Interview: Art Department
newsicmoos (ns): Tell us a little about yourselves, and the type of music that you play for people who may not of heard of you before reading this.
Jonny: My name is jonny white… and I'm an alcoholic. Kenny and i are both from Toronto Canada, I'm currently living between Toronto and Barcelona, kenny between Toronto and London. We've both been DJs for quite a long time, Kenny 20 plus years and I'm approaching 15 behind the decks. I started writing music about 6 years ago, Kenny's been writing for over 10, but was on "vacation" until I asked him to write an album for No.19 music about 4 years ago. As a younger DJ coming up in Toronto I can tell you from an outside perspective that Kenny was the most respected underground DJ in toronto for ages and was actually quite successful internationally on his own about a decade ago when he was working with Tiga's Turbo label. Although I've been playing music for 15 years, I only just made music my soul focus within the last 7 years.
ns: How did you meet Damian Lazzarus & the Crosstown crew? How instrumental was that connection to the success of the Art Department project?
Jonny: We actually met when I picked him up at the airport some 6 years ago to play a Canada Day event for my crew back in Toronto. We were doing a really small weekly Thursday night at a venue on College St and picked up the booking after the club he was meant to play had their sound repo'd. Imagine it hadn't gone down that way and we didn't cross paths.. forward to 4 years later, with countless shows, festivals and afterparties together, we're now good friends and Damian's asked us to partner up and do a remix job for Crosstown which more or less lead to Kenny and I writing together for the first time. The success of this project is undoubtedly in part due to launching it on Crosstown. I don't doubt that we could have done similar damage debuting on No.19 but the stars were really aligned for Crosstown that year with Deniz' and Maceo's debut albums all coming out around the same time as ours.
ns: What's the ethos behind No.19? Do you have a certain type of record that you look for to fit the label? Who are some exciting new guys to look out for that might have material forthcoming?
Jonny: I think that i do have a particular vibe I look for and maybe certain types of productions or atributes in an artists's production that I almost subconsciously look for which is what does give the label an overall feel. I could maybe describe it as raw, more organic and fresh. But it's become much more about putting out great music and pushing the talent we sign than about trying to stay in line with an idea or a sound for the label. The idea has really always been to put out great music, wether it be house, techno, hip hop, alternative.. whatever. I like to think that we're running a real top tier electronic Indie label, rather than a house label. I've always looked at a label like WARP as a model for what a label should be. I want to look back at my catalogue in 20 years and be proud of everything we put out without putting too much emphasis on genres. I've got several projects/albums coming out on No.19 now that i'm so excited to share with people, it's been hard to keep it under my hat, while sitting on so much incredible music! There is Tone Of Arc, a boyfriend (formerly called Dead Seal)& Girlfriend duo out of San Fran writing some of the most exciting music I've heard, period! another artist I'm doing an album with this Louie Fresco who's just had huge success with his recent Ep and remix work for No.19, more of a darker dancefloor oriented album that is just killer. The other two albums we've signed are from Cameo Culture (one half of the group Soho 808) and from Clayton Steele, a long time friend out of Miami. In addition to the albums we're of course still releasing dance singles too… Lee Foss, Art Department, Teeloo and Ali Love all have releases on the way, along side some vinyl only releases from James What & Luca C, Life and Death and a few lead singles off forthcoming artist albums.
ns: How have the worldwide Social Experiment parties been received?
Jonny: The events have been amazing! I've been blown away all of them. They're all sold out shows and the events are really attracting the "right people". We started of the the year with one @BPM in playa Del Carmen on the beach with about 2500 people and its been full steam ahead with these shows since..WMC in Miami, Chicago, Toronto, NY, San Fran, Manchester, Italy, Switzerland and looking forward to our show during Sonar in my home town with Konrad Black, Deniz Kurtel, Nitin, Russ Yallop, Miguel Puente and the rest of the No.19 family. Thats one of our main focuses this year. You can come up with all kinds of creative and interesting ways to present your product and relay the ideas and the vibe behind the label but there is no substitute for having the heart of your label, the artists, get together and play for people. Nothing can portray what we're all about and the energy and passion thats driving the label the way a live event can.
ns: Do the names you choose for aliases, projects or parties have deeper meanings, or are they just randomly selected? For instance, Art Department, The Drawing Board, Social Experiment, No 19, etc etc. Will we find that they'll all somehow connect one day, or did they just sound right for you? I can't help but to assume one of you have some sort of design background. Would I be right?
Jonny: Its a bit of both. Art Department in particular is just a name I've had kicking about, waiting to pin to the right project. It was actually going to be a sublabel to No.19 that Kenny and I were going to start together a while back. No.19 on the other hand is named after article 19 in the declaration of human rights - "Freedom Of Expression". It's all part of marketing and portraying your vision. I don't know if they necessarily connect but i like to think there is a theme you can find in everything we do. the idea is to be thoughtful, creative and unique in our approach to everything. I always really got off on working at being creative with this side of the business because it's all an extension of the music and contributes in a big way to how the public perceives what we're about.
ns: How would you say your production methods are progressing or changing since your first album? I read an awesome interview on RA about your approach in the studio with both digital and analog gear, and how you think it's important to have that right balance. Do you still feel that way ? Is there any one piece of gear or even software that you started using recently that really got you excited?
Jonny: I wouldn't say that the methods are changing. At least not for me. the biggest change for me is having to write sporadically. I'm one of those guys that likes to work slowly (or maybe I'm just unable to work quickly). I like to take a couple of weeks, 24/7 with anything i write weather it needs it or not just to get it sounding exactly how i want it and our touring schedule has made that quite difficult for me. I also haven't really adapted to writing on the road whereas kenny's quite comfortable at least starting things on his laptop on planes and in hotels, although he takes it back to his amazing studio in toronto for production. I like to be in my studio, I like to be producing in monitors, not headphones and i like to be writing constantly, not a few days this week, couple days the next. We're now making time off to write a priority.
ns: Generally speaking, from your first hand accounts, do you think people are more tolerable of music in slower tempos now, then say, how it was before your Art Department project took off? When you played separately, were you playing differently?
Jonny: We actually aren't playing as slow as we were when we first started playing as Art Department. We use to come on and drop the bpm from whatever the opening DJ is playing at to 118 and feel no ways about it. i remember playing Panorama Bar in Berlin our very first time and coming on at 4pm Sunday afternoon after Cassy who was playing about 128, straight techno, and it worked. the thing was we were getting gigs off the back of our first single "without you" and mixes that were floating around and the vibe of everything we were doing at the time was slow, so people booking us and coming to see us knew what was up. Similarly we' played a festival in Italy last year after Paul Kalkebrenner playing arial assault techno for 4000 people and started over at 119 bpm. it works. I don't think its how fast you play, its how you play the music you play. we've picked up the pace and seem to be playing more techno and tracky stuff now than before but only because that's how we're evolving naturally, nothing is forced. Don't get me wrong, just like gadi & Zev we do get the odd moron in the crowd fist pumping and upset that we're not playing "harder", but if they have the nerve to ask us i'll usually tell them they're at the wrong party.
ns: How do you adapt your sound from clubs to festivals and what can fans expect from your set at EXIT?
Jonny: We play really really loud.
ns: How have your US gigs been? Better or worse that overseas, or totally different animals?
Jonny: It really is a different animal. Not to say that one is better or worse because there are great gigs and shit gigs everywhere. Thanks to our agents I don't think we've ever really played a shit party as Art Dept, we did enough of those while we were solo artists. The major difference for guys like us who are not making you're cookie-cutter type of dance music is that house/electronic music is simply more a part of life and culture in europe. In the UK for instance, it's common place to know the new Jamie Jones or Art Department single where as in the States you don't know who we are unless you're right into this specific genre of music.. you have to make an effort to know, and being into off kilter underground electronic music certainly isn't the norm in America.. I think that may be changing but I think that there are just more people interested and aware of what is happening in the world of underground/indie music in Europe.
ns: What are your feelings on the growth and commercialisation of dance music in America?
Jonny: I think there are obviously positives and negatives to what's happening in The Americas. It's great to see the music cross over and reach a bigger audience. It seems it was almost an overnight tipping point into America as far as how quickly it's become part of popular culture, even though house music's beginnings were in the States. You can look at it from several perspectives, being part of the underground and not necessarily being able to really relate to the type of dance music that people associate with this phenomenon. One perspective would be that its moving in the wrong direction and what the kids consider to be dance music today, the skrilex's and swedish house mafias isn't "real" house or dance music, get angry about it and keep your distance. I think that although I don't consider our music to have anything in common with what they're doing, a lot of people are being introduced to EDM through that shit, and if its growth and acceptance into the mainstream means that there are more opportunities for us to play our music in the states then its a positive. We do what we do, and make the music that we make regardless of whats going on, and if we're able to reach more people now because of whats going on then i'm cool with the direction things are heading in… *depending on response*
ns: Do you think theres a trickle-down effect happening? Does what "they" are doing have any affect on what you guys do in some way or another? When I say they I mean the DJ Mag top 5 or 10 DJs in the world for arguments sake.
Jonny: I like to compare EDM to hip hop in the early 90's when people ask me this shit. I feel like we're in a similar position now to where some of the label execs, artists and people pushing hip hop music and the movement forward were back then. It was the music that was about to take over America and the world and i think we're poised to do the same. The part that confuses me though is this.. first, does the real underground EDM music really have anything in common with what the DJ Mag top 5 dj's are doing? Will people getting into them translate into people finding out about a Morgan Geist or an Art Department? I'm not sure. When acts like Public enemy, NWA, Biggy Smalls or Tupac exploded and caught fire, the people who loved that could identify with so many other artists in that world because the music was similar. If you liked this, you're going to like that too and that is how hip hop music spread so fast. If you like Deadmau5 are you going to like Deniz Kurtel? If you like Tiesto are you going to like Soul Clap?.. It's inevitable that people who like and care about music dig and eventually find it, and of course there will be some that find it through being introduced to EDM at a Tiesto show, how many?.. I don't know.
ns: Team Sneak or Team Steve Angello? ;)
ns: What does the future hold for Art Department? A new album? More singles? A Live Project?
Jonny: We've been planning to make the move to a live performance for some time, thats always been the plan but we've been touring too hard since we started this thing to put it together. There are always too many shows, too much travel, remixes to deliver and fun to be had so it's been put on the backburner. We've decided to start working on our next full length album and we'll likely be writing with the idea that the music should be performed live this time around. We've got quite a bit of music coming out in coming months though.. Jamie Jones & Art Department 'Our Time IN Liberty" (single on Crosstown rebels), Storm Queen "Look right Through" Art Department remix (Defected), two new Art Department singles on No.19 Music, one being a collab with Konrad Black as well as the next mix compilation in the SOCIALEXPERIMENT series on No.19.
ns: If you could choose any current living musician(s) to work with, who would it be?
Jonny: I think David Byrn would be my # 1. Not to say that his music is my favorite or that Talking Heads is my favorite band ever but his ideas, his music and from what i gather from interviews, his attitude about making music really fascinates me and i think it would be a really inspiring experience. Thats just off the top of my head though, there is so many brilliant talents out there who I would be honored to work with. I recently met one of my favorite female vocalists, MartinaTopley- Bird so i'm beyond excited about the prospect of working with her!
ns: What labels are you most excited for this year?
Jonny: This may sound a bit shitty but….. mine! I mean c'mon.. if I knew what every other label had in store for us this year I could be excited about them too. But I'm sitting on some of the best music i've heard from some of the most talented people I know. If that doesn't get me off, I'm in the wrong business..
You can catch Art Department at EXIT Festival. You can win tickets to see them over at our Exit Festival Page. If you're digging the interview, be sure to share via social links below.