Stumbled across this little ditty I wrote for Trade Magazine like a bazillion years ago…
SPIN IT RIGHT ROUND
DJ Chiclet Fingers Her Vinyl
Photography and interview by Sunny Fong
When I first heard about Chiclet (Anomie being her current breakbeats DJ moniker), I was taken aback by how much Marcia Kwok worked. She spun prolifically on a weekly basis, sometimes two venues in one night. Everywhere from the now defunct Limelight, Zen Lounge to Palais Royale to a weekly stint at the notorious Film Lounge on Spadina.
In between the local gigs, she’d jet up to Northern Ontario, Ottawa the next week or Quebec City for a weekend. She was also a member of Purple Heaven, a production company that held notoriously engaging raves all around Toronto.
Having met her at a Friday night at Buddies in Bad Times, I discovered that she was also a lesbian DJ drudging through the straight male-dominated Toronto music scene, something as rare as finding Heart of Glass by Blondie on vinyl at a record store.
Not limiting herself to a targeted core audience, Marcia has established herself as a well-known figure in the underground electronic music scene in merely 6 years. Even walking down Queen Street with her, she was stopped by two raver kids who recognized her. Their nervous words of praise turned Marcia’s delicate cheeks red with embarrassment, presumably masked as modesty.
She has learned how to stay resilient in a profession in which women aren’t normally perceived as being able to command a set of turntables. A predominant attitude being that DJing should be left for men while women should practice their impressions of Peaches into a hairbrush if they wanted to make any sort of impact in the underground music “business.” Marcia defies these archetypes.
Not only is Marcia hardworking and inexhaustible, she amazingly doesn’t do it to “represent.” She does what she does because of her love of music, the culture and the artform. I sat down with Marcia — her wonderfully opinionated girlfriend Shannon milled about in the background —for a chat about her early beginnings, her achievements and what she’s up to these days.
TRADE: So I’m interviewing you because I think you’re quite talented and I really dig your new promo mix cd.
Marcia Kwok: Oh thank you! It’s just a promo cd I give out for gigs to show what I have in my repertoire.
T: When did you start spinning? And what did you start with?
MK: It was 6.5 years ago, a year and half after I started going to raves. I saw how the DJs interacted with the crowd. They shared the music with the people by being the mediator between the crowd and the music that they both loved. I think it’s the same old cliché that would motivate every DJ to spin.
At that time, I was really into goa trance and I had to teach myself with one turntable, a really crappy mixer and a portable cd player that skipped. I went on the internet and looked up mixing and I found pages that explained in text how to beat-match. I supplemented that with going to many parties and staring at the DJs. I was that annoying trainspotter that stood in front of the DJ booth. I kind of had it down even though goa is the hardest genre to learn on. It has so many layers and the bass-kicks are not very pronounced. That was ‘97. Goa’s changed since then.
T: What do you spin now?
MK: I spin German trance, progressive trance, a little of bit of epic and I spin breaks on the electro-ish, trancy side with a little bit of funky.
T: You seem to be quite particular with genres.
MK: It’s not that I’m really particular about a really specific style. I’ll go for hours in a record store and I’ll buy one record. It’s not cheap. I just want to find gems. Anything that’s unique. And with breaks, I’m just starting out. I try to spin stuff that’s not blatantly funky or stereotypical of the genre. Breaks, like trance, is incredibly vast. I like to take parts from every part of the spectrum.
T: I also heard you were in a DJ competition?
MK: I have the utmost respect for turntablists but I’m not a turntablist. At least not in the DMC definition of it. I’m working on it [laughs]. Eyespin 2000 was a DJ mixing competition put on by EYE Magazine, not a turntablist thing. Denise Benson was one of the judges. People had to send in mixtapes to enter and the final three had to compete live.
Shannon: Out of 60 contestants!
T: Were you nervous?
MK: Yeah! I planned my set beforehand for a couple of hours and devised a way to do a spin-back with the record landing on beat.
T: I have no idea what that means.
MK: Well, I don’t know if I explained it well. But that was about the gist of all the turntablist tricks that I could do. Oh yeah, and I won.
T: That’s awesome! I’m also interviewing you because you’re somewhat of a phenomenon.
MK: By who’s definition?
SF: By mine. You’re a DJ, female, Asian and a dyke. What’s up with that?
MK: Maybe subconsciously I want to be the minority of all minorities! But honestly, I just like to do stuff that not everyone else is doing. Being queer and Asian, I couldn’t help.
T: Has being gay influenced any of your career decisions?
MK: Not at all. Most people don’t even know.
T: So you wouldn’t peg yourself as a dyke dj?
MK: No, just a DJ. The fact that I’m in love with a girl doesn’t have anything to do with it.
T: Breaks parties seem to have a big lesbian following. Does the rest of the scene accept your sexual orientation?
MK: Um… Yes. Almost too accepting [laughs].
Shannon: Occasionally, guys will tell us to make out.
T: Do you have much of a queer audience?
MK: Not really. But I’d love that. My audiences aren’t specific to one group of people but I would love to have a bigger, queer following. And that’s why I’m spinning during Pride Week! [giggle] I’ve had many gigs and this is one of the gigs I’m most excited about.
T: So I heard some of your tracks. I think they’re awesome. Tell me about your production work.
MK: Well, I’m really just starting out. It’s going to be a long way till I have something that I want to put on vinyl. I just recently graduated from Ryerson for Radio and Television Arts specializing in audio production which helped get my feet off the ground. I’m dabbling in remixing but really I’m just a toddler in the grand scheme of electronic music production. But I jumped into it because DJing can only take you so far creatively. I have the utmost respect for producers. I’m starting off with producing breaks and a little bit of drum and bass. But trance is my favourite so I’m saving that for…
T: When you’re internationally famous!
MK: No, when I become more skilled at translating what’s in my head to my CPU [laughs]. If I ever do release anything, I’m glad most electronic music is still pretty independent. There aren’t those extreme obligations that you might get with a label.
T: I’ve noticed that you work a lot.
MK: I used to. I’ve had a bit of a drought but I’m starting to spin breaks because Toronto doesn’t have much of a liking to trance as breaks. I’m spinning on the Saturday before Pride Day at 3:30 pm, the day of the Dyke March. It’s a first for me. Shannon: You don’t ever write anything down!
MK: Shut up! Wait, put ‘haha’ after that last comment. I don’t wanna sound like a bitch.
T: Thank you for your time, Marcia.
Shannon: [walks toward Marcia with tweezers] I’m going to pluck your eyebrows now.
MK: What kind of lesbian am I if I let you pluck my eyebrows?
Shannon: An attractive one.
Chiclet is spinning at various venues around the GTA. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for booking inquiries.
Sunny Fong is a self-loathing Toronto photographer, unscathed club kid and community worker.