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Rennie Foster: Crossing Borders

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Canadian producer Rennie Foster is someone who only recently arrived on our radar, but as soon as we scratched under the surface a little, we soon realized that his is a talent that’s been busy bubbling away in the underground for some time now. While the definition of the word ‘underground’ has become slightly diluted in recent times, Foster is without doubt somebody who embodies the spirit of what the term once stood for. His latest musical endeavours are testament to the fact. Released through his own RF label, they see Foster is some form, while the remixes – the likes of which come from Chicago don Amir Alexander – are a truly impressive compliment to the original. We checked in with one of house music’s more genuinely interesting characters to find out more…

So lets start from the beginning. You were initially a hip-hop guy, then a house-head. Was house music popular at that time in Canada? Or were you something of an anomaly? 

I have always been into both; all kinds of dance music, and many other styles of music. I never stopped being a “hip hop guy”. I’m a b-boy for life, Zulu down. I got into “house” at the time that it was a new term coming out of Chicago. “House” described the records that I was hearing in the early 80s on mix tapes alongside hip hop, freestyle, electro, etc., so not “separate” from hip-hop, but totally together with it. It was all connected. I was and still am, into all that stuff. I refuse to see borders between “genres”, only commonalities. punk, hip-hop, house, these are all part of who I am, both now, and then. Eastern Canada definitely embraced house music right out of the gate, but out West, it wasn’t so much the case. I was an anomaly of sorts in my hometown at that time, for sure, and did a lot to push house music on the hip hop community that I was, and still am, a part of. I was very young at that time, so it was before I was going to clubs. For me it was more of a street thing with mix tapes, etc. It wasn’t until “rave” that the area I was living in really embraced house music, but by then, I was already so “deep into the vibe of house”.

Has the scene died out in your part of Canada? Has EDM taken over?

EDM (Exploiting Dance Music) exists in the mainstream, I just try to ignore it as much as I can, or resist it when it gets in my way. I believe there is a good underground scene here in Vancouver, where I currently live. It’s not the biggest, and it has its unique challenges, but the people who are actually doing stuff, like making events and releasing music, seem to have a lot of spirit, which is all I really care about. How “popular” things are, has never been a factor for me.

So what’s a good place to go clubbing in Vancouver then? Where would you recommend? 

Like many cities now, I think there are no clubs that are always great, every weekend. It’s more about the individual events, and promoters that bring them. There is a crew here called “Subversive” that tend to do really good events – more at alternative spaces, rather than clubs. They are consistently on point, IMO. There is a lot of what I call “commercial underground” clubbing here, which is to say, underground music, but totally based on “famous” guest DJs and such. I suppose this is common everywhere now. There is a space called “Open Studios” that does a couple events a month, and it’s a great space, usually very good, but again, dependant upon what event is there. There was a very small, music community oriented event, called “Bonz.ai” that just came to a close, unfortunately. I often went to that, even when I wasn’t playing. There was, until recently, a really great club in Victoria, near Vancouver, called Hush, but they recently closed. They will re-open in a new location, but I am not sure what the new club will be like yet. I think a lot of the really exciting artists here are not as active playing out here as they should be, and rather there is a lot of “scenester” type locals who play out regularly on the strength of their ability to bring their friends rather than actual artistic merit. Again, I think that is common in many cities now though, not especially here. Although the club scene is not as strong as larger cities, I should mention though that there is an exceptional “festival” scene, mainly during the summer months, that is really something extraordinary. I played a festival called “Bass Coast” this year that I felt was exceptional. I am also looking forward to playing at Rifflandia, another amazing festival on Vancouver Island, for the third year in a row. 

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Do you get to play in your hometown often? Are you still involved with the local scene?

I think I play quite often here, considering I am not a promoter, or a socialite. I want to play more locally, but I am often very busy in the studio, or playing elsewhere. I am definitely involved with the scene though, mostly through actively trying to support local music creators. I sometimes give talks and workshops through the “Vancouver Producer’s Forum”, and make a point of playing a lot of locally produced music in my sets and promoting those artists. I really believe that the core of a thriving “scene” is awareness and support for art that is created within, and not just outsourcing “big name” talent from elsewhere. So I am pretty outspoken and active in that area. I am very thankful to local promoters who support and book me. I try to bring something unique to the table(s) when I play here and return their support with my own manner of support, but I don’t do local DJ politics. It’s been slow going since moving back to North America, but I am definitely building a strong following, I have a good support base here now. In surrounding cities like Portland and Seattle as well. I played Seattle several times this year thanks to folks like Chad Neiro from Viva, Innerflight and Cody Morrison.  

Who are your favourite DJs and producers to emerge from the city over the past few years?

I am a big fan of a local fellow called The Passenger and as well you will hear artists like Max Ulis, Monolithium, Project Pablo and Jesse Bru in my sets regularly. I work with a local MC here called Moka Only, who is one of the most prolific rappers in the underground anywhere right now. Of course legends like Jay Tripwire are still here doin’ it. As well, I’m working with many others who have left, like Hrdvsion and Noah Pred in various ways.

Do you tend to go out clubbing much when you’re not playing these days? Aside from music, what else takes up a lot of your time?

I very rarely go to clubs when I am not playing. I spend enough time in clubs as it is. Although once in a while I will get inspired to go out and dance, and of course check out the music. There is so much aggressive promotion happening now that there is a sort of disconnect to what looks like it’s poppin’ off on the internet and what is really working on the dance floor. Sometimes it takes a little field study to get the whole picture. Anyway, I have twin daughters that I want to spend as much time as possible with before they grow up, and as well I am always very busy in the studio.

Didn’t you recently move back to Canada from Tokyo? How did you find the culture over there? Did you master the language in your time over there?

I can communicate in Japanese, but I wouldn’t say I “mastered” the language, that’s for sure. My kids are totally bi-lingual though and did all their elementary schooling in Japanese public school. Japanese culture is very complicated, it’s not something I can easily describe to you in an interview answer. It’s like an onion, many many layers.

They’re almost ridiculously enthusiastic about dance music in that part of the world. obsession for Western culture? 

Japanese people are not, by and large, “obsessed” with Western culture. It may look like that in some ways, but only superficially. If you live there a long time, you will understand that it is mainly just on the surface. There is a long tradition of dance music there that goes back quite far, with Larry Levan going there and an early appreciation for what was happening underground in New York and elsewhere. There is a strong contingent of serious music heads there, who take the history very seriously, and hold the traditions of dance music subculture very dear. Honestly, I wish we had more of that in North America, where it seems superficiality and “fame” have really taken hold, not just in mainstream “EDM”, but also in the so-called “underground” in many ways.

Continued on page 2

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