Songwriter, re-mixer, and DJ Geneviève Ryan-Martel readily admits she got caught up in her own game. Initially revealed by the atmospheric electronic pop of her RYAN Playground project, she felt like “exploring a different kind of music, right up to the edge of irony,” and the result was a disorienting EP of trance and Euro-dance compositions in the Fall of 2020, re;eased under the pseudonym TDJ. “Except as the idea progressed, there was less and less irony in the music. It became very real and concrete for me,” says Ryan-Martel, as her first full-length album under this new moniker, TDJ123, demonstrates.

“Ironically, I’m talking about the sound of these songs,” she explains. “I wanted to take on [club music] references from the late ’90s and early 2000s, a blessed time for fans of trance and progressive house, ‘euphoric music.’ I felt like I was being borderline ironic by doing this, in the sense that you could clearly hear these musical references without me taking them very seriously. But I should have known better… I have way too much integrity to simply make jokes about the music I create.”

When she first started out in music six years ago, RYAN Playground dabbed in experimental hip-hop, where she built the nest which her delicate voice would occupy. We were all a little stunned when she released her first EP under the TDJ moniker (which stands for “Terrain de jeu,” French for “playground”) two years ago. She followed it up with two more, as well as an album, TDJ BBY, in December 2021 – a hallucinogenic collection or popular Euro-dance/trance covers, and others songs, like Cindy Lauper’s “I Drove All N8” and Britney Spears’ “Hit Me BBY.” Now it’s TDJ123, where each song is her own.

These sparkling, colourful, ecstatic trance/prog songs offer a portrait of Ryan-Martel and her newfound freedom, prompted by “a will to start all over again” without definitively turning her back to the musical identity of RYAN Playground. “It’s a lot like TDJ emerged just as I was going through a period of changes,” she says. The young, shy musician has gained a lot of self-assurance.

“It’s probably because I’m growing into adulthood, or that I know what I want a lot more, now, which allows me to project myself towards something very specific,” says Ryan-Martel. “[The TDJ sound] is indeed very hedonistic, but I think even RYAN Playground was positive, even though my discomfort was way too apparent. I didn’t assume, back then, now I’m 100% solid in my desire to make happy music.” Her emancipated sounds come right after two years of pandemic, which, as she confirms, is not entirely a coincidence.

A composer, producer, performer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist, Ryan-Martel says she immersed herself in the excitement she felt when she first heard, at a very young age, this popular electronic music that has given a breath of fresh air and colour to TDJ. She cites the influence of “the old Tiësto,” the world-famous Dutch producer and DJ – after whom she’s named her dog – as well as trance heroes of lore, Push and ATB.

For her, music and beats come first, lyrics follow suit. “The lyrics are often quite minimalistic – there aren’t that many words in my songs and they come to me quickly,” says Ryan-Martel. “I don’t sit for hours on end to come up with lyrics. Ideas come to me naturally, and I’m generally inspired by very personal stuff related to what I’m going through; it’s hard to explain… It’s funny, but when I listened to the album again after it was finished, I could recognize the thread of what I’ve been going through these last years, these last months, almost chronologically. Except I didn’t do it on purpose!”

The artist we can catch at Île Soniq and MEG Montréal, before she heads to Europe and the U.S., is part of a new generation of young composers – including Montréal’s Maara – who are bringing back the spirit of the ’90s raves to the dancefloor. “I think we’re witnessing the birth of a new scene that’s specific to our time, without denying its roots,” says Ryan-Martel. “The important thing is to make space for the present in this music from the past. I think the music that Maara and I are making provides the soundtrack to the lives of people who want to trip out and have fun.”