Artist Q&A

Interview with Vancouver’s Öhm: Pioneers of West Coast electronic dance music

Öhm is a new Canadian electronic music duo from Chris Peterson and Craig Joseph Huxtable.

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By Christopher DeMarcus (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 6, 2013

Ohm duo Chris Peterson and Craig Joesph Huxtable.

Öhm is a new Canadian electronic music duo from Chris Peterson and Craig Joseph Huxtable. Both artists have been part of Vancouver’s electronic music scene for over a decade, but they have been on different paths until now. 

Best known for his work with Delirium and Front Line Assembly, Peterson has been a prolific songwriter with an international reputation and gold record status. As the other half of Öhm, Huxtable is known for his video game soundtracks and live performances as Landscape Body Machine (LBM). Öhm’s self-titled debut was released on Artoffact records last month. 

How long have you known each other?

Chris Peterson: My memory for meeting people isn’t so good anymore, but Craig has it pegged around 1999, I think. It was probably at a nightclub. I had heard of him and his project LBM. There was a small group of us that were doing [electronic] music in Vancouver, so like minds ended up meeting sooner than later.

You’ve been making electronic music for decades. Chris, you have travelled all over the world as a performer. What do you think is the main difference between the way you started and upcoming musicians? 

CP: The technology and the ease of its use. When I started around 1985-86, it was much more difficult and expensive to get from point A to point B. I didn’t have formal music training of any kind, but I liked computers and electronics. I ended up figuring out music through science and a lot of help from friends, but it was a lot to learn: programming could be very frustrating and time consuming. That difficulty and challenge tended to put people off, it kept electronic music from being something that “anybody can do.”

Now software has evolved toward making things easy for almost anyone to do, as it is with some graphic and visual art too. While that is a fun and wonderful thing, it also means that everybody is invited to the party. The pool has become diluted and perhaps creativity has suffered too.

Some of those early challenges were great exercises for the brain – helped inspire new ways of thinking, problem solving, and “building the better mousetrap,” if you will, in a musical sense. I see that almost guerrilla-like tactic of figuring out how to make a good record with no money and some odd bits of borrowed gear as an advantage. If you understand why new technology was developed, you have a better chance of being able to push its boundaries and make something unique with it.

Do you think Europe has a bigger scene for electronic dance music?

CP:  Based on show turnouts and the large amount of successful festivals over there, yeah they do. Why? It’s anyone’s guess. Mine is like this: they have less space, and are more urban by percentage. They are exposed to more cultures… a small drive can put you in another country with another language and lifestyle. They are better educated and don’t have that small-town, centre-of-the-universe mentality like a lot of North Americans. They have their share of dicks over there, but they don’t have that redneck factor so much. So generally they are more progressive and have more of an open mind to art and music. I always get the sense that music is still considered art over there, and that it’s just a fashion or party accessory over here in North America. That’s being very general though and I could be talking out my ass, but I’m just going with what I noticed and felt. [Laughs.] 

Do you think it’s becoming harder for artists in Canada as opposed to other countries? 

Craig Joseph Huxtable: Yes. It’s always been hard. I think it’s even harder for west coast artists – we just don’t have a lot of choices to play. We are pretty isolated from the rest of the entertainment world in many ways. It’s Vancouver/Victoria and Calgary/Edmonton and that’s it. The closest major city to us is in another country, with what has become a very hostile border for artists to cross.

What’s the main difference between playing shows in Canada and the United States?  

CP: Besides the insane distance between any Canadian cities, they’re a bit more reckless, which can be fun or frightening. The turnouts can be a lot better, but that’s often a matter of math and percentages. I usually have more fun in the States, but I think that has something to do with me being so happy to be there with all their awesome junk food and cheap bad habit stuff. It’s paradise for a smoking, drinking carnivore. But seriously, I think Canadians hold back a bit more, and the Americans are a bit more in-your-face and rowdy, which is great when you’re playing high-energy music.

How would you describe British Columbia as a music community? 

CP:  The shitty weather for eight months a year makes it easy to focus on staying in and writing songs. It’s also a supportive place in terms of artists helping each other and networking, even though the cities are making it harder to find live venues for developing artists. There’s a good family-like atmosphere for the type of music I do. We all get behind each other’s work, and share what resources we can.

CJH: We used to have an amazing party on Vancouver Island called Soundwave, but that hasn’t happened for a few years now. I don’t know if geography has much to do with it but with the popularity of EDM now these festivals is certainly getting bigger and bigger. I do think it’s pretty neat when you can take something like that out into nature and respect the environment at the same time.

I played at the Motion Notion festival last year, just north of Golden, BC in the middle of the rockies. It was amazing – breathtaking. The disappointing thing was the music itself. I love all forms of dance music, but I find what I’m hearing these days at festivals to be very tired and uninspiring. I heard Avicii at least 20 times during that festival and everyone was dropping step in their sets. I was pissed off, so I went home and wrote “Car Crash” the next day.

Craig, you played keyboards on a couple of Front Line Assembly tours and records. What’s the difference between working on a project like FLA and working on Öhm? 

CJH: For the most part, my contribution to FLA was as a live musician. My contribution to recordings like “Shifting Through the Lens” was just answering a phone call. With Öhm I’m working closely with another artist and I have to make room for their artistic vision, so that was a new challenge.

I couldn’t take a song from beginning to end by myself. I had to be prepared for changes to be made by the other guy. It was scary because I lost some artistic control, but what I got back in return was something way more interesting.

Were there any new methods or attitudes that you brought to this production? 

CP: Methods, not as much, but the attitude and outlooks were new. I focused on enjoying the process more than ever, and was much more open to the songs going to places I wouldn’t have predicted.  There was more letting go with this album instead of premeditating.

CJH: About halfway through making the record I realized that if I really wanted Öhm to sound different from earlier works of mine, I would have to shake things up. So I put a focus on writing songs with lyrics and vocal parts instead of instrumentals – pushed sounds and songs in different directions. With starting a new band it didn’t seem like there was any point in holding back. My approach to the lyrics was twofold; an outer layer that people can immediately relate to on the surface with a layer of something we can individually relate to. I tackled a major sociological theme like environmentalism (“Brute”) or abuse at the hands of the church (“Divinity”) and wrapped those themes around a minor theme buried in the song – deeper personal expressions about my own life.

Some EDM guys just want to keep in their basement or behind a DJ booth, but not you guys. You’ve been live players in a lot of acts. What is it that draws you to the stage? 

CJH:  I have no idea. I don’t think I ever thought about it. I’ve been on stage since I was very young, starting with choirs and piano recitals, then stage acting and musical theatre until my early twenties—live electronic music at 16—so the stage has always felt like a very natural place for me to be.  It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t a performer. There are things I can do on stage playing live that I can’t do in normal contexts. Even if I’ve rehearsed something I feel the need to push it further, to take the performance to a level that it hasn’t been to yet. Or take a song in a new direction. Improvisation feels very natural to me on stage and historically my best shows have always been when I take risks. I get to grow and go somewhere new – that’s exciting.

I wish more electronic artists would get out of the basement and take risks on stage, push the definition of what playing live means. There are so many tools and instruments at our disposal now. Staring at your laptop onstage doesn’t cut it anymore – not that it ever did.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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