Photo by Max Halparin
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
Eclectic, bass, thump, live, lit.