This guest mix comes from Vanese 'VJ' Smith, aka Pursuit Grooves, a talented and prolific multi-disciplinary artist based in Toronto.
VJ's skills creating and contributing to the arts community is impressive stuff, having released a steady stream of albums from a variety of labels, being an MC, crafting visual work, doing shows and for years now, running the Loop Sessions Toronto. There, and now remotely online, inspired beatmakers and special guests come together to learn, sample, loop and play their music.
Her last album, 2019's Bess, is a sly slab of deep vibes and VJ's distinctly spacey, soulful, synthy sounds. A kind of deep house, with snares that crack and rhythms that seem to swagger, strut and sway; readymade to bump in a club while equally well-placed on a chill evening in.
The mix is a perfect distillation of Pursuit Grooves' unique vision in music, complimented by her own kaleidoscopic artwork and a Q&A we had via email.
To start here, I'm curious about your background in the US. You’re originally from the D.C. / Maryland area, then went to NYC for a long time and now Toronto. Can you trace a bit about what those former locales mean for you? Do they still feel like a home away from home?
PG: I feel like they all hold equal value in a way.
Having roots in the Maryland / DMV area, my family is still based there. Then, 13 years in NY State (4 years at Vassar College slightly upstate NY and 9 of that in Brooklyn), and Toronto for a decade now. All influential towards who I am today for sure. Each place has a different vibe and energy. But also encapsulates very specific eras in my life.
DMV roots are very soulful, funky and filled with big black ambition. I attended a creative and performing arts school from 3rd to 12th grade so that allowed me to explore every creative outlet one could imagine. Dabbling in all of the disciplines. Back then my major was theatre.
Just 90 mins north of NYC, I attended Vassar College as a film major and DJed at our local club / pub every weekend during my junior and senior years. I moved to Brooklyn three months before 9/11. Such a crazy start to a new city post graduation.
It was an awesome time though to check out live events and all sorts of dope creatives lived in Brooklyn at the time. It was very inspiring to say the least. Was also great to meet other female djs / music makers in Brooklyn.
And now Toronto, I feel like I've mingled in the beat, experimental and club worlds equally in circles, bringing it all together in my current mature state.
I was born and raised here in Toronto so I’d love to hear about what brought you to the city or maybe more accurately, what kept you here? Any favourite spots or things you’re looking forward to doing in person?
PG: I think if you are from here, a lot of places looked greener, especially perhaps when you were growing up. I think Toronto has a lot to offer and was a great transition for me from NY at the time. It had all of the diversity and cuisine as NYC, yet much cleaner, smaller and more manageable. A perfect mix for me having spent my teens in the burbs.
Brooklyn was dope, the best thing was seeing the energy of other creatives and entrepreneurs. I was able to witness amazingly gifted people who stuck with it and are currently doing big things in their field.
In terms of when Toronto opens back up, I miss eating in some restaurants, attending film festivals and catching some live music events. But unfortunately so many things have closed. I'll just sit outside in the park or by the water though, that will always be here!
Your music career has a significant foundation in Europe, with your stint at the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona and some of your first major releases and features coming out of places like the Netherlands and the UK. Also, some exciting collabs last year with Moxie, a great DJ and NTS mainstay. What can you tell us about how some of these connections came about?
PG: I can truly say as a result of having a profile on MySpace say 2006ish plus, gave me an international connection. I met many fellow beatmakers and label owners there. They were accessible and mostly from Europe. There was also a good network of radio shows in London playing such great music. A hybrid of so many electronic genres with an emphasis on instrumental beats.
And then RBMA in Barcelona allowed me to spend a few more weeks after touring various European cities. And then the first few albums and compilations were on European labels so yeah, I think I've always had a great relationship with Europe, the UK in particular. They tend to understand weird beats mixed with soulful elements a bit better.... or let it come through in a variety of ways, cadences and bpms!
You also do visual work under the name Mo:delic Arts, including the graphics featured for this mix. How does your history compare working with visuals? Did that develop in tandem with music? I’d love to hear about the process or influences for your work in that respect.
PG: The best part about attending an arts school is you get to take a bit of everything. So music, visual art, dance, theatre and film classes were all included. Majoring in film for me was very visual. I always designed t-shirts, my album cover ideas and so forth. I love creating visuals that complement my music. I think I approach them in similar ways. Weird yet familiar. Something that needs time to catch and then you're in it! A few different layers but they work together.
Mo:delic Arts started after a trip to Jamaica in 2015. I had been taking nature shots with my iPad while there and somehow became obsessed with flowers pics.
When I returned back to TO I took an insane amount of pics at the Allan Gardens and that over the years developed into a geometric abyss of pattern and surface design. Combining original photographs, turned into collages integrated with illustration, I design fabric prints for all purposes as well as most visuals for my live shows. It's a fun and unpredictable art and I love it. Just as much as music, if not more!
How about the Loop Sessions? It seems like a pretty incredible project you've been organizing and managing for some time now here in Toronto.
PG: I absolutely love our entire Loop Sessions Toronto family. So many dope producers and curators we have been so thankful to have. Such great energy. We miss being able to gather in various venues but the online format has worked for us as well, thank goodness!.
Any participants that really stuck with you that we should check out?
PG: Everyone is so dope. For real. Loop Sessions has never been a competition, but it does take guts and we've encouraged people to be themselves. Folks have their own take on things and that's what it's about. Experimenting and challenging yourself. And having fun. As long as everyone is having fun participating then we've done our job!
We can all cheer each other on and learn from one other. That's how we build the community.
Anyone else on your radar lately, producer-wise?
PG: I always dip my head around right before I'm about to drop a new mix. So perhaps that's a good place to listen!
Lastly, I sometimes ask this ‘desert island disc’ question to guests but I’d give it a twist and ask one record you might sample if there could be only 'one'. No pressure...
PG: I can't answer that one, honestly. I'd probably prefer it to be something I'd never heard before!