DJ O Show: pushing boundaries and subverting expectations, DJ style

Orene Askew, known professionally as DJ O Show, is an Afro-Indigenous two-spirit DJ from North Vancouver’s Squamish Nation Reserves. As she wraps up her four-year term on said Nation’s band council as well, Askew says that she’s excited to get back to DJing full-time, performing a diverse array of live music, as social gathering restrictions are set to open up over the next few months.

“I get maybe two gigs every month, maybe one or two, whereas I was booked almost every weekend before COVID… It’s a different energy doing [DJing] virtually at home,” says Askew. “So, I’m very lucky to have been able to have that politician job.”

Musical roots

Orene Askew, known professionally as DJ O Show. | Photo by K. Ho

Askew’s musical ties in the family run deep. Her father’s side of the family hails from Gary, Indiana, home to the legendary Jackson Family, and Askew says that even her grandmother would perform piano for the local pastors there. But for the Vancouver-based DJ, it was her mother’s musical influence that left the biggest mark on her musical upbringing.

“I’ve been in love with music since I was younger and I think that’s partly because of my mom,’’ says Askew. “She always had music playing around me, mostly by Black artists. And I find that really interesting because my mom’s not Black. She’s Squamish – she’s Indigenous and my father is Black. But my mom was the one playing Black music around me all the time, mostly like Motown and RnB and things like that. And it had such an effect on me.”

Askew recalls writing down the lyrics from many of these songs in her spare time, and even making mix CDs for her friends, often splicing in her own voice snippets, jokes and freestyling. She eventually pursued a career in radio following a program at BCIT. While that line of work wasn’t quite for her, she says she learned a lot about music and mixing and decided to pursue DJing instead.

“It’s just so interesting how music has always just been right there, and that I [always] made my way back to it,” says Askew. “And now being an entrepreneur, being your own boss in something that you can love so much. I always give people that advice to do it, just not working for somebody else.”

Bringing the groove

DJing, says Askew, is all about striking a balance between playing to the crowd and being able to challenge the crowd. She says that it’s important to read the room, tailoring what you’re expected to play based on the occasion, like a wedding reception set versus playing tracks for a club night, or based even your time slot, playing a less intense set if you’re the opening DJ, for example.

But for Askew, much of the fun of DJing comes from pushing those very boundaries and subverting expectations, an opportunity that she’s thankful to have in great supply.

“It’s really creative, and you can totally shock people by what you play. There’s kind of the risk factor too: maybe they won’t like it, maybe they will. And when they do, it’s an absolutely incredible feeling,” says Askew. “And the promoters that I work for, they whisper in my ear like ‘Orene, it’s your set, have fun like, go do your thing. We know we trust you.’ It’s amazing that they do that. And they trust me that much.”

Besides getting back to performing more herself, Askew is more interested than ever in teaching others about DJing and showing others what she’s learned. She feels that since she’s been on such a rewarding path, she’s hoping to pay it forward and bring that same joy to others.

“Something that’s always made me feel really good is when I play a song and someone hasn’t heard it in the longest time,” says Askew. “They look at me with this look in their eyes and they’re just so happy. That to me is worth a million dollars, and that’s been my drive since the beginning.”

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