This Saturday Edmonton-based beat workshop Sampler Cafe returns to Calgary for the first time this spring, marking the latest step in the national expansion of the vision that began with three friends two years ago.
An open-invite event that brings electronic music production veterans together with novices in a collaborative space, Sampler Cafe has inspired artists to launch chapters in Toronto and Vancouver, with support even beginning to trickle in from overseas.
According to Matthew Wood, who founded Sampler Cafe alongside Brett McKenzie and Paul McMillan, the aim is to eventually create a network that facilitates traveling, similar that enjoyed by poets of the spoken word scene.
“When they do tours they’re able to hit up all the spoken word communities and kind of set up a thing where someone will host you, so we really want to create the same environment and connect with other cities,” says Wood.
“So if someone from Edmonton goes to Calgary there’s cats they can link up with and chop up beats, work on collaborative projects, and have a place to be hosted”
Sampler Cafe owes its growing national presence to the simplicity of its format. Unlike a lecture or showcase-based event, Sampler Cafe initially began as an open jam session based around the hardware and software of music sampling.
“What we based it on was community coming together, creating something that was inclusive, and providing a space for beat makers and producers to come together and network and learn from each other,” says Wood.
Wood, who also goes by the stage name Creeasian, is no stranger to grassroots hip-hop initiatives. He’s been either organizing or attending them since he began b-boying in 1999.
Wood was born in Goodfish Lake first nations and raized in Edmonton, where he and those around him had to forge their own hip-hop culture from the ground up.
"Basically all natives ran the b-boy scene back in the day in our area,” says Wood.
“You could literally go to any reserve, it was like going to the boroughs in New York City. You could find a b-boy or b-girl in every reserve, it was crazy.
“You’d go to a pow wow and there were the pow wow dancers, but then in the back someone would have some cardboard, or even be in the grass, just breaking.”
Being a b-boy back then meant frequent trips to Calgary to battle the Original Rudes, the crew that began as Wood’s sworn enemy on the floor before inviting him to join in 2006.
Participating in Alberta’s competitive b-boy scene then inspired Wood to begin DJing, and in 2011 he competed in the illustrious Redbull THRe3Style DJ battle.
That same year Wood fused both of these influences and began CypherWild, an interactive outdoor hip-hop event held in Edmonton’s Churchill Square. Like Sampler Cafe, the aim was to create an open platform to foster hip-hop’s growth in the community.
As Wood explains, the need for Sampler Cafe was known back then, however it wasn’t seen as a feasible undertaking.
“What really inspired me was that it’s something that we felt should exist, and we wanted it to exist even ten years ago, it just wasn’t ready,” says Wood.
This was due not only to the cost of the equipment, but also the scarcity of experienced producers willing to share their knowledge.
“When anyone had gear or an [Akai] MPC [sampler], it was all very hush hush, it was never like people were trying to share their techniques or even let you on their MPC,” says Wood.
He also cites the hip-hop climate of ten years ago as a factor that delayed the onset of an establishment like Sampler Cafe. At that time beat makers were largely unseen figures who stood back while MCs reaped the attention.
Now, however, beat makers have become the foreground figures in hip-hop, substantial solo artists in their own right.
“I feel like this past year, the year before has really allowed the producer, beat maker to be the artists and have the drivers seat,” says Wood.
Both dancing and DJing are still a huge part of Wood’s life. In addition to b-boying he also performs with Juno award winning group A Tribe Called Red as a Grass dancer, a traditional indigenous dance. It’s because of Sampler Cafe, however, that beat making has now taken up a central role in his life and driven him to progress as an artist.
“It’s become a journey of creating now,” says Wood.
“Just being around creative and inspirational people is what really inspired me to become a beat maker, producer.”
This new avenue of creation then turned all the music Wood had collected over the years as a DJ into a sea of endless possibilities for new creation.
“I had all that gold that people are looking for because I was always digging for b-boy breaks, funk and soul,” he says.
“So now that I’ve journeyed into beat production with Sampler Cafe I literally just have to go downstairs into my lab and randomly pick any record that’s in my case, or in my stands, and I can come up with something because I was always digging, from dollar bins to record sales, anywhere I could find a dope dig.”
Wood and the other partners have begun to see the same newfound sense of discovery taking place within many Edmonton artists. Since Sampler Cafe’s inception they’ve seen a positive growth in the amount of novice producers coming forward.
“There’s been people come out to our jam and say ‘this is what I’ve been needing, I’ve been trying to create but I just need the people to be around,’” says Wood.
“There’s been a lot of progression in a few artists, more than a few actually. I think everybody in their own way has levelled up their own sound and their own approach, and people have more of an understanding of ‘this is what I want to do’ as opposed to being like ‘okay I have this program, I have this gear, I don’t know what to do.’”
From joining Original Rudes to becoming a champion DJ, hip-hop has never ceased to deliver Wood down fresh new avenues of adventure over the past two decades. Now Sampler Cafe is slowly morphing into an autonomous vessel that’s doing the same for countless others.
“It’s just really trying to bring that life into our community with beat making,” says Wood.
Sampler Cafe Calgary returns to McHugh House on May 12, info at https://www.facebook.com/events/853015361568018/