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The stage is her playground

by Simon New November 6, 2018
The stage is her playground

Montreal DJ’s new album shows her pop-punk roots

“Now I’m at peace with it. It took me a year, but now I am,” said Geneviève Ryan Martel, known as RYAN Playground. After finishing her newest album, 16/17 in March of last year, she ended up losing relationships that were central to the lyrics and message of the album. “The plan was to release it August 2017, and then just shit happens,” she said. Now, 16/17 comes from a place of acceptance. Playground is a DJ, but on her latest record, she lets her voice shine as well as her production, stripping back some of the dense sounds of her previous work. She then delivers lyrics that take on new meanings a year later.

When Playground took the stage at Théâtre Fairmount on Oct. 27, she was solo with just a guitar and a controller, but with the quiet confidence of a full band. As she interspersed cuts from her older material with her new tape, her new voice was apparent. She’s influenced by the pop-punk bands of her youth. “New Found Glory, Yellowcard, all of that,” said Playground. “I felt like I was going back to my old influences. I started to listen back again and realized that I will forever like it.” The result is beautiful, airy vocals with a pop-punk edge over production that’s intimate and, at times, vigorous. Her use of vocal samples as more of a percussive element than a melodic one is refreshing. It’s part Sum 41, part Aphex Twin, with a hint of Montreal flavour.

When she’s not speaking to the crowd or drawing them in with her lyrics, Playground speaks with her production. “It’s definitely very explicit,” she said. “There’s no bullshit when I do music. I like to say what I want to say.” The proof is in the dynamic, evocative beats she played live from a drum pad.

“Montreal is for sure going to be my home forever,” said Playground. It’s no doubt that her style and her work in the DJ scene is interwoven with the city at this point, but her inspirations come from elsewhere as well. This summer, she was in Seoul for a vacation and a few shows. “If I had no one here and nothing to do with my life, I would move there for sure,” she said. “I just felt super welcome. I felt like there, there was the perfect amount of everything. People were very welcoming, very open-minded. I just felt welcome.”

In Korea, Playground was working on dance music that skewed more toward her previous work. Then her hard drive died and she lost five of seven songs on a new project. She grieved, but found two silver linings. “My favourite track on there is still existing,” she said, “and I did a bunch of new music that is very stripped-down vocal guitar.”

As Playground moves her sound forward by pulling back on production and bringing her voice to the forefront, she sees a pull from external forces. Something tells her that a sudden change will work out in the end. “I guess life is sending me a message, like, ‘Okay, maybe you should focus on this kind of music.’”

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