By Rebecca Judd
Rebecca Judd is a writer, student, and musician based in Ottawa. When she isn’t ranting about poptimism or politics, she can be found writing, dreaming, processing—often in that order. Find her on Twitter or Instagram @carlyrebjepsen.
When Zoë Argiropulos-Hunter promoted her first show, she thought it was her last.
“It was really poorly attended,” she recalls. “It was at a space where you could only get about 40 people in there, and that’s if you were pushing it.”
Since then, the 21-year-old has continued to push forward and make a name for herself in the Ottawa music scene, often under the moniker of First Crush Promotion, a one-woman promotion company and radio show. We caught up with Argiropulos-Hunter in person to discuss her creative vision, the value of a ‘safe space’, and the future of her projects.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Apt613: Where did your idea for First Crush come from?
Zoë Argiropulos-Hunter: I had the idea [for First Crush] in high school, but I didn’t start the project until I was in university. I had always been involved in the [Ottawa music] community, and I started to notice that things I liked about it were fizzling out. It was about pulling back the wallpaper, and starting to see some of the inequalities. I thought I would start First Crush to bring in musicians from different cities into the Ottawa circuit, but also to provide a platform to people that feel uncomfortable or unsure of themselves. I find there’s a lot of gatekeeping in the music & arts industries, so I just wanted to create a space where people like myself and my friends could feel comfortable putting their voices out there.
First Crush was founded in 2017, with a focus on “promoting music in the 613 Ottawa circuit”. Since then, it seems like First Crush has dabbled in a bit of everything—whether it’s your biweekly radio show on CKCU, or bringing the latest in indie pop perfection to Ottawa, you keep busy! Was this growth ever anticipated?
When I first started booking, I did not know what I was doing. A lot of it has been learned on-the-job, and through the graces of the people around me who’ve been kind enough to take me on as a student or a [mentee]. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people from around the country, but also from different countries. I never could have imagined that people would care about something that felt like a passion project.
“I never really thought that it would be so pronounced and so open.”
The other thing that I had never anticipated—the [music community] in Ottawa is small, but the Canadian music community is well-connected. I never really thought that it would be so pronounced and so open. It’s easy, actually, to reach out to people, and that was something I never would have imagined as an 18-year-old person. A lot of it went from me emailing bands, asking if they wanted to play here, to [receiving] emails that say “I’ve heard about you through XYZ” or “I had a friend that came through Ottawa who mentioned your name to me.” It’s gained momentum.
I love your shows because there’s a focus on creating a safe space for everyone involved. Was that an intention of yours when developing First Crush?
I think it was both a conscious intent and who I surround myself with. I had the idea of ‘safe space’ in mind before I knew what that really meant. Growing up in the scene felt like growing up with your family: you normalize certain things, and as you get older you begin to recognize what is and isn’t okay. Now, I want to repair those situations so that younger people I know won’t feel so small.
“Growing up in the scene felt like growing up with your family: you normalize certain things, and as you get older you begin to recognize what is and isn’t okay.”
It isn’t just enough to say to people, “you’re welcome here”. I think there’s a lot of things that are easy to overlook, but it’s just one simple conversation to resolve—people might not want chairs around the stage, but for people with accessibility concerns, they’ll have to sit at the back of the room where they can’t see anything.
What does the future of First Crush look like to you?
The future for me in the music world feels much brighter than I first thought. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about grant writing, stage management, festival coordination… all these skills I never could have [foreseen]. I would like to continue promoting shows, and I’m interested in working for a record label—part of curating these shows is that you’re curating a sound, you’re creating a mood. That has become a talent of mine, and I think I’m able to hone in on people who are doing something differently. A lot of [promoting] is my personal taste, but sometimes it’s fun to step outside of your box and see what other people are doing.
You’re working on some other cool projects right now. What can you tell me about your other endeavours?
I’ve launched Also Cool, a magazine & event series. We have our first online publication in January, and the events and fundraisers leading up are so that we can actually pay [our contributors]. I think it’s an extension of the thinking that goes into First Crush, because we’re looking to create both a physical and online space for voices that might otherwise be marginalized from the creative industries. We’re prioritizing a kind of long-form, intimate journalism. I’m excited to give people a space for ‘slow journalism’, a chance to put out something that’s meaningful and will really touch people.
“I’m excited to give people a space for ‘slow journalism’, a chance to put out something that’s meaningful and will really touch people.”
My band, Déjà Vu, will be recording a couple of singles over the holidays, because three of us aren’t currently based in Ottawa. We might even record the majority of an EP, which we hope to release later in 2020.