Destination Vancouver: Azpect is the latest addition to DJ SS’s ever-growing Formation Records family.
Following a rich history on the label – on which the likes of Nero, John B, The Prototypes, Original Sin, Twisted Individual and many more all cut their teeth with early releases – Azpect first made herself known to the world last year with a cheeky between-lockdown trip to the UK for a series of sit-down events and a remix of Bachelors Of Science.
Building on the momentum this year with a summer viber Feeling Blessed and another whistle-stop European tour, Azpect (real name Chiffon Leyden) now steps up with her debut EP. Four tracks deep and comprising collaborations with DJ SS, Lady MC, G1 and her guitar player brother Radiosoap, it’s her most accomplished and full-flavoured dispatch to date. Get to know:
What was the first drum & bass record you heard that put you on this path?
The first D&B track I ever heard was in 2010. The Rollz remix of Greenlaw – Less Of A Star. That led me to the The Rollz EP and set me on my path!
Definitely. Back when I first started getting into this, most of the songs I would find would be on UKF – both drum & bass and dubstep. They were real eye-opening moments for me.
What’s your musical journey been since then?
I’ve been through so many different phases of music, whether it’s hip-hop or house music, but I always had a love for drum & bass. Back when I started DJing it was predominantly house, but after a while, I began losing to lose my inspiration and almost came to a point where I wanted to quit DJing because I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. The changing point for me was in 2018 when I played a show in Castlegar, BC. I played a few different genres but ended with drum & bass. One of my dancers said, ‘When you played drum & bass it was so good and flowed so well.’ So I thought, ‘Okay, let’s try this path and see where it takes me!’
Yeah totally! You were established as a house DJ for some time, right?
Yeah I was playing as Miss Fonni for about 10 years. I didn’t love that name but had a hard time thinking of a different one. It was a long journey with it. When I got signed in 2020, DJSS asked me if I wanted to keep going as Miss Fonni or change my name. That’s when I changed to Azpect and started a whole new chapter.
A whole new book! So I know about Toronto’s history as a drum & bass city, but tell me about Vancouver’s D&B scene…
It’s not like Toronto’s history but there’s a strong scene out here especially with Digital Motion who put on great D&B nights. I grew up in a small town, and that’s where I got started, then I moved to Vancouver in 2012 to go to school for music. That’s when I discovered Digital Motion Events and their bass nights on Saturday nights at Red Room. Their nights brought it all together for me.
I’m guessing you linked up with SS at one of his famous World Of Drum & Bass nights?
Yeah in Vancouver and then he did one in Whistler a few days later which I also went to. He’s been such a big influence and inspiration for me, he’s always pushing me past my boundaries. Like, ‘Okay this sounds good but write it again, I know you can do better.’ I’ve rewritten a track four or five times before I pass that level he’s set.
Artists need that!
I think so. You have people who tell you things sound good, which is great and super supportive, but he’s one of those people who will be brutally honest and push and push me. It is really important to have those type of people helping you with your music.
Did you have quite a musical background before you got into production?
I grew up in a musical family. I used to play bass guitar when I was younger, and always loved music. When I moved on from that I gave my bass guitar to my brother and he began practicing it and playing it for years and years. That’s why when I wrote my Reflections track I brought him into the studio to be part of it. It was actually my mom who brought me into the rave scene and introduced me to her DJ friends who took me under their wing! I remember having to get special notarized letter to attend Shambhala Music Festival because I was so young at the time but it was such a magical place. It was the one place I could go to and see all the artists I wanted in one spot before I was old enough to go to club events. That was so inspiring for me. I’d be looking up at the stages thinking, ‘I need to do this!’ There was a time in high school that I needed four more credits to graduate and my teacher said, ‘do 100 hours of anything and I’ll give you the credits.’ So of course, I chose DJing. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I wanted to take things further and attend school for audio engineering and music production.
Amazing. Shambala must have been an eye-opener as a kid!
It was an amazing experience. I loved it and being able to go from stage to stage and hearing all the different genres of music and that feeling of bass hitting you. Like I said – it was inspiring!
I bet your mum is well proud of you…
She’s been a huge part of my journey and has pushed me every step of the way. She used to say things like, ‘Play the bangers that build up and build up and build up and drop!’ She would also call me out when I got into the darker dubstep and she wasn’t much of a fan. She loves what I’m doing now though and is always so supportive.
That must have been a real vibe collaborating with your brother?
Totally. It definitely is. Seeing his progress has blown me away so to have him on a track with me has been really special. He plays solo but also makes lo-fi music. He’s very humble and genuine about everything, he just wants to make the music he loves.
Beautiful. Your debut EP is your biggest release to date and a full spectrum of your sounds so far. Give us a real high moment of the process….
Yeah I’m really excited about it! I think the high moment of the process for me was actually finishing the projects and seeing the whole EP come together. It’s those moments where I have so many projects on the go and none of them are quite finished yet but then something clicks and I just get on a roll of finishing all the past ones and getting them to a point where I don’t think there’s anything else I could possibly do to it to make them better. I wanted to have a variety of styles on this EP and it wasn’t until the connection with Lady MC came about and we did Free Your Mind and that was the icing on the cake. I knew the EP needed a different vibe to bring it all together and that was the perfect one.
Great. I hear you – starting an idea is fun, it’s the finishing that’s the challenge!
It really is. That moment where you’re really close to finishing something but you’re absolutely sick of hearing it over and over again and you’re trying to think of different directions to take it. That can be a real struggle.
I was going to ask for the most challenging moment of the process. Would that be it? A moment when the EP felt like it would never be complete?
That did happen for quite some time during the winter last year. The EP eventually came together just before summer where I was feeling inspired and I was coming home from work, locking myself away and finishing tracks and really making progress. It was like, ‘Okay this one is done, this one is done, this one is done.’ That was quite a high point by that stage.
Totally. So your daytime job is in the corporate world. Are your colleagues and workmates aware of this side of your life? It’s breakfast time in your time zone now, so are they aware you’re doing an interview on UKF before you go to work?
Oh sure, they know all about this! They were asking me mock interview questions to practice yesterday! They’re fully supportive of me and it’s really cool. Actually one of my co-workers who I don’t think has ever listened to drum & bass came up to me the other day and said, ‘Guess what I was doing this weekend? I’ve been listening to drum & bass!’ That was really cool. So yeah, I work with some great people and they’re right behind me.
Awesome. When we spoke on email before the interview you mentioned incorporating your indigenous roots into your music in the future. That sounds really interesting…
Yeah so my indigenous heritage comes from my mom’s side, which is Dene and Mikisew Cree First Nations. She would always take us to powwows when we were kids. During the summer this year, I was asked to do an indigenous history month mix for Remote Emissions, which was broadcasted on CJSW Radio in Calgary. I thought about how I could incorporate my heritage into drum & bass. It was quite difficult and it’s something I want really want to spend some time on, but I feel I need to learn more about my heritage in order to go about it in a respectful way.
That’s a fascinating project for the future!
Definitely. I feel there’s a lot more I need to learn as I want to approach it in the right way. The best place for me to begin would be within my family.
What were powwows like growing up?
I was pretty young when I was going to them. There was a lot of singing and dancing. I didn’t understand what they were singing, but I loved the traditional dancing the regalia, the drumming and of course the food. I want to go to one and experience it as an adult. I have a lot to learn about my heritage. My grandmother was one of the many missing women. She disappeared when my mom was just two and a half. There have been two Canada-wide searches for her but she was never found. That was a big part of my growing up, is having our family split apart. Most recently we’ve had findings of many deaths in residential schools, which is heart breaking because I have a lot of family members who went to residential schools.
Wow. That’s all such recent history, too. Tragic. So you’ve got so much to find out about your roots. We need to big up your mum don’t we
We do. She’s been a huge influence in my life. More than I can say…
So what’s coming up next?
The next release will be on November 26, which is a remix EP of Greenlaw and P-Tay’s ‘Hard To Thrive’. I made a halftime remix of it and loving it! I also have a D&B project I’m working on with the vocalist Sammie Hall, which I’ve actually rewritten four or five times but I’m finally at a point where I’m happy with it. That one will be out early next year. After that will be my next EP that I’ve just started building grooves for.
How’s the re-opening post-lockdown situation in Canada?
Venues are only just opening up for lounge style sit-down events. No dancing allowed but you can mingle between tables, which doesn’t make sense. We’ve got the World Of Drum & Bass Tour coming over here and I’m booking dates for the UK again for next year. I want to hold back on taking loads of shows and make sure the ones I do are special. I’m focussing on making music, so when I play those shows I have some great music to play. I was out in Europe this summer and played in the UK and Bulgaria. It was so nice to play to crowds dancing away like they were before Covid.
That must have been a buzz!
I loved them. I played last summer where I did a few sit-down events. This year I played sets at the Formation all day Jungle Slammer event in Leicester, Bristol D&B weekender, and Bulgaria Bass Sea Festival. There was a lot of constant travelling but so worth it!
A taste of things to come!
Definitely! It’s really exciting.
Any shouts to sign out with?
Big up to UKF for giving me the time to do this interview, DJSS and Formation Records for bringing me into the family, and most importantly, all the family and friends who have supported me through my journey!