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A Sit Down With DJ Art Department

16:06 Mar/10/2018

Jonny White and Kenny Glasgow’s brainchild Art Department burst onto the scene in 2010 with their debut EP Vampire Nightclub/Without You, making huge waves in the industry with their emotive and melancholic sound. Their first LP The Drawing Board turned a new page in dance music history, further cementing the Canadian duo’s status as some of house music's fastest rising stars. The unique combination of White’s impeccable production skills and Glasgow’s Ian Curtis-resembling vocals made clubbers across the globe fall in love with that signature Art Department sound.


"In our culture a key responsibility of a DJ is to influence people’s willingness to expand their musical world and just try to show them something they can’t get anywhere else."


What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

My first set up was a pair of Numark belt drive tables and a radio shack mixer that I took off my friend’s hands because his parents wouldn’t allow the stuff in his house. I quickly replaced that garbage with two Technics and a Numark mixer when I realized his stuff was a joke. That was 20 years ago and it hasn’t changed a whole lot. On the road and at home my set up is two 1200’s, three CDJs and an Allen & Heath zone 92. I just use the CDJs the same way I use the tables so not much has changed in terms of my approach technically.

Where is the change most evident – in the studio or behind the decks?

I don’t think it’s a huge change in either one for us. I think we’re both still playing what we would have been playing, maybe with a few added songs we wouldn’t play when we’re DJing together, because we knew the other one didn’t like it, but what people don’t realize is that with duos, or at least with us, we weren’t playing from a shared music collection. We have our own collections and the sound we had came from mixing our two catalogues together. Had either of us been playing on our own, it likely would have sounded a lot like what we just sound like on our own right now. It was actually evident in our sets during our last six months together when we were drifting off in different directions a bit musically. The sets weren’t as fluid or seamless as they had been. Our minds were in different places. You have to remember as with any relationship, you kind of have to grow together and in the same direction in order for things to keep working. That’s a rare thing, I think and maybe even more so with this kind of dynamic, because you’re talking about what two separate people want to express through music. Two separate minds and souls who have different perspectives and different life experiences over time.

Having originated in Toronto, can you speak to how the Toronto scene has evolved from your early days as an artist/fan to now? How would you equate the underground scene of Toronto to other dance music meccas?

It’s funny, I was sitting in a hotel room in Montreal early this morning with my partner in No.19 – Nitin, and a few other old school heads from Toronto chatting about how things have changed from when we came up in the city 15-20 years ago. When I was coming up Toronto had an amazing scene that was as good if not better than any city I’ve ever been to. I know thats a bold statement but having travelled extensively for the past 6 years and having been able to experience some of the best parties in the world, I can honestly say that’s the truth.

Tell us a little bit about making the album, what are some of your personal favorite tracks from it and what are some of your fondest memories in the studio during the making?

We love the entire album... I don't know that we really like one or two best because they each represent a different idea and time in the writing process. I think my fondest memory of studio time spent while writing the Drawing Board was the five days we spent in the studio with Soul Clap at my place in Toronto... Five days, camped out around my living room off your head making music with Soul Clap.

How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?

I guess I just answered that. But ya, I dedicate my life to cherry picking music and finding a way to hopefully have people relate to the music I’ve found in some way. I think that in our culture a key responsibility of a DJ is to influence people’s willingness to expand their musical world and just try to show them something they can’t get anywhere else. And hopefully every DJ is giving people something a bit different and unique. Otherwise we only need one, and a recorder.

Why artists here who inspire you really wanted to see?

I made a good go of it last weekend and saw a ton of artists I really wanted to see. The highlight for me, was probably seeing Nas do illmatic, like the full album.

How do you think the style / direction of Art Department will change as a solo act?

A little bit less showmanship during shows… ok a lot. As for the music I honestly couldn’t answer that. I can only say it’s pretty much a full boycott of anything that I don’t consider to be house or techno in its truest form. I want nothing to do with anything that isn’t representative of that when it comes to this project and I think thats an important idea right now. I feel like preserving the roots of this music is so important now with younger generations coming up, having not had what we had culturally and musically when we grew up on this music. I’m just looking at this as an opportunity to use a great brand we’ve created to expose people to the music I’m most interested in.

After six years producing in a collaborative project, producing as a solo artist again must throw up some challenges. How much time do you spend in the studio—and how are you adapting to it?

To be honest, I can't say it really presents any challenges. I mean, if I was trying to write songs that sound like what we've been doing for the past five years, especially vocal stuff…then yeah, that would present a massive challenge because a lot of those ideas came from Kenny, and I can't fucking sing to save my life. But I'm not looking to replicate a sound that, quite frankly, cannot be duplicated without both of us. Right now, it just feels like freedom to make whatever I feel like making; I just haven't decided what I want the sound to be going forward and I'm not really trying to figure it out.

What, in your opinion, draws people to your music? It seems to cross musical tastes and age groups to find wide appeal. Few electronic music acts seem to enjoy that success without making pop music concessions so perhaps you can share some insights with us?

I think a lot of it is timing. I think that people are hungry for change and for the next sound and as a result also very open-minded.

Are you working on new Art Department material? Would you consider teaming up with other artists again?

Yeah, I am finally working on music for Art Department again. I hadn’t really written anything last year, because I was apprehensive about what to do stylistically, going forward without Kenny. Am I going to keep making the same style of music? What are existing fans going to want? Will they hate me if I change things? What is everyone going to say if i do this or that? All that’s gone now. I’m back to not giving a fuck and that’s part of that clarity I was talking about. That ego I was talking about can make you insecure and have you thinking in circles. I’m about to release a collaboration with AD/D that we just finished before the end of the year. I’m also just finishing up what will be the first official solo Art Department release, which should make it out this year as well, I hope. That record will likely be part of a new album I’m working on as well for release early 2017, and that secret-becoming not so secret new project with AD/D that will drop mid/late 2017. By the end of this interview I’ll have probably spilled the beans.

Looking back at all you achieved as a collaboration, you must be extremely proud. Do you see this as a fresh start for Art Department, or a just a continuation of the same project?

I'm very proud of what Kenny and I achieved with Art Department. We reached so many goals together with the music that, quite honestly, were far beyond what I ever hoped to achieve when I first got into this. It's impossible to really look at this as a fresh start now after all of these years. Musically speaking, I am sure it will change dramatically—but I think its just more of trip back to how we were both doing it before we got together than it is a fresh start.


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