Written by Devon Acuña with editing from Jack Farrell
Edmonton Goes Off is a weekly virtual magazine created to promote Edmonton’s artistic talents through photos, live performances, and interviews.
I sat down with Tom, the main organizer for the project, to talk about EGO’s inception, their process, and the magazine’s future plans to broaden their horizons.
Devon: Tell me a little bit about how EGO zine got started
Tom: It was something that me and my partner David had wanted to do for a long time. We'd filmed live performances and stuff but we wanted to have a format to really display Edmonton specifically, so that started like two years ago. We filmed a friend's live performance and then, when COVID and stuff was happening, I had a show all set up and it got cancelled like the day after I announced it, which was really shitty, but I had to figure out something to do in the summer. So yeah, that's that's kind of where it came about. We found that, in Edmonton specifically, a lot of how people find music is through word of mouth and going to events with mutual friends and discovering artists that way, and since we couldn't do that this summer, we had to find another way to promote artists.
Devon: Word, so what's your side of things? Are you organizing and setting shit up, or are you also doing the videography and stuff?
Tom: Basically I run the page, I make all the creative decisions that I kind of have the last call on, and I do all the producing and the logistical side of things. So, like scheduling and budgeting, and I also paid for everything. A bulk of what I work on day-to-day is just logistical stuff and building our social media stuff, like posting or editing, coming up with new ways to promote artists. So, like, with our videographers I'm pretty open. People are creatively free to do whatever they want, but I'll just kind of facilitate it. I just organize and tie everything together.
Devon: Is that something you’ve got experience with? You set up at least one show that I remember, do you have a lot of experience with that or was it kind of like a new thing for you?
Tom: I've kind of been around it because my background is in acting and stuff. So, I was around a lot of professional sets and just seeing how to run a set that works versus how to run a set that doesn't work. On that side of things, I was kind of familiar with what a director's role was, and what I needed to do day-to-day when we were shooting, but besides that, it's pretty much just learning everything. Lots of YouTube tutorials on shit you would never even expect about the aspect ratio of Instagram or how a cover photo fuckin’ works on Instagram. So, I think of it like, I have a basis of organizing events and shooting music videos, so it's kind of just tying both those two together.
Devon: So you guys have a pretty massive team for ego zine right? Feels like there’s a ton of people working on it.
Tom: Yeah, our production team is like fifteen or twenty people.
Devon: Damn. Was that a lot of, like, reaching out to people who you got like “Oh, I heard you know how to do this?” Or was it just like, mostly you had those connections already?
Tom: Yeah, I mean, I went to an arts High School so I had a lot of connections already. My kind of mentality for hiring people for the project was “who do I know that I can count on that will be there and can do what I want them to do better than I can do it?” So yeah, it was mostly friends. It's pretty much entirely friends.
Devon: It's always best when it works out that way.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. It’s way more fun. Being on set and stuff is just way better.
Devon: Was it a challenge doing everything during COVID? Or were people mostly pretty able to work around it?
Tom: It was definitely a challenge. Pretty much everyone that was involved signed a COVID waiver that I wrote. So, it wasn't really like people involved in the project, COVID wasn't a big thing. But when it came to actually filming, COVID was a pretty big problem. We had restrictions on the amount of people we could have in the studio at once so I had to rent another room, and we used that as our holding room. Then we had to play this game of fucking cycling different teams in to do different parts of the magazine. So, we had each of our artists there for like four hours, they'd get their sign in, they'd go in with my team for photography, and they’d just get like a half hour photoshoot with them. Then after that, I’d take in my interview team, and we’d have to run bare bones, because we could only have five people in the room. So it'd be the artist, the interviewer - I'd have to double up and direct as well as do sound - and then for our performance team, we'd have our videographers and a recording engineer. So, not within our project, but using the resources that we use, there is fucking so much shit. We had to deal with renting stuff longer because they needed to clean it for COVID and stuff, so it just cost more money. Then sanitizing the mic and shit between artists definitely took some time, too. I mean, it was kind of a blessing in disguise because a lot of the artists that we got, we wouldn't have had if COVID didn't happen because they'd be out touring during the summer or some shit. So yeah, that's kind of nice.
Devon: Did you film a bunch of them before you put the first one out? Or has it just been as you film them?
Tom: So, we filmed all fifteen in nine days.
Devon: Oh, holy shit.
Tom: Yeah, it is fucking crazy, man. It is. That was a scheduling fuckin nightmare, scheduling thirty-five people over nine days is absolutely ridiculous. So, some days we’d have people come in and they’d do half of their stuff, we’d do the photoshoot and the performance or the performance and the interview. Then they'd come in another day. But yeah, like I said, typically we had people there for three or four hours, and we'd have two artists, sometimes three artists a day.
Devon: Was there any huge wrenches in the works because somebody just couldn’t make a time work or they forget all their shit or something?
Tom: Oh, man. Yeah, there were a few people we had to reschedule, and then we had to re-film some stuff because we lost footage. Right now we're stuck because we lost audio to two of our interviews. The one thing is the way that the format works, we have to put all three out at once. Otherwise, it just looks fucked up in the feed. So if we're missing even like a hair of one of the elements then we can’t put out the entire piece, which kind of sucks.
Devon: Do you guys have more stuff in the works? Is there another series that you're gonna start working on?
Tom: Yeah. So during this time we've kind of taken a step back and looked at how we can use EGO and other mediums. Oviously, if we can during the summer, live shows would be awesome as fuck. And exploring also what else we can do working with artists, finding out new ways to work with artists beyond live shows and what we've done now. Also just promoting our artists in other ways. We're working on Spotify playlists right now, and using interview transcriptions and putting them together and making that a podcast, like the full uncut interview. The shitty thing is, on Instagram, you have a 10 minute max on videos unless you have 10,000 subscribers. Most of our interviews are like 40 minutes, so we had to cut a lot. Right now it's figuring out how we can diversify our media a bit.
Devon: Getting the project started, it seems like you put a lot into it, were you horrified that it wouldn't get any traction?
Tom: I think the charm of EGO is that it's a very simple concept, and it's built around such a niche audience of people that knows each other, and I feel like the Edmonton arts community all wants the same thing, where we want people to succeed. So, I knew EGO was going to work just because people want to see Edmonton succeed in the first place. But I didn't know how much work it was. When I started, I thought it would be something I could whip out, get finished by the summer, release by September, and be done with it. But it's fucking so much more than I thought.
Devon: I know you kind of have a background in the Edmonton Hip-Hop scene, how did you come into it?
Tom: So the first artist we featured, Moe, I was in an acting class with him and he invited me to his first performance. It was him and a few of the other guys that have since moved on. I don't know, that’s kind of like, just when I caught the bug. I liked going there and seeing all the energy and the support. Also, people were good. I didn't expect people to be good, man, and people were talented. Then from there, I shot a music video for Moe, and then I started having people reach out to me to shoot stuff for them. I didn't really shoot for any of these guys, because I was still trying to do more of the acting stuff. But I started following them on Instagram and started seeing that they'd have like performances and stuff, and then I started going to those. I guess a big step was throwing my first event. Then it went from working with artists as like, shooting videos and stuff - I feel like it's a different type of relationship then when you're curating an event. It's a different working relationship when you're throwing an event with someone versus working with them on a creative project like that, I guess. I really liked working with people like that. I figured I was helping people, or at least - I don't know, giving them an opportunity to show what they've got. And then I just think it's cool as fuck to do.
Devon: With all the shows I threw - maybe you don't have this - but I always feel like “Oh, it's just a show, it's not a big deal.” People just show up and rap and you give them 50 bucks, whatever you make. And then you realize that people are taking the shit real serious. You know, like treating it like a show show. It's such a weird feeling.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. I've always figured, like, in this Hip-Hop scene I've seen it kind of like anime - and that's kind of what EGO is based off, too - there's all these different artists in the city that bring something unique to the table. I always saw it as anime where it’s like the fucking Chunin exams twenty-four-seven in Edmonton. People are always training and testing themselves and, I don't know, I think that's probably what really drew me to it was that kind of shit. Yeah, but it's so dope when you see someone taking it seriously. You're like “yeah, this is what the fuck it’s about! this is why I paid all this money for this fucking venue.”
Devon: Word, I think it's cool too because I feel like with a lot of places in the states and shit, that city has its own sound. I don't want to say Edmonton’s scene is new because I don't know how long, you know, the OG’s have been around, but there's so many different styles that have their own little scenes, but it's all like one big scene, you know? You go to a show and see eight very different styles of Hip-Hop.
Tom: Yeah, exactly. That's where I think of it like the Chunin exams. There's all these different distinct voices in Edmonton that are coming together. Yeah, it's different styles like fighting styles, almost.
Devon: So, for the next EGO series, can you say any people that you're trying to get? If you had your way, who would be on it?
Tom: That we’re trying to get? Man I don't know. There's so many people, bro. For our first volume our shortlist was like forty-five, and we got like fifteen. Some of those weren't even on the original forty-five, they're just people we discovered after. I think volume two is going to be about expanding our sound. We were mainly Hip-Hop focused. Our only video with a band is one of our highest watched videos, so I think starting to explore stuff with bands would be cool. Another thing that is really important is looking at representing Edmonton better. I think that we kind of got tunnel vision into what we thought EGO was going to be, which was this XXL Freshmen kind of thing. Whereas now we kind of recognize that it's about Edmonton, it's not just about this specific kind of look. So now it's about representing more diversity. And then also, beyond that, next season, we're looking at featuring beyond musicians.
Devon: Like, poetry kind of shit?
Tom: Yeah, like poetry or fashion or something like that. I find that the way we have everything set up, we can do a lot with it, where we can use that main video in the middle as like a showcase, as opposed to a performance per se. So yeah, just kind of trying new shit is going to be the name of the game next time. I don't know exactly anyone, specifically. That's kind of the thing too, when we build the lineup, it has to have synergy within itself. I always looked at it like, because we're doing an album at the end, we kind of built the whole project like an album. So yeah, it just depends what fits.
Devon: I guess you probably also don't want to get too invested in anything until you start working on it.
Tom: Yeah, that's it too, and I don't even know when that'll happen because we've got shit outside of our Instagram that we're building right now. I feel like if we start this time, we're not necessarily going to be on the ground floor, we’ll be on step two, so it probably won't cost as much and all that business, but I don't know. We'll see. It'll come out though. I think I want to do three of them.
Devon: Oh, like cap it at three?
Tom: Yeah, or at least I'll do three and then hand off the reins for someone else to do it if someone else wants to. Because the project is bigger than any one person to begin with. It's supposed to build up Edmonton, so if that means I gotta leave because I go to school or some shit, or David's got to leave, or Eli's got to leave, then the project still has to keep going. So yeah, that's why, right now, I'm trying to build up relationships with small businesses and shit. So we have something to keep us going, I guess.
Devon: So, with your next season - I feel like it's kind of all been within the same scene, and I know that within that same scene you could find people doing fashion and poetry or whatever, so are you trying to keep it in that artist community? Are you trying to branch way out?
Tom: Yeah, branch out. I think we built this first volume off of the community that we're from, and that we know. So now it's about building off of that, and finding new people to work with, or people that we haven't gotten a chance to work with yet, like I want to have punk and metal. A huge inspiration for EGO was obviously the Colors Show, and if you look at what they were doing, when they were having all the big people on versus what they're doing now is they're leaning more towards international artists and displaying people that may not have been heard of but bring a really unique sound. I spent fucking months digging through lots of Edmonton music to find who we found, and we've had people hit us up and it's just expanded like our scope of what’s available here.
The Absurd Collective is a collective of young artists that operates in Amiskwaciwâskahikan on Treaty 6 land.