With co-founder Kwende Kefentse leaving Ottawa, the 12-year-old dance party expands and contracts
Emerging in 2005 from the basement of Eri café, the first thing I heard about this party is that it was one of Ottawa’s “hottest” dance parties—by which I mean the temperature in that room was very warm. The ventilation wasn’t great, dancing made you sweat more than you typically would in a public space—physically, it might not have been comfortable. Despite this, my friends would recount their evenings with glowing smiles. Clearly, the DJ collective founded by DJ Zattar were onto something.
“For over a decade, we’ve been providing a space to consume culture that’s fresh and new and pluralistic and that’s part of a larger collective,” says Kwende ‘Memetic’ Kefentse. “We feel that it’s essential and it exists in a lot of modern cities—at least, a lot of the places that I want to be.”
On August 25, one guest, Martin, told me about his memories. “I first went to Timekode at the Eri café, in the early 2000s when I was new to this city. Sometimes I went for the pool, but mostly for the hip-hop. They were good parties.”
Timekode celebrated an ending of sorts on August 25, where they took their party to a boat along the Outauoais River. Half of this dynamic duo is about to embark on the next part of his journey, bringing him to London, England to study architecture.
In some ways there is a sense of loss—once again, someone who works to make this city a more vibrant place has moved to a bigger city. Yet, the impact of someone like DJ Memetic is is such that it can continue without him being here. He, along with DJ Zattar and Timekode’s many guest DJs over the years, have helped to create the conditions where culture can develop.
The story I want to write isn’t about someone moving away. This may be a retrospective look at a cultural institution, but it isn’t an ending. Running into Kwende at House of PainT, I ask earnestly, “So is Timekode finished?”
He comfortably replies, “You could say that we’re expanding. We’re planning a guest DJ [in Ottawa] next month, and we’ll have events in London [England].”
One guest to Timekode on August 25 said “a monthly dance party is about the right speed for Ottawa.” It’s true. This city is well-educated, highly engaged, and diverse. We are a small city—there are familiar faces pretty much wherever you go out. Many of our residents tend to look for patterns, and find comfort in the option of a routine,whether or not we choose to follow them. Our sister, Gatineau, is less predictable, at times rougher around the edges. She’s fun; it’s nice to have her around.
It’s interesting how a collective experience in appreciating music will bring people closer to each other, and closer to the city. One of the guests on August 25, Tariq, said “Timekode was always my faith in Ottawa. When Ottawa failed to step up, Timekode was always there.”
He told me more about how he heard about the party, first attending about 12 years ago. “It was upstairs from a bumpin’ party at the time called Disorganized. Upstairs was Zattar. It wasn’t crowded or anything, it was just awesome. After that, Zattar wanted to do his own party, which turned into Timekode.”
They’ve had a number of homes over the years, from Eri Café to Makerspace North to D’Afrique. Still, some things have remained the same. Guests at the August 25 party communicated a sense of appreciation for the open atmosphere that had been created over the years.
Another dedicated fan said “I started going four years ago. They were some of the most accepting, easygoing parties you’ve ever been to. It wasn’t a party dedicated to one group—it wasn’t a hipster party, or a raver party, it was just an everyone party.”
Creating this atmosphere was intentional.
“Part of it is about the space, part about the music, part is about the process of mixing,” said DJ Memetic. “Pluralisms, bringing people together from different places, sounds, and communities. In way that forms something unique, if just for an evening. There is value in that process, no matter where you go.”
DJ Zattar plans on keeping the TK tradition alive. (Photo: Facebook)
A good DJ is able to provide “edutainment,” as the Mercury Lounge’s resident DJ Trevor Walker once told me, citing KRS-One. Walker has been a recurring guest at Timekode, and these groups have a shared ability to both educate and entertain their guests. Certainly, in experiencing music we tap into a sense of community. There’s beauty in having multiple generations in a room together, enjoying the same music.
“I am keeping Timekode going here every third Friday like the last 12 years,” assured DJ Zattar. I’ll be presenting more guests both local and out of town. I’m also doing live TK webcasts every month or so from Record Centre and a new location to be announced shortly”
Ottawa is changing. As a city, we are growing and developing something entirely unique. As individuals interacting in this space, we have a chance to leave each other better than when we met. It would be a great honour to know that you made an impact on a city, but in this case the evidence is clear. Kwende Kefentse left Ottawa better and for that we have one thing to say—thank you.
Be sure to check out Timekode’s 12-year anniversary party at D’Afrique on November 17. This article appears in the September edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column. More information here.
For years we’ve been unwavering supporters of all that is Ottawa music. We’ve dug deep into the rich soil which serves as a basis for Ottawa’s strong cultural roots to grow. For those of us who have lived here and experienced much of what this city has to offer, it’s well known that the underground music scene is bursting at the seams with activity and talent (albeit, documentation of this scene is still lagging—but we’re still trying to change that).
What we’ve witnessed over the last several years is a local DIY culture emerging as a pervasive mindset, with people not only imagining what is possible, but actually making shit happen. Even more, over the last decade there has been a rise in more community-oriented DJ nights which offer patrons a truly authentic experience that leaves the old big box dance club in the dust. Some of these include TimeKode, Open Air Social Club, FEELS, Ceremony, and most recently—Hottawa.
Max Halparin (DJ Halpo) is one of the original founders of the night, and he happened to cut his teeth by spinning after our Showbox monthly concerts at Mugshots (RIP) a few years back. Since then, Hottawa became a regular occurrence, usually in smaller spaces and with the goal of getting people together to dance and bucking any sort of perception that Ottawa is a boring, soulless place.
As Hottawa bounced around to different venues over the last couple of years, the crew who make the mixes and pump the jams has grown substantially. These collaborators include VJ Paradisse, Mikayla (DJ Seiiizmikk), Sara (DJ Mani Pedi), Jordan David (DJ JFUN), among others. However, the this summer the DJs found a home at Babylon Nightclub, where they’re able to use a bigger space to bring in larger crowds and crank up the party.
I chatted with Max about Hottawa about its growth, and some crucial steps that its organizers have taken to ensure a truly inclusive and safe atmosphere for patrons. Have a read and listen to DJ Seiiizmikk’s latest streaming mix below.
This month’s edition of Hottawa happens on Friday, September 15 at Babylon Nightclub, featuring DJ Woerks (The Deep End), DJ Choozey (MTL), and deejay ohjay (FEELS), as well as VJ Conor Byron providing visuals. $5 before midnight / $7 after, doors at 10 pm.
Interview with DJ Halpo
What’s your background with music and how did you get into DJing?
Of all things, I got into DJing through playing guitar in a sludge metal band. The drummer in that band was also a disco and funk DJ, so I started going to support my friend’s nights. Before that, I never went out dancing, but that summer I started to see how positive and cathartic of an experience it can be.
The day before I moved to Ottawa, I bought a few records at a flea market in Toronto, then that Thanksgiving my same drummer/DJ friend had me open for him. After that I was hooked.
Growing up, I played guitar in bands and went to shows all the time. After finishing my undergrad in Montreal, I would sort of joke iPod-DJ after shows under the name DJ SMILES because I was pretty dour and misanthropic at the time. Quarter-life crisis vibes for sure. But I always loved 90s and 2000s hip hop, RnB and dancehall, and started to learn the tracks they sampled, and grew my understanding of dance music from there.
Fast forward three years… that same drummer-DJ is playing Friday night at Babylon! DJ Choozey now spins paying techno, drum n bass, and electro.
How did the idea for Hottawa come about?
It wasn’t my idea! In fall 2014 I’d been DJ’ing after the monthly Showbox shows at our beloved Mugshots, and Kyle Woods, who was managing it at the time, said he wanted to put me on my own night. I protested, clearly not very well.
My friend Guy thought of the name, and also came up with the original Miami Vice-looking imagery overlaying palm trees onto Parliament. We had the first one in January 2015, so it was supposed to be a play on this cold, wintery town that gets so much flak for not being any fun. But anyone involved in the music community or party scene knows that’s not true.
To me the name serves as a way to celebrate the exciting aspects of the city and the talent that exists in Ottawa and Hull. And since we were all new to DJ’ing when the event started, Hottawa has always focused on booking people who were still new to it too, learning to DJ, with some veterans mixed in too.
What’s cool to see is how quickly beginners mainstays. For example, deejay ohjay, who is now one half of FEELS and a regular in the local scene, played her first set with us two years ago, and will be closing the night at Babylon this Friday. DJs Sportif and Mani Pedi also played their first gigs with us in 2016, and became integral to Hottawa this summer.
Hottawa at Babylon Nightclub. Photo by Nicolai Gregory. (insta: @wiselywalking)
How has the night grown since it started?
After Mugshots closed, the event moved around a lot—six different venues in two years! That wasn’t planned, but in retrospect, moving around a lot meant we didn’t get complacent.
Musically, we’ve changed from a night doing discofunk and hip hop throwbacks to being more focused on house and techno, with RnB and dancehall thrown in too. The triple threat MC-producer DJ Seiiizmikk’s mix (posted below) is a great example of what we’re trying to do!
For the first two years, we were getting a solid hundred or so people out every night, but when it started to grow beyond that this past winter we were a bit stuck until a night opened up at Babylon. Finding space is always hard in this city—especially one that is physically accessible.
Since moving into the bigger space, we’ve grown in a few more ways: posting mixes on Soundcloud, getting on instagram, enlisting a legitimate graphic artist to make the posters, adding new visual artists to the nights, making Hottawa T shirts, and teaming up with PACE magazine for a photo shoot, exclusive mix, and video for the last July edition.
We are also really lucky to have Little Jo Berrys, the amazing vegan café in Wellington West, providing vegan treats for the nights. And the most important change is that we have volunteers from Hollaback! Ottawa come out to make it clear that we don’t tolerate harassment on the dancefloor (which we’ll talk about later).
Can you talk about the visual art component?
The goal is that the art compliments the music and adds to the immersive potential of a night out. We met our most frequent collaborator, VJ Paradisse, one night at Mugshots doing these massive projections in the courtyard for a precursor to the Fire Queen project featuring Jordan David (JFUN) and Aymara Alvarado Lang. This spring we also had Andrew Parks (Cityscape Sessions) bring a interactive dance screen that responded to dancers’s movements, and on Friday Conor Byron takes the reigns after doing amazing job recently at the Telecomo album release show and the Space dance party at Shanghai Restaurant.
Hottawa at Babylon Nightclub. Photo by Nicolai Gregory. (insta: @wiselywalking)
In terms of the nightlife experience, what kind of experience are the organizers trying to deliver? How do you want people to feel at the club, and at home afterwards?
We want people to dance their hearts out to amazing underground music and feel safe doing it.
At best we can facilitate the moments that led me to dance music from doom metal: being blown away by a transition, trusting the DJ to take you somewhere new, and enjoying the mental and physical benefits that come from dance. This sounds incredibly corny, but whatever, it’s true!
Hottawa is collaborating with Hollaback! Ottawa, an organization dedicated to eradicating street harassment and gender-based violence. Can you discuss this partnership and why it’s important?
It’s hugely important because some men still feel entitled to touch women and non-binary people without their consent, and that needs to stop. Having volunteers from Hollaback present offering their time is one way to signal to people that this kind of predatory behaviour is unacceptable at our events—and in life more generally.
Hollaback also provides a very practical purpose at the events. They’re an extra set of eyes on the dancefloor, a liaison between patrons and security, and they offer support to anyone who needs it.
Although we’re talking about consent in the context of one DJ night in Ottawa, this relates to much bigger issues, as you mentioned. It’s a sad but unsurprising reality that dudes who grow up under systems of sexism and patriarchy think it’s okay to grab a girl’s ass at the club. But with Babylon’s support, Hollaback’s presence, and everyone we work with, we’re trying to address it.
Hottawa at Babylon Nightclub. Photo by Nicolai Gregory. (insta: @wiselywalking)
What are some crucial steps that club owners or promoters can take to ensure the safety of patrons in the club atmosphere? Are bouncers enough?
In a word, no. Security staff are hugely important but I don’t think it’s fair to put the burden squarely on them. I think it’s everyone’s responsibility—promoters, DJs, bartenders, artists, and attendees—to look out for each other and to keep each other safe. In Ottawa we have some really amazing work happening on this topic, namely with Project Soundcheck, who also helped out at our last party.
To answer this question, I’m referring to some notes I took at a workshop on bystander intervention put on by Kira-Lynn Ferderber’s this past May.
Kira-Lynn offered these tips for venues: provide free water, post signage that harassment won’t be tolerated, believe women who approach staff with complaints, don’t book sexist acts, hire female staff, monitor bathrooms, watch people when they’re leaving (especially at the end of the night). And the final and maybe most important point was to suggest that venues develop a sexual violence prevention strategy, part of which would include training for staff.
The bystander intervention workshop was about how to respond at music festivals and bars when you see something that’s not safe. What Kira-Lynn suggested was to use non-violent strategies to de-escalate the situation, to keep everyone’s safety in mind as you intervene, and to use tactics that increase the choices for the person in the vulnerable position.
For instance, if you see someone who doesn’t appear comfortable with their date, you can yell over to them, “Hey Sally, are you getting poutine with us right now!?” because even if you don’t know the person or if Sally’s their real name, it still gives them an out if they need it. Even going up to talk to people to introduce yourself communicates the message that people are around and looking out for each other.
If everyone does that, then maybe we can all get back to enjoying the music.
In 5 words, what can readers expect when clicking ‘play’ on DJ Seiiizmikk’s mix below?
House of PainT celebrated its 14th year this past week with another outstanding edition of the festival that highlights the five pillars of hip-hop: MCs, break dancers, graffiti artists, DJs, and culture.
House of PainT is kind of a hidden gem. It is one of the most innovative and interactive festivals in the capital region and most of it takes place under the Dunbar Bridge across from Carleton University, right next to Brewer Park. This year I took in the weekend portion of the festival, which was a fun-filled time to say the least.
Saturday was dedicated to the dancers, the breakers, the b-boys and b-girls. The day included twelve hours of programming from 11 am to 11 pm and incorporated everything from introductory dance classes to break dance crews battling to live music. I arrived under the bridge mid-afternoon and the art was already covering the walls and the DJ had the crowd pumped up. One of the coolest parts of House of Paint truly is the paint. The festival paints all the walls underneath the bridge a neutral colour and then sets up scaffolding for the artists to do their thing.
Slack Bridges with Aspects getting soulful and funky at House of PainT.
After staring at the colourful walls and ceiling for a bit in amazement, it came time for some dancing. I watched crews battle it out in a round robin-style format while three judges had the tough challenge of picking who moved on. Once the prelims finished Ottawa’s funky soul band Slack Bridges took to the stage. The dance floor stayed full as dancers practiced future moves and stayed limber ahead of the semis and finals.
Slack Bridges set kept the party going and was tight as always, but it also featured a couple of new things. First of all, they had a new saxophonist Zac Sedlar playing his first show with the band since their previous saxman was recruited by The Lemon Bucket Orkestra. Secondly, they wove in snippets of hip-hop classics throughout the set, like Notorious B. I. G.’s “Big Poppa” which flowed out of their cover of “Between the Sheets” (which is the song B. I. G. sampled). And lastly, they invited local rapper Aspects on stage to join them for “Doin’ This Thing,” off their upcoming album, and he not only provided backing vocals but delivered some sweet free-styling as the band jammed out. It was magic.
Up next was a popping competition that took over the dance floor which was followed by the semi-finals crew battles featuring Canada’s very own DJ Skratch Bastid providing the beats. While the judges deliberated, Ottawa ex-pat rapper Dynamic hit the stage to entertain. He had some sweet flow and had another MC join him on a track and rap from the crowd. We were then treated to a pretty solid popping finals (you can check out a little taste of it here) which then set the stage for the finals.
The packed crowd around the Breakin Crew final with Souljazz Orchestra on stage at House of PainT.
Not only did the finals feature the two best crews battling it out, but they did so to the sounds of one of Ottawa’s best bands—Souljazz Orchestra—playing live on stage. No disrespect to the DJs, but there is something special about watching people competing to the sound of live music. And if you have never seen break dance crews battle, you’re truly missing it out. The flow, the back and forth, the team work, and collaboration really takes the dance to a whole other level.
This year’s champions Groundwork Sessions Crew hail from Whitehorse, Yukon, and blew me (and everyone in attendance) away with how synchronized they were with the live jams and athletic moves. And as if the night couldn’t get any better, we were treated to a full Souljazz Orchestra set to cap off the night.
Where Saturday focused more on the breakers and the DJs, Sunday was for the rappers and MCs. I was running late but was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the Knowledge Conference (think Ted Talks for Hip Hop Heads) where a panel discussed career development and the importance of the team you build and surround yourself with.
Cody Coyote joined on stage by a B-Boy and a traditional indigenous dancer at House of PainT.
As the panel wrapped up, the main stage got going once again. There were acts all day long, but unfortunately the crowd didn’t really show up in numbers until much later. This didn’t really seem to affect the artists who all still brought energy to the stage and did their thing.
Cody Coyote from Ottawa, with Ojibwe roots and ancestry from Matachewan First Nation located in Northern Ontario, performed a song where he was accompanied by a B-Boy and a traditional male indigenous dancer. Watching both dance so differently to the same track was a treat.
Cashtro Crosby, accompanied by DJ Mes, brought it to the stage as if he was performing to a packed house. He had one of my favourite flows of the day and showed off why he was a perfect pick for this festival, as well as the stage at Bluesfest.
Rita Carter was my favourite performance while the sun was still shining. I can’t believe she is an Ottawa artist that hadn’t been on my radar. The group began as a four-piece with Rita on guitar and vocals, accompanied by a bass player, drummer, and another singer. Her song “Shot Anotha Down” was a very powerful song about the ever growing gun violence in the city. As the set continued, she was joined on stage by Aspects sporting a guitar, and then they were joined by a violinist for another song. Check Rita Carter out as soon as you can, and don’t sleep on her talent.
As soon as The Sorority from Toronto hit the stage you knew it was going to be hype. With four MCs (Haviah Mighty, Keysha Freshh, Lex Leosis and pHoenix Pagliacci) who all sported some yellow and a DJ keeping the beats, the ladies delivered. What really makes them interesting is that each one of them brings such a different style and delivery that it is almost like watching four different acts all at once. It certainly takes the entertainment to another level.
With the day time acts all wrapped up and some tasty supper from the food truck consumed, the anticipation was killing me for Dubmatique. As a French-Canadian growing up in a mostly anglophone community, I wasn’t exposed to much French music. But Dubmatique were one of the exceptions—not only was I introduced to them through school, but I actually liked their music. And I wasn’t alone, the band has gone platinum with sales and has won countless awards. The band formed 25 years ago, so when I saw that they were playing House of PainT, I was ecstatic.
Dubmatique bringing some old school French Canadian hip-hop to House of PainT.
The two MCs, Disoul (Jérôme-Philippe Bélinga) and OTMC (Ousmane Traoré), were on fire. They certainly didn’t look slowed down by the passage of time, nor did they seem rusty having not released any new music for close to a decade. Dubmatique songs are really a full experience, as their rapping flows so well with the music it becomes an instrument. The beats don’t overpower, and it’s all topped-off by several vocal sections breaking up the verses and adding that extra element.
Watching them perform these songs live just made me feel like both MCs really think about the totality of the track and its delivery, not just their lines. It makes Dubmatique very special and that separates them from so many other acts. This was especially present in tracks like “Soul Pleurer,” “La force de comprendre” and “La vibe.” The only way their set could have been any better was if it was longer. Thank you to House of PainT for helping me check one of the list.
Looking for an alternative to congested big-box dance clubs? Well, tonight there’s an all-new dance party coming to Chinatown’s infamous afterhours resto, Shanghai (651 Somerset St W) which features 90sOrBust DJs PJ & Palm D’or on the decks. They’ll be digging into new and classic r&b and hiphop, promising a blockparty vibe, with jams played out in full. It is aptly titled A Night Called Best (ANCB).
Inspired by South-east Ottawa’s legendary all-ages dance clubs and basement parties of the early 1990’s, the ANCB crew aim to bring a positive and inclusive hiphop and r&b event to Ottawa partygoers looking for the real deal. The night brings together a huge mix of hiphop supporters including House of Paint Urban Arts Festival, Arboretum Festival, CHUO 89.1 FM, and notable hiphop artists and DJs.
“We’re hoping to offer a more intimate alternative to the club scene, in the tradition of TimeKode, Feels, Ceremony, and Open Air Social Club,” explains co-organizer and DJ Palm D’Or. “If it’s a success, our hope is to start showcasing emerging hiphop before the party every month.”
Future editions of ANCB are what will set it apart from regular club nights – They aim to feature pre-party warm-ups showcasing curated local hiphop artists and producers, presented by CHUO FM r&b host Nicky Jean, 613 hiphop artist/manager David Sackey.
Artists interested in showcasing at upcoming editions can reach the crew at email@example.com, or via facebook.
A Night Called Best
– r&b + hiphop party –
w/ PJ + Palm D’or
651 Somerset Street W (at Bronson)
10pm / $7 door / no one turned away for lack of funds
19+ / all ages
Every weekend we’re going to round up some great shows options for you to check out in Ottawa. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more going on in town, these are just the ones we think are a guaranteed hit. We’re also going to be keeping a more comprehensive monthly listings page, which you can check out here.