Before establishing himself as one of Canada’s most respected purveyors of R&B–laced electronic music, the artist known as Jacques Greene had a thing for guitar-based powerhouses that trafficked in enraged angst and full-bore aggression.
“I was into Thursday and At the Drive-In and Alexisonfire and things like that,” says the Toronto-based producer born Philippe Aubin-Dionne, on the line from a Berlin tour stop. “I still love a lot of those records. The few that have aged well are great, energetic youth records that make a lot of sense. I was really into it and was playing in a posthardcore band, then a teacher in my high school put me onto Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin. What happened is that I started to think about the idea of trying to line up practices with four other people versus just making the music that I wanted to make at home by myself. It meant not having to fight with my bandmates going, ‘No, I don’t want a tom fill there.’ ”
A stint in the Montreal offices of the legendary Ninja Tune label would further steer the producer toward a career that has yielded a string of highly touted singles and EPs as well as the years-in-the-making debut album, Feel Infinite. The Quebecer helped mail out promo copies of records, and the label paid him in vinyl, thus shaping the aesthetic that’s built Greene a devoted following over the past seven years.
You can hear the influence of Ninja Tune’s all-time greats—Amon Tobin, the Herbaliser, and Funki Porcini—in the 27-year-old’s work, but more in spirit than in any sort of throwback homage. The slow-building “To Say” mixes diamond-shimmer synths with old-school swamp-squelch percussion, while the posthouse thumper “I Won’t Judge” marries from-the-catacombs beats with Far East vocal loops. Greene plays things baroquely regal on the quick interlude “Cycles” and sounds like a man imagining the future of Motown with the futuristic R&B of “You See All My Light”.
Ultimately, the producer is more determined to move ahead than to re-create the past.
“I’m more interested in being part of a continual lineage,” he offers. “A lot of my drum-programming or drum-sound choices will harken more to late-2000 Timbaland. I try to be current, not in a way where I’m on today’s hot trends, but more with the samples that I choose and the way that I DJ or even with mixing style. So I’m not really interested in going for something that’s been done before—day to day, I always feel of my time.”
So at a time when the biggest acts in EDM are still obsessed with sky-bursting synths and ground-shaking bass drops, Feel Infinite takes a decidedly more cerebral path. This is club music for when the glitter cannons have been shut off and the dancing bananas have left the stage.
“I’m not someone who has ever felt ‘Oh, man, I was meant for another era—if only I’d been around for peak rave culture,’ ” Greene says with a laugh. “I admire that time and have books on the subject, but it did just fine without me. I think that showing nostalgia for times and eras that were not yours is something that I don’t fully understand. For the most part, I tend to look forward and live in the moment. I feel kind of bad for people who want to sound like something from 35 years ago.
“A lot of my friends are cognizant and aware of lineage and history, but will also try and do things in a new way. That’s where things get really exciting.”
Jacques Greene plays Fortune Sound Club on Sunday (April 9).