Cher, DJ Cher | Vinyl DJ

If you read our last interview with Elaine Banks then you knew this one was coming. We’re thankful Cher reached out to nominate Elaine, and after seeing what she was up to wanted her to participate as well. We appreciate her honest, thoughtful and raw experiences shared in her feature.

Cher, or DJ Cher is from Toronto, Canada and outside of being a full time mom to kids Gavin and Mary, she is a passionate Northern Soul DJ and record collector. She hosts the monthly vinyl dance party Slow Fizz Northern Soul Club Toronto established in 2019 now going into its third year, with residencies at Swan Dive and Handlebar.  She is also the co-founder of the soul collective Sister Cities Soul Club that she runs with a group of friends Debbie, Fiona, Cara and fellow DJs. They DJ various livestream events together as well as promote each others local events. Along with promoting each other on social media they reach out to friends globally to network, collaborate, share guest sets on their MixCloud channel and promote similar global events and artists. Cher’s focus is spinning Northern Soul, Rare Soul, Modern Soul, as well as Soulful House / Disco all on original vinyl.  She is very passionate about these sub genres of soul music. Along with DJing she has an equal love of dancing to these tunes, and spreading the love and awareness around them.  You can as of late also find her on The Face Radio, Brooklyn with her new show Slow Fizz Frequencies that airs every 2nd Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

Along with DJing and collecting records she love road trips, spending time at home with my family, cuddling on the couch with her dog Clyde, and catching a good Blue Jays baseball game.

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you to get into it? 

The circumstances behind when and how I got into DJing do not follow a typical timeline. From an early age I loved sharing my love of different genres of music and songs with friends. I wanted to DJ at a more serious level since my early 20s but life had other plans in mind for me. During that period of my life I was in the middle of grieving the sudden death of my fiancé. That in combination with extreme anxiety had my world upended and plans derailed. I’ve skipped over this life event in past interviews because it brings back painful memories. Instead I’ve told the less vulnerable version – that I was too shy and let time slip by. I’ve decided to bring it to light now because it is an important part of my journey and played a pivotal role in how I arrived spirit intact to where I am today. It is also my hope that it may offer comfort to other young people going through similar grief and to in-still the message that life is waiting for them on the other side. Time never fully healed me but I persevered and became a new version of myself with a completely new perspective and outlook on life. The timing was off and I felt fragile but I had to believe that many of my dreams and goals were still in reach. I also hope sharing this sensitive topic helps others understand that we all arrive at points in our lives via different journeys, to be empathetic and not make assumptions of anyone and their journey. My focus at that time was on healing from and managing the aftermath of incredible trauma, getting myself healthy and piecing back together my life the best I could. Literally one day at a time.

After a few years of healing I met my best friend and husband who shared my passion for the arts, music, dancing, records and outlook on pretty much everything. We created a happy home together, even merged record collections and had two beautiful children. The desire to DJ and share my love of music and make people dance was buried for awhile but never went away. Motivated by that desire and the knowledge and personal experience that life is short, I started to put the feelers out and let others know I was serious about DJing. I worked to get my collection just right because I wanted to be taken seriously. I didn’t have my own decks yet so I would practice with drawings on pieces of paper – where to cue, fade in/out etc. Hilarious when I think back but it really did help ease my jitters and anxiety. Not long after a friend invited me to guest at their rare soul party. I was incredibly grateful when that guest spot turned into a monthly resident DJ spot and with other guest DJ opportunities to follow. It was about a year later I had my own concept for a vinyl party and made the decision to establish Slow Fizz Northern Soul Toronto in 2019.

What is a day in the life like?

I take special care to balance my passion as a DJ with my full time employment and most importantly my time with my family. Family is my top priority when scheduling my events, guest spots, mixes, radio etc. My first order of business for Slow Fizz Northern Soul Club Toronto parties is to design the event flyer and get it circulated throughout various social media outlets and Toronto’s local entertainment guides. I’ll be first to admit I’m not a graphic designer but I do have a lot of fun bringing my touch to the posters with some basic skills I’ve picked up. For special events I hire the talents of professional graphic designers. Past contributors have been Elaine Banks, Brittany Brooks and Scott Sugiuchi. Their designs have hit the ball out of the park and brought the Slow Fizz vision to life! Elaine’s designs for the original Slow Fizz logo gave me the confidence I needed to hit the ground running with the party. Leading up to my events I will introduce my guest(s), if I have one that month, with a bio all about their DJ background and links to where they can be found. I’ll also share links to songs on our social media pages so our party goers can get an idea of what they can expect to hear at Slow Fizz Northern Soul Club Toronto events. Along with spinning the tunes I’m a dancer and a fan of fellow dancers so I’ll also share links where party goers can learn the steps on their own, take classes, or just appreciate the art and talent behind the dancing. Whether that be Northern Soul, House, 2-step, it all fits and gels so well together.

Most important is getting my records ready usually the day of the event. I try to have a good selection so I can transition from Northern Soul oldies to seventies Modern Soul seamlessly. I take pride and make special effort to switch up my record boxes every gig and not over play anything. I get such a kick seeing dancers get excited by older tunes they’re only just hearing for the first time. Especially when they run up to the booth to ask, “What  WAS that song?!?”.

A cat logo Cher and her daughter made and they turned into a sticker.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?

Favorite and coolest experience was guest DJing with the Keystone Soul Weekender both in 2019 and post lockdown in 2021. The feeling of being surrounded by friends and peers who are as passionate about the same music as you are is indescribable. The ecstasy of hearing those gorgeous tunes on a big sound system fill a ballroom and having the space on the dance floor to express yourself. Hearing DJ’s amazing collections come alive, put together so thoughtfully and watching insanely good dancers in their element is a complete joy to all the senses. It’s incredibly humbling to be given the opportunity to share the decks with the most supportive mentors and leaders in the scene.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

While technology and social media have been great tools for promoting my events it can be fatiguing at times. Knowing when to turn it off and not falling into the endless content creator trap can be tricky. Similarly, I’d have to say that learning what my limits are and when to say no can be a challenge but so important. It’s tempting to say yes to every offer that comes my way but a burnt out DJ is not going to be a fun DJ. Being selective is key and knowing what gigs are a good fit for you and what is not. It creates a great opportunity to refer offers to fellow DJs who may appreciate the gig more and be a better fit.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

Like I said earlier – life is short so don’t wait. Having said that, only you know when the time is right for you and it’s never too late. I’m a 43 year old mom of two who started DJing three years ago and now I feel like I’m in my 20s again. It’s an empowering and invigorating feeling when you finally dive right in to something you’ve always wanted to do.

Play what you love. The passion will show and will shine through in your sets and presence behind the decks. You can’t fake that or force it. When you’re ready and your collection is where you want it to be then put the feelers out and let others know you’re interested in DJing. If you are serious then the right equipment comes next. Turntables and mixers are not hard to find second hand. Just do your homework beforehand. Make recordings of your sets and share them with friends to get their feedback or even publicly on MixCloud and Sound Cloud for an outside opinion. Once you get some exposure and your name is out there you may see guest spot opportunities come your way. Observe and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. If you have an idea for a specific type of vinyl party you want to throw then begin to research venues that might be a good fit. Is it a one off or something you would want to do regularly? Start putting yourself out there by talking to venue owners and other DJs in your city. Don’t be hesitant to put your voice and ideas out there. With determination, patience, talent and a healthy amount of confidence you can find the right fit and formula for your individual style and what you want to do as a DJ.

Myself and members of our Sister City Soul Club collective are always happy to answer further specific questions and can offer more information about submitting a guest mix for our MixCloud channel. Just drop us a line.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it? 

My brother and I were exposed to a variety of music genres growing up. Our parents are 10 years apart so we were hearing everything from fifties / sixties R n’R, Motown, to vintage country, seventies classic rock and eighties pop and basically everything on Toronto’s CHUM FM radio station. Not surprising that my brother went on to become a professional bass player playing various genres including spots with soul revues and I turned to Northern Soul DJing and collecting.

I’ve been collecting records since I was about 15, so over 25 years. My grandparents lived down the block from Toronto’s infamous Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum Lakeshore West location. I loved wandering the aisles flipping through stacks. My earliest memory there was when I was 10 and running up the block on my own to purchase the New Kids On The Block ‘Step By Step’ album on tape the day it was released. I was the kid who brought her boxes of tapes to my friend’s basement parties and parked myself beside the stereo or boom box. The first vinyl record I purchased was also from Peter Dunn’s and was The Stranglers – Aural Sculpture LP. I’m not even quite sure why I purchased it. I think I was drawn to the cover art more than anything.

Throughout my teens I’d pick up 45 singles from indie band’s merch tables at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace all ages shows, more as an excuse to talk to the band than anything. I was first exposed to Northern Soul when I was 24 living in Liverpool in 2004 and heard Gloria Jones ‘Tainted Love’ beating through the speakers in a small pub. It was then explained to me what Northern Soul was. I remember years later digging some records in Detroit with my husband and really catching the rare soul and Northern Soul collecting bug. Now collecting Northern Soul together is a mutual love and passion that we completely bond over. We especially love road trips and digging in our favorite record stores. Some favorites are of course Peoples Records Detroit, and Human Head & Superior Elevation, NYC. Looking forward to digging in Detroit and Chicago again this summer. We are also fortunate to have some great shops in Toronto like Kops, Play De Record, Sonic Boom and we live literally around the corner from a great neighborhood record shop in West Toronto, Village Vinyl owned by our friend Keef.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? 

I’m excited by the “coopetition” and collaboration amongst DJs. Connecting with and being inspired by each other especially with those globally outside our cities. Encouraging each other to step outside our comfort zone. Breaking out of molds and insular silos that stifle creativity can give us insights into what is happening in the industry elsewhere. Covid actually accelerated this when many of us began connecting globally via social media and livestreams. Many of us jumped in from week one and didn’t look back. It’s encouraging to see that most DJs have the same goal to make each other feel welcome and supported.

There’s always room for improvement in every industry. I’d like to see less criticism and more tolerance of differing approaches and new ideas. There is much wisdom to be gained from fresh eyes to the world of DJing and promoting. Having the humility to say “I don’t know everything” and being open-minded to new/outside approaches that differ from our own can make for a richer and deeper experience for everyone in multiple communities rather than the individual person or one community highest-in-the-hierarchy mindset. It’s far too easy to dismiss inquisitive and talented newcomers as being disrespectful or arrogant. From time to time we need to shake ourselves out of that tunnel vision mentality and the counter productive echo chambers we get stuck in.

During this time we’re currently in, what message do you have for music and vinyl fans? How can we support you, the industry?

There are more ways than ever to support the music / vinyl industry. Supporting live acts and DJs locally by attending their events is an obvious one. However, for many reasons (disability, physical location, or many other obstacles) not everyone can be there physically. But through mediums that we now have at our fingertips, i.e. livestreams, recorded mixes, and radio shows we can support the industry very easily.

We can support vinyl by shopping small, either locally or when you’re visiting other cities. Shop small record labels as well. There are so many incredible small labels out there like MD Records, Dala, Colemine, Preservation Project to name a few, who put massive time and effort into exposing and promoting new artists as well as unearthing previously unreleased tunes from artists of the sixties and seventies. In doing so it’s giving these artists and their families the recognition and payment they deserve and are entitled to. By supporting these labels through purchasing vinyl releases you’re also supporting these artists.

Anything else you want to share? If not, tell me what you’re listening to: 

Favorite music genre is of course a tie between Modern and Northern Soul. I’m currently listening to the recent release from Canadian singer, Claire Davis, soulful single ‘Thrive’ off of LRK Records.

Find Cher:

Instagram: @djcher45rpm

Facebook: @slowfizznorthernsoulclubtoronto

Mixcloud: @djcher

Website: www.linktr.ee/djcher

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