It's been over two decades since Chicago last hosted the NBA All Star Game, so Notre wanted to do something special to set the weekend off right. With Nike's support, we're celebrating by throwing a party pairing hometown hero DJ Taye with an out-of-town heavy-hitter: Toronto's Bambii. Together they're taking over Waydown on the top floor of the Ace Hotel—including, weather permitting, the heated rooftop patio. This party is free with RSVP—space is limited, so RSVP here. 21+. Doors open at 9, and the event ends at 2AM. Expect a night of high-energy, genre-spanning club music, and come ready to dance.
Bambii has been a key figure in Toronto's club scene over the past several years, founding the JERK party series that, in her own words, "creates a space to hear diasporic music that reaches out into the future and reaches out globally." That includes everything from dancehall, to reggaeton, to kizomba, to house, to Jersey club. In 2019, Bambii took JERK on the road, bringing it to L.A., New York, Montreal, and more. She also put out her first single, “Nitevision,” late last year, featuring Jamaican dancehall artist Pamputtae on vocals.
Taye is known as one of the leading lights of Chicago's footwork scene. As a key member of the Teklife crew, he's played a huge role in taking footwork worldwide, releasing records on labels like Hyberdub, touring the world, and serving as one of the movement's most active ambassadors. His last full-length, Still Trippin' , was released by Hyperdub in 2018, and he's recently been teasing new projects—most notably, another LP forthcoming on Hyperdub.
Notre caught up with both Bambii and Taye on the phone this past week to check in with them in advance of next Friday’s party.
I would love to hear a bit of a snapshot of where you're at right now musically. What's exciting you? What's challenging you right now?
The challenge of transitioning between two different lifestyles. Being a DJ, you're constantly out, you're traveling a lot. Transitioning from that into producing—it’s a practice that requires more solitude and time away from events and being extroverted. So, this year, I'm turning down tours and gigs and trying to just stay at home and work on music. They’re just two completely different lifestyles.
That being said, since I've been home for the last few weeks, I've been out to a few shows curated by other people, and in a certain way I feel like I know what's going on in Toronto. I don’t, because I've just been away so much for the last two-and-a-half, three years, but it’s been really inspiring to see things I don't know about percolating and developing here. It's been really inspiring to see other people doing their own things, other young, up-and-coming artists. Just in the last few weeks I've gotten put onto so many cool people and so much music programming happening here. So, it feels like Toronto's going through a special time.
And I imagine a lot of those artists that you're just being put onto are at least tangentially influenced by JERK and some of the other work you've done.
Definitely. It’s cool to see the trajectory of influence. It just makes me feel good because we complain about how Toronto receives art and music, how conservative people here are, and now there are so many cool options in the city. It’s not competitive in a bad way—it feels good that there's other things that can feed off each other. I don’t think it's ever good when you're the only ones doing something in a small place. For the sake of development and growth, it's good that other people are also doing things—it just creates a standard in the city.
When did you start taking JERK on the road?
I did that in 2019. We just took it to New York, to LA, to Halifax, to Montreal. Then of course the two that happened in Toronto.
What was that experience like?
It was very fucking hard. It was a lot of work. The interesting thing was that I got a view of the climate in other cities in terms of what can and can't happen within music programming. It’s good to know that the lack of venues, that really exists everywhere. Because when you're organizing an event—especially DIY, because they were all pretty much DIY, non-traditional spaces except for the one in New York—you have to do a certain amount of research. You're talking to a lot of other producers, promoters, and DJs in other cities. What you start to realize is that there's not a space for non-traditional music in a lot of cities. Not everything should be a brand activation, but that's the only way you're going to see certain things. It's good that brands are supporting scenes, but I also feel brands miss a lot sometimes. If those teams don't have the right people on them, then there's so many things that can be missed.
So, doing the tour was very hard, very stressful, but it was rewarding to see that the vibe, the ethos behind JERK was appreciated in other places. Especially in places like LA, which I find ironically, weirdly conservative and stiff, even though you would think the opposite. People don't dance, everyone’s on their fucking phone. So, it wasn't like a Toronto JERK, but it was very successful and I think it provoked people into coming out of their shell. It's interesting to see that happen in different places.
The crowd at one of Bambii's JERK parties.
You mentioned that you were able to see the ethos of JERK translate and travel from place to place—could you just explain what that ethos is?
JERK is about a lot of different things, and it has become so many different things because I don't think parties just belong to people—it's more owned by my community than me at this point. JERK is my tribute to my Caribbean heritage and what I think is the cultural backbone of Toronto that people don't really know about. And then it's the idea of creating a space to hear diasporic music that reaches out into the future and reaches out globally. When I started JERK there wasn't really a space where I could hear dancehall, reggaeton, kizomba, all this diasporic music, and hear house and electronic and Jersey, all these other genres that I was interested in. So, I created JERK as a space basically for me and my friends to hear what we wanted to hear.
The music scene was very stratified in Toronto. It was stratified culturally, and that would manifest in more negative ways where it became very racially stratified, too. The dialogue around club spaces has been more politicized than it ever has been. The conversations we have about clubbing now versus five years ago, there’s much more talk about inclusivity and safe spaces. Whatever's happening in entertainment spaces is a microcosm of how people gate-keep spaces in the world. JERK is a space that lacks pretension, that's open to everybody, that prioritizes certain people that I don't think get prioritized in other spaces. It's about nostalgia, but it's also about musical exploration and trying to reignite DJ culture in Toronto and in North America in general, because I don't think DJ culture is that strong in this particular context.
What are you working on lately? What are you excited about?
Just been doing what I love, mostly. Consistently doing it, keeping it rolling. But focusing more on the individual sound of my own, figuring out where I'm going to take my music. That's what the past year or two has been for me, and I'm kind of wrapping that up and trying to see where the next one takes me to. This next project is a little different from what I usually do.
How is it different?
It's not just footwork. It’s more rap, more club elements. Always just referencing some new realms.
What kind of influences made their way into your process? Where do you usually find inspiration?
Different kinds of hip-hop—not just not just trap. Trip-hop, jungle. Different types of music that I was fucking around with and just drew some inspiration. And video games—delving into doing my own video game designs. I've been working on skills beyond just making music.
You're designing video games now, too?
I always wanted it to. Right now I'm trying to dive back into that coding world and work on a few things.
What kind of stuff is exciting for you to play out these days?
Usually just the stuff I've been making, man. I haven't really been playing anything else, just the newer music I've been making. It's not really been footwork lately. It's kind of like... I guess I could call Harmony on this. I was playing Harmony Korine all my new music, he just kept saying it's a type of music of its own.
Wait, sorry—Harmony Korine?
Yeah. I was just in Miami with him for a couple of weeks. We were working on something. I came to just chill, but we are working on something. I might end up moving to Miami—maybe just for the spring, chill with Uncle Harms for a minute.
I’ve definitely got to ask you more about that off the record, because I imagine it's a project you can't talk too much about.
I definitely can't. I'm definitely going to keep it under wraps, but we're working on something. I definitely want to say that—we're working on something. Very vague.
How did you guys connect?
He gave me a little nudge, in a Pitchfork article a few years ago, and I'd been trying to get in touch with him. He was shooting The Beach Bum, so I just reached out. He called me on his birthday at the top of the year, exactly a month ago. Then a week later I was on a flight to Miami.
That's amazing. It seems like your career has taken you to some really interesting, unexpected places.
Yeah. I'm trying to delve into unexpecting realms. I'm trying to be in the right place at the right time.
Are there any like younger artists in Chicago that you're working with sort of people that you're mentoring and helping get a start?
Not nobody well-known or anything, but people around my circle. My little cousin got friends that are rapping. A couple of little homies, family and friends. They be rapping and shit but I try to get them to take it more serious. I've been thinking about artists’ development, developing some younger artists, giving them beats, putting them into the studio. Giving them the game without selling it to them. I just want to tell them what it is. Let them have fun, make it fun for them, but it's still a business, not a game. And people want to come at it like a game.
How do you keep things fun for you?
This will sound kind of corny, but I feel lately, the past couple months even, I've been a little less stressed. Trying to like let stuff flow, and kind of going back to my childhood in a weird way. Playing video games and just trying to not think about shit. Video games were really my thing as a kid and that's why I stick to it in music.
I’m just trying to not worry too much, not overthink it. I guess that's the best way. Even for kids when they’re coming up. It must be so natural for them. They must not even be thinking about what the fuck they’re doing at that age. I wish I could have hit it big on a beat when I was 12 years old. I wasn't thinking back then. I want to go back to that way of just flowing. Having fun, effortlessly.