Waxing on about Edmonton’s music scene



Every great music scene has its devoted fans. 

We asked three Edmontonians to wax on about their local favourites—artists, albums and venues—and how the music scene has shaped their lives. 

Piyush Patel

“I don’t know if I chose music or music chose me,” says Piyush Patel.

In high school, he used to spend his lunch breaks at a nearby record store, listening to CDs by rappers Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and 50 Cent. Patel had recently moved to Edmonton from India with his family. He didn’t have a lot of friends. 

“I felt like I was uprooted, so a lot of my early years were trying to adapt and integrate into the Canadian lifestyle,” he says. “I saw music as a way of integrating with all the other kids in high school. I started listening to rap and hip-hop because that’s what a lot of the kids were into.” 

By his late teens, Patel was listening to local music and going to see artists like synth-punk sextet Shout Out Out Out Out. He says he felt intimidated at first—he was usually the only person of colour at shows and he didn’t know many people in the scene. To make friends, he started volunteering at CJSR 88.5 FM, the University of Alberta’s campus station.


Now in his 30s, Patel hosts his own show, From Here We Go Sublime, and also DJs at gigs and events, including skate nights at City Hall and local festivals. “I do see more people of colour, different ethnicities at shows—not only in the audience, but even on stage,” says Patel, also known as DJ Gulzar. 


“If someone like me is coming to Canada in 2023 and is just starting out to go to shows, hopefully it's a little bit easier for them because they are seeing more diversity.”


Favourite musicians: Patel is fond of two jazz acts, Takleef Ensemble and Good Information, as well as post-punk bands such as Clergy, Fitness, Doreen, Homefront and Rhythm of Cruelty. Composer Farhad Khosravi, who plays an Iranian dulcimer-like instrument called a santur, is also on his list, plus Shout Out Out Out Out and Energetic Action, a punk band featuring late guitarist/trumpet player Dave Finkelman.


“I like the ethos that Energetic Action tried to capture,” says Patel. “Whatever you do, do it in an enthusiastic manner. I don’t think anyone in the music scene in Edmonton is doing it for the money, because, sometimes, there’s no money to be made, right? That’s something I always keep very close to my heart—DJing is something I’m doing because I love it, not because I’m trying to make an income out of it.” 

Favourite song: Compassion Fatigue by Fitness. Patel particularly likes the lyrics at the end of the tune: “There’s no time for hate, so you better love, you better love you better.” 

Favourite venues: 9910 and The Aviary, run by brothers Phil and Mark Muz, northeast of the city’s core. “They’re always putting on amazing shows,” says Patel. “They also do different kinds of shows—they’ll have musicians, they’ll have poetry readings, they’ll have art shows.”


A man, woman and their two sons sit and smile in some leaves on a fall day in Edmonton.
Melissa Bishop with her life partner, Scott Argue (also known as DJ Baggylean), and their two sons, Sam, left, and Chance. Courtesy of Lesya Yasnitska.



Melissa Bishop

Music is integral to Melissa Bishop’s heart.  

She saved up to get a Sony Discman as a kid. She auditioned to be a MuchMusic VJ. She drove to North Dakota to see the Rolling Stones with her mom in 1999. 

Bishop still remembers the experience of going to see her first Edmonton artist—Politic Live, a hip-hop group led by Arlo Maverick, in 2004. “I was like: ‘Oh, my gosh, this is amazing!’” she says. “I didn’t know this existed and after that point, I just started seeking out the shows of local artists.” 


Bishop also started working in the music scene. She got a job at a record store, where she had to fight with head office to let her hang local gig posters in the shop. (She won.)  She worked at various downtown venues, including the Starlite Room and the Winspear Centre, and wrote a series of articles on women DJs for a local magazine. 

In 2011, Bishop met her life partner, DJ Baggylean, at a local pub. He was playing tunes, she was there to promote some new releases by an American hip-hop label. She asked him to hold up a postcard of one of the albums—Atmosphere’s The Family Sign—so she could take a photo of it. 

“Ultimately, we had a family based on that interaction,” she says.


“I have two sons and a life partner because of the music scene. It’s defined my entire life.”


Favourite artists: Bishop is a big fan of Edmonton’s hip-hop artists, including emcees Mouraine, K-Riz, Jaide and Tzadeka, who released her fifth album, Cities of Fire, in 2021. “She has a wonderful stage presence and a beautiful voice,” says Bishop.


She also likes reggae band Souljah Fyah, battle rapper Epic—”He’s like the Neil Young of rap”—and, of course, DJ Baggylean and his various projects, including The Liberators.

 “The talent in Edmonton’s music scene is phenomenal and sincerely underappreciated,” says Bishop. I would describe it as a giant balloon of talent about to pop because it’s so great.”

Favourite venues: The Starlite Room, one of the city’s oldest venues, and the Winspear Centre, a concert hall and the home of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in the city’s Arts District.  “They’re phenomenal places,” says Bishop. “The Winspear has some of the best acoustics in the world.” 

For smaller shows, she likes 9910, a basement club in downtown Edmonton; COLAB, a community arts venue in the Quarters, and the Black Dog, a pub on Whyte Avenue.


A close-up of a person with dyed blonde hair standing in front of some twigs attached to a wall.
Over the past 20 years, Aaron Vanimere has attended more than 1,000 shows featuring local artists. Courtesy of Aaron Vanimere.


Aaron Vanimere

When Aaron Vanimere was a child, they were allowed only to listen to Christian music. “I just became really obsessive about it,” they say. “That was my world.” 

They started exploring other genres in their teens—checking out local punk bands at all-ages shows at community halls, then graduating to clubs and bars. “I was extremely shy,” they say. 

“I would go to shows by myself. I wouldn’t talk to people. Steadily over time, I learned how to be outgoing and I would say the bulk of the friends that I have now are somehow connected to the Edmonton music scene.” 

Two decades later, Vanimere has been to more than 1,000 shows featuring Edmonton artists (and likely another 1,000 featuring touring acts) of all genres. They’ve also occasionally worked as a concert photographer, shooting for regional and national publications. 

“In the past, there were some local acts that I thought were going to be huge stars, and then it was like, ‘Oh, that's actually not what happens,” says Vanimere. “It’s made me appreciate the things that are here for what they are. They don't have to be bigger than Edmonton or Western Canada.


“The people doing incredible work in Edmonton’s music scene care about it to a degree that I’ve never seen anyone care about anything.”


Favourite musician: Wares, a heavy pop group, led by Cassia Hardy. “I think Wares are one of the best bands in the world,” says Vanimere. “Cass's songs are so good. The songwriting is incredible. And she's so dynamic as a performer. We're so blessed to have them.”


Favourite albums: Circle Thinking (2015) by I Hate Sex, a defunct screamo band, and the first two albums by Wares—their self-titled debut (2017) and Survival (2020), which was longlisted for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize. Singer-songwriter Tyler Butler’s Winter King is another favourite. “It’s that nice sombre folk music that I really like,” says Vanimere. “It’s just a record I can put on at any time.”  

Favourite venues: Vanimere is a fan of Edmonton’s smaller rooms—9910, The Aviary and Blakbar, a resto-pub on Whyte Avenue. 

“With those three places, the show takes over the space and demands your attention,” says Vanimere. “You can’t be in Blakbar and talking over the band, right? I can also bring people that aren’t necessarily part of the music scene to those places. They don’t feel like ‘I’m not cool enough to be here.’ I think that [sense of welcome] speaks to the Edmonton music scene as a whole to a certain degree.”