In Conversation with Sydney Blu
Canadian artist Sydney Blu released her new LP ‘Conviction‘ this March: a meticulously produced, dancefloor-driven collection of electronic music, with the synth-laden, 80s-inspired lead single Monologue transitioning into various shades of deep, tech and melodic house.
Sydney Blu’s career has been one of near-constant evolution. From her early releases on Mau5trap which broke boundaries for female electronic artists to her more recent work alongside artists like Kevin Saunderson and Hot Since 82, everything she has done has been with an unparalleled level of belief and consistency. Now, following a move to Berlin from her native Canada, she has produced perhaps her most fully realised body of work to date with new album, ‘Conviction’.
We sat down with Sydney to chat about the album, how it came about, moving house and all the parts in-between!
How did you first break into the music industry?
I moved to Toronto in 2000 and learned how to DJ on Technic 1200’s (vinyl). Within a year, I started getting small gigs around the city and within 2 years I had residencies all over the city. Over the years I built up my career as a well known local Toronto artist and went to school for music production. After about 8 years of DJing locally, I had a huge hit record called Give it Up for Me on Mau5trap which went #1 on Beatport and got me signed to my first agency and management.
The music you’re making now has changed dramatically since your Mau5trap days. Why did you feel like you wanted to change your sound? Do you think there are any elements from those earlier recordings that have survived?
The music I’m making now is a reflection of who I truly am as an artist. When I first started Djing as a local in Toronto, I played vinyl for the first 6 years of my career. During this time I played authentic deep house and house music influenced from Chicago. I also played dark afterhours into the wee hours of the morning and my music was dark and progressive for those sets. The music I made that Mau5trap signed was definitely more commercial and after a couple years of making and playing music like that I realized I wasn’t being authentic to myself and needed to go back to my roots, the underground. I do, however, think the second record I released on Mau5trap ‘Senses and the Mind’ was not that commercial and I’ve always thought it was stronger than Give it up for Me, even though it did not have the success Give it Up did. ‘Senses’ was a proper classic progressive house sound. So to answer your question, I think my progressive roots have always survived. When I refer to progressive I’m talking about classic progressive house, not EDM appropriated progressive.
You recently returned home to Canada after a move to Berlin. Why did you move out there, and what made you return to North America?
I moved to Berlin to be re-inspired. After touring North America nonstop for years, I wanted to learn about the scene in Berlin because I felt like it existed on its own and was pushing boundaries more than any other city. I was enamoured by it when I arrived, fell in love instantly and had no intention to leave. I returned to North America in March 2020 because I was on a tour coming home to Canada, throwing my event at Miami Music Week and the world shut down. All my shows cancelled, borders closed and the safest place for me to be was my home town in Northern Canada that had not been exposed to the virus yet. I immediately went there to wait out the storm.
How much was your time in Berlin an inspiration on the album?
My time in Berlin was a HUGE inspiration to the album. I was going out all the time to clubs like Katerblau, Sisyphos, Wilde Renate, and Panorama Bar. I wrote more than half of the album in Berlin and was in the studio non-stop while I was there. It was impossible not to be inspired musically by that city. I heard some of the best music of my life there.
How do you find the writing and recording process in general? Is it something that comes fairly naturally?
I used to find it a lot harder than I do now. It took me a while to truly learn the in’s and out’s of writing electronic music but things changed a lot for me after I took Ableton lessons for a couple years. Noah Pred, a fellow Canadian artist, gave me lessons years ago in Toronto and it helped so much. During this time I learned the DAW Ableton in and out because he was a certified Ableton teacher. I also took a course on Maschine several years ago and still play the piano which helps a lot in the writing process. I’d say it comes less naturally than Djing does to me but I’m ALWAYS working at which is the most important thing when getting better at anything.
How did you come to hook up with Fritz Helder on Monologue?
Fritz Helder is also from Toronto and was in a really famous dance act called Azari and III. I was a huge fan of their music and we became friends during that time. In 2015 I released my first artist album Relentless and he did a track on it called ‘Electric Era’ that was more spoken word. I moved to Berlin in early 2019 and he had also been living there so we decided to get in the studio and make Monologue. The process of making Monologue and filming the video it has been such a huge project.
Any other interesting stories behind album tracks, or ones you’d especially like to highlight?
Train to Spandau has a hilarious story behind it. Me and one of my best friends in Berlin took a train across the city to get my Anmeldung, which is how you register at a Berlin flat. Getting a flat in Berlin is extremely hard, there’s currently not enough flats for the people moving there so people sometimes struggle finding one and registration appointments are booked up for 6 months, so I ended up taking an appointment in the furthest location on the train line called ‘Spandau’ because there were no other places available to register. Thank goodness my German friend came with me for translation and directions because I had no idea where I was going and it was an entire day’s journey. I ended up writing a song about it, it was such a hilarious day.
Do you feel like you’ve had to overcome any preconceptions that come with being associated with EDM in the earlier part of your career?
Absolutely. Especially because I refused to change my artist name and create an alias. There are a couple reasons why I did not change my name. One is because I was an underground DJ for 8 years before I had those records out on Mau5trap. Playing more commercial was a 2-3 year blip in a 20 year career (PS I don’t think i ever played ‘EDM’ ..I just played electro house). Another reason is because I never really broke into Europe until recently and when I went to Berlin 2 years ago as Sydney Blu, a Canadian deep house DJ, I was not known for anything other than a brand new DJ living in Berlin that most people had not heard of. I had to work my way up from the bottom there because of that, but I also didn’t need to change my name. Also, I definitely feel the last 5 years have really stapled myself to a specific sound. From my releases on Knee deep in Sound, Katermukke (Berlin), to my current album, people know me for Deep house and Deep Tech House.
You worked a lot with Kevin Saunderson’s KMS label – is there anything in particular you took away with working with such a dance music OG?
Kevin and his family are some of the nicest people I have met in this industry and I love working with him! His label KMS is legendary and my last record ‘Intuition’ on his label did really well. Also, I write music a lot with Dantiez, his son. We released an Ep together on Roger Sanchez’s label back in 2018 and we have another EP coming out in May on Josh Butler’s label ORIGINS!
How has the pandemic affected you, both personally and professionally?
Personally, it allowed me to reconnect with my home town and my mother. I haven’t been in Berlin very much this year except for a couple months in the fall. I technically still live in Germany but I have had to spend most of 2020 in Canada because of the COVID. I’m waiting for things to start opening up before I go back to Berlin. Professionally, I was able to really focus on my music production because I was not touring and this allowed me to get in the studio and finish my album, update my computer with new plug-ins and samples. I’ve actually really enjoyed these benefits of isolation.
What would you like to see change in the industry?
I would like to see record labels sign more female producers to make their rosters close to even 50/50 male/female. I don’t think it is an excuse anymore that there aren’t enough female producers. Beatport, this week for women’s week, has charts featuring all-female producers and these women are charting other female producers. I just did a chart and it’s 80% women. There is no excuse to not have women on your roster. If you don’t get enough demo’s, go and seek these producers out. It’s pretty intimidating for any woman to send a demo to an all-male roster. A&R’s should be talking to their teams about how to make the labels more diverse if you are having this issue.