But even as he remains suspicious of its long-term effects, the internet has had a positive impact on Greene's career. After making club-minded R&B and rap remixes as Hovatron for several years, he renamed himself Jacques Greene and shifted toward house, inspired by the discovery of the Night Slugs label and a "string of colorful music coming out of the UK." Through his connections on MySpace and social media, Greene (real name Philippe Aubin-Dionne) later aligned himself with Night Slugs and developed an ongoing relationship with Glasgow imprint LuckyMe. I called up Greene at his new apartment in New York City to discuss our ever-growing relationship with technology and how it affects his music.
It's unbelievable. I was born and raised in Montreal, and I'm 24 now, so it just feels so good to be in a different environment. I think once I found out that on my artist visa, I could live in the States and work with no problem, I was like, "Let's do it." It's just a six-hour drive from Montreal, so I feel like I'm living worlds away, but it's still easy to go back and see family.
How different is the music scene from what you experienced in Montreal?
What's interesting about it here is that New York is a city where most people aren't actually from here, and I think that brings a really interesting angle to the music scene. Everyone is really on their own, but everyone still kind of fucks with each other. Anthony Naples just moved to LA, but he was here. There's Brenmar, L-Vis 1990. Morgan Geist is in Queens.
It's a varied but interesting set of people here. When it comes to studio stuff, I think I'm more of a loner, but I really like being out and running into a few friends and we're all at the same show. But everyone makes such different music and has a different approach to it, and I think that's a really healthy thing. That's part of what attracted me to here.
You ran two club nights in Montreal. Do you plan to do something similar in New York?
I thought about doing a one- or two-month residency somewhere. Just find a nice little spot with no stage where I can play in the corner and do a few Fridays in a row. I think that'd be really fun. Maybe have friends and guests come through. It'd be cool to engage the community in that way.
When you started out, you were releasing music under the name Hovatron, correct?
Yeah, I started DJing when I was like 16 or 17, and we had a party back then. It was a mix of DJ and live PA, so we'd bring out an MPC and Ableton and stuff. I had friends who performed as Megasoid. That's Rob Squire, who used to make hip-hop as Sixtoo, and Hadji from that band Wolf Parade. They had this group where they brought out an insanely big modular synthesizer, two drum machines and a laptop with rap acapellas and just did live rap remixes for two hours.
I did something similar, but mostly with R&B songs. That kind of grew into a few monthly parties and then, two or three years later, some friends and I started a party called Night Tracking that lasted for two years. That was really exciting. We started bringing a lot of people to Canada for the first time. We did Hunee, Floating Points and Kyle Hall.
Were you listening to a lot more hip-hop back then?
My first love when I started playing clubs was hyphy. Hyphy was my favorite shit, which is why I'm so happy that DJ Mustard is everywhere now. You give me a simple triplet kick drum over 102 BPM and I'm there.
At what point did your tastes shift to house and techno?
It was kind of like when hyphy and dubstep started to die down a little. The most exciting thing to me after that was Night Slugs out of the UK.
How were you initially exposed to dance music?
Montreal has kind of a dance music culture, in large part thanks to Tiga, actually. As I grow older, I'm realizing his importance more and more for anyone from Montreal around my age. We all found out about electronic music from him.
In the '90s, he used to own an afterhours club and ran a record store called DNA. When I was like 17, that was where I bought my first records, and I didn't even know he owned it. It was in the back of this synth store, and I used to buy a lot of records back then. I caught the tail end of that culture, like going to the local record store and having a relationship with the guy, and years later I found out Tiga ran that spot. Throughout the 2000s, if you were like 17 or 18 or a bit older, chances are you saw him play and it was probably quite good.
Aside from that, it seems like some of your influences are pretty offbeat.
I think with influences, what happens with me is I'm just obsessed with super colorful melodic music and then almost prankster electronic music. I think Aphex Twin kind of started that streak. I gravitate towards music like that, and I think it bleeds into my music. It's like a wry, slight sarcasm almost.
That seems to be a pretty common thread in British humor and TV shows.
To this day, I meet people that are surprised I'm not British. I just met T. Williams in Miami, and he was like, "What? You're Canadian? I don't get that." I think it's just because I caught the tail end of record stores and record culture. I learned how to DJ on vinyl, and I was kind of mentored by a lot of older dudes when I was learning, so I kind of came from this old school vibe. I'd go over to my friend's house who had this huge record collection, and he was like 30 and I was like 18, and he showed me how to use a turntable. He was showing me Captain Beefheart and that kind of shit, but I was still very of my time and on the internet, where geography doesn't really matter.
That's an interesting phenomenon, how geography seems to matter less, as does genre.
Well, YouTube is like ten years old now, and regional sounds and approaches are less and less of a thing. One of the reasons rap music is so interesting to follow is that it's always ahead of the curve. In the advent of the internet, ASAP Rocky sounds like Houston, and they broke free of regional sounds.
I think it's just because of the pace and the size of the rap world, it just embraces all of these new technologies and new ways of thinking without slowing down to think of it, but I'm a product of that. When I was in college, I'd go on Tumblr and just be flooded with thousands of pictures a minute, and I'd go on the internet, and be like, "Is this record from Chicago? Is this record from Belgium?" Who really cares?
It almost makes the concept of a local scene seem dated.
That's definitely been an effect of it. I feel like it'd be so embarrassing today if there was like a huge movement of people making the same style of music. Like when 2-step came out, there were all these guys at garage raves in the UK all kind of making the same record. Now we know how different and varied the world is, so even when a scene is a scene and there's kind of a genre that forms, there's still a lot of variations within it.
So even when you're confined to a genre, people take more liberties and are more different, and I think that's just because we're all so flooded with stimulus and aware of all the different possibilities. It's partially due to technology affording us so many possibilities, so I think that's why we're hearing so much music that can't really be pigeonholed to one thing.
That's part of why I find it interesting to follow guys like you and Shlohmo, just to see how promoters and writers classify you. It was bass music for a while. I've heard UK bass, future bass. It's always something new.
My god. That bass music thing drives me fucking insane. I think Rustie had a quote in an interview, where they asked him something like, "So besides from the bass, what do you really like in a beat?" And he was like, "I don't know. The mids and the treble." It was just so narrow-minded to call something that, just because I feel like it's really reductive. That word and genre name always kind of bummed me out a little.
But there's a dramatic pull to your music that sets you apart, particularly on the new EP. I noticed you played a track from the film Upstream Color on Rinse a few months ago. Do you take inspiration from any composers?
That's definitely one side to my musical heritage and upbringing in Montreal. Godspeed You! Black Emperor is such a big thing there, and I kind of grew up in the neighborhood where their studio is. And Tim Hecker is a Montreal guy that I've been obsessed with for years, so there are definitely elements of sound design and stuff like that. I think there's definitely something from Godspeed that can be heard, especially on that latest record. The drama of Godspeed records is something I've always admired. It's really something I strive for actually. I really love DJ tool music and I play a lot of it, but I guess naturally, the music I make is a little more dramatic.
When you started releasing music as Jacques Greene there was a change in the visual aesthetic and way the music was presented and released.
I had been making that music for a long time, and then I wanted to send it to LuckyMe mostly just to get honest feedback, so I said it was a friend named Jacques from Montreal. It just came out of a need to disassociate myself to get an honest response to it.
But you created all of the artwork for your releases too, correct?
Yeah, I do all of my artwork. It's bad because I don't have time, but I kind of make time. I'll end up sending out a cover to a record label at six in the morning like, "Yeah. This is the one." But I think it matters. If everything is a choice and everything's deliberate, then I'd rather try to have it be good.
You handle most of the artwork for your label as well. Does VASE have any projects coming out this year?
I found this kid Kit Grill from London who has a show on NTS. He has some really fascinating hyper-minimal music, and I'm releasing one of his records. The label is a bit of a passion project, really. The idea is just to be this self-sustaining thing, and last year it barely broke even, and that's kind of the ambition for it, really.
How long did you work in graphic design before going into music full-time?
I was an art director for a year and a half. It was what I wanted to do with my life before I started being in planes and clubs for a living. But to be honest, almost all my work and pitches were way too sarcastic and ironic for a lot of the clients. I think I need to be a tame and banal depressed 30-something to really get back to it, so I'm looking forward to being chewed up and spit out by the music industry.
In music, you get the best of both worlds, though. You're still able to exercise that visual part of your brain.
That's what's been so exciting about still having a hand in making records and stuff is exercising that part of my brain. Every time I put up a tour poster on Twitter, I do all those, and I enjoy it. I think most artists have like a weird disdain and weariness of it, and I think there's this misconception that it's a modern thing, but like David Bowie had to reinvent his whole fucking look every album. It's a part of this. It's all fun.
Is there anyone you look to for inspiration with regard to marketing and presentation?
When it comes to marketing and identity, David Byrne is a huge inspiration. Last year, I read his book How Music Works, and he has this amazing chapter where he talks about the Stop Making Sense tour and how he decides to do a show with zero presentation. He kind of alludes to this idea I'd been thinking about, which is whether you like it or not, even DJing now is performance. It's performance art. You're on stage. You're playing a character, and even if you decide there's no character, it's a decision.
Because of the setting, because of the canvas, in the context of art and exhibition space, the moment you're there, the moment you're in that position, you're thrust into the position of an artist, and at that point, every choice you make, whether you like it or not, is deliberate, whether you want to be that guy who's not really present and wears his cap low or whether you're the guy who's doing the Jesus pose and has fireworks going off. So reading about it in that sense was really fascinating. It has me thinking about who I am, and who I am once I get on the internet or on stage.
And how that reflects back on the real you?
Exactly. There's all these choices we make, and I think I gravitate naturally towards being a little unassuming, and I've always been drawn to people like that, who still keep a little something removed.
In a recent interview, Shlohmo talked about how marketing and self-promotion are beginning to overshadow the music. Is that something you try to be conscious of?
That's 100% true. There's a lot of stuff out there getting away with subpar music and fantastic marketing. It's something to keep in mind, to try and spend more time in the studio and less time favoriting tweets about yourself or just commenting "Hey! Check out my tracks!" on every SoundCloud stream in the world.
To speak on what Henry [Shlohmo] is saying, there is this evil side of marketing taking over, and I'm aware of it. Obviously, all the stuff I'm talking about with artwork and covers is marketing. There's no other way to look at it, but done tastefully and done well, it can be interesting. I mean, music videos are just ads for records, but when done well, we all have music videos that we're passionate about. There's value to everything. Nothing should be dismissed, but we're at a time when there's so many tools at our disposal, and we're still trying to figure out how to use them.
You're saying that, within the context of history, all of this technology is still new and we're still figuring it out?
Well, I think people forget that iPhones are only ten years old and we're still going hard with all these social tools and things, but I like to think it'll maybe get better. Maybe not. Maybe it'll just become like this huge shouting match to see who will get the most retweets off an emoji. I try to stay quite positive, but I can be very cynical.
How would you describe the theme of your new EP? Is there anything specific that appeals to you about the phantom vibrate phenomenon?
I think it's so interesting that technology is fully coming into its own as an extension of our selves. I love that if aliens came to earth now, they could very well be fooled into thinking we had telepathic powers due to our text messaging and internet access. I find it so exciting that we are at a point where we have these things in our pockets at all times that theoretically allow us to fix our sink, cook a meal, translate a simple sentence, call for help at any point.
That kind of power is fascinating, and yet the fact that this piece of metal and plastic is starting to feel like a ghost limb sometimes can be unsettling. While I made the record, and to this day, I'm constantly thinking about this idea of our deepening relationship with all this technology and what it means for our human relationships. I try to remain optimistic and excited, however there are definitely quite obvious dark sides and pitfalls to it all.
Jacques Greene plays this year's Nuits Sonores festival in Lyon, France, which runs May 28th through June 1st.