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Outside the normal: tales of flipping cabs and dancing like Mowgli

Local DJ, Shane Erickson likens his work to that of collage artists who re-purpose and re-contextualize parts of music to form something entirely new

It was an unlikely start to his life as an artist. On September 26, 2002, Shane Erickson (better known locally as DJ Seith), was one of 50 students employed by the student-owned The Outback Bar and Grill on the Sault College campus.

Late that evening, two individuals decided that tipping a taxi cab over with the driver in it was a good idea. For Erickson, who was employed to coordinate and play CDs for Outback patrons in the evenings, the incident meant dramatic changes to his work schedule.

“The repercussions were that the Outback could only run their business until 6 p.m.,” said Erickson. “I was still on the payroll as the DJ, so they had to find ways to give me my minimum hours. They gave me afternoon slots . . . from 3 to 5 to make sure I was getting enough hours. I was playing music to nobody.”

Erickson approached the manager to propose a different sort of entertainment. He had recently bought a set of DJ turntables, and although relatively new at it, offered to do a show during his new time slot.  

“Silly me being so young, but the manager didn’t have much to lose,” he said. “So I played to a total of four or five people . . . and I played one of the worst sets ever.”

For many artists, a first performance is only a learning experience, but for Erikson, it came back to haunt him six years later.

“Apparently, one of my intrepid friends managed to get hold of a mini DV camcorder. So I have footage of my first ever show. It is absolutely terrible.”

Erickson has musically evolved since that first gig at the Outback and has recently released his seventh cassette, the 22-track “Action Figures”.

This release utilizes a mix of his own original beats juxtaposed with a collage of samples.

“I think I identify with collage work because it is the art equivalent of producing and using other things to make something new and re-contextualizing.”

Erickson is an avid listener and “record digger” scouring the bins at local vinyl stores. He doesn’t limit himself to any specific genre, but rather looks for the ‘right’ sounds.

“There is a lot of music out there . . . there are bits in the songs where it seems like it was a ‘moment’ for one of the musicians to get out and do their own thing . . . almost as if they had the forethought to know that sampling was coming eventually and that things would get used, re-contextualized and repurposed in different ways . . . When you delve into sample-based music, even on the surface, you find so much that way and fall in love over and over again, so many times and in so many ways. You think, ‘I never would have thought I would love this and here I am loving it.’”

Music has been a love affair for Erickson since he can first remember.

“The first song I fell in love with was on the Jungle Book soundtrack . . . it’s not even the song, but a feeling. I remember dancing around with my mom in the living room to that record. She would swing me around and I felt like Mowgli in the movie.”

More recently, he fell in love with a 7-inch record for the song, “He’s Forever” by gospel group King James Version. This obscure live track came out on the Soul Kitchen label in 1971.

“It has this slow buildup that goes over the course of the song . . . Near the end, as it builds up, three guys begin layering their voices on top of each other … then these horns come in from out of nowhere, like they were waiting to bring them out for the big crescendo at the end when the bass swells up. It gives me goosebumps every time.”

As an artist, Erickson wants to create music, live or on his releases, that is going to be positive and help people.

“There is definitely a connection between music and healing . . . I can always heal to music, whatever the music may be.”

He describes an album called Spectrum Suite from 1975 by Steven Halpren that uses the seven musical keynotes to resonate and balance the seven chakras.

“The first side of the record has seven bands on it, each for a different area of the chakra for the body . . . jazzy keys playing, no percussion or anything else. Just bare keys on this synthesizer. It’s kind of like the progenitor of [binaural beats].”

For Erickson, art not only has the power to help people, but a community.

“The push for a more vibrant downtown [in Sault Ste. Marie], for the arts side of things, is a positive. Giving the downtown more of an identity, through the art, music and murals is positive.”

He notes that a strong downtown core can provide opportunities for artists to go out and play, experience one another and build together. “It can be tough without a place where people are going to be able to play and see each other.”

For Erickson, he has witnessed the many faces our city has to offer through his music, playing corporate gigs, youth empowerment shows, club and basement shows, and even backyard parties.

“I like doing all types of gigs, and if it’s a challenge, I will take it on. The market has changed in the Sault. When I started, there were a lot of the preconceived notions about what it meant to be DJ,” he said, noting that the image of a techno music-playing DJ waving their hands in the air is far from accurate. “Hey, I’m a human being up here not a request machine . . . People are starting to come around to the idea that maybe DJing doesn’t have to be such an inaccessible or standoffish thing where you are going to listen to somebody else playing. You are just as much a part of the experience as the person playing the music.”

Despite the positive changes, the one thing about the DJ scene that remains the same is that at its core, it is still primarily underground.

Erickson retells a story from 2014, when he booked an award-winning “scratch” DJ for a gig in town.

“This was an opportunity [for the community] to see a world-class scratch DJ. About 10 to 15 minutes before the show was to start, the people that ran the venue realized that it didn’t have much in the way of lights and flashy things, but just musical gear.”

The show was quickly shut down as the venue owner’s expectation of a “DJ show” was different.

“We ended up having to scramble, get on social media and instant messaging and put together a basement show at my house. Got a few people out for that. Not as many as we would have had at the venue but we still had a really great night and made something out of it. It really showed the tenacity and spirit that people can exhibit in town when it comes to supporting something that is outside the normal.”

In 17 years, Erickson has become an integral part of the city’s scene and a strong advocate for the power of art.

“To me, art has value if it makes you think, if it makes you feel, and if it makes you move. If it doesn’t do any of those three things it doesn’t really have value.”