Eighteen months ago, prodigious Canadian producer Jeff Hartford didn’t exist—at least according to a Google search.
Probably the last person on Earth to join social media, Hartford bucked the trend that up-and-coming musicians must use the Internet to build a comprehensive fan base before shopping for a label. Creating an unprecedented buzz without anyone outside his inner circle knowing his identity, Hartford managed to launch his first EP under his stage name, ATTLAS, to much popular acclaim.
“The music came out before I’d even made a personal Facebook profile,” the producer tells the Straight on the line from his studio in Toronto. “The Internet was never a huge part of my life. It wasn’t meant to be a huge statement on technology or privacy—it was more that most of my hobbies were off-line pursuits.
“When I sent my music to deadmau5’s label and he [Joel Zimmerman] chose to release it, people started assuming that my music was actually his side project, because it was really inconceivable that anybody could be putting music out there on a label like mau5trap without any online presence.”
While the rising producer was flattered that his work was being compared to that of one of the most famous performers in the industry, Hartford quickly realized that he had to cultivate his own musical persona.
“That response was such a big compliment to me,” he says, “because Joel has always been a huge inspiration. But while it was fun for a bit, I suddenly thought about how I had to start being Jeff, so that I wasn’t being disrespectful to the brand that deadmau5 has built over the years.
“I didn’t want anyone to think that they were being sold something that wasn’t genuine, or for Joel to think I was just leeching off his creative, professional, and social-media efforts over the last decade, which have given him a unique throne in the industry.
“So I’ve been coming to a point over the last year or so where I’ve realized that it’s time to find my own voice on social media and in my production.”
Realizing his latest EP, Bloom, in July of this year, Hartford traded the techno-influenced tracks of his first three records for five piano-based soundscapes.
Rooted in complex chord progressions and powerful vocals, the producer’s new offering taps into his background as a composer of film scores, drawing on techniques he acquired when interning under industry luminaries like Trevor Morris. With his unique twist on the EDM genre, Hartford has mastered how to combine his classical training with electronic sounds.
“Bloom was definitely crafted to have that softer vibe,” the producer says. “I was on the road for a long time, performing in a lot of big club landscapes.
“Those venues want the big, heavy tracks over and over—which is really exciting, but when you’re on tour you don’t necessarily have the ability to have lots of instruments around you. When I went home, I went right back to the acoustic guitar and the piano—two tools that I use for writing which I didn’t have on the bus.
“It’s up to me to create music that people stay interested in,” he continues, “and I want to keep pushing the boundaries with my sound, and changing the way people interact with my music. Last week, for example, we shared the MIDI files for my track ‘Blood Work’. You can load that into your synth, and modulate it up and down a few keys, slow it down, and speed it up.
“In terms of the live experience, I’d like to draw on elements from art galleries. There are installations there that allow you to experience the music in completely different ways, depending on where you sit in the room.
“Dolby has just released the Atmos system, which is a new kind of surround sound where the music doesn’t just come from in front and behind you, but also from on top and below. There are a lot of ideas out there to explore.”
ATTLAS plays Fortune Sound Club on Saturday (December 3).