By Paul Rodgers
CALGARY – BeatRoute caught up with Isis Graham, just before she and fellow Alberta Electronic Music Conference (AEMCON) founder Andrew Williams departed for the Amsterdam Dance Event, an annual pilgrimage for the veteran DJs and promoters, both for enjoyment, and as an opportunity to network and talent scout for the following year’s AEMCON. ADE is a major source of inspiration for Graham and she strives to bring that experience to the people of Alberta, and the calibre of this year’s event demonstrates how well she is accomplishing that.
“This year’s event is probably three times as large as last year and not just large in the sense of size and scale, it’s like the quality and the level of speakers we’re bringing are much larger,” Graham says. “There’s more international presence, the panels that we’ve chosen this year are challenging content.”
Some changes have been made following last year’s event. Graham says they were “overwhelmingly surprised and happy with the fact that some of they conference rooms were not big enough … so we knew right away we had outgrown that level of conference.” There will be a little less focus on technical arts on the program, and more on the business side of the industry.
“Last year was a lot of exploration, seeing what people were more interested in and we got a bit of a road map for the things that people preferred.”
Aspiring artists who want to learn how to make money, and what to do with that money, have tonnes of options for panels this year in which they can be in the presence of a huge range of industry professionals, speaking about things like online marketing, building your artist team and the best and worst of running a record label. AEMCON has brought in heavyweights like Chris Goss from Hospital Records and Siofra McComb from !K7, as well as more boutique-size label owners like Sleeper and Pezzner.
Graham, who despite being known as a house DJ, says she is a “huge drum and bass fan at heart” and explains that while there is an impetus of drum and bass in their conference programming, there is less of it in the nightlife than there was last year. This year there is less techno during the day but plenty of it at night, including Discwoman DJs from New York and Toronto and the live techno performance of Octave One and their Exploring the Mothership workshop, which is an exclusive performance, the only time it will happen in North America.
Also brand new this year is the inclusion of video game audio workshops, yet another way of demonstrating the broad scope of creating electronic music and sounds.
AEMCON this year showcases a massive amount of diversity in terms of both genre and representation of different genders, LGBTQ communities and cultures. This is achieved by a huge level of collaboration between different organizations around the city. AEMCON organizers meet with numerous promoters to determine “how [they] want the world to see Alberta.”
“Every promoter gets to use their own ideas and what they’re passionate about to put forward headliners and then we go, ‘great, how can we take those headliners and integrate them into an educational platform that speaks to people that are on the other side of the learning curve?’ I don’t think that there’s anywhere in the world that does this this way.”
By working with different promoters, and groups like Indigenous Resilience in Music and Afros in the City, who are working to bring underrepresented artists to the forefront, a high level of genre and cultural diversity is achieved, with acts like A Tribe Called Red and South Africa’s gqom king DJ Lag.
Graham says she doesn’t want the lineup to be the same every year. On top of the diverse array of talent and speakers coming from across Canada and around the world, there is also a strong contingent of Alberta’s DJs supporting the entire event, with new, up and coming artists being given a platform to share their art.!K7, AEMCON, Alberta Electronic Music Conference, Amsterdam Dance Event, Isis Graham, Pezzner, Sleeper