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Beats, bass and voice: Greenlaw brings a human element to the electronica genre

By in Culture

Arts Writer

Though Saskatoon’s electronic scene may not boast the incredible following it does in Europe or even in Montreal, dub step, soul, hip-hop duo Greenlaw will look to inject the city with a healthy dose of electronic rejuvenation when they travel to Saskatoon.

Yet another symbol of Victoria, B.C.’s very potent music scene, Greenlaw is an expression of Vancouver Island electronic music. Members of Greenlaw, Skyla J. and MC Ozzie, will be rocking the stage at the Fez on Broadway (formerly the Roxy) on Aug. 19 and Vangellis on Aug. 21.

Greenlaw isn’t your generic, mindless, heart racing electronic music however, and aside from incorporating live instruments such as a bass, keyboard and flute, Greenlaw provides a human element to the electronic genre. Skyla J. laces most of Greenlaw’s choruses with her mellow and enticing indie voice, on par with the likes of Feist and Metric, while Oz supplies Greenlaw’s hip-hop factor with quickly paced rap verses over the house and dub-step beats.

The Sheaf heard from Greenlaw’s Skyla J. about the group’s upcoming Saskatoon cameo, the electronic scene in Victoria and where Greenlaw’s unique style originates from.

The Sheaf: Where does the name Greenlaw originate from? And how long have you been a group?
Skyla J: Greenlaw is a street in Toronto that inspired us after a serious jam session, the name also represents the law of nature and balance. Oz and I have been Greenlaw since 2003. We signed with Formation Records UK in 2005 and since have released three singles: “Warrior,” “After I’m Gone”, and “Go In Peace.”

Sheaf: Tell me about yours and Ozzie’s artist backgrounds.
Skyla: Oz began as an MC in a live hip hop band called Digg that made some serious waves in B.C. After Oz and I met and started jamming we moved to Toronto and created a nine-piece live funk/soul project called Selective Collective fronted by Oz MCing and myself singing. Our most notable achievement during this time was playing Montreal Jazz Fest in 2000. With such a large band we felt our true sound was getting away from us so we decided to strip it down to a four piece. Oz picked up the bass ( I bought him one for Christmas one year ) and I picked up the flute (he bought me one for my birthday one year) and voila, Greenlaw was born. 

Sheaf: What makes each of you unique as musicians?
Skyla: The moment Oz and I started jamming the combination of our voices, lyrics and energy created something that we had never heard or felt before. We are 100 per cent self taught ”“ our sound comes purely from our soul. We also aren’t afraid to blend genres. We take you from hip-hop, soul, jazz, heavy dub and house all in one set. It’s really all about beats, bass and voice.

Sheaf: What’s up with your international label status? Explain how you came about to be signed by Formation Records from the United Kingdom and any other interesting details surrounding it.
Skyla: We had just finished a nine-month tour to the U.K. and Europe and we were playing a show at a local Victoria venue called the MINT. In walks DJ SS from Formation. He listened to our set and asked for a recording. The next day he called and asked to sign us. From working with Formation our sound has a whole new influence to draw upon. Not to mention we get to tour the World from Puerto Rico to Russia.

Sheaf: How would you describe the sound of Greenlaw? And what could you possibly compare it to?
Skyla: Dub, soul, electronic ”“ We have been compared to so many acts from Massive Attack to Morcheeba, it seems everyone hears something different.

Sheaf: What are yours and Ozzie’s respective roles in Greenlaw? Who makes the beats? And what other live instruments do you use?
Skyla: I sing, write most of the lyrics and play the flute and trumpet. I also run the effects pedals. Oz MCs (and) plays bass and keys. As far as beats go we are lucky enough to work with some of the heaviest worldwide producers from DJ SS, Original Sin, Mark Instinct, Amaning, Tantrum Desire and more. Oz and I also collaborate on beat making and production for our tunes. 

Sheaf: Does living on an island, a.k.a. Vancouver Island, influence your sound?
Skyla: Living on an island in general influences who we are and our music. Oz is originally from Jamaica and I was pretty much born and raised in Victoria. The concept of time changes on an island, being surrounded by water affects you in a positive and relaxed way. Nature is a great teacher. Not to mention reggae, a musical style created from island life, is a huge part of our musical influence. 

Sheaf: What’s the electronic/dub step scene like in Victoria? Where does Greenlaw fit in?
Skyla: We have watched the Victoria music scene grow and change over the years. The dub step scene is reaching its height right now. We have always paved our own way and done things a little differently and because of this we can pretty much fit in anywhere.

Greenlaw will play the Fez on Broadway (formerly the Roxy) on Aug. 19 and Vangellis on Aug. 21.

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