The electronic-music scene has long been associated with drugs and partying, something Denver-based producer and DJ Amber Davies, who performs as Amberdehn, has been resisting over the four years she has been performing and releasing tracks. Since she was a teenager growing up in Wisconsin and listening to her first house-music records, she has always focused on the music, and she wants to provide opportunities for EDM fans to do the same.
We spoke with Davies about her time in the electronic-music scene, how she developed her sound, and her hopes for the larger EDM community.
Westword: Tell me about electronic music and how you started developing within that genre.
Amber Davies: It has always been a part of my soul since high school. I started going to parties then. We would drive from La Crosse, Wisconsin, to Madison: "Tell Mom and Dad you’re at someone’s house when you’re really somewhere else." Sometimes that worked out well for me; sometimes it didn’t. The parties would be in strip malls or old warehouses. There was something so electric and powerful about it. Then I came to Colorado and saw how the clubs and festivals were operating at a higher level, and the production and energy that went into that.
Music is literally in my soul. If you took it out of me, I think I’d shrivel up and die. It’s like taking an animal out of its natural habitat and putting it somewhere it doesn’t belong. When you truly find your passion in life, it consumes you. It is what has happened to me more and more every day since I decided to make that choice to produce, to sing, to deejay. Every weekend is consumed by music.... I chose it, and it was less of this soft, “Oh, I just do music.” I chose it, and I made the time. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I produce. Every weekend, if I’m not at a gig, people ask me to go out, and I think that’s great, but Ableton is my nightlife right now. I’m investing so much of my own time into myself and my music. I don’t want to be a bystander; I want to be a contributor.
Beyond feeling really innately connected with the music itself and part of a powerful, fun-loving community, what do you specifically enjoy about the electronic scene? What made you want to pursue this route instead of continuing to sing alongside your piano?
The sound design and intention that goes into electronic music is otherworldly to me. As a genre, the range of frequencies, highs and lows, gives artists like myself such a range to work with. I use my foundation in piano and percussion in every track.... The beauty of it all is that I still get to sing with my music, but now it is even more boundless and limitless. I can create new sounds that no one has even ever heard before. Maybe a piano’s keystroke is a part of that sound design, maybe not. The creative process is addictive to me.
How have you seen the climate of the scene shift? I feel like people see a rave or electronic music and think certain things. Beyond those certain associations, it is about the music, but I feel we feed into the idea of the scene.
I think people feed into an excuse. They need an excuse to do [drugs], and the culture has created that. If people want to do that stuff, that’s fine. Some of my closest friends do molly, have done one hundred hits of acid at a time, serious stuff. I’ve done drugs myself, but I choose not to do them any longer, because it affects you. It affects you negatively. I think a shift to a more positive, healthy scene — you don’t have to go and get fucked up. Why can’t you go and just enjoy yourself? Why is that an assumption that people make? That’s a part of it. I think it’s holding the scene down. I know there are these huge festivals and clubs, but I feel like the scene is keeping other cool people out because of the negative connotations attached to it.
For example, I’m going to Holy Ship in January. I’m a DJ. I’m a producer. I listen to hours of music every single day. I’m constantly listening to music. I’m constantly dancing. I’m completely in it. I didn’t want to go to Holy Ship because of the negative connotations of drugs and overt sexuality. People can be free; people can party. I just got back from Burning Man; I’m all about it. But I was kept away, being 100 percent in the music scene, from a cruise that plays house music because of everything I’d heard about drugs with it. The scene is keeping cool people out by pushing too hard and allowing that to occur. Yeah, that’s a strong stance, and I’m speaking out about it because I want the scene to shift so it can grow. We’re keeping people out by letting the assumption be drugs, alcohol, partying. It’s all about the music. If there is a party that happens because of that, awesome. I just don’t want to shift so far away from it that it isn’t about the music.
Providing the balance of creating spaces conducive to sober partying within a scene known for drugs, how do you think this will improve the scene? What specifically would you like to see for those types of shows?
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It seems that people want to feel something or nothing. It seems that would be the leading cause of drug use. But one of the best ways to feel something isn’t drugs; it’s being present. In my opinion, drugs are a way of chasing something that is really right inside of you the whole time. The present moment, that’s where the power is in any scenario – not just at a show. I have seen more and more artists challenge why having a bar at a venue is necessary or why drugs are tied to festivals and shows in general. I have definitely used alcohol to stay up late because my set is at 3:45 a.m. or gotten high to stimulate creativity. Not one to judge. But I would like to see more people choosing to create a deeper connection to music and one another by looking inside of themselves versus looking to a substance for a short-term solution to a long-term issue: lack of connection. Needing a substance to connect with yourself, other people or the music degrades the experience over the long term because you are not able to re-create that feeling without a substance.
Why do you think that providing a more sober opportunity or experience would stimulate the scene’s growth?
The scene was never meant to be about any of the auxiliary bullshit that waters it down and breaks it apart. It is about the music and the community that the music creates.
Amberdehn, 9 p.m. Friday, October 27, at the Church, 1160 Lincoln Street, $12, 303-832-2383.