Text Alfonso Gomez
At just a quarter of his approximate lifespan, Jacques Greene is already incredibly articulate and knowledgeable when discussing music. Previous interviews had seen him showcasing both the same erudition of a veteran music journalist (who possibly had been around since house first arose from the grime of early ‘80s Chicago) and the sass of a young producer whose access to the internet had freed them of genre restrictions. This is reflected in the music he makes and plays; Greene had played everything from instrumental hip hop (think the original anticon roster), to r’n’b, to some real wild hyphy shit. And none were done with the irony of Tumblr bedroom producers. Now delving deeper into house and techno with his last release Phantom Vibrate EP – pushing a more overt r’n’b sheen on them – you’d think Greene is part of the two genres’ recent renaissance, but he makes them without the genre obduracy of a purist. Jacques Greene is genre-fluid. Being the predictable music journalists that we are, JUICE speaks to him on genres, the idea of ‘smart’ dance music, and whether music streaming is detrimental to the industry.
What’s new with Jacques Greene after the recent EP?
I’ve toured around the world in support of the record, and the shows were great! Now finally back in New York City for a few weeks. I’ve been drinking coffee and getting locked up in the studio. It’s really rewarding to have this kind of split personality lifestyle in this life. I can go tour my face off and get really tired of airports and people and then just become a studio recluse and not talk to anyone for a couple weeks. Once I’m absolutely sick of being a hermit and trapped in my own ideas and work, I get to repeat the cycle all over again. Things stay fresh and I stay motivated and inspired.
You’ve always had an affinity for r’n’b – it was what you did prior to becoming Jacques Greene – but ‘No Excuse’ off Phantom Vibrate EP sees a return to an obvious r’n’b sound on your current genre of choice; house. Why is that? Was it a conscious decision to go that route?
I’ve rarely if ever made conscious decisions when it comes to that. There was definitely the idea that hey, maybe I can try making some songs with little to no regard for DJ sets and “the club” as an environment. That was kind of the main idea behind ‘No Excuse’ and ‘Time Again’. To just concentrate on the feeling of the tracks themselves as opposed to their functionality. Form over function.
It’s interesting that your night Night Tracking is also the name of the track that is closest to classic house on the record. Was there some kind of commentary to be gleaned from that name choice?
Actually, Night Tracking was the name of a predominantly house night I did with my friends Brendon DuVall and Seb Diamond in Montreal for a couple years. We booked acts like Floating Points, Kyle Hall, and In Flagranti and so on. So the track was really more an homage to my two friends and those nights we had together in a sweaty basement in the Old Port of Montreal.
What would you attribute to house and techno’s comeback in the UK scene? As we understand it your shift towards those genres was influenced by them…
Everything runs in cycles, just like in fashion. You go from wearing all black, to greys, to colours and back again. House and techno have their moments in the sun and flip back and forth, and for the rest people like slow stuff for a while and all of a sudden something faster comes along and changes the game, or vice versa. I’m happy that these days in some corners of music there’s a true tendency from a lot of people to just throw away rule books and do a bit of everything though. I’d like to think I belong more to that school of thought than more tradition ‘house’ and ‘techno’ mindsets, even though I love both very much.
Still on a genre tip, you’ve shown some frustration with labelling music in some interviews before. Is that why your Facebook page says “dance music from Montreal, Canada”?
I just don’t really think it’s my job or responsibility to adhere to a genre name, or really understand them all. I know the thing I gravitate towards in music and they are usually a bit more feeling or sound design driven rather than belonging to this or that box. I don’t particularly mind them, but I don’t really feel the need to think about them much. When I listen to a song I enjoy, “Wait, what is this genre though?” is far from being the first thing on my mind. As for my own descriptions of my music, I think I like to just keep it open ended like that because at the end of the day, it allows me more freedom on the creative side and for someone approaching my work to come in with a more open mind than “Wait a minute, this isn’t real house!” or whatever other genre-based reservations they may hold due to some article they read once.
You were quoted saying “the analogue versus digital conversation isn’t very interesting.” So forgive us for bringing up this topic then: Can you elaborate on why it fails to muster your interest? Seeing that when it comes to electronic genres, this conversation always pops up…
I don’t mean that it bores me to death particularly, and I spent a few years buying a lot of vinyl and to this day use a lot of analogue synths in my own music. I just don’t buy the argument that analogue is “more real” or “more true” than digital. I’ve heard some insanely beautiful and touching music made completely on laptops and heard some dreadfully boring and ineffective music made in the most “real” of processes, recorded to tape or what have you. I just don’t think it’s as important as people make it out to be. I love that in contemporary fine art, the conversation of “but did the artist actually make the sculpture” or “yeah, well my niece could paint that” seems to be completely over, leaving the viewer to dig more into the actual content of a piece and think about what it means, as opposed to how it was made. I just hope we can get there with music. I’d rather hear a great melody through autotune than a really boring one sang by a technically proficient voice, I guess.
Being one of the DJ-producers who the media would use to inform readers of ‘intelligent’ dance music, do you find such labels insulting to the scene?
Yeah, I kind of find that really insulting to be honest. In general I’d rather “go dumb” to some hyphy than entertain the idea that any dance music is inherently “smarter” than any other.
There was a previous interview where you mentioned how genres have evolved beyond being geography-specific with the internet. This has freed music-making a lot, especially in dance, because it almost seems like the Soundcloud gen of producers don’t conform to outmoded genre rules. What do you feel about this? Is there any importance at all to adhering to a certain genre aesthetic when making music of that genre?
Not at all, like I mentioned earlier, I think it should be completely free of such preconceptions. Purists have [been] and always will be wrong. Stagnancy is what kills culture, for better or for worse, the kids are always right. Anyone who thinks they are more “true school” and tell you, “No, it has to be played this or that way, recorded this or that way, played on this or that medium,” misses a lot of the point of music I think, and also disregards how literally every single exciting thing that happens in culture always goes against agreed upon norms and creative status quo. It might be cheesy to say it, but rules are meant to be broken and I would rather stop making music completely than have a firm set of rules of what is a defined do and don’t for a genre or whatever.
You made the artwork for all Jacques Greene-related releases yourself. How important is it that you’re involved in the visual aspect of your artiste persona?
It’s extremely important. In the same way that you get dressed to leave your house and the way you choose to put yourself together is the first and most clear way you present yourself to those who end up talking to you or simply pass you by – record covers, videos, all of it are part of the world and context for my music. I feel so strongly about how my things come across and how I end up presenting myself on every level.
Apparently music streaming services are killing (legal) digital downloads. Seeing that DJ-producers are the most open to having their music streamable for free (we think at least), what do you make of this? Just yet another fear-mongering by the industry?
There’s some truth to that. My perspective is skewed a bit because I came into this after the record sale apocalypse and the four horsemen of the death of the music industry rode through the whole thing, so I never really expected to make money off recorded output. I’m so thankful to everyone that buys my record and/or digital releases, but at this point all I can hope for is that the people who do stream or illegally download my music try to come to a show at some point. Being actively upset about it now is like getting mad at the weather channel when it rains though.
Lastly, bit of a generic question, what’s the ideal Jacques Greene set?
A 300 person club with low ceilings and a good sound system where I can play for two or three hours and people follow me everywhere I go, from some ambient stuff, to solid dance music, and maybe end it with a 45-minute loose rap music party and everyone jumps around and smiles are everywhere, and people go home feeling good about themselves.
Jacques Greene’s Phantom Vibrate EP is out now via LuckyMe.