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Photo taken on Aug. 23, 2019. // Photo courtesy of Leigh-Anne Hazard.

Calgary’s Icarus Sound brings worldwide DJs to the online stage

By Nikayla Goddard, August 13 2020—

“Our main goal […] has always stayed the same,” says Femi Bode-George. “During this very difficult time, our goal is to just promote positivity and vibes and energy into the world. Especially to people in Calgary and Canada, and now to the globe as we’re gathering more follow-ship internationally.”

Bode-George is the founder and curator of Icarus Sound, a Calgarian African/World music events platform that has changed their creative outlet to better fit the COVID-19 atmosphere. Bode-George, together with fellow DJ Sarah Bernamoff, created Jam Session where they feature four African/World music DJs from around the world in a livestream Instagram show that is gaining popularity and viewership globally. So far, Icarus Sound has hosted famous DJs from 14 different countries, including Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, UK, France, USA and Canada, including big names such as Djibril Cisse (soccer player turned DJ), Boddhi Satva, DJ Neptunes, DJ Holup, DJ Sumbody, and Nigerian singer NINIOLA on the show.

Icarus Sound was founded two years ago on Aug. 18 by Bode-George, a finance sector worker, who started Icarus Sound to “promote creative events in the city here, especially in the social side of things,” he said. “I thought that doing this made sense to create more safe spaces for people to gather and have a good time.” 

Prior to the pandemic, Icarus Sound focused on a variety of different live performance events, including a performance at the National Music Center and an Afrocentric comedy show at Cafe Koi — everything from live music to comedy to parties and events in Calgary.

“One huge part of it, which is one reason why I decided to start it, is to bring diversity into the Downtown Core,” Bode-George said. “Because there are lots of families here who have never had […] Afrocentric events.”

“There are some diverse entertainment experiences for diverse populations, but they are generally on the periphery of the city,” Bernamoff added. “So you’ll see some clubs in the northeast and the southeast. And again, the downtown core hasn’t been such a host to this kind of experience.” 

Bode-George explained that the name Icarus Sound came from his love for the Greek myth of Icarus, but as a “very positive person” he wanted to put a more positive spin on the name to suit his vision. 

Jam Session began with COVID-19. As people no longer attended clubs and events and began practices that isolated people from each other physically as well as mentally, the pair saw an opportunity for a unique, creative experience.

Bode-George explained, “When the pandemic hit […] Sarah reached out to me, and said, ‘What do you think of this idea, that we should do something online.’ To bring people together, and just with the weight of everything that is going on weighs really heavy on people, and we see music as therapeutic.”

The weekend after the pitch was when the first show took place, and since then Bode-George says they have been expanding their sourcing of DJs, which he says has been easier now than ever due to the nature of everyone making the move to an online presence. 

“We branched out to reaching out to DJs in France, in England, a few African countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and we’ve grown on that. The […] music that we put on is mostly Afrocentric world music, meaning it could be afrobeats, it could be reggaeton, it could be dancehall from Jamaica, it could be soca music. So we take a very worldview approach to Jam Session.”

Currently, Jam Session welcomes around 500 to 4,000 viewers during each livestream, which scales up with the popularity of the DJ. Bode-George and Bernamoff would love to inspire more people from Calgary to tune into the sessions, for both the listener’s benefit and the DJs’. A major benefit to Jam Session is generating exposure for the DJs along with exposing listeners to new DJs and music. Icarus Sound conducts an interview with a different DJ each time, taking questions from the audience to supplement the interview and convey a sense of involvement and being a real part of the audience. 

“It’s also a huge compliment to the show, where it’s not just Jam Sessions with DJs,” Bode-George explained, adding that it adds a very real dimension to the interviewees where they are seen as more than just a DJ. “Now you have musicians on, you have actors on, you might have a sports personality on.” 

Bernamoff says that the livestream provides “a unique opportunity in terms of accessibility” for the DJs who are in a “creative mode right now, but are also thirsty to connect with audiences.”

Part of the rationale for choosing Instagram as the streaming platform, Bernamoff says, is that the livestream can be split into two sides of the screen, and draws viewership from both the DJ’s account and Icarus Sound’s host account.

“So especially when we have high profile DJs whose viewership on their own accounts have never heard of Calgary or Alberta, they are quite shocked and pleasantly surprised to find this initiative happening,” she said. “While the DJ is playing on one half of the screen, we are dancing and giving a kind of conduit or representation to the people watching also of someone dancing. Instead of just watching the DJ on the screen, it’s like we the host represent the audience and that good feeling.” 

“Having Sarah and myself on with the DJs gives them more energy,” Bode-George said. “When you’re DJing with a live audience in front of you, you kind of feed off the energy. And when you’re doing that by yourself, it’s very different.” 

On every episode with the exception of one, Icarus Sound has had at least one female-identifying DJ take part in the show, which they say they have been “very deliberate” about. 

“We need to promote more DJ stylings from female-identifying DJs,” Bode-George said. “It’s a very male-dominated field and I feel women bring a different style with different skills to the way they play music. And we could all benefit from that. Even here in Calgary there are probably only a handful of female-identifying DJs and that’s something that needs to be developed and worked on.”

One of the struggles that the livestream has provided are the copyright issues that come with broadcasting music. Bernamoff, as a local litigation lawyer with her MBA from UCalgary, was able to remark further on that subject.

“During such a difficult time globally, we would have liked to see some kind of compromise from these live-stream platforms to enable musicians, DJs, producers to entertain globally without that copyright stranglehold,” she said. “Especially when the music has been acquired through legal means. It’s just an interesting legal area.”

Icarus Sound runs without a budget, paying for expenses such as online-accessibility sound equipment for DJs out of pocket. The DJs aren’t paid, but Icarus Sound would love to pay them and are currently exploring sponsorships and grants to “at least pay these creators for their work in some formal fashion,” Bode-George says. 

“We do this because it is so very fulfilling for us. We also see potential for the future,” Bernamoff said. “One thing that this has enabled us to do is partner […] with entities that it would be far more difficult to partner with otherwise. Either due to distance, cost, or simply accessibility.” 

Icarus Sound’s long term goal is to eventually move these Jam Sessions to being in person at various points in Canada or across the globe, bringing international DJs to the big screen in a club.

Bode-George added, “That’s the slogan of Icarus Sound: delivering memorable experiences, for people from YYC to the globe.”

Tune into Jam Session on Icarus Sound’s Instagram page every Sunday at 1pm MST. Listeners can also return to and listen to recorded broadcasts by accessing their catalogue of around 50 DJ sets through the Icarus Sound Mixcloud.

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