This story first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
Simon Hunt might be the only DJ in the world whose home studio is lined with books on wildfire protection. Behind the speakers, behind the drums, behind the turntables, behind the synthesizer, and behind the sequencer lies shelves of thick books and binders about subjects like helicopter rescue, wildfire behaviour, and emergency leadership.
There’s also a letter from the Clerk of the Privy Council commending Hunt on his service in rescue work, and a VIP pass to Shambhala.
That’s because Hunt spent 22 summers of life fighting wildfires before taking a sabbatical to focus on his music career as SiFi.
Hunt, as SiFi, is making a name for himself in the world of electronic music by combining DJing with live drumming – a synthesis that gives his show a propulsive energy that appeals to both electronic music fans and purists of live instruments.
“DJ’s are a dime a dozen. Bands are a dime a dozen. But who’s performing and DJing at the same time?” he said one morning in his basement studio.
Hunt has been drumming since he was a teenager, but his start goes back even further when he would bang on pots and pans as a kid. His inspiration to take up the instrument was Van Halen’s ‘80s hard rock hit ‘Panama,’ featuring Alex Van Halen on drums, he recalled. “Something just switched on in me and I said that’s what I want to do.”
Over the years his musical influences diversified, ranging from James Brown to the Police, but when the millennium turned, he became inspired by Radiohead, which was experimenting with electronic music, but with really precise drumming. “They really helped stretch my brain,” Hunt said.
Hunt played in several bands over the years, particularly funk groups, but he wasn’t turned onto electronic music until a trip to Shambhala with a friend in 2010. That experience opened his ears to a whole new world of music and inspired him to become a DJ.
“The whole thing with DJing is it’s a rabbit hole. You can as deep as you want to dive into it,” he said.
Hunt set out learning how to DJ, working on mixing tracks and building up rhythms to get people dancing. He likened it playing with Lego, only with music tracks instead of pieces, fitting them together to create something larger than the whole. What set him apart was his ability to drum along — not just on the beat, but using a unique style he dubbed “dropkick” drumming.
In essence, what he does is set the music playing, then he comes in on drums just behind the beat of the song. It’s a style he borrowed from early DJs who would drop the needle on a record on the backside of a beat, only he’s doing it with live drums. It’s a technique that took years of practice to get right.
“I’m actually giving it a drop-kick,” he said. “That’s what separates my style from everyone else.”
Last year, Hunt, 44, took a sabbatical from his job leading the wildfire team at Mount Revelstoke & Glacier National Parks so he could focus on his family and his music. He has two daughters at home and his wife Pauline has ALS, but he was also being encouraged by friends to pursue his music. Last summer he served as the public safety coordinator for Shambhala, and his dream is to play at the festival.
His biggest gig of the summer was headlining LUNA Festival in downtown Revelstoke, closing the night with a back alley party where he was joined by singers Aza Deschamps, Krista Paterson, and Kaylee Knecht, saxophonist Sylvain Hebert, bassist Dave Marfleet, and Hunt’s friend Marc Wild, who also DJed and played guitar. The group had a throng of hundreds, if not 1,000, revelers dancing outdoors to his beats.
“That Luna show was largely improvisational. That was also another element of what we call the new music,” Hunt said. “It’s way more spontaneous and way more engaging because the audience becomes a component of the music. They inspire you.”
This summer, Hunt will once again be coordinating 1,000 staff and volunteers in his role with Shambhala. He’ll be leading a vast team of doctors, nurses, harm reduction workers, safety officers, and more before and during the event. In March, he’s playing a show in Nelson that he says is an audition to perform at the legendary electronic music festival.
“I like to see my role is being the most caring person at the festival at which there’s so much love in the whole community,” he said.
And Hunt wonders if he can combine his career in wildfire and emergency management — it’s in his blood, he says — with his burgeoning music career, noting there could be room to work with numerous festivals on emergency planning.
“I love making people happy,” he said. “That’s the bottom line, to see people out on the dance floor losing their inhibitions. Nothing makes me happier and inspires me to keep grooving and keep the beats going.”
SiFI’s next Revelstoke is at the Traverse on April 6. The show will be a fundraiser for the Just for Kicks Dance Club and will start at 9 p.m. for those who like to get to bed before midnight.