“Quite frankly, it weirds me out that you have 150,000 fans on Facebook,” I accidentally blurt out about halfway through my chat with local EDM producer Vanic. “And 200,000 on SoundCloud. Where does that come from?” he replies, seemingly as perplexed as I am.
Not that everything in life should be a social-media dick-measuring contest, but it’s impossible to ignore that the 26-year-old New Westminster native’s network on Facebook is over 200 times bigger than mine. It practically dwarfs every local act not named Nickelback, Mac DeMarco, Marianas Trench, or the New Pornographers. Yet this young upstart, who also goes by Jesse Hughes, is far from a household name around these parts.
“I was never in a band. I never did anything like that. I’m not really the kind of guy who wants to go hang out in the studio and make local connections. I’m kind of just like a hermit that made music and the music kind of works,” he says.
“Kind of works” is a modest understatement. Some of Vanic’s melodic trap remixes have accrued over 20 million plays combined across SoundCloud and YouTube. But all the intimidation inspired by these impressive metrics quickly dissolves when we meet at the JJ Bean in Yaletown. He’s soft-spoken, but friendly and enthusiastic. Earlier in the day he was out shooting some new photos and he’s eager to show me his latest Instagram post, which is a rather dangerous-looking video of him walking along the steel beams on the underside of the Second Narrows Bridge.
Maybe it’s still the adrenaline talking, but who could blame him for being excited after experiencing such a rapid rise? A little over six months ago he was working graveyards as a forklift driver while studying business at SFU. Today, he’s pursuing music full-time, something that’s been in his blood from an early age, though it wasn’t always of the un-tss-un-tss variety.
“I played piano since I was three. I used to play in piano competitions and I took it pretty seriously,” he says, while enjoying a chorizo breakfast wrap. “The Royal Conservatory standard way you learn music—I wasn’t a big fan, so I stopped and I kinda learned some jazz and some ragtime and some stuff like that. It was only way later, maybe three or four years ago, that I started trying to produce music.
“The first remix I did was Taylor Swift’s ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’. Some YouTube channel uploaded it and six months later it had a million views. I thought that was cool. Looking at it now, it’s not really that much.”
Although he’s not working in his home studio in New West with the likes of Tay in an “official remix” capacity, artists like Swift make the stems of their songs available. With lesser-known acts, which Vanic and his manager sometimes discover on sites like the Hype Machine, the producer is able to work on a more collaborative level.
“I guess ‘Circles’ [by Machineheart] and ‘Skinny Love’ [by Birdy] were two tracks that really broke me out. ‘Circles’ is good. It was so popular it got adopted by the band as an original track,” Vanic explains. “So they relooked at the song and how they wanted to play it and took my version and made it their own. That track just blew up on Spotify. It was a viral top-10.”
Once a track is completed, having some marketing smarts comes into play. Earlier in Vanic’s career, after a song was released he’d offer it up for free, provided you follow him on social media. It’s known as gating, and it presents a very agreeable value proposition to music fans in 2015: give me a like and I will give you music to download. It’s how he built up an initial chunk of fans, but he’s since moved away from it.
“Now that everyone is doing gating, if you’re not doing the gating it’s nice,” he says. “They don’t have to like you here or follow on Instagram or follow you on Twitter and like your picture and tweet about you and all of this stuff.”
Despite the huge online following, Vanic hasn’t played in front of many large audiences yet—especially not in this city. That’s about to change when he takes the stage at the Contact Winter Music Festival. The annual two-day rager at B.C. Place features stadium-level EDM acts, including Above & Beyond, Hardwell, Steve Angello, and DJ Snake, and it’ll be the biggest show of his fledgling career.
“Online, you never know if that’s a real world or it’s all fake numbers,” he posits.
Well, looking ahead to 2016, Vanic has plans for a cross-Canada tour with Adventure Club, which includes two nights at the Commodore Ballroom in February, an EP with a major label, and gigs at massive festivals in the States. So, no, those numbers certainly aren’t fake and it is a very real world indeed.
Vanic performs at the Contact Winter Music Festival at B.C. Place on Sunday (December 27).