Alex Naylor performs under the moniker Mother Mary, and this is their first year as a DJ.
Within this timeframe they’ve launched “Silent Disco,” a weekly radio show on CJSW, co-helmed two highly successful DIY parties, and made a string of notable appearances both on and off the club circuit.
They’ve also defied musical and societal establishment at every turn, creating positive growth for Calgary’s scene in the process.
Musically, Naylor’s sets explore the fringes and rebel offshoots within techno culture, sourced from pockets of likeminded people around the globe.
Societally, all of these accomplishments have been done while maintaining a focus on inclusiveness, intersectionality, and community growth through harm reduction.
Two years ago Naylor began volunteering with Calgary PartySafe, a peer-to-peer harm reduction information organization. The group gave Naylor, aspiring social worker, a platform to combine community outreach with their passion for dance music.
“We go to raves, and other events, and put up a booth, provide information and have conversations with people about substance use, about consent in the nightlife realm,” says Naylor.
“It can be kind of complicated for people, even though consent isn’t that complicated, but for people when they’re under the influence it can be something worth having a conversation about, so that’s the kind of stuff that we do.”
At this point Naylor had been attending raves for about four years, but their work with PartySafe instilled in them a new passion for the scene.
“That’s kicked me into high gear raver mode, where it’s just really wanting to be at all the events,” says Naylor.
“Either there as a dancer, or there with PartySafe to support friends.”
Community outreach was also the precursor to Naylor’s radio show. In January of this year they began co-producing a podcast for CJSW entitled “Rainbow Radio,” a monthly hour-long talk-show centred on Calgary’s Queer community.
“It’s mostly around intersectional topics within the queer community, focusing on a certain aspect of queer identity that we wanted to dive deeper into, interviewing people in the Calgary community who are part of that sub community of the queer scene,” says Naylor.
“Some topics that we’ve had have been interviewing people about their experience of the medical system as LBGTQ people, or interviewing a group of indigenous folks about their experiences as two spirit individuals - two spirit is an indigenous conception of queer identity that’s related to being able to embody different roles within the community, like different gender roles.”
The long hours spent at the station editing and conducting interviews soon caught the attention of the station’s heads, who saw Naylor’s dedication to both the station and the community. Naylor was offered a weekly time slot on the air, and so Silent Disco began a month after the first podcast aired.
Initially, Silent Disco was intended to be a showcase about the role of music in self-care.
“The original idea of it was more, what kind of music makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself, whether it’s more upbeat and more dancy, or more moody and minimal,” says Naylor.
“I feel like that kind of channeling emotions, and processing conflict, and processing different things going on in my life through music and through deep listening, that kind of thing has been what I like about electronic music in general.”
Like Rainbow Radio, Silent Disco also seeks to give a platform to the less visible and marginalized communities.
“I play mostly tracks produced by women and queer artists, and artists of colour, and other diverse artists like people who are not from North America or Europe,” says Naylor.
“I try to play stuff from people who are from non-G8 countries, I try to just do my small little piece in representing voices that are less heard.”
With the success of the radio show, Naylor soon began to channel their attention into building a following as a live DJ locally. In April they were brought on to help organize the DIY rave SKEEN, the brainchild of local electronica heavyweight Dino Dobosic.
Taking place at a secret location, SKEEN sought to bring an Eastern European after-hours experience to Calgary. The first edition sold out, and the team followed it up with a sequel in September.
“The second was pretty packed until like five or six [a.m.], quite a healthy dance floor until that time which is really nice,” says Naylor.
“I think that’s what the freedom of alternative venues can offer because you can’t party until that late in a club.”
What distinguishes SKEEN from other DIY events is its emphasis on both harm reduction and safer spaces practices. These values and resources were designed by Naylor, with the safer spaces policy being informed by their work with SASS, the Society for the Advocacy of Safer Spaces.
“That’s another area of the rave community, or electronic community, that I’m passionate about,” says Naylor.
“It’s sort of related to PartySafe in that it’s about offering some evidence based methods to engage in safer partying.”
Naylor believes that these policies are an integral part of dance music culture because, as they point out, the culture itself began as a haven for the marginalized.
“The history of this music, house especially but techno as well, as most people do know, it’s rooted in queer communities,” says Naylor.
“It’s rooted in minority communities as well - communities of colour, and often time trans folks were a huge part of it.
“So that, just like anything as it gets subsumed into the mainstream, it gets whitewashed and people who may have been part of the originating communities, like queer folks, are feeling less welcome, or feeling like these spaces now in the commercial venues are not as much for them.”
Women, survivors of assault, and people with disabilities are also groups that sometimes feel discouraged from going out for safety reasons.
“We have to be intentional about creating new spaces that everyone feels welcome in, and that’s in a small way what I try and do with SKEEN and with places were I play.
“Even though I haven’t played that many gigs out yet, I feel happy and proud to have played at all the places that I have because all of them have been spaces that I know that they’re making an effort to make it safe for marginalized folks.”
Naylor’s work thus far exhibits the intersection between social justice activism and electronic music, and the ability of this music, and these spaces, to make a cultural statement by acknowledging ideas and people that have long gone without acknowledgement.
Listen to Silent Disco at http://cjsw.com/program/silent-disco/
Follow Skeen at https://www.facebook.com/skeenskeenskeen/