It would be easy to forgive DJ Colette if, playing Calgary’s Habitat Living Sound, she gave off the been-there-done-that sort of vibe that DJs sometimes do. After all, she really has been there and she really has done that. Emerging from the early 90s Chicago club scene, a scene that birthed House music itself a few years earlier, Colette has been zig-zagging the globe as a touring DJ for 20 years. She’s a veteran, an original member of what has been called a “second wave of Chicago house”, falling in love with the music at Wicker Park loft parties alongside the likes of Windy City peers Felix Da Houscat and Kaskade. With this under her belt, her demeanor, however unlikely, is warm and casual. Grinning as she interacts with the crowd, she is genuinely enjoying herself this night.
In a city not known for significant DJ performances, Habitat is a small venue that you’ve seen before a dozen times. A bit of exposed brick here, a high top wood table there. A faux-candle chandelier hangs ostentatiously above a bar awash in blue light. The dance floor, though, is more charged than usual, people packed shoulder-to-shoulder, oblivious of anything but the glossy rhythms compelling their bodies to move.
Colette’s brand of club house edges on electro pop. Some tracks feel like the euro love-child of deep house and Italo disco. Others feel even more retro, like lost Drive soundtrack b-sides (now where did my fingerless leather gloves get to?). Everything is slick. There are no dubstep wobbles, no massive drops. “I grew up listening to a lot of 80’s pop music, and then I got into the house scene in the 90’s,” she explains “[my music] sort of marries those two ideas together. It’s all these 80’s and 90’s texture, but with a modern appeal.”
At almost 40 years of age, she’s throwback DJ from the days before the EDM explosion, and it shows. In the current days of computer jockeys, she’s expertly spinning this evening on Pioneer CDJs, basically only a small step beyond vinyl. If you need further proof of Colette’s old-school cred, check out this commercial she did for Motorola a while back. That phone looks like it should be in a museum.
Perhaps the most distinctive part of Colette’s DJ set is the silky smooth vocals, not that they exist, but that they are being sung live by Collette herself as she mixes. Colette began her music career as a vocalist on the tracks of other DJs, writing hooks overtop of their beats until she mastered the turntables herself. On her recordings the vocals are often augmented with a vocoder or talk box for effect, but tonight the refrains are clean and clear, highlighting her classically trained voice. She is even ad-libbing occasionally, vamping songs as she goes. With live, improvised mixes and vocals, Colette is singlehandedly putting to rest perhaps the biggest smear on the reputation of the current DJ scene.
Ever gracious, she happily chats with club-goers after the show—where she spun well past close. Waiting until the crowd dispersed, I approach her to commend her on her performance and to ask a few questions. Before I can say anything, she hands me a copy of her latest release, the aptly titled “When The Music’s Loud”. “Here,” she smiles, “it’s the last one so you better take it”. She then proceeds to ask me a few questions, leaving me dumbfounded as she bids me goodnight and walks off into the night. Been there, done that.
Words by: Brett Filmore
Links to DJ Colette: