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.”

In 2021, Dani Saldo and rapper Troy Junker were participants in the TD Incubator for Creative Entrepreneurship, presented by the SOCAN Foundation. It was an exciting opportunity, and both were eager to learn from, and collaborate with, other talented creators – especially during a pandemic that saw many artists like themselves isolated and unsupported. In no time, Saldo, a FilipinX-Canadian pop singer from Guelph, Ontario, recognized that the musical affinities between her and Junker, a Métis rapper from Saskatchewan, were attuned.

“I checked out Troy’s music and really loved his style in ‘We Up’ with Thea May. I resonated with his inspirational lyrics and wanted us to work together,” says Saldo, adding that she soon decided to reach out for a music session.

“When Dani told me she was coming, I set up a studio session,” says Junker. “It was our first time meeting in person. We hung out and got to know each before listening to beats or writing anything, and then we [each] listened to what the other was working on. We played a few beats, and when the beat for ‘Find A Way’ came on, she gravitated towards it, and we decided to jump in writing. I messaged my friend, Harmon1x, who made the beat, and he was excited that we were going to record it.”

For Saldo, making music has been a passion ever since her youth, helping her, literally, find her voice. “I began writing poetry, which helped me [overcome] being an anxious kid,” she says. “And then, because I was a big nerd, I began transcribing songs from Filipino shows, Japanese anime, and J-pop, K-pop, into sing-able English versions.”

Eventually, Saldo began writing her own songs.  “When I lived in the Philippines, I took part in ABS-CBN’S [a television channel in the Philippines] Star Magic Workshops. But I didn’t get professionally started in music until 2019, when I asked a couple of friends from out of town to share an Airbnb with me in New York for a spontaneous writing trip. We hit it off, and ever since, we’ve been writing songs for film and TV under the group name ABSTRCT, as an international songwriting team.”

For Junker, who began DJ-ing in high school, making music was a crew affair. “I’d take my favourite instrumentals and then plug in a capellas [unaccompanied vocals] from songs I liked on Cool Edit Pro,” he says with a laugh. “Then one day, my friends and I wanted to make a song for a party we were going to, so we decided to start rapping and making original songs.”

After attending Music Business Management at Durham College, Junker moved to Toronto to transform his dreams into reality. “I began networking and putting out as much music as I could,” he says. “As well, I got involved behind the scenes for other artists, but I always continued to push my own [artistry].”

Their goal for the track was to create something inspirational and positive. “I like music that makes me feel hopeful and good, and once Dani started writing the chorus, I knew that it was exactly in the right direction,” says Junker.

“Troy was so much fun to write with, and it was fun getting to write rap,” says Saldo. “We did this little dolphin wave thing to get into the flow, and just spitballed ideas back and forth.”

For both songwriters, the final result hit the mark. “I love it,” says Junker with pride. “‘Find A Way’ just entered the Indigenous Music Countdown [at No. 26], and [we’ve] been getting great feedback from fans.” And for those bitten by the song, be prepared for another co-written track, “Boss Up,” with Saldo’s producer, Riki, coming out soon.

Most people are said to be either right-brained or left-brained, but 21-year-old Moroccan-born Canadian Faouzia is both: artistic and academic.

The exceptional singer, who just released the eight-song Citizens, her second collection of Middle Eastern-imbued dance-pop and ballads, is also a songwriter, producer, guitarist, pianist, violinist; fluent in three languages – English, French, and Arabic; and apparently pens short stories, creates her own movies, and sketches fashion designs. She’s also majoring in computer engineering at the University of Manitoba.

“Yeah,” she laughs. “I’ve always loved both worlds. I’m making it harder on myself, for sure. But I’ve always loved being a bookworm and learning, and then, obviously, being creative is really big to me, too. I’m trying to do both and, hopefully, I can get there.”

She does plan on finishing her degree, but “trying” to do music is already long out of her hands. She’s tried and succeeded, releasing her first song, “Knock On My Door,” in 2015 at the age of 15, which racked up over a million streams on Spotify. In 2017, when she was 16, Faouzia and Matt Epp became the first Canadians to win the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition (ISC), the world’s largest contest for songwriting. The winning song, “The Sound,” by Matt Epp featuring Faouzia, scaled the peak of the then CBC Radio 2 Top 20 chart, earning them a SOCAN No.1 Song Award. In 2018, she was featured on “Battle,” a cut on David Guetta’s album 7; in 2019, on Ninho’s single “Money”; and in 2020, on Kelly Clarkson’s Moroccan Arabic version of “I Dare You” (which she translated from English) and on Galantis’ “I Fly.”

And then there’s her own material. The mononymous Faouzia — her last name is Ouihya — has more than two million subscribers on YouTube, and numbers on some of her music videos are in the tens of millions: 2019’s anthemic “Tears of Gold” is at 30 million; 2020’s “Minefields,” with John Legend, at 81 million; “You Don’t Even Know Me,” at 22 million; and the lyric video for “RIP, Love,” at 21 million. That’s just for YouTube alone; Faouzia enjoys a grand total of more than 570 million total cumulative streams on YT, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, TikTok, and other streaming services. She released an “extended EP” in August of 2020, Stripped.

Faouzia, who comes across as confident, friendly, and humble, writes on her own — the big, uber-dramatic ballad “I Know” and unique lyric “Don’t Tell Me I’m Pretty” are solo credits on Citizens, the latter a song she produced — but she also co-writes. Johnny Goldstein, and brothers Andre and Sean Davidson, all appear multiple times in the songwriting credits. Faouzia says her ideas are never dismissed because of her age, or because she’s a young woman, and calls the experience of writing this latest batch of songs “lovely.”

“That’s another thing my team is really amazing at, putting me in sessions with people that they know are very respectful,” she says. “I would say that they even go above and beyond. They look forward to hearing my ideas and my input, and they really show that they care, and that they understand where I’m coming from, and what my vision is.

“I think that those are the people that songwriters should work with, especially if you’re an artist and a songwriter, because it’s your world.  I don’t feel like my age has ever been something that has been in the way, or might make people underestimate me. It’s actually quite the opposite. I feel like people normally forget my age until it’s brought up, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re born in 2000. I totally forgot,’” she laughs.

Faouzia’s family moved to Canada from Morocco when she was just one year old, settling in Notre-Dame-de-Loures, Manitoba, a rural town near Carman. She hasn’t been back to Morocco, where she still has relatives, since she was 13, but says her parents made sure she and her two sisters were exposed to their culture.

“As soon as I entered my home, it was like I was back in Morocco,” she says. “We even had a Moroccan living room, and we’d listen to Moroccan music and Arabic music, actually a bunch of different music from different countries. I spoke Arabic at home too.” Not surprisingly, Middle Eastern melodies are part of many of Faouzia’s pop songs, not just musically, like in “RIP, Love,” but in the way she sings – sometimes trilling and stretching a word like “thin,” for example,  on the ballad “Thick & Thin.”

When she first meets with a songwriting collaborator, she uses descriptions, such as “touch of, like, Middle Eastern melodies or production,” “very dramatic and powerful,” and “very emotional” to help provide some direction for the sound. “What I normally do is I play songs that I really love that are in my catalog, or songs that haven’t come out yet that I really love, that are very fitting to the theme of the project, and I try to set the tone that way,” she says. “I use a lot of descriptive words on what my sound is.

“After that, I proceed to tell them what I’m feeling for the day, whether I want to do something up-tempo or more slow, or I’ll give them concept ideas, like words or feelings. And then, that’s how we work around it. So it’s very much working around an idea in my head.”

Unlike the six-song Stripped, it’s also important to Faouzia that Citizens is not referred to as an EP, rather a “project” or “body of work.” “Citizens is much more than an EP to me, especially at this stage of my career,” Faouzia explains. “I feel like it’s bigger than an EP, in the sense that it includes songs like ‘Minefields’ and ‘Puppet,’ and so many things that I’ve been working on for so long. It really is a taste of what my next project is, but at the same time, I feel like it can hold its own ground as a body of work. That’s why it’s a lot more significant to me than an EP would be.

“I think ‘RIP, Love’ and ‘Anybody Else’ are the songs off this project that showcase the most where I’m taking my music.”