Interview: Art Department
Art Department’s story has been one of phenomenal success since the act burst onto the scene five years ago.
With a shared musical history in Toronto, the duo of Jonny White & Kenny Glasgow took the world by storm in 2011 with a debut LP on Crosstown Rebels that put them at the centre of underground electronic music. In the intervening years, a seemingly endless worldwide touring schedule, label events, remixes, singles and a follow up album on Jonny White’s No.19 Music have meant that the pair were never out of the spotlight.
Now a new chapter begins in the narrative, with Jonny White taking the helm as Kenny Glasgow disembarks to pursue a solo career. To ring the changes Jonny delivers his first solo Art Department offering in the shape of this carefully curated 72 minute mix for fabric’s definitive compilation series. With the mix, White digs deep to give a glimpse of where he is heading as a DJ, drawing on records old, new and forthcoming to form a seamless and hypnotic audio tapestry. From the muted brilliance of Basic Channel through to classic 90s Matthew Herbert and a couple of sterling remixes from Fred P, there is a clear nod of the head to the sounds that have lent influence, but it all marries perfectly with contemporary recordings from the likes of Rick Wade, Frank & Tony and DJ Boom. All in all White has delivered a mix that puts aside all preconceptions and dives in with a selection that is deep, dubby and refreshing, a perfect snapshot of where he is at right now.
We caught up with Jonny White as he travels the world bringing the new Art Department sound to all the relevant festivals, nightclubs, and venues who have consistently craved the artist’s unique take on underground electronic music. In this in-depth conversation, White dishes on the duo’s split, the fabric mix, the evolution of the Toronto underground scene, and much more.
fabric 82 is available 22 June on Fabric Records
“I’m just really enjoying the opportunity to explore and do whatever the fuck I feel [like]…”
As Art Department, sometimes it seems like you have been around for much longer than 5 years. How did you personally react to the seemingly immediate rise to prominence within the industry? What did you find to be the most difficult aspect to handle?
Yeah I think that’s often the case where it looks as though an artist has become an overnight success but I’ve been at this for 18 years, even a few more as a promotor before I began DJing. I guess my reaction was really more excitement and maybe a kind of relief to have achieved some real success in terms of being able to make a good living off of music. I never really imagined reaching this level of success but it did feel quite natural and comfortable having been in the industry for so many years.
The most difficult part is the travel and trying to stay somewhat healthy. The travel and distance from friends and my girlfriend at the time was a lot to handle and it effectively ended the relationship that I was in when it all began. Maintaining relationships requires a ton of effort and more time than I have available at times. And then the other part is really just trying to maintain my health. We were..or are party animals but we’re not so young anymore, you know? The late nights, the lack of sleep, the constant flying really beats the shit out of you. It’s not just a matter of feeling like hell when you’ve done 3 shows in 24 hours or something crazy like that, it effects your mind, your mood and everything else throughout the week even when you’re off the road. Being an insomniac I have a hard time catching up and recovering so for me that has always been my only real struggle with the job. It’s all well worth it though, I’m very blessed to be here..
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.
Toronto was known throughout North America as one of the most supportive cities of the underground dance music culture at the time, right along side NYC and Chicago and most of the DJs from both cities considered Toronto home. You talk to the Green Velvets, DJ Sneaks, Derrick Carters, Roger Sanchez’, Tenaglias they will tell you. We had some really special clubs like RPM, Exit To Eden, The Buzz, Madbar, Warehouse, The Guvernment, a really great rave scene and what I still swear is one of the best clubs to have ever existed anywhere, Industry Nightclub. It wasn’t just the venue’s though, it was a combination of the fact that we always had unbelievably good local DJs which I believe was the foundation of the scene back then, and then the fact that it was a “scene”. It wasn’t just a big name on a flyer, and a room full of randoms drawn in by the name, these were clubs in the truest sense of the word. Everyone knew everyone and if you didn’t already, you would in no time. you would see the same people from Thursday to Sunday and it could be Matt C, Mario J (owners of Industry) or Kenny Glasgow on the bill and the energy and numbers were there. I don’t like to even compare Toronto to that now because it’s a losing battle. There are a few cool clubs, but there are really no local DJs to speak of. I’m sure there are some, I’m not on top of what’s going on there, but from what I see it’s really moved on to laptop DJs, hitting sync and I don’t feel like there’s anybody to root for. There are still a couple of crews doing great bookings like the Coda guys, Platform, and a new spot called Nest that just opened but the only really amazing thing going on in Toronto at the moment is a crazy party called Electric Island that Embrace along with the aforementioned crews are doing throughout summer. The space is beautiful, the production is top, the bookings are hot and it rivals anything going on in North America.
It is well known that Art Department as a duo is no more. In the immediate aftermath of the split, what has been the most prominent change in your approach as Art Department? This could be related to production, touring, etc…
I guess I’m kind of trying to ignore the feeling of this responsibility I have to carry on in the same direction that we were headed in and just do what I love. It’s not as though AD was ever a huge departure from what I love anyways but of course its going to change and evolve when one of two members is no longer contributing. I’m very lucky to be in this position where I’ve got this very well established brand to use as a platform to showcase music that I’m more interested in… deeper, dubbier, less structured, edgy stuff that I may not have been able to rise to this level of success with in the beginning. I’m just really enjoying the opportunity to explore and do whatever the fuck I feel and make a living doing it.
What were some of the reactions by your industry peers when told about the Art Department split?
I mean there were a ton of rumours floating about in the first week or two.. people thought that Kenny and I had a falling out or that there was some explosive incident that caused the split, but the truth is we had been in talks about this since Kenny started working on a solo album which was years ago already. Once people had a chance to run into either Kenny or I and find out that we’re still best friends and Kenny’s just working on solo stuff now, the whispers seemed to die down really quickly. We know everyone and everyone knows that we were both solo artists for 15-20 years before AD so I don’t think it’s a huge shock. I know neither one of us thought that we were going to do the duo thing forever although we’re still working together on other projects. So I guess nobody really cares at the end of the day since it doesn’t change a whole lot when it comes down to it…. we’re still here, tight as ever and we’re still doing the same thing, just separately.