“Why’d you call? To tell me my press release sucks?” a defeated-sounding Cherchez La Femme asks when the Straight rings her up. Even though the press release does suck—boasting the endearingly unprofessional subject line “Hi man here is my Free Association event any press would rule!”—the purpose of the call isn’t to admonish her, this time.
Cherchez immediately begins weeping when it’s revealed we want to arrange an interview about her Free Association party at the Imperial. During the three-minute chat with the Vancouver nightlife fixture, known as Natasha Lands to her six siblings, a broad spectrum of emotion is covered: joy, denial, excitement, suspicion, and then back to joy with a few more tears. Welcome to the manic, ADHD mind of one of the city’s most creative and prolific event promoters.
An hour and a half later we meet at her apartment in the West End, which is above a Korean restaurant that appears to have videos by Girls’ Generation playing on a continuous loop. In her IKEA-outfitted bachelor suite are camera and computer gear, a loft bed with less than two feet between the mattress and the ceiling, an inordinate number of Teen Vogue issues, and a copy of Social Media Marketing for Dummies.
“Cherchez La Femme is a Napoleonic-times thing,” she explains of her moniker. “It means ‘to look for the woman’—it has a negative connotation. When something fucks up, look for the woman, because she’s behind it.”
Fucking things up is what Cherchez excels at—meant with a positive connotation. For the past seven years she’s been a force of nature in Vancouver as a party-rocking DJ, a promoter, a gallerist, a label owner, a community-builder with a passion for highlighting emerging talent from a variety of disciplines, and a self-identified weirdo with flamingo-pink hair.
“Whenever someone asks what I do for a living, I say ‘Anything I want,’ ” she proclaims. “I don’t wake up every day thinking how much money can I make. I wake up thinking about what creative, weird-ass idea can I do.”
These weird-ass ideas come to life at her events, where, on any given evening, alongside local and international DJs, bands, and rappers, there could be drag performances, skate ramps, art and zine shows, giveaways of flexi discs she had made for the party, stages built to look like the basement from Wayne’s World, snow machines, fashion models walking a runway, appearances by Terry from FUBAR, or inflatable Twister mats.
“I’m really interested in people’s movements and what they’ve created. I try to bring as many people together as possible,” she explains. “I don’t have as much money as the big event companies. I don’t own a venue. So instead of competing, I’m doing what I’ve always done: highlighting what Vancouver is all about.”
The latest example of this is Free Association, which, fittingly, is free to attend if you show up before 11 p.m. It’ll be an all-locals bonanza with seven dance-music producers on the stage, five visual artists projecting their work on the venue’s movie screen, a fashion show with 10 lifestyle companies, and a variety of pop-up shops selling DIY tchotchkes like shirts and zines.
“You’re not gonna hear Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’, although that’s a great song,” she’s quick to note. “Maybe you’ll hear a remix they made of it? I don’t know.”
Don’t let the uncertainty surrounding whether or not you’ll hear any Bey discourage you. Last year the event was on a weeknight and had 1,200 people through the door, and this year’s iteration is on a Friday and has an equally stacked music lineup. It includes dance acts like Michael Red, a mainstay in the scene and the Low Indigo label boss; Shaunic and Silence, beatsmiths from the Chapel Sound collective; and Syre, an up-and-coming house producer whom Cherchez is particularly excited about.
“He’s got 13,000 followers on SoundCloud and was referred to me from my friend Ekali,” Cherchez recalls. “A week later I asked Syre to headline Fortune. He’s 19 and was like, ‘I’ve never DJed in my life.’ I thought, ‘How bad could it be?’ It was incredible. The kids that are coming up now in Vancouver are superhuman creatives.”
Giving people their first shot is something that’s very near and dear to her. While earning a “Bachelor of Fuck All” in photography at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and beginning to play in clubs, she found it difficult to get booked for anything better than a 9 p.m. set time.
“When I first started DJing all I knew were guy DJs,” she says. “We all grew up collecting records at the same time, but I was never good enough. So that’s why I started throwing my own parties. When you give people opportunities it very rarely goes wrong.”
Free Association will also be the de facto launch for Cherchez’s creative agency of the same name—she’s stepping away from the hellacious grind of doing weeklies. On the horizon is a series of parties called Free Grants. Their aim is to inject a bit more accessibility into arts grants while giving young talent a chance to showcase itself to new audiences. The idea is that you submit a proposal with a pitch for an event, and a jury awards the best ones funding to execute the nights at venues around town.
“I want to get creative kids paid and allow them to do what they want and not leave the city,” she says. “I’m not seeing a lot of investment in creative culture, which I think is really important to have in a world-class city. Vancouver’s still young and there’s room to grow. I love it. It’s like the Wild West. You can do whatever you want here.”
And if you’re looking for evidence of that, how about the fact that someone like Cherchez is able to exist and even thrive in Vancouver, despite that hair and those substandard press releases?
“I don’t know if there are pink-haired weirdoes running massive club nights anywhere else in the world,” she concurs.
Free Association happens at the Imperial on Friday (February 26).