Interview: Canadian DJ and producer Jacques Greene

Ahead of his Shanghai gig, Greene talks his new EP, musical philosophy and the hunt for the perfect xiaolongbao

Photograph: @jaquesgreene via Instagram
Some say that Montreal-based producer and DJ Jacques Greene has brought the genre of dance music to new heights. Greene began his ascent in 2010 as an elusive 'bedroom DJ' known for his vocal sampling and affinity for contemporary R&B. After a streak of successful singles and venturesome remixes (with the likes of Radiohead and Autre Ne Veut), Jacques dropped his full-length debut, Feel Infinite. Having remained quiet following its release in 2017, he is back with a reimagining of the shimmery, cerebral house music that launched his career. In anticipation of his one-night showcase in Shanghai, Greene speaks about the genesis of his new EP Fever Focus and his trajectory as an artist.

Your debut record, Feel Infinite, is a concept album about egalitarianism within club culture, but it is also a tribute to Montreal’s incomparable art and music scene. What themes are driving Fever Focus, your newest EP? How’s does Montreal’s unique creative landscape continue to define your relationship with music and help personalise your sound?

The EP is deliberately less conceptual than the album before, I wanted a palate cleanser, kind of opening a next chapter for myself, as well as for people that follow my work. The bulk of it was written while I was on the road touring Feel Infinite and it felt so fun and invigorating to just try out a bunch of new ideas. These particular six work together for me because I think they give a very good overview of the different moods and energies I usually try to tap into in a DJ set or that I search for when I go out on a dance floor. I essentially made myself tracks that I would love to play out or hear out.

Montreal remains a driving force and inspiration behind everything I do. Part of it is a certain feeling of being a misfit or slightly left-field. From our rock bands to rap producers, to even the French-Canadian filmmakers working in Hollywood, like Denis Villeneuve, I think we end up in this place where no matter how much we might work within greater systems or scenes, our output always remains somewhat peculiar and (hopefully) rarely gets lost in the sauce.

Video: via QQ Video (Jacques Greene, 'To Say')

You set the bar pretty high for yourself with Feel Infinite. Do you think seniority or acclaim puts pressure on artists to diversify their material? How important is experimentation to you as a seasoned musician?

I try to maintain a balancing act where I don’t want to repeat myself, however, I don’t want to lose my identity or musical DNA. Ideally, I want someone familiar with my work to hit play on a brand new track of mine and simultaneously feel surprised at a particular sound or rhythm being used all the while being like 'oh yeah, that’s Jacques Greene I know and love'. A bit like a new Coen Brothers movie or going back to a restaurant you love that recently changed their menu. Bring me something new, but don’t lose your soul while doing it.

As far as pressure, it’s very easy to internalise what the press or people on social media might say about you but it’s important to look inward and have the biggest challenges in your life be the ones you set yourself.

What track on Fever Focus were you most excited to release to fans?

I’m so happy about this whole record; I was looking forward to every Thursday when I would upload a new track from it. I guess I’d say 'Convex Mirror' was the one I was most excited to see the reaction to online. I had been playing that one for a while in live and DJ sets and it always got an insane reaction, most of the time without a single person aware it was one of my own. That’s always when you know you have something. I think it’s also the track on there that feels the most like a departure from things I’ve done in the past, which always feels pretty exciting.

You’ve successfully remixed the likes of Radiohead, Ciara, Shlohmo and Autre Ne Veut. How do you qualify a song for remixing?

If it isn’t clear by now, I really, really love working with the human voice. It acts as a perfect foil to machine-driven music and always brings extra depth to an arrangement. So if a song has a particularly good or interesting vocal part (Radiohead and Autre Ne Veut being clear examples of this), I get incredibly excited to comb through diligently and find moments that perk my ears. As far as something like the Shlohmo remix, he and I are good friends and I love his work, so I’ll jump at any opportunity to work with friends of mine.

The artists and musicians you’ve collaborated with run the gamut, from R&B dignitaries like Tinashe to How To Dress Well and visual artist and designer Hassan Rahim. You’ve mentioned that who you collaborate with is based in large part on people you know personally. Is there someone you don’t know in a personal capacity who you’d love to work with? If so, who?

There are so many musicians and artists of every medium I have so much respect for and would love to work with. It can be quite stressful to 'put yourself out there' and reach out to people. I have to say, one day I would love to score a film in some capacity and obviously the best version of that would be to have the chance to work with someone from home. So possibly Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée or Xavier Dolan.

How familiar are you with the techno and house scenes here in China? What are you most excited about doing in China (besides the shows of course).

I’m not exhaustively connected to it but I have played shows through China a few times and have always been super happy with the scenes, the way kids who come out dress, what the opening DJs play and so on. Last time I came to China I played a very cool club in Shenzhen called Oil that made me wish we had something as cool in Toronto. Also, my first time in Shanghai a few years ago at Arkham was an absolute delight.

And much like so many places where I am lucky enough to travel to, my favourite thing is to take a bit of time to take in some local food. My quest for the ultimate xiaolongbao continues!

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