'We feel left out, neglected': Sydney Blu urges Junos to recognize underground DJs

·3 min read

TORONTO — Sydney Blu can tell you there’s an artistry to getting crowds moving on club dance floors and she wants the Juno Awards to recognize the people who craft those pulsing beats.

The veteran Toronto DJ and producer is putting the finishing touches on a proposal that urges Junos organizers to think beyond the borders of radio-friendly dance hits and introduce an award for the underground dance single of the year.

The new category would offer house and techno music producers an opportunity to be toasted at the biggest celebration of Canadian music, a place where she said they’ve largely been absent for years.

"We feel left out and neglected," the performer, whose real name is Joanne Hill, explained in a recent interview.

"We’re growing every year as a completely separate community than is being represented."

Hill said she plans to submit more than 190 support letters from DJs, producers and other members of the country’s dance music industry to Junos organizers in the coming weeks.

While the Junos already have two dance categories — dance recording of year and electronic album of the year — both are usually occupied by artists who Hill asserts would hardly qualify as "underground."

Recent winners of electronic album, for instance, include globally successful Niagara Falls, Ont.-raised Rezz and Montreal native Kaytranada, who took home two Grammys on Sunday.

"We're a completely different world," Hill said.

Canada's electronic dance industry has seen its identity reshaped over the past decade as pop-angled electronic dance music, often called EDM, spiked in mainstream popularity and completely overshadowed the rest of the community.

Global artists including Avicii found widespread acceptance with an accessible sound that was adopted by FM radio and quickly scaled the Top 40 charts.

A generation of Canadian DJs and producers rode that wave of popularity to great success, Loud Luxury and Felix Cartal among them. They began to dominate the Juno dance categories with songs that might’ve found more play at pool parties than in late-night techno sets.

Hill said she first observed the omission in 2017 when she was on the Junos committee that oversees the dance recording of the year category.

"When the nominations came through every year it was always EDM artists," she said.

"There was never any recognition towards the underground dance artists."

By 2019, she had created a draft proposal to launch a new category focused on underground artists.

However, for Junos organizers it isn’t just a matter of throwing another category onto the pile of awards, which numbered more than 40 last year.

Allan Reid, head of Junos, said there are financial costs tied to launching another award and the proposal must show there are enough projects released in that genre to sustain the prize for many years.

"We can't start a category and have 20 releases one year and 10 the next," he said.

Hill said "hundreds of artists" would be willing to submit their work for consideration. If the category is launched, she intends to be among them with her new album "Conviction."

Her proposal will also outline a nominating and voting committee split almost equally between male and female members, including Andrea Graham, a DJ and co-founder of the Bass Coast Electronic Music and Art Festival in Merritt, B.C.

Among the DJs who Hill said have signed letters of support for the new category are Windsor, Ont. native Richie Hawtin and Toronto-based Hatiras, a winner of two Juno trophies in the years before mainstream artists stormed the dance categories.

"Winning a Juno is still a very important accolade for any Canadian artist, but I think it is crucial to underground electronic music," Hill said.

"We're not just some little niche subculture, we are a massive community that stays true to the form of the original sounds of electronic music.

"They need to catch up."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021

David Friend, The Canadian Press