Stefan “Soma” Mears is out scouting new terrain. For someone as slight of frame and soft spoken, this ex-pat British producer clearly possesses a tremendous passion for cultural experience and sonic expression. During the better part of twenty years Soma has been dedicated to the live experience and I’ve managed to connect with him while he’s out surveying a new location for an upcoming fete in Paradise Valley, BC.
After months of attempting to locate the stewards of some beautiful First Nations land, and getting to a point where he was seriously considering going the renegade route, Soma feels very fortunate to be having a home-style meal in a short while with the family who owns the land he’s been admiring. “I honestly don’t know why I’m so passionate about producing cultural events. I sometimes ask myself that in the early morning hours when I’ve been working for days straight with no sleep. But all I can say is that this is the way the universe stamped me out.”
Settling in Vancouver, BC only two short years ago, Stef Soma began experimenting with electronic music almost twenty years ago after experiencing an epiphany. “While I was attending a free festival in the UK. I had this amazing experience. I got introduced to all this music and culture and it just resonated with my soul, and from that point onwards I realized this is the direction I need to go in to fulfill my life.”
“I remember feeling quite grateful for this, and I also understood how lucky I was because at a young age I had already come to realize what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with music and also festival events, which was very key to my musical Identity.” So, newly invigorated with this sonic agenda Soma began experimenting with whatever sound creation and recording equipment he could get his hands on. “I had a teenager’s budget so I would dig up toy samplers, old four tracks and guitar delay pedals and just wired up what I could find and started experimenting with ambient and industrial music.”
After working at that level for a time Soma began sending out recordings of the work he had accumulated, connecting with cutting edge electronic production companies and labels that at the time were releasing recordings by artists like Orbital, Aphex Twin, Transglobal Underground and Eat Static. “They picked up on it and liked what I was doing, which immediately hooked me up with some amazing events, and in turn that gave me a lot of confidence I suppose, and from there I was inspired to develop my music more and more.”
Soma jokes and suggests that maybe his confidence approaching these labels in the first place may have come more from inebriated audacity after while attending events rather than true brass, but it did end up being the fuel that first propelled him on his creative journey. “I have a big interest in culture and for me traveling is an imperative.” Bitten by the bug Soma focused on adventure, journeying throughout Western Europe, Asia (Japan, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Bali) culminating in a ten year residency in Central America, primarily settling in Guatemala and Mexico.
Disappointed with the lack of musical happenings in many of the beautiful places he encountered Soma began creating party vibes “using portable sound systems and CD discmans or whatever I had. The people in these areas really appreciated it and it started to grow.”
Arriving in Mexico years ago with only a backpack and a CD player Soma found himself “walking the right path” and within two or three years he had established a mobile sound system and a full music production unit. “I found myself really being supported and had the drive and opportunity to produce events in stunning locations by majestic waterfalls, volcanoes and in the ruins of Mayan temples. It would take months of scouting and negotiating with the local indigenous people, many of whom had not even seen a CD player before, and explain to them what would occur when three hundred or so revelers, DJs, fire dancers and musicians arrived to invoke a celebration.”
It’s an impressive amount of effort and it’s this passionate work ethic that brings Soma out to Paradise Valley to help create a new and potentially annual event in August called Healing of the Nations “One Love Gathering” (healingofthenations.ca).
Recording, performing and remixing under the moniker Shamanoid his music is a hybrid that melds cutting edge electronic production infused with traditional ethnic melodies and rhythms. In Shamanoid Soma collaborates with cellists and violinists, live bass and drums, and his longest association within the Shamanoid collective working with ethnomusicologist and classically trained sitar player, James Hamilton.
“One of the reasons I moved to British Columbia was that I found an amazing collaborative spirit here. In most places I’ve travelled I have experienced a real territorialism from DJs, artists and performers. But I really found a different energy in BC when I first came here, where people were very open and wanted to connect me up with likeminded individuals whom I could collaborate with. It’s this kind of openness that is very unique and very important for inspiring the creative process, not to mention the mind blowing natural beauty that I have experienced while working various festivals in this province.”
SomaSoundSystem is the live experiential dimension of the Soma sonic circus. Since settling in Vancouver two years ago, during the months unfriendly to the festival experience Soma has been producing a series of live urban happenings in the friendly city, incorporating live visual stimuli and a new quadrophonic surround sound system. For more well-known and international artists that include the likes of Tipper, Adham Shaikh, Haioka and former Glitch Mob founding member Kraddy, Soma uses the Red Room Ultrabar on Richards. “I’ve also been doing a sideline project called Mash Up Creations which I produce at Chapel Arts, a great venue which has two rooms. We have stages in each room and use the events to spotlight up and coming Vancouver musicians.”
Soma explains that during these performances there are no breaks between performer sets. Instead there is a transitional collaboration between the musicians ending their set with the musicians beginning the next performance. Recordings of these collaborations, exclusive remixes and rare studio tracks by the participating artists are then packaged into a series of CD releases that are gifted to the fans that attend the SomaSoundSystem events. “We really want to give our loyal followers a nice present and a real physical reminder of what these events are all about. It works as a memorial of the show and it serves to promote all the great artists involved in the experience.”
Soma admits that his collaborative dreams are ambitious and a great deal of work where much of the time he’s lucky to have them financially break even. “To be honest it’s not paying the bills and I’m still living off the savings I arrived in Canada with. But I’m aware that it really takes time and perseverance, especially in this era of music downloading, so people should be thinking out of the box and start tying in with live productions and live recordings and connecting that to CD compilations to create a new model that could possibly launch new types of art forms.”
“I think it’s these events where we can really connect with other artists and really begin to form a big extended family. My passion is to create as many of these collaborative experiences as I can. That’s the path that I’ve chosen and the one that has chosen me.”
Much of the Shamanoid and SomaSoundSystem recorded output is available for free at shamanoid.com; with links at the Shamanoid Facebook page and Soma can be contacted for collaborations and production work through Soma Shamanoid on Facebook.com.