It’s been awhile since I posted a Notorious Vancouver interview here. Not because I’m protecting the underground from getting splashed by the mainstream, but more because of a backlog of awesome things occurring and distracting me from bringing the readers of this blog the grease on some of the cool, forward thinking iconoclasts in my beloved home city. So this interview features a dear friend of mine, my gateway drug into the electronic west coast music scene, who literally talked me out of the car and lured me to a outdoor rainforest rave with a bottle of whiskey (true story) and is one talented lady. She is Crystal Precious, strip-hop artists, burlesque icon, 3rd wave feministisa, and sass injector. She is a founding member of our burlesque troupe, Sweet Soul Burlesque, and the weekly femme-cee at the Keefer bar’s Sweet Sip Thursday. With the world waiting for her full length album release since her music for her single ‘Apple Pie’ hit last year, I wanted to give the world some insight into this chimera of a woman…
1. You’re originally from Winnipeg. What do you think influenced you as an artist growing up there?
Well, that’s actually only half-true. Winnipeg I consider my home town, because that’s where my family moved when I was ten. Kinda right as I fell into consciousness, you know? Right before puberty. So that’s where I consider my main upbringing. But ORIGINALLY I’m a BC girl. My two sisters and I were both born in Smithers. My mom was a morning radio personality and drama schoolteacher, and my dad was an environmentalist. That place and time of my life all seems extremely dream-like now, but I think being a little kid heavily immersed in nature – fishing in the Bulkley, hiking Hudson bay, had just as much influence on me as the extremely non-outdoor-sy culture of Winnipeg. My number one influence is everything magic, and nature is magic in its purest form right? Straight-up. So that was my start.
I think I get my warmth from Winnipeg, cuz you learn to get warm there in all kinds of ways. Winnipeggers are such gracious hosts, and kind, open people I think. Made for the best house parties I’ve ever witnessed or experienced since; those old radiator-heated mahogany moulding houses and tiny wooden hallways held lots of good-times vibes I think. Looking in either direction down the tunnels of giant elm trees in a back lane kind of reminded me of that scene in the Labyrinth, you know, at the beginning where she sees the same thing infinitely left and right, and the little worm tells her to look more closely. Then she finds she’s actually standing right in front of an opening. Winnipeg was really like that. You had to hunt, look closely and really learn to look at things differently to find all the juicy scenes there. Keep your ear glued to the ground, your eyes open for clues. Also I think I was just really trained to be more open to the beauty in a city manages to keep a thriving art scene in a challenging economical climate, and, um, just a challenging climate, and not much really, to work with. I really grew up respecting and appreciate the less “refined” places where art still lives, and where it really needs to live, I think. The warehouses. The roller-rinks. The pool halls. The community centres (like for Festival de Voyageur, or the West End, for example). Even the mall, for eff’s sake — that’s where Prairie Theatre Exchange was, in Portage Place, where I was in the Young Company for several years. All of that had a profound effect on me, I think, as far as community building and promoting. And it had a lot to do my path as a low-brow artist with high-brow ideas.
2. You’ve worked very hard along with a number of other souls to help promote the Bass Coast Music Festival. What are some of your observations on the growth of the West Coast underground/electronica/burlesque scene and the elements that tie them together?
Well to me Bass Coast is a crucial because to me it represents a platform and a space for the more subversive corners of West Coast electronic community to keep growing. If you go back a bit, I think we’ve all been in tandem for awhile (in terms of the burlesque revival and the electronic music community) in the sense that we were kind of a newer generation of our respective communities. We were coming up with all these new styles, or new takes on them, and they were still pretty novel. Like when I first met Max [Ulis] and some of the other Lighta! guys in 2006, they were kinda doing what we had been doing — shows in basements and community centres or warehouses, basically anywhere that would let us do our thing, cuz you know, at the time, dubstep (or what used to be called dubstep) was weird. And a lot of time, both our kinds of events were still looked down upon. “Rave” was still a really bad word after all the city crack downs, and “burlesque” was still heavily stigmatized and misunderstood. Nightclubs were certainly out of the question at that point, as far as getting in to have decent nights or spots, and honestly the crowds the nightclubs attracted at the time weren’t really a good fit anyway. What we really needed were more spaces where we could do our thing and at the same time foster good, safe vibes around the shows.
When we [Sweet Soul] built Dollhouse, basically out of a retail storage warehouse, we largely based the business model off of Open Studios, where New Forms was starting to throw all the crazy dubforms parties and introducing all these new kinds of bass music. So we were still kind of mirroring each other as far as creating spaces where we could attract like-minded people and do our new weirdo thing. We always had DJS at our late night events and crossed over a bit that way, so it wasn’t long before deeper pockets of the electronic scene started appearing at our door and asking to do events. We were super open to, so long as long as it jived with our wild burlesque grrl vibes and we were into the music, which we were. So suddenly all these crews start coming up and connecting with each other through the spaces, like SHAH and Perception, and Moo Crew and the GhettoFunk guys, and Integrated Grime Unit, and some of the HomeBreakin’ dudes, etc etc.
Things grew. At some point all our shit had started to catch on. Fast forward a bit and the Lighta boys were hosting headliners at Richards on Richards, the Burlesque Fest was about to move to the Vogue, and meanwhile, huge electronic festivals like Shambhala were starting to sell out. By the time Dollhouse finally got shut down in 2010 the community had grown so much and the cross-over was so fluid that everyone needed a new direction, I think. That was the year that I first approached Andrea and Liz (and Andrea H) about promoting for BassCoast. We had done a few events together at that point, and Sweet Soul had also performed at the first festival. I was pretty confident in my observation that what they were doing was essentially giving our community (along with other branches of the coast) a new space to evolve, strengthen and reach out. Didn’t hurt either that they are badass chicks with really similar politics and ethics around lots of shit I’m pretty particular about. I strongly intuited that their platform was the best place to direct any promotional pull I might still have had that came out of the Dollhouse community at that time. So that’s what I did. And I’m still doing it.
Bass Coast just aligns with everything Sweet Soul is about: the neo-shit, the future-vibes, edgier, more subversive corners while still paying homage to the root of our respective art forms. And the burlesque vibe of smart, sassy, artistic, powerful, sexually-liberated women is everywhere. There’s a reason they call it Babecoast. I mean, come on, their logo is a hot babe riding a unicorn with a chainsaw!!! PUHLAYYYSE. And the biggest thing is that it FEELS SAFE for us to be who we are; to just enjoy ourselves in all our crazy glory and to be accepted, not judged or harassed or shamed or antagonized. The opposite. CELEBRATED, even. Last year, for example, seeing the dance-hall booty-liberation workshop to Tank Grrl & Mandai Djing was one of my favourite moments ever. Like, OF LIFE, though.
3. Performing as a burlesque and strip hop artist, you’ve experienced criticism from other women about being ‘degraded’ and ‘exploited’ in your choices of art forms. How do you deal with these attacks, and what is your advice to other female artists who experience this?
I think the first thing I do is remember to admit that the skepticism is totally understandable and that usually its just misplaced. Pop-culture is rife with totally annoying exploitative and degrading sexual imagery, especially in the music industry, so it’s not really the biggest surprise ever that I get some eye-rolls when I jump onstage and start taking my clothes off. Like, haven’t we had enough naked women in hiphop? I get it. And then we have the industry insulting us even more by throwing around buzzwords like “empowerment” by featuring female hip-hop singers taking their own clothes off or being “sexy” in a way that either seems super contrived, or consistent with irritating, transparently capitalist agendas. And lot of times they are still clearly deliberately conforming to supernatural beauty ideals and behaviour that is obviously contingent to male-validation. Yeah. You know what? I get it. That shit pisses me off too. I actually feel like the work I’m doing is coming at it from the completely opposite direction, so that kind of misplaced anger doesn’t bother me. Once people actually see me or my troupe do our thing, they usually get it.
Also, I try to remember that not everyone is as sexually-charged as I am. Stripping and sex for me is not a put-on. It’s just me. My intensely sexual nature is an immense source of creative power for me, and its not something I even try to hide, or cover up. I just can’t even. I mean, the first time I took my top off, I was literally, like, YEAH!! It makes sense why women who are perhaps less into sex would be wary of my choice to do burlesque striptease as part of my work, especially when so many women in the entertainment industry are unnecessarily painted in sex to sell products. They just have to remember that everyone is different, and just because they wouldn’t do what I’m doing doesn’t mean it’s not genuine or self-directed. As such, it’s not at all degrading for me. It’s liberating because its a big part of who I am, what I feel I’ve been assigned.
Another thing I try to explain, in that same vein, is that the sexual aspect of my work isn’t about TRYING to appeal to men, or to anyone, really. (I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy feeling attractive to men in certain contexts, especially those I’m also attracted to, obviously. I do. I’m at least 67 percent hetero I’d say, give or take depending on the moment). But putting on an act to TRY to appeal to “men” in general — which, c’maan, how can we generalize like that? Let’s give men some more credit please — or to anyone really, is not my main motivation in life or in my work.
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, I’m not trying to sell you, or anyone, on what I’m doing or saying. When I’m promoting a piece of work, I see it as trying to get it out there to as many people as possible so that it can reach the ones it can be of assistance to. Same as when I promote an event, or a show. I’m not trying to sell people on what I’m doing or tell them they should like me or agree with me. If it resonates with you on some level, awesome. Here’s my record! Have it. (And my choice is to offer it for whatever you can pay, or for free even). If not? No problem — I respect you; to each their own, move along. But I’m coming from a genuine place. I’m not “using” my sexuality to sell you something. I don’t NEED to sell you anything. There are no giant corporations using me to make money. I’m not angling for supreme super stardom, or millions of dollars. I mean, I’m still gonna be open to pretty much anything that comes my way, because I trust that there’s a reason behind it. But by the same token, I’m currently happy as fuck. I love doing my shows, traveling, having a great time with my friends, singing on the beach and just creating awesome shit. That’s more than enough for me. So take it — or leave it, if you like. All love.
4. What is your favourite places to make out in Vancouver?
Hmmm.. I’d have to say the sea wall at twilight, or late night, facing the city. Like Granville island side, near False Creek. The little boardwalks and shadowy trees have all kinds of secret pockets. When the city is all lit up golden glass and you can hear the waves cuz you’re kissing… hot. Sometimes there are pianos there, like randomly people roll out grand-high pianos and play right at shoreside. I’m about as into romance as I am into sex, and that’s a lot. SO yeah.
5. How did you meet your producer, Self Evident, and start collaborating with him to birth awesome song-babies?
Through Dollhouse of course! I actually met his older siblings first, Chloe back when I was a year-fresh burlesque grrl and then Max when he started throwing parties at the space. I’d known Ben for awhile before we started collaborating and always loved what he was doing, sound-wise. Had such a sensibility and a style, pushing ever so slightly into the more challenging stuff while still keeping everyone in. We just got each other, I think, on a personal level, as well. Around 2010 I think, he had sent my roommate at the time, Shamik a bunch of instrumentals. At that point I was really just dabbling in rapping and singing again.. I hadn’t done much of it since leaving Winnipeg [where I had a band]. But I was starting to be open more and more to the idea of incorporating it into my burlesque acts, largely due to encouragement from the grrlz. Shamik had heard a few of the things I had been foolin’ around with and was also super encouraging, which I’m eternally grateful for. Considering that he had some pretty serious music chops, I was like, oh hey. Maybe this could work. He was like, “here, check out some of these tracks” and what would later turn into Apple Pie was one of them. When I rapped it to Ben for the first time, he was like, “Uhhhh.. wha??!!” Then he uncovered all these pop tunes he’d been secretly writing and storing up. The rest just flowed pretty seamlessly. Can’t express how grateful I am for him.. this record was his first time mixing and mastering vocal tracks as well. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, considering it’s my first record ever and his first pop-music production project.
6. What are some things to watch out for from Crystal Precious in the coming year?
Welllllll we’re going to launch our KickStarter in June right after Burlesque Hall of Fame to fundraise for our next video with Apple Pie director Stuart MacKay Smith, which is AWESOME & super exciting. I love working with Stuart, he’s like my other creative soulmate. Doing the Apple Pie vid was literally one of the best days of my life, and there’s just a thick magic around my relationship with him. I’ll never forget the day we discovered that he actually got to meet of my greatest burlesque inspirations, Tura Santana. He just gets us, and what I’m all about. Plus he’s just the raddest, coolest, most talented dude EVERRR. I adore him. The next video is going to be shot outside, with more of the different Vancouver troupes and a grittier aesthetic. We’re taking a lot of inspiration from the 1979 film “The Warriors”. It’s gonna be hilariously bad-ass.
I’ve also a single with three remixes slotted for release along with that video; am also deep into a bunch of new tracks with Ben that I’ll be performing at The Keefer Bar on Thursdays all summer with Sweet Soul. The grrlz & I are putting a ton of love into our Bass Coast show and our touring show, which I’m really pumped about getting on the road for some longer stints, most likely starting January of next year. Would also love to plant seeds for video collabs with some other folks I admire as well (*cough *cough Soska Twins) and I’m hoping that now we have a more solid frame of work to build from we can find someone to help us get into the grant game. So you know. One or two things. Aside from that? I need beach days, and family, and lovers, and swimming, and dancing, and playing dress-up just for the hell of it. Maybe with a raccoon. Know any?
RELEASE OF “CRYSTAL PRECIOUS – QUEEN OF SASS” WILL BE TUESDAY MAY 6th on BANDCAMP