It took three years for Ronin E-Ville, also known as York alumnus and contract faculty member Colin McGuire, to pull together his latest album, Big Dirty HiFi, but less than seven weeks for it to soar to number four on the national !Earshot radio charts for electronic music, published by the National Campus and Community Radio Association.
"That was huge. That blew me away," says McGuire (BFA ’01, MA ‘03). "It’s great that people are actually listening to it." Big Dirty HiFi, a full-length album of "eclectronica", was launched in May and hit number four on !Earshot for the week ending June 17, the latest available. Since then its popularity has continued to climb. It’s also been in the top 30 for CHRY 105.5, York’s own volunteer-run campus-community radio station, more than three times.
Right: Ronin E-Ville, aka Colin McGuire
What is eclectronica? As McGuire puts it, it’s "the bastard child of Daft Punk and Fatboy Slim who chills with King Tubby and DJ Shadow, idolizes Miles Davis and is second cousin to NIN". Big Dirty HiFi follows his 2004 sophomore album Ronin vs C-Bone and is a mix of electro, breaks, house, techno, dub, acid jazz, trip hop, lounge, IDM, funk and rock.
"I’ve been exposed to a lot of different kinds of music in my life," says McGuire, a regular DJ and trumpet player who says he got tired of holding a band together and only getting to play certain parts of any piece with his instrument. "I wanted to create a virtual band for myself to play with."
That’s how Ronin E-Ville was born. It gave McGuire, who teaches digital music and production in York’s Department of Music, the opportunity to fuse various styles and genres of music together. "In the end, it all kind of swirls around and comes out as Ronin E-Ville." And as the album’s composer and producer, McGuire was able to control the overall sound of the album, something like the masterless ancient Japanese samurai that is the definition of a "ronin". Without anyone else to answer to McGuire, a.k.a. Ronin, could experiment and shape his own album’s destiny. McGuire pulls together an organic combination of electronic sounds, synths and samples including recordings of live voices and instruments. In case you’re wondering, the "E" in E-Ville, stands for his home town of Edmonton.
The technical quality of this album over his first – a cassette in 1998 titled, The Tech Lab EP – is enormous, says McGuire. "The blend has kind of congealed and settled into itself. Whereas before, I was making individual tracks and grouping them together, this album was planned as an album. So I think it holds together more." It is also a reflection of the wide range of music that McGuire listens to and plucks ideas from for his own work. As a DJ he feels a responsibility to educate his audience in the different forms of music, while as a composer and producer he is interested in keeping up with what’s new and different.
As someone who has practiced the martial art of Wing Chun Kung Fu for the last decade, McGuire says he is looking for a way to combine music and martial arts and that has prompted him to return to York as a student to pursue a PhD in ethnomusicology. "The idea is to conflate my two passions – music and martial arts." He plans to look at the Chinese Lion Dance, at the music that’s played during Thai kick boxing competitions and at how in Brazil the practitioners of Capoeira used to disguise their martial arts practices as dances.
Above: String Beats music video directed by York alumna Angie Aranda based on Ronin E-Ville’s album Big Dirty HiFi
McGuire took part in Luminato 2008 (he did a set of remixed samba available for download from his Web site), was a part of Nuit Blanche in 2007 and the Fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists in 2005. He also collaborated on a production of Ballet Creole’s Pepper and has had DJ gigs at Miss Canada International and Miss Teen Canada International Pageant at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga and Liberty Entertainment’s Funkn’ Fashion parties at the Courthouse Chamber Lounge.
He also took second place in the American Idol Underground Electronica competition in 2006. And a fellow York alumna, Angie Aranda, created a video, posted on YouTube, that explores her own interpretation of Ronin E-Ville’s music from Big Dirty HiFi. "It very interesting to see visually what people think of my music," says McGuire.
As his PhD studies are bound to slice into McGuire’s time for making music, he is turning more to remixes and working with other people again, with greater emphasis on single cuts.
By Sandra McLean, YFile writer