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Photography Agatha Powa (@agathapowa)

Dazed Mix: Bambii

Bambii talks DJ politics, her night JERK, touring with Mykki Blanco – and drops a wild club mix for Dazed

“Bambii is one of the most talented DJs I know period. We have toured together for almost two years now and she’s someone I also love tremendously as a human being. I’m really excited for her because she’s so good at what she does and things continue to just keep popping off for her. I would say she’s one to watch but that doesnt do her justice. She’s already a star now – watch her blast off!” – Mykki Blanco, guest editor of Dazed, August 2018

“Toronto needed something else,” says Bambii. “I was tired of not being able to hear dancehall mixed with electronic music and having to go to either house music parties where everyone is old as hell, to the hood for black genres or to a club with bottle service in the bodycon dress with the heels.” 

When we catch up with Toronto-born DJ Bambii she’s enjoying a moment of rest on her solo European tour. Even though the culture differs from her Canadian roots – artistically she feels at home in cities like Berlin and London and has recently appeared on line-ups for Pxssy Palace and BBZ. “People will say ‘what was the key moment?’ It takes a lot of little things,” she explains. “But the first time I toured Europe with Mykki (Blanco) was pivotal, and I definitely owe him a lot.”

The 27-year-old had been blogging a lot on Facebook about social issues and “pretty much talking shit,” when she started to gain traction in the Toronto music scene. Word of mouth spread quickly spread to the Californian rapper when he needed a DJ in Canada. “I was recommended to him when he was coming to Canada and his DJ couldn't cross the border, which sucked for his DJ but was very fortuitous for me.” Musically the pair gelled, and when Mykki DM’d Bambii asking her to join him on his European tour they became good friends.

However, she’s now going it alone performing in clubs in hotspots like Berlin, Gothenburg and Amsterdam, here she talks DJ politics, her night JERK, and drops a 30 minute club mix for Dazed, which she’s called Trinity “because it sounds like three distinct parts that each bend the rules of global dance music.” Check it now.

So you’re in Berlin now, how does the music and nightlife in the European scene compare to Toronto?

Bambii: I’ve been to probably over 20 European cities, and it differs obviously there are some cities where they’re a little bit more and a little bit less conservative but I have to say making a generalisation and comparing Europe to Toronto, Toronto is boring! The last call (in bars) is at 2am, and we’ve had an entertainment district that’s been shut down. We’re just not on the same level, especially in a city like Berlin where nightlife is almost philosophically respected as a real art form. As a DJ, I definitely have been drawn to the culture here. 

Talk to me about your club night JERK, why did you start it?

Bambii: I started JERK when I began DJing. It is very hard to get booked, being a woman and being a POC. Also as multicultural as Toronto is, from my vantage point it’s also quite stratified. There are areas where all Caribbean people live, and you had to (travel) pretty far to get to a bashment event. If you’re a young person you’re probably not going to go all the way to the hood with the Jamaican uncles to listen to dancehall, because it’s just not cool (laughs). When I started JERK that was basically creating a platform for myself because I wanted a party that was truly diverse, I didn’t want it to be over-intellectualised. The first one was 250 people, and now it’s 1000. I believe that people benefit from being around people that are not exactly like them, so as much as I can appreciate being in a space that’s only queer, I’m not interested in ostracising other people from these spaces, as long as they’re respectful.

I read that you also keep in mind the affordability of the night, why is it important that accessible nightlife is also cheap 

Bambii: It’s just from personal experience. I moved out very young and I feel like I’ve had a relationship with poverty until I started DJing. So I also give away free chicken (laughs). The first party I made the chicken myself, but now I don’t have to anymore. In Toronto, there is not this idea of public space, we have a few parks, but you can’t throw parties or you play music too loud. We don’t have block parties. We don’t have street festivals unless their corporately backed. Something I noticed in Europe, just walking the street, when it’s hot outside, people will pull out their tables and chairs and sit all day and night. In the parks too. In Toronto, you literally cannot do that, the police will come. It isn’t too idealistic for club space should be a space where you want the barrier to enter to be as low as possible. Especially if we’re talking about queer parties, which is the only time queer people get to see each other or see themselves represented. You want everyone to be able to go.

Do you feel pressure as a black female DJ to play certain genres?

Bambii: The world around us always tries to compartmentalise or categorise us in a particular way. It’s like it fucks white people up when you’re counter to the image they had in their head of you, and they can’t handle it. My creative peers around me who aren’t black never felt like they couldn’t access these aesthetics or different sounds. If you’re a young black creative and you fall into a couple more boxes, then you’ll have trouble navigating and getting resources and marketing yourself. You need to push through that. Right now in 2018, the artists that are the most cool are the ones that seem the most complex because we see ourselves in them. 

“In 2018, the artists that are the most cool are the ones that seem the most complex because we see ourselves in them” – Bambii

Is it easier to bypass gatekeepers when you can get the word around your community online? 

Bambii: Some people aren’t internet savvy, and brands who are throwing major parties aren’t doing field research. They’re not going into clubs and checking them out and seeing who actually has a chance. Obviously I’m making a generalisation but I would appreciate that more over the girl who had 20k followers. I’m seeing a lot of normatively attractive, cis women, and within that I’m seeing so many people and communities being erased. We all have different levels of privilege, and that’s not really being addressed.

What is it you’d like to see change in the industry?

Bambii: A lot of parties and brands are picking up that it is now cool to use certain political phrases and it is progressive but if you actually look into who has power and who’s in the leadership positions, you’re going to see a disconnect there. They’re using politics as an aesthetic but not sincerely engaging. The way they’re selecting the artists they pick up. The relationship between the brand and the artist and social media, I know so many amazing artists who aren’t PR girls, who don’t have the ‘look’ and so many factors that don’t have anything to do with music. But, these things determine your fate and that’s completely unfair.

I often get asked about marginalisation, when I do interviews that’s the first question ‘how did you overcome the barriers of being blah blah blah’. Those barriers exist but I am Caribbean, black and queer – people underestimate the power of being from those communities and the support that they’re willing to give.