Though Ryan Hemsworth is enjoying a rare day off in his adopted home of Toronto when the Straight calls him up, the busy laptop musician admits to having felt less than relaxed at his local coffee haunt just minutes ahead of the chat.
The reason? Getting razzed by his fan base for posting a picture of a young woman in a polka-dot dress, perched on a stool and getting lost in her iPhone. Since the DJ’s got over 19,000 followers on Instagram, no doubt some from his own neighbourhood, it took just minutes for someone to recognize their friend.
“Maybe I document too much,” Hemsworth says contemplatively on the line from home. He’s alluding to a social-media addiction that’s also served up stone-faced selfies with vintage Furbys, a plethora of pooch portraits, and a video of himself chomping on Chicken McNuggets during a set. “I think someone tagged that girl that I put the picture up of. I had to run away from the coffee shop.”
Like the onslaught of everyday photos he uploads for his faithful, the Halifax-raised artist’s musical output is prolific. Though released just last fall, his gauzy full-length debut, Guilt Trips, is already passé to the producer, who has since issued a series of online singles and DJ mixes and delivered beats for rap crews like the Underachievers. Most recently, he teamed up with Australian-by-way-of-Sudan newcomer UV Boi for “Gods”, a single that has the pair cracking the skies with a thunderous beat and the sound of Apple’s default tri-tone text-message alert. “It’s a little jarring to hear on a system when you’re playing a show,” Hemsworth says of the latter, a Pavlovian trigger that will have listeners nervously reaching for their phones.
With a back catalogue that’s offered up ambient synth soundscapes, as well as glued the giddy Donkey Kong Country video-game theme onto Drake’s “I’m on One”, the DJ’s kitchen-sink live sets can likewise confuse crowds.
“I weave between my own songs, my friends’ songs, and whatever tracks I’m finding that sound amazing,” the artist reports, referring to his role behind a laptop as a curatorial one. This means that at any given moment, Hemsworth could shuffle Guilt Trips’ post–Postal Service MIDI ballad “Still Cold” or the sandalwood-candle-lighting sensuality of the R&B–flavoured “One for Me” straight into the atom-bomb boom of Atlanta rapper Young Thug’s lean-sipping “Treasure”.
“Some people think I’m not sure of what I’m doing, but it’s decisive, jumping from rap songs to my own production that can be slower and more melodic,” he says. “I think that’s more interesting than having a straight-up, 60-minute house set.”
While the last couple of years have seen Hemsworth grow accustomed to playing for large crowds, being on-stage by himself still plays into his introverted nature. You know, being the kind of guy that maybe doesn’t want to get into an awkward convo in a coffee shop, no matter how good-natured.
“I’m definitely still pretty shy and awkward in most parts of my life,” Hemsworth bashfully admits. “When you’re playing you’re the centre of attention, but also you don’t have to talk to anyone. You don’t necessarily have to interact with people, except through the music. That’s my ideal position to be in at a party.”
Ryan Hemsworth plays the Squamish Valley Music Festival’s Blueprint Arena Stage next Saturday (August 9).