Interview with Rise Ashen

Ottawa’s Rise Ashen, a Juno Award nominated global-grooves producer, DJ, and dancer, has spent his life pursuing the intersection of traditional and futuristic music. This weekend he’s not just DJing at Electric Circuits, but also performing alongside Nunavut throat-singer duo Silla. EC caught up with him to discuss DJing, his live set-up, and his lifelong passion for dance music. Check him out on Soundcloud.


Is this your first Electric Circuits? Have you visited Kingston before?
Second time, played last year and loved it! Have spent lots of time in Kingston over the years and always love coming to play!

With established music scenes in Toronto and Montreal, why do you think smaller festivals like EC are important in places like Kingston? What role do you think they play?
Coming from Ottawa, which is also sandwiched in between 514 and 416 I think about this often. I feel that the smaller cities are a great place for art. We can easily cherry-pick from the bigger markets and curate amazing events and we benefit from so much, from clean air, relatively little traffic, and with the amazing communication powers we have developed in the last 15 years it’s just as easy to learn about amazing art from all around the world, so yeah I love coming to smaller centres to play. The Internet has changed the game and it’s no longer the way it was 20 years ago when smaller cities were more disconnected from global culture.  Now they can be an integral part of it.

How would you describe your sound/art?
The music I make is at the crossroads of traditional music from around the globe and futuristic electronic music. I try to study and learn from the past and contribute something to the music.

How did you get into the electronic music scene, and being a creator?
From being a B-boy as a 9-14 year old in Montreal and listening to the early hip hop (electronic music) to being in bands in my teens, listening to acts like the KLF and early techno, to DJing when I turned club-age. Getting into house at that time and immersing myself in the house-dance culture of NYC in the past 20 years.

Can you tell us a little about how you came to work with Cynthia and Charlotte of Silla?
I had collaborated with Cynthia on a corporate gig about 11 years ago and we kept in touch. I am a big fan of their Tumivut project and we kept in touch. We were approached by a museum in 2015 about producing music for an Arctic-themed event and we created some pieces together for the live performance which became the starting point for our first album… We haven’t looked back since…

Who would you list amongst the biggest influences on your work, and why?
The whole Afro House movement right now is the music I am most excited about in the world right now, it resonates with me the most. But in the past, I have learned so much from the early hip hop in the 80s and early 90s, then from techno in the 90s, from the nujazz and house movement in the 2000s.

Is playing a festival like EC different to say, playing a small club or a larger festival? Does it effect what and how you play?
I am deejaying as well as playing with the Silla and Rise project, so those are 2 different things.  In terms of the Silla and Rise project, everything is very different depending on the crowd we are playing for. Last week we played twice, once for a corporate event and once for a festival.  At the corporate event, you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet. People were seated.  We played very soft, mellow versions of our songs… At the festival, it was a dancefloor and the crowd wanted to move, we delivered what they wanted, the songs were louder, faster, more dynamic 🙂 It’s a natural symbiosis between a crowd and a performer 🙂

For the DJ set, similarly, my ultimate goal is to lock into the crowd, to read them and make them enjoy and dance as much as I can. It’s not like a club where people can come up and request a Tinashe song, so it’s still a very glorious DJ gig where you can play what you love, but I always play to the crowd and try to give them something to hang their hat on!

Can you tell us a little about your set-up? What hardware and software will you be using for your performance?
For the DJ stuff, I play on CDJs, can’t stand a computer in front of me I tried that for a few years and dropped it like a bad habit…  It’s alienating.  I use a minimal telephone style headphone as a constant reminder to stay connected to the room and listen to what the crowd is hearing and not get lost in my cue mix.

For the Silla and Rise project, initially it was as a DJ with the throat singers and that worked miserably as throat-singing is a dynamic rhythmic performance with crazy tempo variations, beats can be skipped and turned into alternate time-signatures, and the DJ gear proved clunky and unmanoeuverable. The next iteration of the show was with live looping using a sampler, which was better, but still not good enough. I then switched to performing the rhythms as an electronic percussionist.  The sounds I play are all one-shots, except for a few drones which I can turn on and off, and I play the rhythms live with them so I can play the throat-singing game with them.  I play a Roland SPD-SX.  They call me their TSBF (Throat Singing Best Friend :-)) I am like a DJ with sticks, or a drummer with a sampler.

Does this differ much from what you’d use at home, when writing and producing?
Over the last 25 years my journey of producing has been trying to balance my natural tendency to be a Luddite with the fact that as an electronic musician your sound is entirely dependent on the gear you use. I am an old Akai MPC user and have been operating one of those from the start, I am on the newest iteration now the MPC LIVE and use that a lot in the studio. I am a huge fan of the old ACID software, which has since been purchased by Sony and they have been saying they are coming out with a new one for years. I can’t wait and hope it will happen, I still use my old version 7 for almost everything. I also use, VEGAS, which you can edit video in as well, it sounds better, and is awesome, and I use Propellerheads Reason as well which I love to bits. In the last couple of years I caved and bough a Push with Ableton Live 9 and I have been coming up with some great stuff in there, but haven’t made the jump to producing in there completely, more using it as an idea-generating environment until I tame it fully.  I have an awesome suite of plugins in Windows 7 that I use a lot and so I am having trouble letting go 🙂  It’s a complicated mash, but basically, WAV or AIFF files are what I use, collect and pursue, and I am not too fussy about the DAW. My main musical ideas are percussion and melody, and so my hands and my voice are the main tools, I have some nice mics and compressors and pres. Oh and my ears above all.

How much preparation goes into putting together your set or performance before hand?
With Silla and Rise I have been practicing every day by myself for 2 years, drum rudiments on the electronic kit mostly, and we practice together as a trio every Sunday.  For my DJ sets, managing, culling, collecting, classifying music is a daily ritual, and I mix in clubs and for events all the time, always learning and practicing.

Which other artists playing at EC this year are you excited to see?
I met so many great people last year, I am super excited to take everything in, I will only be there on Saturday, so I am excited to take all of the artists in who are playing Saturday.  So much amazing talent and such an honor to be there! Thanks for this opportunity to talk about my art!


RISE ASHEN is performing at Electric Circuits 2018 as both Silla+Rise and Rise Ashen, on Saturday, April 21st at the Renaissance Event Venue, 285 Queen Street. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online here.


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