Despite their name, the Smalltown DJs have big city appeal.
The prairie duo of Pete Emes and Mike Grimes aren’t confined by small town syndrome — these genre-warping DJs and producers are sought after the world over, playing shows in London, Paris and Helsinki, Brooklyn, Las Vegas and L.A. — showcasing at SXSW seven times, performing at Sean White’s gold medal party at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics — even garnering a headlining slot in our very own Victoria Electronic Music Festival this past summer.
On any given night you can hear them spin funk, pop, dancehall, rock, hip hop, house, breaks and more. Their smash-up style is well known in Calgary, where the duo own two nightclubs (The Hifi and The Commonwealth Bar and Stage) and recently celebrated the 13th anniversary of their Thursday night residency Hai Karate, which has played host to names like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Nu-Mark (Jurassic 5), A-Trak, Diplo, A Tribe Called Red, Grandtheft and Red Bull Thre3Style 2012 champion Four Color Zack.
“It’s been a crazy run,” says Emes on the morning of the anniversary. “I can’t believe it’s been that long.”
Emes and Grimes came together just months before Hai Karate was born. At the time, no other DJs were doing mash-ups like these two.
“We didn’t like being limited to one genre,” says Emes. “It doesn’t sound too groundbreaking now, but at the time, the DJ scene was so segregated — if you were a house DJ, you played house, or a hip hop DJ played hip hop, we wanted to play it all. We’d bring five crates a piece each night, run through a million styles of music, at the time it was really different.”
And that’s not the only thing that’s changed since they got behind the decks.
“[The scene] has changed so many times, but the one thing that always happens, even predating us, is that new genres and new people come up that are celebrated and everyone gets into … and everything else is declared dead when a new sound gets big. I always get into different sounds and new sounds, new music really excites me, there’s always exciting new producers, so I like rolling with that, and including that in my sets and in production. Some guys have a tough time accepting changes, but one of the reasons why I’m still doing it is that I love new music.”
And it was a mutual love of music that brought these two together in the first place. Emes met his partner through mutual friends at a party Grimes was DJing. It was love at first listen.
“At that time it was harder to find music you were into, you had to dig … you had more invested in it and had to be more dedicated if there was a certain sound you were into — you had to commit yourself to seeking that out. Now, there’s no commitment, you can download every song ever made in an afternoon,” says Emes.
Riding high on some production success with Smalltown Romeo (their collaboration with Shad, with their single “Boom Ha” featured on HBO and in a feature film), the boys have branched out in 2012 with five releases on various labels including Sabo’s Sol Selectas and No Brainer of Berlin.
With their latest single “Good People” (T&A, released Dec. 12) these two are about to get dance floors hoping from coast to coast, stopping in Victoria Thurs., Dec. 13 at Club 9ONE9 with Grandtheft and The Shrew.
“We try to play our favourite records that also tear the roof off,” says Emes. “It’s the way we put the music together … we always try to bring the funnest party. It sounds easy but sometimes it’s easier said than done.” M