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Jacques Greene

Dazed Mix: Jacques Greene

The Canadian producer and DJ presents a mix to celebrate his euphoric debut album Feel Infinite

Dance music has been built on the backs of the oppressed: the drag queens of downtown New York ascending to the floor, the English youth under Thatcher raving in fields, the young black people moving as one to techno booming from an industrial Detroit. It’s not an unthreatened utopia, but it’s home. The dancefloors where we’ve found a common interest, sparked loves and constructed our identity are held dear by Jacques Greene: his debut album, Feel Infinite, feels the power of club culture in its heart, with a firm gaze on the euphoric experience we’ve yet to enjoy.

Greene, real name Philippe Aubin-Dionne, has released a sparkling litany of tracks across a seven year career. It’s taken more than one go, but his first full-length LP is finally here: 11 tracks punctuated with full-bodied sounds and hardy percussion, cut-up vocals with poppy collabs and samples mined from the internet. To ‘feel infinite’ doesn’t mean escaping into the club’s shadows, but feeling at peace with one’s identity and linking it to the bigger world while you dance.

The original artwork created for Feel Infinite enhances Green’s creative concept, made with Hassan Rahim. We’ve included some of the intriguing images used by Rahim as a reference point for the LP’s design.

“Hearing Phil discuss the utopian optimistic nature of the record, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone a bit – my typical sort of dark, subverted nuance was possibly too cold or even esoteric, especially hearing the music (which is lush and gorgeous), so I focused heavily on communicating that optimism through colours and movement. It was a good challenge,” Rahim explains.

“Understanding how life in Montreal was is such an important part of his process, I wanted to make it as autobiographical as possible. Memory fragments. Subconscious emotional relics. What must it feel like when your entire life flashes before your eyes?” he adds. Jumping from this ‘life review’ concept, “every image, whether direct or abstract, is derived from Montreal – people, places, textures.”

Celebrating the album’s release, Greene has put together a mix for Dazed. It begins with a clip ripped from YouTube that shows people spilling out of Nasa, a rave at New York club Shelter in March 1993. The musician goes in with ambient tracks, b-sides that didn’t made the album cut, and an “accidental ballroom beat” from Michael Mann’s film Heat. We also caught up with him to talk the changing club landscape and evolving as an artist.

What did you hope to capture with this new release?

Jacques Greene: The record is hinting at things that made me fall in love with club culture and music in the first place, without feeling nostalgic. I’m not really one for looking backwards, or who says, ‘music used to be better.’ I’m always excited for what’s coming next. I was fortunate enough to come of age and come into my own in a club culture that was welcoming, warm and euphoric. I thought that was something to celebrate, something that I hold onto and go back to to feel better.

Club culture won’t progress if we’re always looking back.

Jacques Greene: That’s exactly right. I make this kind of music that’s melodic, emotionally intense – I sprinkle vocals around it because, to me, music has been a social experience: so much of what we do now and so much of who we are and what we consume can be done alone, and fuck – I make my music by myself. I now discover music on my own. I used to go to the record store and talk to the guy in there, listen to records with other friends. A lot of these experiences are now isolated, and I think that's more reason to hold onto and celebrate the humanity of the music, and the times when we come together to hear live music or go to the club. To be around your community or people from your city where the only thing you might have in common with is interest in this event.

The general narrative is that clubs are a threatened space. At the same time, there are so many people doing really good things, like Discwoman, GHE20G0TH1K...

Jacques Greene: Yeah, oh my god, it’s out of control. It’s a threatened space – like London lost 40 per cent of its spaces in the last few years. And I’m living in Toronto now – we just lost three venues that were pretty important to local scenes. We can’t take those things for granted, which I can do. A lot of the time, myself and a lot of people can be very self-centred, but it’s important that it’s community and to remember that these things are real, they’re people’s businesses, and that you choose where you spend your money or where you spend your time. And we’re losing those spaces where we can do that and exist together – it’s dangerous.

So this is your debut full-length album. Did you have to place yourself in a different phase to create a longer narrative?

Jacques Greene: I’ve tried to make a record before and it wasn’t totally gelling. It was basically an EP and a half, so I gave that up – that ended up becoming Phantom Vibrate. I was really happy with it as an EP. For a while, I was like, ‘Yeah, maybe I am just a dance guy that exists in EPs and singles,’ and there's nothing wrong with that – I like the format. I think you can tell these smaller narratives and create smaller worlds.

But a couple of years ago I took a bit of time off playing shows so I had some time. I wasn’t really confident I could ever make an album, but I was going to the studio a lot and it felt good, man. It all just flowed out. I was falling in love with someone so I had this renewed energy outside of this creative space. I felt confident. It’s about entering a space that was less about, ‘I need to reinvent myself’ than ‘Oh, what can I do that not many other people are doing?’ and stand my own ground and carve that lane.

Is this a proclamation of what the Jacques Greene moniker is?

Jacques Greene: Absolutely. I think it’s totally a weird manifesto or like the boxset collector’s edition at the end of the TV series. Moving forward, if the next album also completely sounds like this, I might have failed as an artist. I think now is time for growth or change in direction. Or maybe not – there might be levels to that – but I felt strongly about looking back at all these EPs I’d done and doing the record like… if I was a fan of Jacques Greene and he finally was doing a 45-minute album body of work, I wouldn’t really want him to switch everything up, but I also wouldn’t want him to just do a record with 11 different features. It was like trying to place myself in the shoes of what I would want to hear from myself. I think I got to a collection of tracks that is very in-line with my canon and shit like that, but everything sounds to me just that little extra degree of dialled in. I’m very happy with how confident the record sounds.

How have you seen yourself evolve?

Jacques Greene: I think I’m finally getting better at stripping away the layers. There are a couple of moments on this record that are dense, but I think I’ve gotten better at whittling away excess, extraneous melodies or ideas. I like older illustrators or painters who later in life ended up doing simple line stuff. Matisse starts as this very representative painter, big colours, and then at the end of his career it's like cut-outs and line drawings. I’m not a fucking master, but I see that when I compare stuff from four years ago to today, there’s just this slight efficiency, more like a sleek model of a clunkier thing I was doing before as I was figuring it out.

I know when to leave things a bit raw – I think having a little bit of that life in machine music, is very important. I have a hard time with any music that sounds like I’m just looking at the session in someone’s software. There needs to be mystery or magic where I don’t really know if that thing was on purpose or how that sound came to be, I like a bit of that chaos.

Looking back at Phantom Vibrate, it explored a nuanced relationship with technology. Now this record is exploring club culture, and today both topics intersect so much. Do you keep this in mind?

Jacques Greene: The internet is so actively required in my work process. On ‘You Can't Deny’, that sample comes from the internet, that was some random person singing into their phone and I found this Soundcloud account and I sampled from there.

She’s a porn actor right?

Jacques Greene: Yeah, the Google image search of her name is quite revealing. My friend was like, ‘Yo, her Twitter account is crazy.’ My discovery of music, for samples, DJing, and just for consuming music and culture, obviously all happen on the internet. And even, fuck, learning new studio and learning how to use new software or synthesisers. I’m a self-taught studio person, I didn’t fucking go to school for this shit, it was like, let’s just Google ‘how to parallel compress’.

So, I think outside of club culture, the internet becomes this beautiful, amorphous tool, so all-compassing and powerful...I think it's too big and too great to classify as good or evil. To be honest, I’m a bit of an optimist and I lean towards good, because I think it’s like the Gutenberg Press times a thousand-million; it’s breaking down the power structure of knowledge in a crazy way. So hopefully, 50 years from now or whatever, prestige universities won’t even matter, and it’s actually all about self-driven thrust for knowledge.

“I love the fact that with the internet, it’s really just about taste and self-direction and the sky’s the limit” – Jacques Greene

DJing used to be pretty classist and inaccessible for anyone who couldn’t afford records or equipment.

Jacques Greene: Absolutely! I hate being too strong-worded in this – I owe a lot to DJ culture and 12-inches; vinyl’s a great medium – but when you actually break it down, the idea that you have to probably live in a central city that has a record store or to be able to afford $16, $18 for songs, plus shipping… in order to put down a good DJ set, you need like $300. For just one set! So all of a sudden you end up with a community of these super-rich, privileged white kids in Supreme, DJing all-vinyl parties. Just because you can afford Central Saint Martins tuition and a $600 jumper, that doesn’t give you the right to call what’s real DJing. I love the fact that with the internet, it’s really just about taste and self-direction and the sky’s the limit. I have an ongoing crate on Bandcamp, and every week I spend about $20, and that’s a lot of music!

How has the artwork lent to the creative vision for Feel Infinite?

Jacques Greene: I came up with the creative behind it, how it should look and exist, but we hired a good friend of mine – Hassan Rahim – a designer from New York, which is probably why it’s so much more all-compassingly good than anything I’ve done before. In the past, I’ve had vaguely conceptual ideas of what my work was about and what I wanted it to look like, but when it’s all in your head and you've just put it out on Photoshop or whatever… to be able to sit down with a friend and tell him, ‘This is what this record means to me, this is the colours I see in my head: can you run with that?’ And he really fucking did.

So the image fragments are meant to feel a little cold, cut-up, mechanistic. It echoes the way I sample and cut up vocals in my work – vocals become shorthand for deeper human emotion that I am incapable of writing myself. We shot all the photography ourselves in Montreal last summer – it’s photos of myself, my friends and my girlfriend, some dancers, some iconic parts of Montreal shot in very abstract ways. The idea was not unlike this life-flashing-before-your-eyes thing when you die, and trying to capture all the sensory triggers, that mostly have positive connotations. Like... trying to get at a visual sign when you smell this perfume in a really random place and you just think of this one girl you had a crush on four years ago and you're like, ‘Oh shit!’ Your brain trying to process that information is like what we were trying to do with those chops and that repetition.

Jacques Greene brings his live show to Convergence at Electric Brixton on March 25