Introducing Rhombi - Diversity in Dubstep #9

Introducing Rhombi

Diversity in Dubstep #9

After a brief (and unintentional – life, you know?) hiatus, we’re back with the latest addition to the Diversity in Dubstep series here on FatKidOnFire. There are at least two more coming after this so we should have a smoother continuation of interviews and mixes before we see the end of 2021.

Today’s interviewee/ guest DJ is an important part of their community, calling Thunder Bay, Ontario home and doing all they can to champion the 140 (and wider electronic) sound locally and further afield. I’ve been looking forward to having a chat with H for ages, and I’m glad to say this one doesn’t disappoint.

It’s a long chat, but one worth sticking with for all the good stuff we talk about. Hit the mix, grab a cup of something nice and settle in – this is all things Rhombi

Heather, how are you doing? What’s been going on? Hey Wil! What’s good? I’m doing really well, managing to stay optimistic through this pandemic so far. I’m thrilled to share this mix with everyone and am really grateful for the opportunity to share about my creative process as well as represent for non-binary and indigenous DJs in so-called Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. 

Your mixes have popped up across a broad range of the who’s who in 140 over the last few years, but you do a bunch more than just mix. How would you introduce yourself – tell us more about Rhombi? This is a little bit complicated for me to answer! 

The Canadian/ colonial way of introducing myself would be to give my name and that’s about it (haha). I live and work on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) people, so I think it’s important for me to give context to where I live before I tell you who I am.

You’ll see me refer to Turtle Island in this interview, when I say that I’m referring to what North America/ Canada was called before colonisation. I know a “land acknowledgement” is contentious but for readers who aren’t familiar with Indigenous protocols I think it might be interesting to give this context.

Hey, I’m H and I’m from Animikii-wiikwedong. I’m a non-binary person and in my day-to-day life I work in the addictions and mental health field for an Indigenous organisation. I’m a co-founder of the Thunder Bay Bass Collective, a group of dedicated DJs and producers working to promote bass music events and sound system culture in Northwestern Ontario. I also co-host a radio show on my local station CILU 102.7FM called Audio Vomit, which is a 2 hour show featuring electronic music and live mixing from a variety of local DJs

How did your journey into music begin? My journey into music began at a really young age, like 3 or 4 I think? I was involved in this group called Kindermusik which is a music based education group for children. You learn about the foundations of music in a fun and age appropriate way, which I think is what started a lifelong passion for me. From there I took piano and guitar lessons, then in grade 8 I started playing classical music (oboe) and was involved in a youth orchestra and school band up until I graduated from the public school system. From there I was involved in festival/ event organising until I picked up DJing in 2015 (I think?). So my DJing and beginner production has a classical music foundation which I find informs my set-building and such. 

I grew up in a very musical household, there was always something playing. The soundtrack of my childhood ranged from Marvin Gaye, Sade, Depeche Mode, Motown classics, old school country music, The Clash, Rancid, Madness, etc etc – a huge variety which speaks to my parents diverse tastes in music. 

It’s one I always ask, but what was the first dubstep track you ever heard (if you can remember) and what was your route into 140? I can’t remember the first dubstep track I heard, but I remember hearing Burial’s Untrue album and being totally blown away by it. This introduced me to Hyperdub, then onto Kode9 and The Spaceape. So it was a chain reaction really. From there I think I got into the DEEP MEDi catalogue and the rest is history. I think the first dubstep track that inspired me to start DJing was Kahn – Late Night Blues ft. Rider Shafique, something about that track changed things for me. 

Talk through Thunder Bay Bass Collective (TBBC) – who’s involved, what’s the Collective up to etc? The #tbaybasscollective is a group which is currently on hiatus due to covid, but outside of that includes myself, Lysis (@lysisdnb), Meangeek (@m4ngeek), and rKill (@rkill). We started out as a Facebook group to share and connect over bass music because our local scene was pretty well dominated by house and techno at the time. Overtime, we moved into throwing events, doing radio takeovers on my show, and running a mix series. The collective was founded by myself and Lysis in 2018, with the aim to showcase artists who are actively contributing to underground bass music culture and pushing the boundaries of their craft in Northwestern Ontario. Before the TBBC we didn’t have any DJ collectives locally, so it was something we decided on to boost the electronic scene here. 

You can find our mix series on SoundCloud.

You also host Audio Vomit on LU Radio. Tell us about the show and the station? CILU 102.7fm aka LU Radio is my local campus and community radio station. It’s the campus radio station for Lakehead University. It’s a small station, and is only available locally or online via their website. It’s a small, some-what independent station which has requirements by the CRTC to play as much “can-con” (Canadian content) as possible. Myself, Lysis, and Meangeek all co-host together and either host individually or as a group depending on our availability. The show runs every Saturday from 9:00-11:00pm EST, which makes it perfect for promoting shows and getting everyone excited about going out to the venue later on. We took over the show from another host who moved away, and made it our own through the focus on live mixing, showcasing vinyl or dubplates, and discussing (/ good natured arguing!) about the industry and electronic music overall. We do shows around music festival lineups and reviews as well. 

Right now the show is on hiatus as the station is closed due to our local pandemic restrictions.

How’s Ontario(/ Canada more broadly) for the beats, bass and space scene today? Who of your local producers/ DJs are you rating at the minute? I think we have an amazing 140 scene in Ontario, so many established and upcoming producers and DJs live here. Locally, we don’t have a ton of music producers here so everything is pretty DIY in terms of figuring things out. Some of my favourite local producers include Classic Roots (produces techno) and Blacksheep (produces a variety). As far as local DJs go, I have to give a shout out to the whole bass collective here, as well as Tension, HEKS, and Icosa – all of whom have been integral parts of the scene here. 

I always try to include a lot of producers from so-called Canada in my mixes and sets, some of my favourites include (but aren’t limited to) SBK, Handsome Tiger, Wraz, Abstrakt Sonance, and Tripta. We have such a huge festival scene across Turtle Island that allows for people across the country to all connect with each other and build their own local collectives and collaborate. 

One of the things I’ve always been impressed by in Canada/ North America is the sound systems and wicked venues I’m always seeing vids in or of. What are your local venue/ systems like? What’s the ideal 140 setup for you when playing out? Okay so the first system I need to acknowledge is the 40hz Sound System. Jon, Jen, and the whole crew are some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met. Playing on that system was a dream come true. If anyone reading this has a chance to hear or play on that system, take it. 

My local venue Atmos has arguably the best sound system within the area around us. They run a PK system, which is a speaker manufacturer based in Canada. PK systems are known for their powerful and full bass, which makes those of us in the scene here pretty privileged to be able to have access to it as much as we do. 

The ideal set up for me, beyond gear, is somewhere with a lot of space to move around. I think I prefer festivals or outdoor gatherings over club shows for this reason. Something about playing outside just adds something to the music. This is hard where I live because we have snow on the ground for at least 6 months of the year. 

Your mixes seem to focus on the flow state, mediative eyes-down vibe. How did you get into DJing? I’ve always been into music curation, making mix CDs for friends and playlists for myself and others before I got into DJing. I’ve always been drawn to music as a means of relaxing and getting into a calm state, so I think it was a natural progression to crafting mixes that help me get into that meditative space. I learned to DJ after attending local shows and festivals and thinking “I could do that”. My bass collective homie and best friend Lysis had already been DJing for 10 years at that point and offered me the space and gear at her place to learn. I actually learned how to DJ with DnB and initially used to spin that as well. 

Your FKOF mix is absolute levels. How did this one come about – talk us through the producers featured? This mix came about through a “Festival” crate I’d thrown together throughout the pandemic up until now. All of the tracks/ blends in this mix are ones I would have loved to play at a festival this year and am using this as a means of imagining that. I’m not one of those DJs that needs to have all new music in a mix, I like to have a mixture of brand new and less recent releases. Things move so fast with new works coming out almost daily along with the explosion that happens on Bandcamp Fridays, so I don’t feel too pressured to have a ton of ~exclusives~ or not. I know others have spoken about this, but as an AFAB (assigned female at birth) person in the scene, I feel a lot of pressure to ensure I craft a mix that is well selected and comprehensive, that is even competitive in a way. I know that I need to work hard to stand out from the large number of cis men in the scene. 

All of the artists featured in this mix are some of my favourites and I could speak at length about all of them if given the chance. I do want to draw attention to all of the artists from my part of the world including: Trench Foot, Wraz, Abstrakt Sonance, Handsome Tiger, and SBK.

JFO, 11th Hour, and q100 are also all artists that I keep a close eye on and make sure to buy all of their music.

How do you go about putting a (live or recorded) set together; pre-planned or go with the flow? When I put together a mix, I usually spend about 15 hours on it (including hunting down music, track selection/ order, and recording time). 

When I livestream or play at a local venue, I’m about 50/50 whether I pre-plan or do it on the fly – it really depends on how much time and energy I have. When I secure a larger booking or festival set, that’s generally planned out with room to change if needed. I know there’s some debate on planning vs. going with the flow, I don’t feel pressured to conform to any of that and just do my own thing. I always try to remember “I got booked for a reason” or “they wouldn’t have booked me if they didn’t like what I offer” – we need to spend a lot less time being critical of ourselves and get back to having fun with things. You can be serious about music and still have a good time with it. 

We’ve touched base a few times on the diversity subject over the last few months but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on where we are from a community point of view. What’s working for you, what can we improve and what’s so far from being right that you want to draw attention to? Well… I could write a dissertation on this topic if given the chance so I’ll try to keep it concise here. This is also going to be all over the place because I have A LOT of thoughts about this. 

Within broader context, speaking to society as a whole I think that the UK/ EU and Canadian societies have similarities in regards to the cis male dominated industry as a whole, including but not limited to the embedded misogyny, racism, transphobia, and lack of safety for anyone who isn’t a cis man. Taking intersectionality into perspective, I think these issues compound for anyone not viewed as the “norm”. As well, the pervasive issues of safety at venues and harassment that both DJs and attendees face. I think too often, people with more clout get a pass on their behaviour because that clout somehow leads to people thinking they are more credible or other such nonsense. 

Even with the ongoing racial justice movements globally, the attitudes of marginalisation are so deeply embedded into the foundations of white/ western society that when change is attempted it’s faced with vitriol and violence. I like to think that there is change happening, but for every story of violence or harassment that we hear about there are many more that we don’t. I think that a lot of people feel safe to make nasty comments online as well because they can hide their identity behind a username or fake profile which leads to them getting away with their behaviour in a sense.

Where it starts is cis men holding other cis men accountable, and I don’t mean just giving the bare minimum. It means large artists/ labels having these conversations openly, holding themselves accountable, and using their platforms to actually take a stand. When it comes down to it, the history of soundsystem culture is based in resistance against oppressive forces and is political at the core. I think we need to acknowledge this more – 140 isn’t apolitical. We live complex and political lives and the music we all love is meant to express that. 

Further, when we see lineups with only cis men on them we need to question that and be critical of it. If there aren’t women, trans, or non-binary people on that lineup why? If they declined to be on a lineup, is there a reason for that? I think once we start to unpack these things more, these sorts of questions will be answered. There will definitely be more growing pains in the scene, but growth doesn’t happen without discomfort unfortunately. 

I read somewhere that part of the work you’re doing with TBBC is working to support the next generation of artists and DJs and looking to create more inclusive relationships in the 140 community. Have you got any learnings that you can share, or what we can collectively do to create safer spaces for the swathes of ‘non-white dudes’ in bass music who aren’t properly catered to? Yeah! So at any events we run or associate with as a collective we sit down (virtually usually) with the venue to set our boundaries and expectations pretty clearly. The scene where I live is a small, fairly tight knit community so we know all of the event promoters and venues pretty well. There is one club where we run the majority of electronic shows and they do a great job of maintaining a positive and safe atmosphere. Both myself and the other collective members have an excellent working relationship with the venue (and have actually done quite a bit of consultation for them in establishing policies inline with our anti-oppressive vision) Things we ask for generally:

  • A zero tolerance harassment policy – believe people the first time they complain about someone touching or speaking to them inappropriately. We’re clear about this in the lead up to the event as well so no one is surprised.
  • Clear in our anti-oppressive views, ensuring that our door people treat everyone respectfully and without marginalising them. We usually take turns at the door so we’re able to check in with everyone on the way into the venue. We make it clear in the lead up to the event that attendees can reach out in advance if they have needs, questions, or concerns.
  • Harm Reduction – ensuring all of the organisers/ DJs as well as the venue have naloxone/ narcan kits on them in case of emergency. We all work to keep an eye out on the dancefloor and smoking areas for people who may be having adverse reactions to alcohol or drugs and have a plan for if something should happen. We also generally let people know that hearing protection is important and encourage people to bring earplugs. The venue has disposable ones available as well.
  • Ensuring a balanced lineup subject to availability. Our scene is small, so the pool of DJs to pick from isn’t always balanced due to work schedules, however we always ask the women or non binary DJs first when curating a lineup.
  • Establishing and maintaining a safe space for our 2SLGBTQ+ community members.

I’m sure I’m missing something but those are the important ones.

What’s Ontario (or Canada as a whole) for DE&I in bass music (and more broadly)? There’s obviously been (more than) a bit of news recently about the treatment of the First Nations community, and the current Government’s approach to this area… Ahh I was hoping you would ask me something like this! 

The settler colonial history of so-called Canada has led to the genocide and entrenched marginalisation of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit (FNMI) people on their own land. This informs the political landscape here and as we know, music is political as well. There has been a movement of Indigenous producers and DJs in Canada using their cultural heritage to inform and inspire their approach to music. Visibility in the scene is important because it allows us to inspire and uplift others, so much of DJ culture is ego driven and I think it’s better to use the visibility to help others realise their own legitimacy and worth in electronic music spaces. Indigenous producers and DJs are, as a friend said, “the drummers of our generation”. (Drummers/ Singers in Indigenous cultures are important figures for leading others). Dance is a form of healing and ceremony in FNMI cultures and 140 spaces are very similar in that they bring people together as a means of creating community connection and healing as well.

Resistance to colonial forces informs every action in my daily life and music life. I think we are decolonising the music industry one step at a time when Indigenous lead spaces are created. I want to give a huge shout out to Drumbeat Entertainment based out of Mohkinstsis (Calgary, Alberta) who I think is one of the leaders in this. They’ve been running the Virtual Powwow Festival all through quarantine which has helped with the isolation created by the pandemic. 

I could speak at length about the violence being perpetuated daily by the Canadian government, but at this time I would rather bring attention to all of the Indigenous artists doing their part to reclaim and resist. 

What’s your ‘usual’ day like; how does everything fit together? My usual day is pretty busy, working my career job during the day and then focusing on music or hobbies after work. I’ve been working from home since April 2020 and have adapted to providing frontline mental health and addictions support virtually and over the phone. Honestly, my usual day is pretty intense dealing with a lot of folks in crisis so I try to set aside as much time as I can for things that make me feel happy and relaxed. TBay is one of the most beautiful places in the world (in my opinion anyway) and I like to take advantage of everything this area has to offer. We have a thriving arts and culture scene here so there’s always something to do. 

I dedicate a lot of time to music because it’s therapeutic for me. I look at curating a mix or livestreaming as a form of meditation in it’s own way. 

I’ve just discovered your beadwork and I am here for it! How did you get into that side of things and talk us through what goes into putting a piece together? Thank you! Beadwork is something I picked up from a good friend who taught me some pointers and got me started. I’ve always been a creatively minded person and I use beadwork as another outlet. I’m really into making collections based on what inspires me at the time. Each piece takes around 3 or 4 hours to make and I either give it away to friends or take custom orders. 

Who are your heroes? My heroes at the current moment are all of the land defenders, specifically the Tiny House Warriors who are working to stop the Trans Mountain Pipeline from running through their territories and are working to draw attention to oil spills and other dangers associated with construction of pipelines. 

Any genre, but who would you say your favourite musician is? What makes a good producer/ DJ/ artist for you? I’m always drawn to the really meditative, eyes down stuff.

I think what makes a good producer/ DJ is someone who has a clear vision and unique sound, who tells a story and draws the listener into whatever they were feeling when they created the track or mix. I really like the less club oriented music for this reason. Some of my biggest inspirations include: EVA808, Woven Thorns, Moresounds, Gantz, Kahn and Neek, Drone, DE-TU, and Gisaza.

My favourites outside of 140: Cocteau Twins, Massive Attack, Phoebe Bridgers, bbymutha, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Deftones.

Outside of music, what makes you happy? Outside of music, I think what makes me the happiest is just being comfortable at home drinking coffee and chilling with my cats. That and my friends and chosen family, having supportive people around and being my authentic self with them. 

If you could give yourself some tips or advice about getting into music/ ‘the industry’ looking back since you started, what would you tell yourself? The advice I would give myself is to not compromise my feelings or values in any situation. I think being confident and knowing your worth as a creative, standing up for what you think is right, and (respectfully) challenging things if you feel uncomfortable about them. 

Where can people find you online – and any final words or shout outs? I go by @rhombi_music on all platforms, however Instagram is the best place to reach me.

You can find all of my mixes on SoundCloud or the Dynamics website. My email for booking inquiries or for sending tunes is [email protected]

Shoutouts to Mandala Ataksak, Lysis, and Enada who are some of my favourites in the mix and in general! 

More shoutouts to Lissn, Melek, and Lil Cis who are some of my favourite non-dudes in the mix. 

Huge thank you to everyone who has shown their support over the last while and taken the time to read this and check out my mixes! As well, a huge thank you (chi miigwetch) to FKOF for having me through for this interview and mix. I’ve been following FKOF for a long time whether through listening to mixes or buying music, so it’s been a pleasure to become a part of that. Much love!

Click to DOWNLOAD (500MB)

Track list:

  1. Zha – Tale of She
  2. Lampa – Insane K9
  3. Ome – Tellman
  4. 11th Hour – Forensics
  5. Visages – Nibiru
  6. Kryo – Taste
  7. ? (Content & Samba) – III
  8. Quoma – Don’t Touch
  9. Drumterror & Darkimh – Absurd
  10. Trench Foot & Wraz – You Nuts?
  11. Distance – Crashing Tibet
  12. Abstrakt Sonance – Reverse Centaur (Surreal remix)
  13. 11th Hour – Talisman 
  14. nova – Single Fuse
  15. Kahn & Neek – 16mm
  16. Blottarz – Foundation
  17. Pharma – Sekund
  18. Jevon Ives ft. D-Los – Leaches
  19. Arkham Sound – Last Breath
  20. JFO – The Dagger
  21. Ourman – Bahamut 
  22. Handsome Tiger – Jinglelit
  23. Handsome Tiger – Burn Babylon 
  24. q100 – Cuticle
  25. SBK. & Quasar – Lead Dem Place
  26. Glume & Phossa – Jitter 
  27. Gantz – Left Right Hindsight
  28. Hella x Logan – Chattings
  29. J.Sparrow – Just The Same
  30. B-Say – Bloodshed
  31. City1 ft. Rider Shafique – Speak Out
  32. Ishan Sound & Muttley – Still Smoking
  33. B-Say – Sabotage (Lampa remix)
  34. Chief Kaya – Hathor

facebook.com/rhombimusic
instagram.com/rhombi_music
soundcloud.com/rhombi_music

ICYMI the broadcast, Heather was the latest guest on the FKOF Sessions show on SWU.FM. Check the show here, and check it moving forward: the fourth Sunday of the month, 3-5pm UK time.

Share your thoughts on our chat with Heather via the footer below or get in touch with FKOF via email or Twitter.