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Sunday, 16 August 2009 06:25

Where fun begins.

If I had to list three qualities that attract me in another person, they would be sharp wit, a thirst for knowledge and an infectious creative vibe.

Before our first pint was searching for a second, I realized Jeff Kirkwood had, no owned, all these qualities. Jeff is the kind of guy you can sit with for hours and discuss a wide range of topics, interests and ideas. This guy is going places, and I’m glad he took some time along the way to chat with me. Not only is Jeff a hairstylist, tennis player, promoter, DJ, fashion stylist, writer and socialite, he is also a member of the Alternavox family. While wearing his DJ hat, Jeff has kindly agreed to spin for us at our July 9 launch party. If you’re looking to hire Jeff in the coming months, you better act fast, his summer scheduling is filling up at record speed. In fact, he already has six gigs in four days lined up for Pride weekend! You go boy!

Jeff came to us from sunny Bermuda. Yes, I know what you’re thinking – why would he leave there to come here, right? Well, the truth is he left because he feared for his life. At the tender age of 13, he read articles in the Bermuda Sun about ‘suspected’ homosexuals who had been murdered. Since his parents were Canadian, and he had many relatives in Canada, he took his Canadian passport and left in search of a more tolerant and safe environment where he could openly and proudly be himself.

After completing boarding school in St. Catharines, he attended King’s College at Western University to pursue a double concentration psychology/philosophy major. Like many students, he struggled to balance his education and his social life. To make matters worse (or better) there was a gay bar in town - his first ever gay community! He wasn’t out yet, so he was doing the whole double-life thing – it was very time-consuming. When he got kicked out of school he wrote a frank and honest letter to the Dean. Jeff told the Dean he was gay and that school was not his priority that year. Finding people who could help him shake his terrible loneliness was more important than his education. He was the only expelled student out of a dozen or so who was given a second chance.

During the summer of his final year, he fell in love with hairstyling and moved to Toronto for the summer to work for the one of Canada’s master hairstyling artists. She hadn’t trained an apprentice for years, but she saw something in him. When summer came to an end, he decided to stay in Toronto and pursue hairstyling.

Lucky for us, Jeff didn’t stop at cutting hair, his creativity now has him spinning tracks at some of the hottest spots in Toronto.

What were your musical interests when you were younger?

Sporadic, random, and rebellious.
My father’s mother was a concert pianist, and my mother wanted me to live up to her husband’s debutante riche legacy so I studied piano, violin, etc. I hated it all. I wanted to learn the BAG PIPES! I wanted to learn how to play the STEEL DRUMS! I finally convinced my parents to let me try the bag pipes but got I bored of them real fast. The bag pipes are HARD. The rest of those fringe musical desires I had were never nurtured or realized, and so in retaliation I boycotted all the classic musical demands that were made on me.

How did you first get into the electronic music scene?

I became friends with Gairy Brown, hands-down Toronto’s most successful gay promoter. He took me under his wing and took me to more parties than I ever would have been able to afford to go to, sometimes I would even get to hang out in the booth and watch DJ’s like Miss Honey Dijon and Shawn Riker ply their awesome craft. lol I remember finding out that I was being labeled by people as a star-fucking social climber. lol and I probably was. But I was not in the booth to be seen, I was in the booth because I wanted to be a DJ more than anything I had ever wanted before. Now that I am a bona fide DJ those slanderers can go suck it :)

Do you remember your first gig?

 

Hahaha. It was a lesbian Christmas party. Over the previous five or so years, whenever I was at a friend’s place who owned turntables, I would muster up the gumption to ask if I could play a record or two. It was a serious gumption-mustering because I was terribly frightened that I would be crap. One night I was at a friend’s place messing around on his decks and he was like: “dude when did you learn how to spin? Do you wanna come and spin this Christmas party with me?” So spin it I did. I made those girls DANCE! Towards the end of the night when people started to leave they were coming up to me and telling me how amazing I was. People wanted to get their fucking picture taken with me! Their picture! What?! The sensation I felt from making people THAT HAPPY was unreal. It was so rewarding. Better than anything I had ever felt. But to be honest, no one has asked me for my picture since then. Maybe I peaked at my first gig…

Who are your musical influences?

At first it was strictly Reggae. Mega Banton, Buju Banton, Barrington Levy, Bob Marley. In Bermuda when you’re a young lad your social status depends on how daringly you drive your motorbike, and how wicked your Reggae mixtape is. Then I moved into Hip-Hop. EPMD, Redman, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Notorious BIG…

I discovered house music when I was about 19. I remember the first house I ever heard was a bootleg disc with a live set on it by Lee Burridge. I kinda lost my mind a bit. I was like “um… what the hell is this sound in my ear that makes me happier than any sound in my ear has ever made me before?” From there I ate up as much House music as I could. Mark Farina, DJ Heather, DJ Dan, Danny Tenagli, and DOC MARTIN. Shit I loved Doc Martin.

What advice would you give other DJs wanting to get into the business?

Go to as many parties as you can so you can meet the promoters and other DJs. Charm them and then sell the crap out of yourself and your sound. Networking is key. But make sure your sound is tight before you try to sell it. First impressions are important for a reason: people remember them forever.

What are you listening to now?

It makes me a bit sad actually. I spend all my time researching and purchasing new music, and then spend all my time listening to it over and over so I can learn it inside out. So I never get to listen to Redman or Mega Banton anymore. I miss it, but obviously I’m happy with my quest to make my house collection fatter and fatter. It changes every week but I guess the artists I’m the most into right now are Lutzenkirchen, Stupid Fresh, D.Ramirez, David Penn, and Bass Kleph.

Can you recall a particularly memorable set/night?

That’s hard. There are SO MANY. I would have to pick the night I spun at Straight dance bar when I won The Last DJ Standing competition. It was an invite-only DJ competition for 8 DJ’s. It was memorable for several reasons. I was so proud of my performance that night and the crowd was HYPED. Everyone knew it was a competition so they were all following our sets very closely. Whenever a DJ would drop a particularly dope track they would just go NUTS. There was a lot of pressure but it just made me more focused, so I was happy to discover that. Obviously winning was great, but mostly because the crowd chose the winner. It was validation for me.

Who would you like to work with in the future?

Anyone who can teach me something. Playing alongside Miss Honey Dijon would be poetic. She gave me her old record bag with some of her records in it when she found out I wanted to start spinning.

Where would you like to play that you haven’t yet?

Paris for New Year’s. Sydney’s, San Francisco’s, or Amsterdam’s Gay Pride. Any major city’s Gay Pride actually. Those festivals have the best energy. The best. As far as Toronto goes, I can’t wait to play at Footwork. It is a House-music temple, and the day I drop my first track in there will be a very happy one.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Play tennis, hang out with my cat Salmon, drink beer with my friends or absolutely nothing at all.

What are your future plans?

Spend a year or two more in Toronto to develop my craft and then start traveling the world to realize my international DJ dreams. That is unless of course my international DJ dreams find me here in Toronto first.

By Jennifer Finjan