Neighbour is Keeping the Spirit of Disco Alive
Long live four to the floor.
In 1979, American sports radio personality, Steve Dahl, held an anti-disco rally at the Comiskey ballpark in Chicago, Illinois. But today, Matt Dauncey (aka Neighbour) is having the last laugh.
Vancouver based producer and DJ, Neighbour, is upholding the disco torch throughout the West Coast along with the help of countless other disco and house music fans. Co-running house music label, Homebreakin' Records, producing original deep house tracks, while continuing to play both locally and internationally has kept him quite busy. Sorry Dahl, I guess your attempt to eradicate a genre that so many people hold dear just didn't pan out, did it?
It all started years ago in Calgary, Alberta where Dauncey's career as an electronic music producer began. At a time when most kids his age were joining bands and listening to Modest Mouse, Dauncey was searching for a sound and culture that spoke his own language. In house music he found what he was looking for. "I used to go to Cherry Lounge, a Saturday night house thing in Calgary. John Delirious would be spinning and I'd look around and it was like United Colours of Benetton. Everybody was represented," Dauncey recalls. "Other electronic scenes were for certain types of people, whereas the house nights were a total mixed bag. It was neat to look around and be like, 'Wow this is something that really transcends generation and gender or where you're from.' Like, people get down to this shit cause it's a really fundamental beat, a rhythm that comes right out of Africa. It comes right out of the cradle of our civilization."
Unlike other scenes, house music united people rather than separated them. As soon as Dauncey had made this discovery, he was hooked. So how did a self-proclaimed 'white kid from the suburbs' find his way down the rabbit hole of disco house production? "It was mainly because of this record store called Record Land in Calgary," Dauncey recounts. "It was like 2000 or 2001 and people weren't really buying these records at all." The Calgary native remembers a time during his formative years of DJing when playing disco for the crowds wasn't well-received. While other DJs were playing it safe on the dancefloor and sticking to genres that the public could handle, Dauncey was knee deep in disco record heaven located in a backroom warehouse off the beaten path of mainstream music stores.
With a Sam the Record Man paycheque burning a hole in his pocket. Dauncey would enter the 12-inch bat cave, looking for long forgotten golden oldies to resurrect for his new venture. "Behind every one of those disco hits, there's a thousand misses. As it turned out, I actually gravitated more towards that kind of music anyway because they were taking more risks and doing more interesting stuff," he says. "Even the crappiest disco records would have these whole orchestras doing their entire string section. It was probably not cheap to make something so elaborate."
For Dauncey, time in the records stores and in his studio would quickly become the most valuable in terms of music education. Hours spent scouring thousands of once fresh-pressed disco vinyl proved to be worthwhile. "That's what I was after, these little idiosyncratic bits of these disco tracks," he reveals. "Cause I wasn't that great at re-creating an actual disco drum sound. We've gotten a lot better at that now, but back then the only way to get those sounds was to go and sample the record. Through that I learned a shit load about that type of music. Cause even hearing the bad ones, you can always learn from it."
After years of delving deep in disco and house music territory, Dauncey has recently decided to go down a slightly different musical path. Inspired by bands such as Cocteau Twins and Heaven 17, Dauncey's most recent release follows more along the lines of '80s pop experimentation, yet stays true to the Homebreakin' Records' signature disco sound. "Right in the middle of winter last year I made this beat that was a lot different than some of the stuff that people are used to hearing from me," Dauncey explains. "It was getting closer to some of the records I like from the '80s where you have this sort of explorative sound palate."
The fresh, new sound called for a unique voice to complete the package, and thus Toronto vocalist Piper Davis was recruited for his latest single "Light Breaker". Floating delicately over the slow and steady, pulsating groove and '80s inspired synths is Davis' raspy yet luscious vocals. "We didn't auto-tune it or anything. You're hearing her voice," he clarifies. "I don't tend to overproduce vocals, but with her, any kind of quarks to her voice I want to preserve rather than iron out. I'd rather have some imperfections that are true to the artist or to the singer and weave those in and reflect those in production."
Although they live in different cities, striking a healthy creative balance came easy between the two. True artistic expression knows no bounds, or several time zones for that matter. "We have good understanding and she just managed to knock it out of the park." says Dauncey. "I'm just stoked that it worked out that way because sometimes it can be a bit soulless working with someone from that far away and you can't give them much direction. But Piper's so good that she just immediately felt the vibe of the track and nailed it."
Never one to hog the limelight, Dauncey insists upon the crucial role that Piper plays as the vocalist of the track. He maintains that without her, it would be incomplete. After our conversation, he sent me links to her SoundCloud page, praising the work of his talented music colleague and friend.
Unfortunately for Dahl, disco never died, but went on to live a long a prosperous life, one that still exists alongside its offspring, house. Through the work of producers such as Neighbour, the artists of Homebreakin' Records, and their associates it will continue thriving and finding new ways to keep bodies grooving on the dancefloor till sunrise.
The 'Light Breaker EP' will be available through vinyl on February 17 and features remixes by 6th Borough Project, Cyclist, Tad Wily and Enno Karr.