Although Ryan Baker, otherwise known as DJ Jack Ryan, grew up on a farm near Crossfield, Alberta, his sets stand in stark contrast to his small town origin.
His sets are a window into a new breed of minimal dance music that’s begun appearing in Eastern Europe, drawing the support of thousands of club-goers in countries like Romania and rapidly spreading to the rest of the world through Soundcloud mixes. They’re tracks that forgo the often abrasive nature of peak-time tracks in favour of more meditative, stripped down designs.
“I really find the music that always resonates the most with me, and I continue playing regardless of when I've collected it over time, is stuff that's really emotional,” says Baker.
“Emotionally driven music, like lots of chords, lots of pads, and sort of deep sounding drone.”
Furthermore, many of the tracks that Baker plays during his sets are only released on vinyl, often in limited runs.
The innovative and hypnotic nature of his sets, combined with the physical rarity of the music he plays, have made him a staple in Calgary’s burgeoning DIY rave scene.
His first major gig in Calgary was last year’s “Tell Dawn,” an event in which the mobile music venue BassBus carried revellers to a party at a secret location.
Another of Baker’s notable appearances last year took place in an abandoned tunnel that could only be reached by following a trail of clues left by promoters.
This year Baker already seems likely to achieve a similar level of notoriety in the club circuit. In February he’ll be opening for the internationally acclaimed DJ Boring at Broken City, followed by an appearance alongside Vancouver’s Taal Mala at the Hifi Club.
While this all seems like it might be happening fast it’s actually been a long time in the making. Before last year Baker spent close to a decade observing both the local scene and the evolutionary effects that Generation-Y had on electronic music.
He first began DJing at home in 2008. A year earlier a friend had introduced him to Italian electronica group The Bloody Beetroots, and that motivated him to delve deeper into the emerging electronica subculture of the moment.
“It was like peak electro house time,” says Baker.
Then, at the start of the decade, Baker discovered Modern Math, the weekly night that’s now largely credited with bringing bass music to Calgary.
“That was kind of my first introduction [to dubstep] and what sent me home looking for deeper music, and that deeper dubstep kind of thing,” says Baker.
“So then for a while I tried to produce deep dubstep, and played lots of Deep Medi and Tunnidge, those kind of guys.”
From here Baker found himself following the same stylistic metamorphosis that many key dubstep artists began undergoing at the start of the decade.
“Eventually it became pretty mainstream and got to be that really loud stuff and, not that the deep dubstep went away, but a lot of those guys just started making post-dubstep, an almost techno kind of thing,” says Baker.
He cites artist like Scuba and Martyn as key influences during this period.
“So they made the shift over to like sort of broken techno-beat driven music, and that was kind of the beginning of me listening to techno,” says Baker.
While the United Kingdom’s bass scene introduced Baker to techno, the next step in this progression saw him discovering the sounds coming from the genre’s global epicentre: Berlin.
He began listening to artists that are now synonymous with the genre, like Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann.
“I just kind of discovered this whole world of, you know, so much techno out there, and I feel like a lot of people in the city too are starting to flow towards that as well,” says Baker.
The growing interest in Calgary for emerging European techno is why Baker is now expanding his role in the community from simply that of a DJ. He hopes to build platforms to help other likeminded artists grow and reach new audiences.
To this end, Baker recently joined “Excursions,” a collective of local tastemakers who have been quietly shaping Calgary’s electronic music landscape in recent years.
“We all kind of help to organize and find artists to do Excursions mixes, and we're brainstorming some new things,” says Baker.
“So there could be some events coming with Excursions, and maybe a residency of Excursions artists, [live] streaming as well.”
He’s also the co-founder of Clubhaus, a new secret space designed to capture the unrestrained nature of the European underground where DJs routinely cross genre lines, and disco can often be heard in the same sets as warehouse-shaking techno.
“What we're aiming to create is someplace where people can come and play those tunes that they wonder, when they're in the club, this might a little bit too weird, or they couldn't play those tunes back to back and they need to sprinkle them into a set,” says Baker.
This, he believes, is one of the central reasons why DIY events are currently thriving in Calgary.
“But here [at Clubhaus] everyone is usually so open minded that you know, they're excited to hear a set that's filled with those hidden gems that people might think twice about playing in other places.”
The philosophy of Clubhaus ultimately mirrors the philosophy that Baker has arrived at after almost a decade of quietly watching dance music from the sidelines. While he may be currently influenced by rising genres like “Rominimal” and electro, he envisions his sets as a wider exploration through dance music.
“I like to have flexibility on what I play, so I still collect a lot of Disco house and some of the lofi stuff, and just some classic deep house,” says Baker.
“It's really nice to be able to go places in sets, I think if your mind is the glue that's holding all the records together, then you have that similar vibe across genres.
“It stays interesting for people because you're kind of ebbing and flowing into these different genres and it still makes sense, it’s sort of a story that you're telling.”