Chili Thom might be best known for his bright, ethereal landscape art, but over the last 12 years he's also became a staple in Whistler's DJ scene.
It all started at the turn of the '00s, when he and Pique film columnist, Feet Banks, would spin on shoddy equipment at their house during parties, making friends with other local DJs like Vinyl Ritchie and Mat the Alien, who lived down the block.
"As I started making more money, I started buying more DJ equipment," Thom says, taking a break from sorting through songs to play for his New Year's Eve set at the GLC. "I was continually buying music... I still have my records, which I think is truly the mark of a DJ because, back in the day, you had to have good taste. I was spending $400 or $500 a month on records for years."
Though he's purged some of that collection — amassed partly from a now-defunct record store in Function Junction and during record-shopping road trips to places like San Francisco — he still boasts about 5,000 LPs and 7-inches. The constant search for new music hasn't stopped, but it's largely moved online, he explains.
"I probably spend about 20 hours a week looking for new music then 20 or 30 hours sorting music," he says. "Usually, it takes probably twice as long as your set is going to be to set it out."
The scene has shifted musically too. DJs have to work harder to be tastemakers because even the casual music fan can have an endless song library at the click of a button, he says. Still, Thom prides himself on unearthing little-known gems, from funk to hip hop to disco and the early blues.
"I used to be really militant in not playing any (top 40)," he says. "As a DJ, you have to have a style that's an extension of your personality. You play stuff that speaks to you. You play better playing your personality. But I've been hired to do all sorts of sets lately, corporate events that are more the top 40 crowd. You try not to play it as much as you can, but from time to time you have to submit. It's always more fun having people on the dance floor than people barking in your ear, 'You suck.'"
Which happens, he adds. Playing a DJ set might look like fun, but it's pretty exhausting too. "Even if you're just standing there, you're still sweating like mad. As you DJ, you're looking to see who's nodding their heads, who's tapping their feet, who's not paying attention. You're continually sort of fishing: throwing out styles and genres and analyzing the entire room for how they're feeling about it. Then, as soon as you hook them, you have to think about all the other songs like (the one you've just played). When you start to lose the dance floor it can be really stressful," he says.
The social element of the gig — as taxing as it can be — is a welcome balance to his day job. "Being an artist, I hang out by myself in my studio all the time," he says. "It's fun to be a hermit for a while then go out and get a social injection and come back and be a hermit. It keeps me in check, mentally."
Check out Chili Thom's DJ sets every Wednesday at Tommy Africa's beginning at 9:30 p.m.
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