Canadian born and bred gallery director and DJ Vanessa Gronowski, AKA Vaneksa, packs ample punch for a twenty-two-year-old. She juggles art-related demands at Studio in Toronto during the day and spinning gigs at night. Her youth and simultaneous success are testaments to her drive, skill and, most of all, fearlessness.

Vaneska’s decision to bypass the typical 9-5 in order to explore more creative, albeit less stable, endeavors implies a deep belief in herself, a willingness to risk failure in anticipation of something greater and far more fulfilling than a dusty, fluorescent-lit desk job. With her independent spirit and go-getter attitude, she’s the quintessential role model for guys and girls alike. Vaneska’s got guts and game and she’s just getting warmed up.

“I try to maintain a level of playful girliness in my sets, while at the same time aim to impress more discerning ears.”

Format: So, I understand you forewent a cubicle career and instead delved immediately into artistic media following graduation. What prompted this divergence from the average post-college pigeonhole?
Vaneska: I’ve always been drawn to the arts, not as an artist, but as a curator or event planner. Since high school, I’ve worked with city youth committees and organizations on local art events. While in university – I studied science – I also picked up DJing as a hobby. During all these years organizing art-related events, it never crossed my mind that I could pursue a career working in the arts. It was only while struggling with grad school applications (for psychology), that I realized that maybe I could make a career out of what I already loved doing.

Format: Love that attitude! What influenced you to get into this male-dominated, somewhat underground industry?
Vaneska: I started DJing as a joke. It seemed like all my male friends were picking it up, and a female friend and I thought it would be fun to mock them by DJing her birthday party. Even though we had no idea what we were doing, we were a hit. By the end of the night, I had landed my first real gig.

The more bookings I got, the more I started to take myself seriously – but never too seriously. At the same time, I realized that my male DJ friends were starting to take me seriously as a DJ as well. That’s part of the fun for me. I embrace the fact that I am female in a male-dominated industry. I try to maintain a level of playful girliness in my sets, while at the same time aim to impress more discerning ears.

Format: What makes a good DJ? DJ’d with anyone of note?
Vaneska: Generally speaking, I enjoy DJs that respect and acknowledge the crowd, rather than just play for themselves. I think many DJs don’t give their fans enough credit, specifically by playing only obscure, unreleased songs, and then patronizing the listeners for not knowing the songs. As a DJ, you are both a performer and a tastemaker. It’s about finding a balance between familiarity and introducing new music.

I recently DJed alongside Hercules and Love Affair frontman, DJ Andy Butler, and his set was like a music history lesson.

Format: If you were to put together a sampler of your top ten songs, what would they be and why?
Vaneska: That would be impossible. Trust me, I’ve tried. My favorite songs – both new and old – change every week. I guess, right now, I’m really excited by new and old disco like Chic, Garcons, Cut Copy, Ladyhawke, Fred Falke, etc., as well as the return and remake of 90’s house, such as PUZIQUe, Bizarre Inc., Groove Armada, and Lifelike.

I did recently realize however, that I’ve always had a thing for piano loops.

Format: [Laughs] I can appreciate that. Any additional music-related aspirations? And, do you simply spin or also produce your own remixes?
Vaneska: Remixes soon! It’s the next level I would like to take with my DJ career. I’m hoping to find some time in the near future to start producing my own music, and maybe even start a band.

Format: Keep us posted on this band of yours! So, how does visual art impact your audio ambitions?
Vaneska: I think there is symbiotic relationship between visual art and music. When we had our exhibit with So Me, we wanted to address this continuing importance of a visual identity to a brand of music, despite today’s world of digital music distribution. There are of course limitations in communication of both mediums. That’s why the combination of the two can often articulate an idea better than on their own. I also see visual art as a background or setting to contextualize music. And vice versa.

Format: Studio acts as a hub for many different things, including an actual studio available for rent by artists in need of a sanctuary in which to produce their work. Can you speak a little bit about this and tell me what the most fascinating work to come out of Studio’s studio was? The space is also video-capable, right? So, have music videos or other multi-media pieces been created under your roof?
Vaneska: So Me’s artwork was produced at Studio. Crystal Castles stayed and practiced here in between tours. Parisian artist Mathieu Missiaen aka Ndeur, an awesome illustrator best known for his shoe illustrations, used to live and work here. We also have had both movies and music videos filmed here, but they aren’t released yet.

Format: Top secret, huh? So, do you travel frequently or are you firmly planted in Toronto, holding down the fort at Studio? And, when can we expect you in New York?
Vaneska: I love traveling and wish I could travel more than I currently do. Most of my vacations are justified as business travels and always involve a music event. During such business trips, I spend most of my time networking or meeting with prospective business partners. I also like to find time to explore the area, and discover cool local shops and galleries.

We are currently discussing setting up Studio pop up galleries in cities all over the world. I’ll make sure you know when we end up in New York!

Format: What’s your favorite thing about the scene of which you are a part?
Vaneska: How D-I-Y it is. You could wait for someone to create the music you want to hear, or you can do it yourself. You could wait for someone to start the next fashion trend, or you can do it yourself. You could wait for someone to open an alternative art gallery, or you can do it yourself. Creating culture is the best way of understanding culture.

Format: What’s a typical day like for you? This includes into the wee hours, weekday, weekend, whatever?
Vaneska: Up by 10, I start my day off by reading and sending emails. I spend the majority of the day working on Studio Gallery stuff (planning, promoting, researching, managing). Another chunk of the day is spent promoting and planning upcoming DJ gigs. In the early evening, I attend any art openings that interest me. If I am DJing later that night, I’ll do some last minute promotions before I head off to my gig. If I’m not DJing that night, I’ll attend any music events that interest me. If I played a great set, or I was inspired by the art or music, I have a bad habit of staying up very late hunting for new art or music.

Format: Advice for wannabe DJs or gallery directors?
Vaneska: This applies to both: Surround yourself by interesting and creative people.

Format: Any thoughts for the future? I understand you are 22 years old; do you see yourself staying at Studio for, like, ever, or venturing out of Toronto to see what else is out there? Also, at this ripe young age, how did you land such a kick-ass job?! I am just a little jealous….
Vaneska: I think I see DJing, Studio, and all my other interests as very connected, and I think future ventures will be connected as well. Everything I am doing is still very new and fresh, so I’m still discovering next steps and new opportunities. Who knows where the future will take me?

I strongly believe in creating opportunities for yourself, rather than waiting for one to come at you.

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Nell Alk

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