Bambiis JERK Party celebrates three years

JERK: THREE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY with BAMBII, BIRTHDAY BOY and YOUNG TEESH at 461 King West, Friday (July 29), 10 pm. $10. and Time Festival at Fort York Garrison Common (250 Fort York), August 6, doors at noon. $30-$50. See listing.

Three years ago, Toronto DJ/producer Kirsten Azan, aka Bambii, started JERK as a way to improve her developing DJ skills and give eclectic music fans a place to hear diverse sounds. The dance party turns three this weekend, with a celebration that falls during Caribana.

What was the motivation behind starting JERK?

I found that the music scene was really stratified in Toronto, and you would have to go to very different places to hear particular types of music. I love house, electronic, R&B and hip-hop, but also dancehall and global. It was hard to find a space to hear that diversity, and more importantly a space with a real diverse audience. JERK is an ode to my Caribbean heritage but also a product of all my exposure to the indie, Black, brown and queer arts scenes. It pushes subversive new sounds and gives some serious nostalgic moments. You can do anything you want there, and itll always be inexpensive, queer-friendly and safe. Oh yeah, and the chicken will always be free!

How has the event grown and/or changed since year one?

When I first started JERK I was mainly concerned with what was happening musically. Since then, Ive opened for a bunch of artists I look up to, toured, played Boiler Room, plus a bunch of festivals so the spectrum of sounds has definitely gotten much broader. It operates as a show and a party. Things like weird spaces, props, visuals and a MC keep people engaged and position the DJs as performers.

The first JERK hit capacity at midnight, and the event has been growing ever since. After the first JERK, I realized I had a real responsibility to ensure representation and safety. Its a big challenge, especially if you operate in DIY venues and are aiming to make those spaces accessible. Ensuring everyone can participate has become really important for me. Hiring non-aggressive, tolerant security and incorporating gender-neutral washrooms are small things you can do to make sure everyone feels safe. The event collective Yes Yes Yall has set good examples in that respect.

Was it important to you that the anniversary celebration happen during Caribana?

Definitely. I think despite its cultural and historic importance, Caribana has some negative energy around it. Its been heavily corporatized, and the overwhelming police presence at the parade doesnt help either. I also just got really tired of the inherent association of homophobia with Caribbean people and culture. I want to create a positive space where everyone can celebrate this amazing music. I think so many Torontoisms are informed by Caribbean culture, from the music to the dialect. I havent seen that acknowledged properly.

Why are DIY spaces important to you?

A big issue is a lack of representation. Even though it gets written about so much, the fact unfortunately remains that the people curating shows and festivals those with power, money and access to venues are older white males. For a lot of artists who fall outside those margins, DIY spaces are the only way to make noise in the city on their own terms. I use DIY spaces not exclusively but a lot because creative agency is really important to me. Music is intangible and yet so powerful whatever statement youre attempting to make can easily, in the wrong context, be diluted or misappropriated.

In addition to your relationship with inclusive grassroots/underground music and cultural events like Caribana, you’re also unafraid to take a stand on sociopolitical issues. What issues are important to you right now?

When I think about political issues and space in the media, important stories seem to compete with each other, and the energy we give seems so transient. I think being proactive rather than reactive with information is something that is, in and of itself, a valuable aspect of social justice. My first and obvious answer would be the police terrorism happening on different levels here and in the States. Were currently being inundated with those stories. However, so many narratives involving the marginalization of women, queer and trans people of colour and what affects them everyday are forgotten.Those issues are also things I think about everyday.

Toronto feels like an important place to be right now. Theres all the OVO/Drake stuff bringing attention to the music scene, but also Black Lives Matter’s action at Pride has been a major conversation-starter, here and beyond.

I DJed at Pride on the central stage and at Blockorama. I didnt see the actual stalling of the parade but I was there for the BLM speech on the Blocko stage. I think that somewhere along the way, whether its because its somewhat publicly sanctioned or because of corporate sponsors, people forgot the very political roots of Pride. Yes, Pride is a party, a space of affirmation, a celebration, but its also supposed to represent all of us. If queer people of colour cant use the space with agency and say something important, then Pride isnt working as it should be. There are hierarchies within hierarchies, and the queer community has a lot of work to do regarding racism. I also feel like political movements and the strategies they use are hella complicated. We dont all need to understand or fully agree with the tactics if we agree with the message. It was crazy to see people I knew who shared the same opinion on police brutality arguing about a 30-minute break at a parade.

As much as I have a long list of criticism for Toronto, yes, its my home and I like living in it. Its a huge part of who I am, all my friends are from all over the world. I wouldnt trade the exposure or freedom you get from living in Toronto, even if its fake polite and quasi-liberal, for anything else right now.

Whats the ideal balance of diversity youre striving for in your DJ mixes?

There’s a very strong connection between music and memory. I love that feeling you get when you play something that makes the whole crowd scream. That recognition is priceless. I also get really excited to introduce people to new or left-field production. I think the balance I am looking for, especially in this city, is one that plays on nostalgia or shared reference points but really focuses on the future and on relevant music from all over the world. Everyone is really focused on this idea of a Toronto sound thats centered primarily around trap music, which is cool but people should open up to what exists beyond that aesthetic. Theres just so much insane music coming from in and out of the city that people should know about.

Will you be releasing original productions soon?

Ive been spending a lot of time in Montreal, and I think thatll be reflected in the first sounds I release. Its highly influenced by the first stuff I was into when I started out DJing, and all the global influences Ive absorbed since then. Making music can be emotional my music reflects all these different versions of me. There is so much bravado with DJing and so much vulnerability when its your own creation. Its completely different and pretty challenging but also so exciting. Im thinking fall 2016 or winter 2017, tentatively. | @carlagillis

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