Some years ago, during a visit to Phoenix, I happened upon a sight that has remained with me.
Strolling down a sun-baked Arizona street came a pair of goths. Clad head-to-toe in not-very-breathable black, with appropriate accessories to complete the outfit, they stood out in the midday sun. The temperature that afternoon topped 100°F. (For you Canadians, that’s near enough to 40°C.)
Yet, the pair seemed unfazed by the sweltering heat. If they were melting inside, they hid it well.
Now, that, thought I, is commitment.
I’ve never been a goth, here or elsewhere; though, I enjoy a jolly Nick Cave tune. I’ve also never been mistaken for an industrial music aficionado; though, I occasionally dust off my old Throbbing Gristle and Killing Joke LPs. (Does Killing Joke qualify? I would have said Front Line Assembly, but I don’t have any on LP.)
Much of what I do know of the more intense side of the musical spectrum, I owe to stalwart industrial engineer DJ Leslie. And when I think of Leslie, again the word commitment comes to mind.
Seldom have I met someone with greater commitment to what our pop-culture world inevitably dismisses as a ‘niche’ genre. Elorious Cain at CKCU, who almost certainly knows more about disco than anyone alive, might come close. But if you’re interested in exploring the intense, adventurous and aurally confrontational world of industrial music, Leslie Hodge is your first contact.
A larger than life figure in our community, she is, as longtime sonic partner Jairus Khan declares, “a force of nature.”
Or, that is, she was. This week, we lost the woman who guided converts and curious alike through bold new adventures in sound for over two decades. Her impact on a fiercely loyal industrial scene is incalculable. It is fair to say without Leslie’s enthusiasm, passion and, yes, commitment, it’s unlikely it could even be called a ‘scene.’
I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for Leslie. She succeeded at nurturing and developing a local scene that would surely otherwise have starved . Folk, classic rock, blues, punk and to a lesser extent jazz have always had a home in Ottawa.
But industrial music? As a dance night? Every week?
You could call that a challenge.
For one thing, you have to lure these creatures of the night out of their lairs. For another, you have to overcome the sort of preconceptions that lead ignorant types to jest that these people live in lairs and only come out at night.
Leslie made it happen. For over 20 years, at Zaphod Beeblebrox, her Industrial Strength Tuesdays were a fixture on the local club calendar — very much the exception to the danceclub rule.
And a welcome one. Hell, even the notion of a female DJ was a rarity two decades ago.
Oh yes, it still is. And we now have one less female presence in a crowded DJ scene.
I recall speaking with Leslie of her passion for industrial music, and of the Skinny Puppy show that helped her see the light (and shade) beyond the world of punk. Funny, ’cause I’m pretty sure I was at that same Skinny Puppy show; I chose to stick with punk.
I did, however, venture into the world of Industrial Strength on a few occasions, particularly when Leslie had scored a significant touring act to bring live music into the equation. I’m pretty sure some of those Tuesday-night beats are still coursing through my veins.
I hope they continue to do so. For Leslie.
“I learned so much from her,” says the now-Toronto-based Khan, whose Leslie-approved Ad·ver·sary project appeared at many a local industrial show. (For nearly 10 years, he also played music and anti-music alongside Leslie, as DJ Twiin.) “I learned about music, about business, about promoting, about politics. She just shared everything she had.”
Which brings us back to commitment. Sharing everything had become a challenge in recent years, as Leslie faced a series of health issues including the recurring blood infection that ultimately took her from us. But continued to bring the noise.
“She was always such a big, smiley person with her coloured hair,” Zaphods mainman Eugene Haslam recalls with fondness. In recent years, he reflects, she had become a slight person, but still smiley. And still boasting hair of various colours. “Even when she was barely able to walk,” he says, “she would hobble over and smile at you.”
There may well be some cosmic joke at play in the fact that someone so devoted to a genre often preoccupied with life’s dark side, should be taken from us far too soon. DJ Leslie might see the humour in that. We cannot. Not at this time.
“It’s an era,” Haslam offers. “It’s a period of time she carved out. There’s nothing like her. Nothing like that existed before her. Nothing like that existed parallel to her. Nothing like that will come again.”
Khan, who with Haslam’s help has organized one last Zaphods Industrial get-together in Leslie’s honour, concurs. Though, as a flag-bearer for the cause, he’s unwilling to draw a line under the local industrial scene just yet.
“It is hard to imagine someone filling those shoes,” he observes. “No one can. Someone will have to find different shoes.”
Tuesday, June 23, Khan and Haslam encourage you to “gather and reminisce” with them at the former home of Industrial Strength, beginning at 8 p.m.
I will be there, to reminisce and to experience music well beyond my industrial depth. Just like old times.
I like to think Leslie will be there too. Smiling.