Published Jun 21, 2018Just a stone's throw from the gentrification hub that is Vancouver's Olympic Village, there's a place you might not notice as you drive by. It's named Deep Blue, in part after the famed IBM chess computer, but more for its thick coating of blue spray paint. At a glance, it looks like the paint is keeping its sheet metal exterior together, but inside, it's far more sophisticated.
Formerly the base of operations for the New Forms Festival, Deep Blue has evolved under the guidance of a small collective to become an underground concert venue and a non-profit artist studio, with 11 rooms housing the creative efforts of over two dozen artists. It has a minimal website and no social media presence to speak of, relying on word of mouth. That word found its way to Ashlee Lúk and Lida Pawliuk of Minimal Violence, who set up shop there in 2017.
"To be honest, a large part of the reason we wanted to move in here was that it's so close to home," Lúk admits. "Our studio was in our living room for the longest time. We got a studio space on Hastings and Main, shared with friends, but we never ended up moving our gear there because I'm so lazy. I like walking a block. It was nice to have the gear at home, but then there [was] no work/life separation."
Lúk and Pawliuk met in 2012 while working at a fancy sandwich shop. They started messing around musically together in 2014, but the concept of Minimal Violence didn't really take shape until they began work on their 2015 EP Heavy Slave for Soledad Muñoz's short-lived, female-only label Genero, using a Casio they found in a garbage can and a couple of pieces that Lúk already owned: a Roland TR-606 and Juno-60.
"I had already been in other kinds of electronic projects, like //zoo, where I had the Juno-60 — that was my first synth — and the TR-606, but it wasn't dance music at all," Lúk explains. "Then we started listening to more dance music, and being influenced by that, and wanted to see what we could come up with, with the tools we had. It was a mission to learn, which is still what it is. We decided to take on this whole world together, from the very bottom. There was never a specific sound ambition. It was learning how to make music together, and the sound that happens is the sound that happens."
The recordings of Minimal Violence are informed by their hardware-based live sets. The hub of their live set-up is the Akai MPC1000, with input from an old Access Virus, Roland's TR-606, TR-707 and TR-09, Waldorf Blofeld, and assorted pedals, while in the studio, they use Roland's JV-1080 and JP-8080, NAVA's TR-909 clone, Yamaha's DX21 (which they were going to sell until Legowelt made an entire album on one), and anything they can borrow, all recorded through Ableton Live for maximum dance floor impact.
Before Minimal Violence began, Lúk was primarily concerned with creating dark, political post-punk, namely the ace material she crafted with Lié, but when she got into dance music, she didn't go middling expectedly to the electroclash halfway point. She committed.
"The guy who released one of our first records was like, 'Do you want to do remixes of Lié songs?' No! That's just weird," Lúk recalls. "One or the other: the middle zone is a strange place to be. Punk music can influence electronic music in a way that's not so literal. The hardware thing is very much derivative of working with Lié. I didn't wrap my head around Ableton or learn how to MIDI-synch something for a long time after. Gear is more intuitive."
From their humble beginnings, Minimal Violence have gone on to release acid-laced techno for the likes of Lobster Theremin, 1080p, and Jungle Gym Records. Their latest single and first release on Ninja Tune sublabel Technicolour, "MVX," as well as its B-side "U41A," were also the first recordings made away from home, both produced entirely at Deep Blue. With the Vancouver Art and Leisure collective displaced to Mount Pleasant and the seemingly perpetual shutting down of the Red Gate Arts Society, artist-focused spaces like Deep Blue are rare. Under the microscope of perpetual civic redevelopment, artists must stand together.
"I feel very positive about the scene in Vancouver right now, but geographically, we're fucked, and we're kind of ignored because of our location," Lúk muses. "It's far removed from any other major city, where the major electronic publications tend to focus their energy. There's a bigger, stronger scene here than in a lot of other places."
"Vancouver got the Mood Hut focus for a long time," Pawliuk adds, "so that kind of took over, and that was Vancouver as far as electronic music went."
"Yeah, and 1080p," Lúk continues. "That's what people know Vancouver for, and they really did help shed a lot of light on the city, but I think we've moved on from that. There's people doing way harder shit now."