Neil Cooke-Dallin (centre), frontman for the six-piece band Astrocolor, recently took some time to chat with Mirror reporter Mike Davies about the band and their role at this year’s Campbell River Pride Party, which happens this Saturday. Photo by Susanne Marie Photography

Astrocolor to bring disco, funk and soul together for live show at Campbell River Pride Party

Cooke-Dallin: Being asked to play Pride ‘a really cool thing’

I recently had a chance to have a phone conversation with Neil Cooke-Dallin in advance of his band Astrocolor coming to town as the music headliner for this year’s Campbell River Pride Party. I wanted to know what people could look forward to at the event this Saturday (June 23), how the band came to have the unique sound they have, amongst other things.

Here’s how the discussion went:

Mike: “So, according to the bio on your website, you guys play ‘on the edges of funky house, balearic, breakbeat, and ambient.’ I’m going to be honest and say I don’t know what any of that means. Help me out here.”

Neil: “Well, basically, we have a six piece band and five of them are essentially a five-piece funk band with two guitars a bass, drums and a saxophone. House music refers to the evolution of disco, so we’re talking about basically new-wave disco beats and breakbeat is kind of like old soul – James Brown kind of beats. So what we’re doing is we’re kind of taking elements of disco, funk and soul and using modern electronics and synthesizers, bringing it into the new age. When we perform as a six-piece band, we’re trying to kind of meld all of that together into the live music realm, if you know what I mean.”

Mike: “That was going to be my next question. I think when many people picture electronic music, they maybe picture a guy up on stage under a big pair of headphones spinning a couple of turntables. You are clearly not that. So what does an Astrocolor show look like?”

Neil: “Well, what I’m doing is spinning some beats, kind of like a DJ, and the boys are playing along. So I kind of act like a conductor and we move back and forth between the underlying backbone of electronic music and the band taking over – sometimes taking over altogether and it just being a full-on funk band jam. There’s a really cool push and pull between the traditional band and DJ-style performance.”

Mike: “How did you hit on that idea? What brought you guys together thinking this could be a thing?”

Neil: “Originally I was working as their recording engineer (they were Weird Party back then) and we’d had some pretty good success – the first album I recorded for them got nominated as Best Instrumental at the Western Canadian Music Awards. And then one day I had a spare weekend in the studio and I wanted to do this late-90s return to production where people were using samples of old funk tracks in their electronic music, but I didn’t want to use the same old tired samples that everybody uses, so I invited them to come in and be the house band and I could cut samples out of them improv-ing. Because we had developed that good relationship, they said it sounded cool, and it was super fun and it just snowballed from there. Now here we are today and I’ve pretty much joined the band full-time.

“They still do Weird Party as a separate entity which is pretty much entirely improvisational funk. Basically, if I’m participating in the band, it’s Astrocolor, and if I’m not, it’s Weird Party.”

Mike: “So how did you guys end up getting involved with the Campbell River Pride Festival? Is that something you see yourself as a band identifying with or wanting to represent?”

Neil: “Well, I don’t really deal first-hand with the booking side of things, but my guess would be that maybe someone up there involved with Pride experienced the full live show of Astrocolor at Atmosphere in Cumberland last year. But in terms of the identity of it all, we’re very much about inclusion and so it’s nice to be asked and it’s nice to feel that we’re living in a day and age where the boundaries are getting wider and wider. To be approached and embraced by the LGBTQ community to come play their thing is really a cool thing and we’re happy to be a part of it.

Mike: Okay, so that brings me to my last, and possibly most important question. Are you ready?

Neil: Shoot.

Mike: You’re from Victoria, which means you’re obviously Canadian. So why did you spell Astrocolour wrong?

Neil: (After he stops laughing) It’s actually a reference to a trademark. It was the first movie that ran on airlines. It was a single strip of film that ran through the fuselage of the plane and through a series of projectors so that people could see the first ever in-flight movie.

Mike: “Did you just make that up? That sounds like something you made up.”

Neil: “Nope. That’s for real. We found an old 60s magazine and there was an ad for an airline that was saying ‘Now featuring movies in Astrocolor,’ and that’s where the name came from.”

Mike: “Okay, well, that’s actually pretty cool. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to talk. I look forward to welcoming you guys to town when you come for Pride.”

Neil: “Yeah, cheers, man. We’re looking forward to it as well.”

CR Pride Party 2018 happens this Saturday, June 23, starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults and $17 for youth and Tidemark Theatre Society members. They can be purchased online at tidemarktheatre.com or at the box office Tuesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m.