URP Turns Eight! 

How a Vancouver DJ rallied a community through eight years of urban public radio - and a pandemic. 

When DJ Denise Fraser was given the studio keys to Co-op Radio in 2012, she was inheriting an ambitious but little-known radio show called Urban Renewal Project. With a love for radio that started in her teenage years, hosting a show that focused on Canadian music quickly became a passion for DJ Denise. Eight years into it, and just days away from her 8th annual URP showcase event, DJ Denise is reflecting on how the program and its community has evolved into what it is today. 

From the beginning, Urban Renewal Project was a platform for marginalized artists, a weekly forum that would amplify their voices through conversation and activism. DJ Denise is a queer Black woman, mother to four adolescent children, who grew up in the local music scene throwing the most inclusive and accessible parties in town. And while DJ’ing and promoting came naturally to her, URP was DJ Denise’s avenue for educating, organizing, and empowering marginalized communities. 

Over time the radio show evolved to become a platform for both emerging and established musicians and businesses. The very first annual URP showcase took place at the Cobalt in 2012. “In the beginning, it was mostly artists showing up to the event because they were excited to be on stage. People didn’t really know about each other.” But after a few years, the annual event became a meeting room of sorts. Musicians and producers were hearing about each other through interviews on the program, and then connecting at the showcase. “I’ve heard stories about people who met and made music together after the show. That’s been really gratifying” 

For DJ Denise, one performance that stands out was Snotty Nose Rez Kids on stage in 2018. She had worked with the duo earlier that year at the Edge of the World Festival in Haida Gwaii. “We all became friends. I interviewed them on the radio show and asked if they would give us a performance, and they were gracious to do it. That was definitely one of the highlights of our anniversary parties”. 

By its seventh year the radio show had earned itself a loyal following, and the annual showcase was able to raise money for artist honorariums. The night, held for the third time at Fortune Sound Club, featured performances from Concise The Black Knight, Foreign Familia, Sade Ariiel and others. Oki Freshwater of the NuNew Music Team presented DJ Denise with the ‘All for the Culture’ award, on behalf of the people of hip hop. “They wanted to celebrate me as well because of the work I’ve done to bring all of these artists together over the years”. 

The year 2020 though, it's just different. For performers, the lockdown created a vacuum where there used to be a stage. But DJ Denise is not discouraged at all. “I’m even more invigorated about what’s happening in Vancouver while this pandemic is happening”. Creativity, she says, is thriving. “Nothing stops them. They’re buying new equipment and recording at home, they’re writing more than ever, and they’re focusing on their families. I’m hearing beautiful stories.” All of which makes great radio material. During her interviews, guests have the opportunity to speak about their art. “It’s like a listening party where we introduce a song and the artists get to talk about their mindset when the song was birthed. It’s so exciting.” 

On top of the pandemic, 2020 brought painful images of police brutality in the US, compelling many artists to lift their voices against systemic racism. “When George Floyd was murdered, I had to take a minute and really think about who I wanted to be interviewing on URP. I was very intentional, and it was liberating and gratifying to be amplifying Black Canadian voices during that time. And focusing on Indigenous injustice as well, because I see the solidarity. People are coming together and working to be freed from injustice. It’s really hopeful.” 

This year, instead of printing handbills and running stage rehearsals with the performers (moments of fellowship in and of themselves), DJ Denise is levelling up her production capabilities. Working with Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), producers can essentially run a television program from their computer. “I’m really excited to be producing an interactive event using OBS and Twitch. There will be real-time performances, video segments, and live stream participation from artists and supporters. I would love for the artists to take over and run the show themselves so that all I have to do is use the technology to bring us together. What I want to do with this production will help me do bigger things that I can’t do through community radio.” 

In that spirit, DJ Denise will look back on 2020 as a year of learning. “I will be asking artists how much they taught themselves during the lockdown. Everybody has gone into this deep dive of learning something because now is the time to play the guitar for the first time, or learn a new video editing program. So even though people have been locked inside, they’ve been teaching themselves things, and that’s really cool.” 

On Thursday, December 3rd from 5-9pm, URP will be celebrating 8 years of urban music in Canada. Join host Oluwa Toni for live performances by Tre Hardson, Kleen Prinz, and The Latin Gang, with dance performances by SinBirds. Don’t miss live and pre-recorded segments, interviews and giveaways all night long!! 

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Please consider donating to Patreon/UrbanRenewalProject. 100% funds raised go to the artists. 

Sponsored by @corazonchocolates & supported by East Van Clothing, @hogansalleyclothing, Area 151 Records, @naashekafashion, 401Records @melodic.mondayz, Ephin Apparel, @_createwear @hiphopvancouver (HHvTV)

Article written by Sunya Lai Thom