There aren’t many jobs in the music industry that local powerhouse Luke McKeehan hasn’t done. Variously working as a label head, club night promoter, venue manager, producer—and, first and foremost, as a DJ—McKeehan views each platform as “the same ball of wax.” Making house and electronic music accessible in Vancouver since the early 90s, McKeehan has been employed professionally in the music industry since his mid-twenties. Which means that, unlike most of your friends, he didn’t just stick “DJ” on his résumé when he was actually washing dishes at the Keg.
McKeehan’s dedication to electronic music led him to create two popular Vancouver clubs, the Chameleon Lounge in the basement of the old Hotel Georgia, and Gastown’s famed Sonar—a venue that was fittingly named one of the “best clubs in the world” by Ministry Magazine. Using a fax machine to track down his artists (this was the 90s, folks), McKeehan had a knack for getting past major-label gatekeepers to book some of the biggest names in the genre, including Groove Armada, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Carl Craig.
Not one to be idle, McKeehan used that success to launch his globally-recognized Nordic Trax record label. One of the few local imprints to weather the storm of the digital era, McKeehan is the perfect person to ask about the struggles of driving to the Post Office on Georgia Street to individually mail out 300 white label records to stores. Boasting a roster of releases that includes A-listers like Mark Farina, Kenny Dope, and DJ T alongside a host of up-and-coming producers, it’s no accident that McKeehan’s label is still considered to be one of Canada’s premier homes for house music.
Despite his busy day-to-day in the office, McKeehan remains dedicated to his DJ roots. A true pro behind the decks, the artist’s career includes opening for names like David Bowie, Basement Jaxx, and the Pet Shop Boys. And trust us. No-one else in town can top his story about watching Jamiroquai ride around backstage on a mini-motorcycle.
Best gig ever?
During one of my first tours in Europe I was booked to play a club night in Madrid. This was about 12 years ago now, at a venue called The Room. The performance went really great, but what made it so special is that I met people there who’ve become friends for life. I actually live for some months of the year now in Spain, and that’s definitely due in part to the guys I ran into at that show. Spain is an amazing place to play. I fit the culture better in Europe because people have more time for the arts. I’ve DJed gigs that have been bigger draws or better-known night-clubs, but I think experience is the best indicator of a good show.
Top track right now?
It’s actually one of our own records. Nordic Trax is about to release a new song from Gavin Froome, who’s collaborated with Golden Ears from Vancouver. It’s called "Don’t Come Home." I’ve listened to it about 500 times through production, and I still love the track—I think they’ve done something really great with it, and the remixes by the Revenge are just as exciting too. There’s a lot of people who ask when Gavin is going to be putting music out again, so it’s nice to be able to get this track into the world.
Song that cleared the dancefloor?
I’m actually trying to think of the last time I did clear the dancefloor! I don’t want to come across as cocky at all, but if I’m playing, it’s usually already going to be busy. I’ve definitely done it— we all have—but it’s not normally due to the song. Even a great track can clear everybody out if the DJ has misread the crowd.
Favourite Vancouver producer?
There’s a few—but the up-and-coming guys are really the ones to talk about. Iain Howie has sent me a bunch of music recently, and I'm hopeful we’ll find something that fits Nordic Trax’s style at some point. Matt Dauncey too, who DJs under Neighbour, has done some really exciting things for our label. Some of the stalwarts would be Gavin Froome who I’ve already mentioned, Rennie Foster, and Jay Tripwire. Jay in particular is one of the only local guys I know who started playing music full-time from a really early age—and rightfully so.
What’s up with opening for David Bowie?
I was actually too intimidated to introduce myself to him backstage. I thought he’d be thinking ‘Why is my warm-up act an electronic music DJ!’ In retrospect, it was actually really cool that he booked me. Mötley Crüe and other bands like that were using DJs as openers at that time too, but it always seemed more opportunistic. Bowie’s always been influenced by dance music—his album Let’s Dance is all about that—so it always felt a lot more organic. It was an interesting show to work, because I was playing jazzy drum and bass and a little bit of hardstep, and the crowd just wanted rock music. I don’t think most of the audience got it, but Bowie just went with it.
Oddest request you’ve ever received?
This is less of a request and more of a memory. Myself and Gavin Froome were playing at the giant HMV superstore in Toronto together, back when you would do in-shop appearances to promote a CD. We were set up near the electronic music section, on the counter where you would usually go and pay for your records. My turntables were underneath, and Gavin had a drum machine, a controller, and a lot of other gear which he was playing live. Right when Gavin was doing his thing on the drum pad, a guy came up to us and asked us to ring up a CD. This guy thought Gavin was there to be on cash. I had to lean over and tell him that Gavin was the artist everyone was there to see. To be honest, it’s probably a good thing that guy didn’t try and give us a request.
"Don't Come Home" by Gavin Froome feat. Golden Ears will be released on Nordic Trax on Friday (August 5)