Has lockdown made you cancel your world tour? Make an album. Quarantined and can’t play a live show to a sweaty crowd? Release a single. Isolated and can’t throw a Blu party? Embark on a virtual tour of promotion. Stay at home order got you missing festivals and after hours clubs? Become a live stream-queen.
Female DJ pioneer, writer, producer, event curator, and record label mogul Sydney Blu (a.k.a. Joanne Hill) did precisely just that. All of it. Defying what some may think of as the current stagnant global state of the music industry, she continues to live up to the name of her 2015 album, Relentless.
At an uncertain time when the world has been forced to slow down and no one can predict when the live music scene will eventually return or what it will look like when it does, Hill re-located from Berlin, Germany, where she had been currently residing, to her hometown of Thunder Bay.
“My Covid pandemic lockdown situation has been busy. I took time to reconnect with Thunder Bay because when the world shut down I flew home to be with my mom,” she said. “During that time I had to finish my album.”
The Hammarskjold high school alumni initially set up shop at her mother’s kitchen table to finish her latest album Conviction, released independently on March 12.
“As the months went on and we could see that things weren’t changing any time soon, I would ship equipment and speakers from my storage space in Toronto to Thunder Bay,” says Hill.
This underground electronic album was two years in the making, with its conception taking shape in Berlin, a city bursting with constant inspiration, motivation and reinvention for Hill.
“The city is the number one international hub for electronic music and it inspired me on a regular basis,” she said. “That’s why I moved there.”
Hill’s lead single is Monologue, an infectious ‘80s synth-wave dance track featuring the moody vocals of Canadian artist and choreographer Fritz Helder (formerly of Azari and III.) The video is a slick offering, filmed in a Berlin club and has quickly become the much needed soundtrack to our pandemic lifestyle.
The gray zone didn’t stop Hill from creating. She chose to hit the play button in a world set on pause, often working 12 hour days gearing up for the album launch. Her former high school basement bedroom now serves as a makeshift pandemic studio and office. Adaptation was key.
“It was an extreme lifestyle change from Berlin, where the world was open and I was experiencing the night life and being inspired to write after amazing club nights,” she said. “Fast forward to isolation in a small city in Northern Ontario making the rest of the album in my old room.”
Being an artist in 2021 means there’s a crucial focus placed upon consistent content and social media interaction.
Hill stresses that presently, the only way to really connect with people is through virtual live streams and online mediums, though not the same energy is exchanged as from her live performances, which she is globally known for. In 2020 alone, she filmed 15 live streams of her DJ sets, with the majority taking place at Atmos in Thunder Bay.
“At the start of the pandemic DJs, club owners and promoters pivoted to live streaming and so I felt it was important to offer this outlet after seeing the trend take off. We called it Quaran-streaming,” said Hill. “Several different outlets started contacting me asking for promotion in places I had played prior like Mexico, Chicago and L.A. All over the world people were asking to host a live stream.”
With over 20 years of experience in the electronic music scene, Hill looks on the bright side of lockdown, realizing the pandemic has helped her buckle down and create.
“I’ve learned that I do well in isolation and I get tasks done when I put my head down and focus,” she said. “I’m a very social person, and I’m used to throwing events and DJ’ing every weekend in a different city but then I went into a reclusive situation for a year, (which I’m still in) and I got an incredible amount of work accomplished.”
Hill has inevitably evolved since making her last record six years ago and says, “I found my authentic self and I tried not to make a cliché dance album. This album is a combination of many different genres of electronic music; deep house, melodic house, minimal house, tech house. I’ve come a long way.”
Hill now faces a whirlwind of promotion for Conviction as she embarks on a virtual album release tour with multiple streamed gigs, where she will spin her album in its entirety plus some favourite current tunes.
Conviction is available for download, stream or purchase on all major platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Beatport, Bandcamp.)
(Angie Valente is a freelance journalist based in Thunder Bay.)