Douglas understands the need for balance

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      If you were to trace a line through the electronic-music history of Vancouver, you might start in the 1980s with Skinny Puppy and work all the way up to Mathew Jonson, stopping along the way to note the contributions of DJs like Tyler Stadius and Luke McKeehan. Central as those figures have been to the scene, no telling of our e-music story would be complete without mention of Vernon Douglas, a DJ whose work ties together all these disparate strands.

      Growing up in New Westminster in the 1980s, Douglas was heavily into the searing industrial music composed by B.C.'s own Skinny Puppy, whom he recalls having seen perform at a teen club called the Courthouse Studios in 1987. Within two years of that show, U.K. acid-house cassettes started to make the rounds of hipster circles; upon hearing his first tape, the teenage Douglas was immediately hooked.

      "That whole early house vibe seemed to flow perfectly from the industrial music for me because it had a lot of the same sort of sounds," he says, interviewed at a Commercial Drive café. "So I started going out to places like Luv-A-Fair and especially Graceland, which at the time was the place for new house music."

      Over the ensuing five years, Douglas spent the better part of his weekends on dance floors around town, and by the mid-1990s he'd amassed enough of his own records to give deejaying a shot.

      Within a few years of his first gig-which he recalls took place at an after-hours spot on Seymour Street-Douglas met Chani Tompkins, a local event promoter and the woman he would eventually marry.

      In early 1998, after the Mark James Group took over management of the Lotus Sound Lounge, the company offered Vernon and Chani the chance to host the club's new Saturday weekly.

      In the six years since Deepen kicked off, the night has showcased a particularly British Columbian brand of tech-house, one that merges Chicago's soulful groove with the trippy sound effects first heard in mid-'90s progressive house.

      However you characterize it, the event is the longest-running and most successful dance-music weekly in Vancouver history, a fact largely attributable to Douglas's rare skills as a selector. More than any other 4/4 DJ in the city, the New West native deftly balances populism with refinement, elegantly swinging from tummy-shaking anthems to lean burners. Whether he's setting the table for a big-name international guest or flaying the punters at prime time, you can always count on Douglas to sprinkle some late-'80s flavour into the mix.

      "My thing has always been the acid sound," he says proudly. "It's weird because that's a style that's really become popular in the last year or so, which can be kind of disheartening, because I always felt that that was one thing I would play that other people wouldn't bother with, the one thing that I sort of brought into this scene. Now, all of a sudden it's the hottest thing."

      If acid's futuristic psychedelia has grown in stature over the last 18 months, it's due in no small part to Douglas's efforts as a label owner; his Deepen Discs has been a reliable source of bleeps 'n' grooves since its inaugural release in 2001. To most dance-music fans around the world, the imprint has come to define the Vancouver sound, especially the high-impact style favoured by Deepen stalwarts Jay Tripwire and DJ Ali.

      Douglas, too, has contributed to the label's catalogue, teaming with Tyler Lewis for last year's Lerv-Vern EP and recently collaborating with Sean Dimitrie on a remix of the latter's hip-house throwback tune "Wired". With a pair of singles forthcoming from local hero Tyler Stadius, Deepen doesn't seem to be loosening its grip on the city, but as Douglas is quick to point out, the imprint is only one among many excellent tech-friendly outfits in the city, including relative newcomers Active Pass and Wagon Repair.

      "The best thing about running the label is that I like helping people that I know," he says, noting the fact that his is no moneymaking operation. "There's no real intention to sign tracks from artists outside Vancouver. Anybody can sign a new Derrick Carter single, but I think it's important for any small label to focus on the sound of their own region and do their best to promote it."

      Few scenes can count on ambassadors as dedicated as Douglas, an understated fellow who doesn't seem to realize just how crucial he's been to dance music's development on the West Coast.

      "This stuff has always been my main passion," he says when asked about his stature in the scene. "Trust me: if I didn't have any of this going on, and if my life was all about the 9-to-5 grind, I'd be a miserable bastard."