Felix Cartal moves past bangers
In these days of school closures and cuts to cultural spending, the local electro producer Felix Cartal offers himself as a poster child in defence of education and arts funding. The artist born Taelor Deitcher spent the better part of his teenage years in the music studio at New Westminster Secondary School, learning recording and production techniques from a pair of teachers he continues to hold dear.
“One in particular, Mr. [Colin] Sharpe, was kind of a mentor to me,” says Cartal, reached at his Gastown apartment. “He helped build a studio for the band department, and all the teachers would let me kick around in there at lunch or after school. He passed away [in 2004], and that was a very sad time for everyone at NWSS.
“And there was another band teacher called Mr. [Kelly] Boechler,” he continues. “He taught a class called Music Composition where I learned Cubase and Reason and MIDI basics; to have that kind of opportunity in Grade 11 was pretty incredible. In some ways, it changed my life.”
That Cartal, now 23, would go on to apply those skills to making some of the club scene’s loudest and most abrasive music would have surprised not only his teachers, but the teenager himself. Before he discovered Daft Punk, the New West native sang and played bass in a couple of rock bands.
“The first one was called Dysfunctional, which I joined when I was 13,” he recalls. “That was punk only because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. We developed a little following in North Van doing the whole circuit there at Seylynn Hall and all those other venues that are now shut down, unfortunately.
“We evolved into another band called Orange Orange, which was more experimental and then got kind of wanky and pretentious. We were super influenced by the Mars Volta and [Pink] Floyd and stuff you start to get into when you get a bit older as a teenager. We never really smoked weed, but our parents definitely thought we did.”
After enrolling at UBC (where he majored in English), Cartal started producing his own dance tracks, influenced by the club nights and parties deejayed by local stalwarts Tyler Fedchuk, Paul Devro, and my!gay!husband!. Just as a couple of his earliest speaker-shredding tunes were gathering an Internet buzz, the beatmaker moved to Scotland for a semester at Glasgow University. In the U.K., Cartal signed with a prominent booking agent and started playing weekend shows across Britain and Europe. By the time he returned to his hometown four months later, he was already an underground star.
“When I moved to Glasgow, I sort of unintentionally set myself out as an international DJ,” he says. “I think that was really beneficial because I kind of skipped doing local shows and having to earn my rights in Vancouver. Nobody wants to see you play several times a month, which is what local artists often have to do. I’ve always tried to treat Vancouver like it’s any other city; it’s a place I play as often as I play in London or New York.”
When he was starting out, in fact, Cartal would tell people he was from France, which in 2007 was ground zero for hip dance-music labels like Ed Banger and Kistuné. That was all part of the growing pains in developing the Cartal alter ego, under which he would quickly become known as the maker of searing distortion-soaked tracks inspired by the likes of Vitalic’s “La Rock 01” and Alter Ego’s “Rocker”.
“If people want to think of me as the go-to banger guy, that’s cool,” says the producer, who plays the Red Bull Megahurtz event at W2 Storyeum this Saturday (November 13). “But I feel like the era of making the heaviest track ever has passed; it’s been done. If I go to a show and I hear someone play a whole set of bangers, it’s redundant.”
Earlier this year, Cartal released his first full-length, Popular Music, on Steve Aoki’s highly regarded Dim Mak Records. The LP suggests a kinder, gentler direction for the producer, showcasing his facility with the standard pop-song structure. (See especially “Why Wait”, featuring a saucy vocal from the Faint’s Todd Fink.) There’s also something of a classicist strain running through Popular Music, with “The Grinch” channelling steely first-generation Detroit techno, and the recent single “Love” being remixed by the Chicago house legend Green Velvet.
Cartal says he’s in the industry for the long haul, figuring he’s already come full circle from the days when he started messing around with a bass guitar and a microphone.
“Playing in a punk band at first was a lot of fun,” he says. “When I started making more experimental stuff, I feel like it was something I needed to get out of my system, that kind of music that only musicians are into. With Felix Cartal, I feel like I’ve gotten back to the main point of making music, which is writing a melody that people can sing along to. That’s going to be at the heart of whatever music I make from now on.”