Matt Johnston, perhaps better known around Calgary as SwaggaCats, is an up and coming VJ, DJ and event planner that has been making waves in and around the city, creating unique glitchy visuals to accompany electronic music performances and collaborating with other like-minded artists. With a new EP set to come out in April and his company, Quiet Hours Silent Disco starting to take off, there’s a lot to look forward to from this multifaceted artist.
While also an avid producer and DJ, SwaggaCats has become known for his video mapping stage visuals that seem to perfectly complement whatever sounds they are accompanying. The mesmerizing color patterns and circuit bending visuals are eye-catching and really make you wonder how he makes it happen. “For my visuals, one of my primary aesthetics is analog glitch material. I have this circuit bent color correction device, and I run a video signal into it. The device has 9 switches and 3 knobs on it. None of them are labeled, and the effects are different depending on the source material, and what other switches are flipped. It’s trial and error every time,” says Johnston of his visual creative process.
“Until very recently, I didn’t know if this process was actually working for me, or if all of my work was just self-serving and wouldn’t really resonate with anyone else. But then I got hired to do visuals at The Palace for a couple of bigger name dubstep shows (you wouldn’t catch me in the crowd, but the people do like to party), and I just sort of did my own thing up until the headliner went on, and people were loving it.” Musically, Johnston is releasing an EP this April called Rigid Space on Colorado-based label The Seed and has plans for a collaborative event set to take place at The Hifi Club. He has also been busy perfecting the new Quiet Hours Silent Disco, a series of events in which attendees are given a pair of headphones that are wirelessly connected to the DJ booth and the music is broadcasted directly to the headphones via a radio transmitter instead of through a sound system. So far, these events have taken place at Oak Tree Tavern in Kensington and most recently, the fresh Inglewood microbrewery, Cold Garden Beverage Company. A unique experience that allows a quiet room to become a dance party for anyone who would to participate, Johnston is hoping to be able to throw these parties in new places this year.
“We’re always looking for new places to throw parties, and we realized that the wireless headphones really give us a lot of freedom that you just don’t have with any other music platform. We’re working on a fully mobile DJ rig so that we can have a crowd of 100 or so people dancing to music only they can hear, but wherever we decide to park our setup. It’s in planning stages now, but the goal is to have it done before summer.”
With all of his community-building initiatives coming to fruition, SwaggaCats has some ideas about how the state of the electronic music scene might be improved and he hopes to contribute to that with his work. After studying into the history of dance music, which goes back to the marginalized and oppressed LGBTQ communities of the United States where discotheques and then, legendarily, The Warehouse in Chicago, became a place of solace, freedom community for people to dance, Johnston has taken it upon himself to guide the over-saturated DJ scene back to those roots. “Another personal goal is to create an audio/visual set – DJ and VJ at the same time. Personally, I’m a fan of the idea of hiding the DJ. The DJ being a superstar or the centre of attention really goes against the whole community aspect that dance culture is based on. If I can really control the whole atmosphere, be the entire show, be something worth paying attention to... that’s something to aspire to. That being said, I still wouldn’t want the focus to be ME,” Johnston explains enthusiastically.
“I want the art to be its own thing”
Formulaically, Johnston wants to bring back the sense of community that is such an integral part of going to raves and dance music events to the level it was at back in the 70s and 80s when these sorts of initiatives were groundbreaking for oppressed people in marginalized communities.
“The roots of dance music culture are all about creating a singular space where marginalized communities (in North America, particularly the black and LGBTQ communities) could come together and share a mutual love of dancing. There has definitely been a big push lately to reinforce the whole notion of ‘safer spaces’ - in Alberta and BC particularly, people look at this like making drug use less sketchy, but it also applies to making ALL people, male/female/gay/straight/trans, feel that they are absolutely welcome – and it has been amazing to see this start to become the norm. Not just the norm, the expectation.” “In applying this to my own work, I always say that nothing is off limits. You don’t hear me say ‘no’ to cool ideas very often, I’m more inclined to ask ‘how?’” Keep your eyes and ears peeled for SwaggaCats’ creativity and inventiveness as we enter the warmer months of 2018. You can check out his work and find out more about some of his upcoming initiatives around the city at https://www.swaggacats.media/about/ and follow him on Instagram @swaggacats