building is a lot more grassroots and about trying to bring the community together,” says McMechan.
As McMechan explains, this philosophy is partially responsible for shaping the eclectic sound that’s characterized recent Substation releases.
“One thing with running a label that’s super focused on local producers, but trying to maintain a really high quality, is that you have to branch out a little bit more and be a little more open to different styles from producers because you’re dealing with a smaller roster of potential artists to sign.”
“Branching out” from the more commonplace stylings of house music is something that can be heard on McMechan’s own tracks. Airplane Mode’s title track, for example, contains field recordings he compiled at the Houston airport.
“I definitely can say that me and Isis have zero tolerance for really generic sounds… if it’s not a little quirky and strange and if it sounds too generic, we’re just over it.”
This musical direction is also inspired by Meek’s club performances.
“At Habitat, which is where I probably play the most often, I think as a DJ you get rewarded there more by playing unique left-field stuff because so many of the people that go there are DJs or producers,” he says. “I think other DJs like to be surprised by new tunes, definitely that left field sort of theme.”
McMechan is currently a co-host of Noir, a residency at Habitat that incorporates live congas and saxophone. It allows him to witness firsthand the effects that Substation releases have on both the dance floor and the collective psyche of the scene.
“My favorite part about the whole thing, honestly, is going to the clubs and hearing Substation tracks beings played and seeing guys in Substation T-shirts and people that are excited about the albums,” he says. “The fact that they’re listening and they’re staying on top of the blogs that we’re posting, and they’re supporting the label in other ways, just that alone is a really good sign.”
Rusty Meeks releases Airplane Mode on his own Substation Recordings on November 30th. Catch him at the monthly Noir event at Habitat.AB, Airplane Mode, Alberta, Habitat Living Sound, Rusty Meeks