esette (Isis Graham): Canadian Electronic Music Artist Profile

Updated on December 12, 2017
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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

Isis Graham
Isis Graham

Isis Graham is a Calgary DJ and electronic music producer who has been instrumental in moving Calgary’s electronic music scene forward. I talked to her about why she’s passionate about the scene, DJing and creating new electronic music.

Isis’ love affair with electronic music and the culture around it started in 1997. She explains, “I was taken to a rave by some friends of my older sister. I got enamoured with the whole culture. I was bullied in junior high school and I really didn’t fit anywhere. In rave culture I was accepted and I loved the core values of the PLUR1 movement.”

After a year or so, she knew that she wanted to start throwing parties and DJing at them. She was inspired by a Calgary DJ named Jon Delerious to start spinning records. Isis says, “At the time, I was pretty ignorant to the different genres of electronic music. All I knew was that I loved going to parties and I wanted to do what he did.”

She continues, “I saved up my money and bought some turntables and a mixer. I slowly started practicing at home and because I’d established myself in Calgary as a promoter, it didn’t actually take me that long to get bookings, so that’s how my career kicked off.”

When it comes to music production, she started later with that part of her career. Isis says,” I just love DJing. It feeds my creative fire and gives me a platform to be who I am. I love house music because it makes people want to dance, feel love and be inspired.”

Isis started producing her own music because she realized that successful DJs need to make their own tracks. She explains,"It definitely didn’t come easily for me. Some people are naturally gifted when it comes to technology, so it’s easy for them to adapt to those scenarios, but learning how to program drums and learning about synthesis and MIDI was a huge leap for me.”

Her inspiration levels increased when she began to hear complete tracks coming together. Isis says, “I started to get really motivated to get good at it after that. People have been really supportive of me in my journey to production. In this industry, people are excited to connect with each other over the technology. It’s been great for someone like me who is definitely not naturally gifted with that stuff.”

One initiative that Isis has been involved in has been Girls on Decks. The whole movement started when Calgary DJ Molly Fi (Krista Thibodeau) realized that there were only a few female DJ’s in Calgary and they were having issues with bookings. Isis explains, “Krista saw a need for us to create something of our own and just have a place that we could play on our own and not have to worry about competing in a male-dominated market.”

As the idea grew and gained momentum, they’ve seen a positive change. Isis says, “As more female, non binary and GLBTQ DJs appeared in Calgary, it was clear that we could act as an intermediary for these awesome people who were kicking of their careers but didn’t really have a place to call home. So many of them have gone on to have totally dynamic, successful careers.”

Another one of her many projects is the Calgary record label Substation. She took it on after taking to one of the owners who was planning to dissolve the label. Isis says, “I wondered why they would dissolve the label when the distribution and the platform already exists? Why not just rebrand it? He went away and thought about it for a bit and asked if I wanted to do the project with him. Any time someone asks me to do a project, I usually don’t have time to do that project, but I’m totally a yes man, so I said let’s do it!”

She continues, “We decided to focus on Western Canadian artists. In 2013 there was such a huge influx of new producers and new music. It seemed like the perfect time to facilitate a showcase for a burgeoning community that really had no outlets for releasing their music. We started out with multiple artist releases and moved into doing four track EPs. Now we do two track EPs and we’ve slowed down the release schedule so that we can put more planning into it.”

On the whole, Isis feels it has been an advantage to be a female DJ. She says, “I get booked by any promoters who want a woman in their line up or when they want a more diverse lineup, which at times was not as simple when there were less female DJS to choose from. It’s worked to my benefit because I always show up and do a good job. Now I’m getting booked on merit as a DJ, this is an advantage in my opinion”

She adds, “For men, to break into the industry and get booked in the early stages of their careers, the problem is volume, they’re competing with way more artists to succeed. As a woman, you don’t have as much noise to break through. I’ve never viewed being a woman as a disadvantage in the context of getting bookings, I’ve viewed it as a useful introductory tool that I can use to propel my career to the next step.”

One challenge she has faced is the cost and logistics of touring in Canada. Isis says, “Touring in Canada is hard because everything’s expensive and our cities are super far apart. It’s hard to get out of western Canada, but the good news is that if you can get well-known on the western Canadian circuit, it’s a very supportive place. People can have a healthy DJ career just playing out here.”

That strong western Canadian musical culture is praiseworthy in her view. Isis points out, “We have fantastic, high calibre artists and the festivals out here are world class. The stuff that we dream up in this part of the world is pretty unique to the western seaboard and the way that we are as a culture is inclusive. There’s something special about how we view community and how we interact with each other.”

Isis has taken the step of quitting her day job and dedicating herself to music full-time. She says, “I made the decision to give it a shot and really take it seriously. I think I have the right elements in place to make a go of it and I’m pretty aware that it might not work out. If you can’t be a musician as a career, you can still do amazing things to help other people’s careers. It gives me just as much satisfaction.”

She continues, “One of the challenges of doing all these projects is that my creativity in the studio suffered. I’m trying to carve out a scenario where I can get back to producing and not feel like I’m giving something up to do that.”

When it comes to firing her creativity, Isis uses the experiences of going out to shows to inspire her. She explains, “What I love is when I’m in Europe or New York and I’m dancing in a club and I hear this record and it’s not even the record, it’s the context of the combination of the record, the crowd and the stage. I hear all that and it gets processed as an experience in my brain and I go home and try to recreate that experience through my own music.”

1. Peace, Love, Unity, Respect


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