INTERVIEW: Isis Graham of Alberta Electronic Music Conference (AEMCON)


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Ahead of this year’s Alberta Electronic Music Conference (AEMCON), I caught up with Isis Graham to discuss her role with AEMCON, insight into this year’s conference, why Alberta, what’s TONTO and what’s in store for the future of AEMCON. Read our conversation below.

AEMCON 2018 will take place at the National Music Centre—one of Canada’s best live venues:

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What exactly is your involvement with AEMCON? Tell us about your team and how your roles have evolved over the past 3 years?

IG: My duty at AEMCON is the talent acquisition, event management, and logistics, I tour as a DJ and perform as Esette. Andrew Williams, our Marketing Director is from Edmonton and runs Night Vision Music Academy, he’s also a full-time producer and DJ under the guise of Dunmore Park. Matt Carter, our Marketplace Director is a producer from Lethbridge, he hosts a number of community-based events in his community and tours and performs as KillMidi, an exciting live act. Our Social Media Coordinator Dane Hanson has run Skylab Events throughout the Canadian prairies for around 6 years and produces and DJs as Danger Bay. Our Volunteer Coordinator Vicki Perrault is essentially a Western Canadian mainstay in the festival volunteer management sector. Max Foley, our media team coordinator is a photographer and blogger for numerous media outlets in Alberta, our Graphic Designer Michael Benz runs Noctilux Collective, one of Alberta’s leading bass music initiatives and now a label. Chan Neveling our videographer is a DJ as well and works full time as a videographer for festivals and known brands as well.

IG: We are lucky to have a team comprised of DJs, producers, and creatives from all over Western Canada. This helps us stay on the ground level of what’s important to our community and develop programs at AEMCON that suit the needs of local musicians and business owners. The process of growing into our roles has been really interesting as the scope of the conference program grows year after year. Certainly, after our second year, it was clear that we each needed to focus our skills and efforts into one area and it’s been wonderful to streamline and learn how to grow with the demands of the conference. Our first year had around 45 delegates and 150 guests and speakers and in 2018 we are looking at well over 120 speakers and artists and over 500 guests. It’s a lot of growth, and it’s very exciting to see for our little centre in the middle of Canada.

We understand AEMCON will host a variety of workshops, masterclasses, panel discussions and evening performances — what are you personally most looking forward to?

IG: My favorite part about music conferences is the gathering of knowledge and the opportunity to share it in panel formats, one on one discussions or presentations. I think a lot of the tough thinking and planning in our industry happens at events like this and it helps us format the future. I also really love panels about history, especially if it’s localized as you can really see into the window of time.

Here’s a list of my top picks from the AEMCON Program:

  • Exploring The Mothership, A Journey into Live Midi Hardware with Detroit’s legendary Octave One.
  • Fast Forward Rewind: DnB in Alberta within a global context A panel loaded with local D&B legends as well as Chris Goss from Hospital Records.
  • Safer Scenes: Moving Beyond Call-Out Culture is surely set to cover some tough ground but will surely give attendees some excellent tools around mental health and managing your online presence.
  • Keeping Venues Alive & Flourishing is set to be quite revealing in terms of how we look at the reality of keeping clubs and underground venues afloat in tough and ever-changing economic times.
  • A build your own synth workshop as well as product masterclasses from Universal Audio, Pioneer, Roland, Moog, and Ableton.
  • BioWare New World, New Score: Inside the Music Production & Technology of BioWare’s New IP ‘ANTHEM’. This unique insider view of Video Game music production is sure to inspire a new generation of game music producers in Alberta, and, of course, we are most excited to reveal the great Tonto!

You’ll be presenting some exciting news regarding the newly refurbished TONTO — can you tell us some more about this?

IG: The world suffered the tragic and sudden loss of John Leimseider, the head resident instrument technician at the National Music Centre in mid-September. John had just completed the full restoration of the TONTO Synthesizer, which he had been working on since NMC had acquired the synth in 2013. This work along with so much more will live on as part of John’s great legacy at NMC here in Calgary. We are so lucky to be hosting Malcolm Cecil, one of the co-creators of TONTO, who will be delivering demonstrations and lectures on the history of the instrument at AEMCON. In case readers aren’t aware of what TONTO is, it is the world’s first (and still the largest) multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer and it lives full time here in Calgary at NMC. This is certainly a piece of history that should not be missed.

Tell us about the venues. We heard the National Music Centre is something special — can you elaborate? And where else can attendees expect to visit?

IG: There simply could not be a better space to host an Electronic Music conference in Canada. The National Music Centre’s new space showcases the collection, which includes over 2,000 rare instruments and artifacts including the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, the TONTO synthesizer, and one of Elton John’s pianos, along with the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. On top of that, space is home to a number of state of the art recording studios and event spaces, perfect for a music conference. The space was designed by Portland architect Brad Cloepfil and is clad with 226,000 custom glazed tiles made in Germany. The spaces are mesmerizing and at times, discombobulating and will surely inspire creativity for our guests.

The National Music Centre of Canada – Calgary, Alberta

What is it about Alberta that makes it an ideal city for this sort of Conference-Festival?

IG: While most people abroad will likely have no recollection of artists from Alberta, our province has been a constant contributor of successful, marketable artists on all levels for decades, but unfortunately,  most Canadian music business infrastructure resides in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, which are quite far away from our centre. Our artists tend to leave quickly for greener pastures. However, over the last decade, the prominence of our fast-growing festival circuit in Western Canada has made Calgary and Edmonton top tour stops for most traveling artists, the number of shows and venues has increased as well as the number of producers, labels, and agents residing in our province. There is a massive need for a music business infrastructure here to support the aforementioned groups and that’s where our idea for AEMCON truly came from. Not only does Alberta have a fantastic tourism infrastructure for international travelers, but we’ve got an excellent network of connected cities all over the western Seaboard in both Canada and the US. Having an educational conference hub closer to the Midwest and West Coast than NMC or ADE is essential to the continuation of growth of this entire music business ecosystem on our side of the planet.

What is your #1 goal for this year’s event?

IG: I think our number one goal for AEMCON is always to keep giving artists hope that they can succeed in their music careers. Our successes come from the interactions and business card exchanges in the hallways between panels, the new collaborations that we see after the conference and of course the continued success of artists taking the reins in their career and staging their next big moves. For us, it’s easy to feel like the project is a success when we see success in others year after year.



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Studio Bell | The National Music Centre – NMC
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