cris derksen
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cris derksen

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | SELF

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | SELF
Band World Classical


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"Cris Derksen - Music School- What I play"

By David DacksWhile growing up in Edmonton, AB, Cris Derksen started thinking about what instrument would be right for her. Narrowing it down to bass and cello, she chose the latter partly out of practicality; she thought there would be less competition. The specific charms of the cello quickly won her over and her instrument of choice has ended up taking her many places, including onstage with Kanye West.

"I don't really have a genre that I fully fit into, which I think is a good thing," Derksen declares. "I have a whole bunch of different audiences. I have an almost specifically aboriginal audience, an indie queer audience and an older art-folk audience. As a musician, it's super helpful ? I can play a lot of different venues in the same city."

She credits the versatility of her instrument in helping her realize all her musical and cultural influences into a personal statement. "The range of the cello is ginormous compared to the bass. It can be so much more versatile than the bass or violin. It's got five octaves, though I only use four. Having a cello is almost instantly relatable because it's in the same range as the human voice so you're instantly drawn to it."

Derksen was classically trained and graduated from University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Music Performance. "[Formal training] helps if I'm stuck on a chord, I can figure out what works with a chord. But I try to keep it in the back of my mind," she says. "My longer compositions, I kind of take inspiration from the sonata form, fast-slow-fast. There are so many things I take from it, but some things I leave behind."

At the same time she draws inspiration from her Cree heritage. "With aboriginal music they've got some really rad tonal harmonies and little slides in the vocals that translate so well to the cello. I have pieces which are completely aboriginally-influenced, and I take sounds I know and love and try to make them my own. But I'm not going to claim it's wholly aboriginal just as I'm not going to claim it's fully classical."

Electronics are central to her music and she's steadily increased her arsenal over the years. "I started about seven years ago. My roommate had a loop station and I stole it. I got multi-effects [Boss ME70] about five years ago, and about two years ago my roommate had a robot costume and in that costume was a drum machine [Boss Dr. Rhythm 550], so I stole that too." (Note: if you've got electronic gear, don't move in with her.)

Now proficient with the Boss RC-XL 20 loop station, effects and rhythm box, she has a wide open canvas no matter what setting she finds herself in. For that reason she much prefers the spontaneity of live situations. "I find recording often frustrating. I like the immediacy of live performance rather than trying to perfect something."

Nevertheless, her album The Cusp, released last year strikes a happy medium between immediacy and composition. "My process is somewhat simple, I sit down and play and if I remember it next day or week then I keep it. For the album, some of the pieces are super old that I was working on for five years, others I wrote the day before." Derksen is planning to move up to Ableton Live in the near future, which will allow for more flexibility with loops and textures.

No doubt the strangest place her music has taken her was onstage with Kanye West ? more than once. "I played with him when 'Gold Digger' was #1 and it was at GM Place [in Vancouver]. It was a string quartet, Questlove, A-Trak and a harpist. It was super amazing. He was super nice and shook hands with everyone and said 'thanks so much for playing with me.' Then I played with him again and it wasn't, um, nearly so pleasant. The production value went down the next year so it didn't feel as nice. And he was an all around jerk to the players. We're just hired guns, really."

Have cello, will travel. - Exclaim!

"Cellist Cris Derksen and Opera Singer Melody Mercredi stay Wild at Heart"

“I realized how lucky I was to have picked such a versatile instrument. You can do way more with the cello, I think, than a lot of instruments.”
Considering Derksen’s approach, that’s an understatement. In solo performance, she uses electronics to turn her cello into a bass or a viola or even an entire string section. And as an accompanist, she’s worked with dancers, rock bands, songwriters, and the wildly innovative Inuit throat-singer and improviser Tanya Tagaq. - The Georgia Straight

"CD Reviews"

The Cusp (

A rising star on the Canadian classical/jazz/folk/pop/electronica/ what have you scenes, cellist Derksen is known for captivating solo performances building layers of sound into often surprisingly slamming dance music. The 13 tracks range from classically oriented, multi-tracked sound-scapes to upbeat party bumps inspired by her half-Cree ancestry and hybridized pieces. B+

Read more: - The Vancouver Province


Cris Derksen, Live at the Railway EP-2008

The Cusp - 2010



A rising star on the Canadian world / classical / folk / electronica scenes, award-winning Aboriginal cellist Cris Derksen is known for building layers of sound into captivating performances. Her music braids the traditional and contemporary in multiple dimensions, weaving her traditional classical training and her aboriginal ancestry with new school electronics, creating genre defying music.

On her debut solo effort, The Cusp, the 13 tracks range from classically oriented, multitracked soundscapes (We Danced Movement I & II) to upbeat party bumps inspired by her half-Cree ancestry ( and hybridized pieces that sound readymade for climatic moments in art or cinema.

In 2011, The Cusp was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award, and won the 2011 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award for Instrumental Album of the Year. She was honoured with funding from First Tracks, to make POW WOW WOW, an APTN Music Video, released in early 2012.

Recent composer credits include 8th Fire (4-part television mini-series CBC - 2012); TransMigration (Kahawi Dance, 2012); People of a Feather (feature film - Joel Heath and the Community of Sanikiluaq - 2011); The Gathering (VANOC CTV & APTN television - Hyphen Productions 2010); and Native Youth Project (UBC Museum of Anthropology 2009)

Cris has toured nationally and internationally as a solo artist and performing her own compositions with Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. She has performed internationally at: Women in (e)motion (Germany), Future En Seine (France), WOMAX (Spain), SXSW (Texas), Riddu Riddu (Norway), Respect Festival, Colors of Ostrava (Czech Republic), Barroquisimo (Mexico), MADE festival (Sweden).

Back home, Derksen has performed at: Vancouver Island Music Fest, Regina Folk Festival, Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, Frostbite Festival, Salmon Arm Roots and Blues, Harrison Music Festival, Rifflandia, Dawson City Music Festival, Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Vancouver Folk Music Festival, JunoFest, the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards and the 2010 Cultural Olympiad.

As a side player Cris has performed with hip hop star Kanye West, Veda Hille, Tanya Tagaq, Christa Couture, Kinnie Starr, Lightening Dust (Black Mountain), Rae Spoon, Leela Gilday, Ivan e Coyote and e.s.l.
Cris Derksen originally comes from Northern Alberta. There is a line of chiefs from North Tall Cree reserve on her Fathers side and a line of strong Mennonite homesteaders on her mothers side.

Cris obtained a Bachelor of Music in Cello Performance at UBC and shared the title of Principal Cellist of the UBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2009 she was recognized by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network as one of its rising stars and The Georgia Straights Who to Watch. She was also a Curator in Residence at the Vancouver East Cultural Center (The Cultch).

Its not every night you see a cellist pack a club dance floor. But Cris Derksen is not just another classically trained musician bowing away in the background. Kicking out electronic beats and using her loop station and pedal board to bring the noise, the UBC grad is building an international reputation for invention, session work and performance. - The Vancouver Province