Why I'm Making Music Again

‚Äč

My fond connection with beats and melodies started at a young age. As a toddler, my mom blasted Lipps Inc's "Funkytown" and Babe Ruth's "The Mexican" on our big brown all-in-one stereo system when we were home alone. By grade 4, I had rigged my own little stereo in my bedroom with begged and borrowed parts. With the money from my after-school paper route, I made regular trips to the local department store for the latest 45 singles and cassette tapes. My babysitter - and his beautiful wood panel Radio Shack mixer, made me eclectic mixtapes that smoothly flowed from Beastie Boys to Wham. I was fascinated by his ability to blend one song into the other with that funky-looking box. My mom even convinced him to DJ my backyard birthday party when I was 10.
 

I'd get my first crack at DJ'ing the following year in England when our family found ourselves overseas for an 18 month stint due to my dad's work. In between trying to understand mandatory schooI uniforms and being harassed for my 'funny accent', I continued to obsessively collect music. However, the sounds were vastly different as house music was exploding in the UK in the late 80s. During that formative year and a half I was introduced to the likes of Rebel MC, A Guy Called Gerald, S'Express, and 808 State. It was music from the future, but with the familiar disco rhythms that reminded me of the records my mom played when I was a kid. It was a dream to dance to, and dancing became my refuge. Our family was struggling under the pressure of homesickness and depression. Nothing felt stable, and while we attended different schools, both my brother and I were having run-ins with teachers and getting into trouble. My overwhelming feelings of uncertainty and anger dimmed when I closed my eyes and moved to music. I spent every night I could at the local youth club, dancing. Sure, I socialized, but I was there to hear music and move my body. The windowless concrete building full of speakers and flashing lights was painted entirely black on the inside. It was there, on an army base off the M40 in the English Midlands, that I got my first taste of mixing two records together. The regular DJ knew me well. I was consistently the first one on the dancefloor and often asked questions about the tracks he was playing. One night, as I was asking for the name of a song he played, he pulled me into the booth. "You love the music so much, why don't you have a go?" is what he said as he handed me the headphones. My tentative hands moved cautiously on the faders as I brought in the horns and breaks from Stevie V's "Dirty Cash".
 

When we made our way back to Canada, funky breaks, in the form of hip hop, were all the rage. While I can still to this day sing every word to Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance" and Nice & Smooth's "Sometimes I Rhyme Slow", it was the groovy broken beats, not the lyrics, that captivated my feet. Our town's teen club acted as the weekly gathering spot for big Saturday night dances that attracted kids from all the neighbouring towns. The dancefloor became the battle ground for weekly dance-offs that often pitted the different towns against one another. I was no stranger to the centre of those dance circles and the tension escalated to physical fights on more than one occasion. Thanks to an endorsement of my mom's best friend, I got a part-time job at the local fast food joint to keep me out of trouble. I was happy as it gave me a steady stream of money to buy music with. It wasn't long until I had hundreds and hundreds of CDs and cassettes in my collection. I continued going to the dances, and when I wasn't shaking my rump, I was hanging by the DJ booth. The transient way of military life meant that a few DJs came and went in a short period of time. I seemed to play the same role regardless of the jock: I brought in my music to supplement theirs and advised on the genres they were less knowledgeable about. In return, I got to mix in the odd song while receiving lessons on track selection and programming sets. The next time the DJ moved away, I was offered the gig. I was 15 years old and had landed my first residency.
 

That's how it all started. Two decades and hundreds of shows later, this passion of sharing music had taken me to heights I had not dreamed of. I got to bring my sounds to cities across North America and even a couple in Europe. I got to remix not one, but two of my absolute favourite teenage records: DJ Icey's "Brr Go Go" and DJ Dan's "Loose Caboose". I opened for The Prodigy and played Ultra Music Festival, Shambhala, and Burning Man. But somewhere along the journey, I forgot why I had got in to it all in the first place. I wasn't happy. On the contrary, I was miserable. I got disconnected from my joyful childlike self who loved getting lost in music. I was no longer hunting for new music to excitedly share with friends. As the pressures of adult life creeped in, I was making and playing music that wasn't from the heart. Maybe the best example is the last tune I made before bowing out, "Luckiest One". It is nothing more than a dreadful ripoff of Avicii's "Levels". It was all being done to chase a payday. The effects of this loss of purpose in pursuit of money aren't surprising: I was burned out, bummed out, and deeply depressed without realizing it until it was too late. I drank too much. I neglected and sabotaged my personal relationships. I was unhealthy mentally and physically, and I blamed music.
 

The viral video of me losing my cool says it all. Is there any possibility that the person in that video is happy and stable? Seeing it now makes me think of a Wayne Dyer quote that I'm fond of: “When you squeeze an orange, you'll always get orange juice to come out. It doesn't matter who is squeezing it or when. You'll never get apple juice, or grapefruit juice. You'll get orange juice because that's what's inside. The same logic applies to you: when someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, or says something unflattering or critical, and out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, tension, depression, or anxiety, that is what's inside."
 

It's been 5 years since I played my 'Get Out of Here' tour. It's also been four years since I've had a drink. After the initial period of detox and reflection, something beautiful happened. I began dancing again. Without the force of trying to achieve business goals, or the pressure to make ends meet, I was hearing music with fresh ears for the first time in years. I started going out to CODA, not to schmooze, or get drunk, but to lose myself in the dancefloor. Moving my body with my eyes closed, under those flashing lights with the bass pulsating through me, I felt the same exhilaration and release I did at that youth club 25 years before. Inspired by these magical experiences, I began making music again. Music that I loved.

The last half-decade has seen me channel my creative energy into other projects. I launched a blog, made videos, and even started writing a book. Regardless of the medium, there has been one constant intent with the output: helping, inspiring, and connecting with others. I'm excited to say that I'm going to start releasing music again. If I'm lucky, making and sharing this music will bring people together to smile and dance.
 

<3 Robb