by Karen Shim
Published on: Aug 26, 2004
Type: Interviews

Matt Blair has an enviable job on Sunday nights: spinning mod and indie records at the swanky Cobalt bar in Toronto with friends in the crowd, unlimited access to beer and a decent paycheque to boot. Nice work if you can get it. But DJing isn’t the only thing on Blair’s plate. The 24-year- old Queen’s University graduate also serves up music promotion and non-profit work, all under the independent art and media network, Transient Orange, he established in early 2002.

In addition to the Cobalt residency, Blair has just finished a stint doing downtempo and ambient at IV Lounge on Tuesday nights, moving the show to Wednesdays with more of a live electronic focus. And he plays Brit and indie rock at the Labyrinth bar on Thursday nights, displaying his eclectic tastes in music. Once a month, he teams up with fellow Queen’s grad Eric Martin as the industrial electronic duo Seven Ton Earth at IV Lounge.

While he loves spinning his favourite tracks for people, he doesn’t see himself doing it as a career, “It’s great for now; I have a lot of fun doing it. DJing allows me to go out and keep buying records.”

“The non-profit feels a little bit more (like) where I’d like to go,” he adds. Under Transient Orange, he organizes and promotes events, primarily shows featuring local bands and DJs in honour of the Food and Shelter Project. The performances are billed as benefits at which food donations are collected or part of the proceeds are donated to the needy and homeless. The first annual campaign took place in June 2003 with events held in a number of Canadian cities.

Blair has been taking on brave initiatives since he was a teenager. In high school he began an independent record label called Associate Records, establishing it as a business in his first year at Queen’s. He put out a demo featuring his own noise and industrial recordings and it caught the attention of local artists who wanted to get involved, “We failed,” he admits. “I still have, like, 400 copies of the one compilation we made in my bedroom. I learned that you can’t do this while you’re in school.”

But setbacks haven’t deterred him. “There’s no shortage of ideas in that guy’s head,” notes Arthur Yeung, who worked with Blair as assistant editor of Queen’s weekly paper Golden Words. “His can-do attitude is extremely admirable.”

Since graduating from Queen’s in Communications in 2002, Blair has more time to devote to juggling Transient Orange activities. He prefers to collaborate with people who have a more leftist social, political or cultural stance. “There are a lot of bands that form and just break up. We’re looking to endorse and support something a little more than that--more than just being in a band or DJing because anybody can do either of those things.”

Blair believes there’s a huge need for a more responsible and diverse media. This belief influences how he runs Transient Orange. “The media sets the public agenda. A lot of people don’t have a voice; it’s a very serious problem.”

Blair continues to drive his ideas forward. In October 2003, he registered Transient Orange as a sole proprietorship business recognized by the province of Ontario. He believes that having a proper business structure will allow suitable financial management including a wider range of fundraising opportunities. Asked whether Transient Orange is a business or a non-profit organization, Blair says both worlds can be reconciled. It can succeed as a for-profit business venture with non-profit divisions, such as the Food and Shelter Project.

With his full-time post at the Ontario Cancer Research Network, Blair is gaining further experience in the non-profit sector. He realizes that his ambitions for Transient Orange will take time to develop. “Within the space of about five years or so—this will be around the time it’ll start taking off as a viable business opposed to a part-time thing—I see it being as much an entertainment company and a community organization.” For him, the Food and Shelter Project has been the most difficult undertaking yet the most rewarding. His philanthropic and humble spirit is evident when he talks or writes, like through his use of plurals (“we at Transient Orange”, for example).

Blair holds monthly literary readings under the Transient Orange name, no doubt serving to express fresh ideas about art and culture. Last December, he released a benefit compilation CD for the Food and Shelter Project, titled Food For Thought. At the moment, he’s working towards registering the Food and Shelter Project as a non-profit organization in its own right.

Some wonder why Blair doesn’t use a flashy moniker like DJ Matrix or DJ Shadow when he spins. (He simply goes by Matt Blair). He may be better known for his weekly residencies, but as a writer, promoter, activist and entrepreneur he wants his work to be felt beyond that of a DJ. Part of it has to do with his unpretentiousness, too, which he won’t point out, of course. “Basically, I have a name that has worked out pretty well for 24 years now,” he says with a smile. “I’ve gotten used to it.”

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