If you’ve rolled around the Drive or hit up bass music events in Vancouver, you’ve definitely seen Neal Washburn, a.k.a. Barlee. Sporting his signature beard and backpack and always in a good mood, he brings positive vibes and badass baselines to his DJ sets and club nights.
In addition to hosting Lights Out! at Shine Nightclub and being a resident for Fortune Sound Club, Barlee is also a part of the Blueprint/#FVDED crew. His self-described “all over the place bass” DJ sets are winning over hearts and minds in Van City’s bass music community.
East Van has always been Barlee’s stomping ground. Growing up near Trout Lake, he remembers the Drive when it was more rough and tumble before revitalization. He equally loves the hip and happening place it has now become.
In the late 1990s, he got into old school hip hop and started roaming around on Granville Street with his friends. “I thought it was the spot! We were mostly listening to house and hip hop, getting our dance and mingle on. Monday Night Live at the Lamplighter was also great for hearing local hip hop acts like Josh Martinez and Imaginations TreeTrunk.”
Around about this time, his love for beer and his middle name Barry earned him the nickname Barley, which he later changed to Barlee.
In 2007 his brother Chad, a.k.a. Chadio, brought him to a World of Drum and Bass party. Wowed by the crowd, atmosphere and sound, Barlee started hitting up more spots such as the Red Gate and the Woods. Soon he met Max Ulis, Michael Red and Taal Mala from the Lighta! Crew.
“I was really inspired by them. They were throwing good shows, pushing out good music. It was a good vibe and there was a sense of belonging.” At the legendary Dollhouse, he linked up with Integrated Grime Unit (IGU), Bevvy Swift, the Mongoose, Myles Away and the SHAH DJs.
In 2011, Barlee and his friends Jen and Vanessa connected with Dubconscious and moved into a rad pad overlooking the Drive. Dubconscious’ DJ gear enabled Barlee to play the digital music he’d been collecting since forever. Pretty much self-taught, the only advice Dubconscious offered was “Don’t trainwreck bro!”
In September 2012, Expendable Youth asked Barlee to open for MiMOSA at Venue. Since then, he has played alongside the likes of EPROM, Lapalux, the Gaslamp Killer, RL Grime, and Flosstradamus. And further advancing his career, in March 2013, Barlee started Lights Out! at Shine Nightclub with residents Myles Away, Cherrie P, Kline, Ryan Wells and Tucker Foldin.
Barlee’s bass music qualifications go beyond music appreciation and promotion. Born two months premature, his hearing in the high frequency range never fully developed.
“I experience sound differently. I’m more tuned into the bass and low notes. I’ll never know what other people can hear and people can never know what I hear, but I don’t consider this a disadvantage – I think it gives me a special edge.” When it comes to speaking with people at the club, he relies on lip reading and intuition. “It can be hard when I’m meeting someone for the first time, or if the room is really dark.”
Since DJs tend to beat match first on the high hats and snares and then on the bass, an obvious question is: how does Barlee mix? In addition to knowing his tunes, he lines up the rhythm patterns visually. This approach also allows him to keep an eye on the crowd and vibe. So, since he’s naturally tuned into deep bass frequencies, you could say that Barlee comes with a bass guarantee.
Due to renovations at Shine Nightclub, keep an eye out for the next edition of Lights Out! at Shine coming up in July. However, he is headlining Bushwhacked, happening June 27th – 30th near Kelowna. If his DJ sets on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/barlee) are any indication, people can expect an energetic and eclectic set with nothing but quality bass.
Barlee’s next upcoming gig is June 14th w/ K Theory @ The Red Room for Digital Motion’s Subculture Saturday.
By Mz. Revolution
Photo (middle): Courtesy of Ginger Sixty-Two