Dean Clarke and Rob Faust PHOTO: ROB FAUST
Dean Clarke and Rob Faust PHOTO: ROB FAUSTInfluential Calgary DJ’s love of music, love of life will be sorely missed
(Ed. Note: In August, Calgary lost one of its pioneering DJs, Dean Clarke. He was at the forefront of our turntable and wax and drops and breaks and beats movement. From its formative days in the early ’90s until his unfortunate passing, Clarke helped build what has become something of an impressive and widely respected community of club spinners across the globe. His regular nights at seminal local venues over the past 30 years packed dancefloors and influenced many who have followed. Again, his influence on the music community will be felt for years. To honour that, fellow Calgary DJ Rob Faust, who spun alongside Clarke and who was a friend and fan of the artist, offers his personal recollection of a man who left his indelible mark on the city’s music scene — in many ways.)
The DJ world in this city is a small and mighty force.
I’ve had the very good fortune of knowing and working with most notable Calgary DJs: Smalltown Pete and Mike, Taro, Al Testa, DJ Rice, Sideshow Sid, Jean Francois Raymond, Jon Delerious, Dom G., DJ Hate/Jody Fever, Jonas Jordan, 4eyes/Mike Roberts, Magpie, Lotus Queen, Cary Chang and now, currently, with DJ Pump at Sweet Loretta. (There are many more, I recognize this is not a complete list, but it›s as close as I have at this moment.)
What Makes Dean Clarke stand apart?
Dean set the standard for what a DJ night could be or should be — fun and alive. His weekly set in Deluxe @ Republik Version 1.0, was an epic journey into weird small spaces, tight staircases and amazing funk reverberating through the walls. The dancefloor would bounce, the turntables would skip, and Dean was patiently behind the decks with a big smile, making sure no one was going to make the tables skip again. That night was lightning in a bottle, just like Dean.
Another time, after Dean was done opening for De La Soul, I met him at the bar and we had our vodka sodas and just listened to the rest of the show. The show finished, Dean leaned over to me and whispered, “At least Calgary knows how to wave their hands in the air now.” Dead fucking funny.
The Factory was a short-lived nightclub in Calgary, promoted by scene stalwart Wes Hegg and his business partner. The idea of it was to emulate or create a New York/Paris bon vivant atmosphere with dead-sexy acid jazz and house — or at least I think that was the goal. It was a seriously nice club, the woodwork, the epic grand staircase to queue, the sound was insane.
Originally a Montreal DJ, Jean Francois Raymond was playing there with Dean. In all honesty, if there’s a stretch in time that I would love to re-experience, it’s that stretch, with Clarke, and musicians Richard Sixto, Ravi Pollah and Marvin Kee, who also sadly passed earlier this year. The JF Raymond trick with incorporating live musicians into a dancefloor night was that the instruments were mic’d ambiently, and the musicians spread throughout the venue, around the dancefloor, so while you were hearing the instruments live, they were also being incorporated into the hot mix.
I think this Factory gig beget Konte Jazz at the Night Gallery, another mammoth evening, dedicated to all things funky — the deadliest hip-hop and funk in a low light rock ’n’ roll room with massive butterfly bins.
Dean and I reconnected late last winter, prior to the opening of Sweet Loretta. It was the first time he and I had seen one another in a while, maybe prior to Covid. We blabbed, Dean was excited to play there, Pump was excited to have him, I was excited to get the band back together.
It was then that I noticed how thin he had become. He had trouble standing due to what he told everyone at the time was diabetes, but which we would later find out was pancreatic cancer. We left it at that, then started talking about doing a proper roller party somewhere. I was getting ready to leave and he asked for a ride home. No problem, I dropped him off a block from my place and he said, “I told you we lived close by each other.” Addresses were exchanged, phone numbers confirmed. It was great to see Dean again.
He showed up at my place the next weekend with a bag of records, “I gotta hear this on your rig downstairs.” I have a partly set-up studio that I said Dean could come play records on anytime he wanted — I was out of work and he didn’t have his decks for some reason.
He had never been in my record room before. I turned on the light, he dropped his DJ bag, and said, “Well this shit’s for real,” as he looked upon 9,000 records in various states of disarray.
Dean and I spent the entire afternoon, like the record obsessive kids at our core, flipping through the crates, sharing songs, identifying breaks, bouncing breaks together. I felt like I finally had a record buddy with better musical taste. Somebody who would get why that break is preferable, how to drop, and, “Man, isn’t Idris Muhammad amazing!” It was the first time I felt such a profound love and appreciation for the dreaded record room I have long considered a noose of fiscal imprudence. At that moment it became a place of joy, slicing moments of time together with the coolest man in south Calgary.
I set about to get the studio properly set up for Dean, as he had trouble standing due to his “diabetes,” which we all would find out later was pancreatic cancer.
The idea of the studio was that he and I could just listen to music together, with the lights flashing and the disco ball spinning.
On another Saturday, Dean whipped over on his vintage Norco 10 speed. Of course it was perfect, as if he just picked it up out of the store yesterday. (It should be stated for the record and known emphatically: Dean had mad, crazy-good style, with shoe game for miles, the best belt buckles, he smelled like expensive cologne, always just enough — he was never not put together. )
Out of his bag he pulled an old-school orange Fisher Price kids turntable and eight fresh D cell batteries for it. He grabbed his handful of records, I ran to grab some of mine. There we sat, two old dudes listening to German breakbeat, Mo’ Wax records, Ninja Tune — anything I had that Dean hadn’t heard before, all played on a 1971 kids toy. It sounded ridiculous and It felt good to be with someone who could share so much music. It’s a dorky thing, but so enjoyable in the dorkiest of ways — talking about Prince, this jam or that jam, Dean’s past gigs, the halloween cabals at the Uptown.
The last weekend before he went into the hospital, he had a hard time walking, so we’d just hang on the deck. Dean was borrowing my phone for Spotify, he was playing as much music as he could for me to hear, half songs here, a quarter of a song there.
I realized after he passed away in August that during that six-hour stretch, in my backyard, he made me a mixtape of things he thought I should hear by liking every song for me, leaving me with musical breadcrumbs to follow. I cannot think of a better statement about the Dean’s love for music that he wanted to share as much music as he could while he could.
He LOVED music.