Jacques Greene On The Highs And Lows Of Being A Hometown Hero

Montréal's very own

Photo by Mathieu Fortin

Since 1998, Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) has been bringing music, art, and culture together into intimate spaces and producing extraordinary experiences. This year, Red Bull brought the global event to Montréal for the first time ever. Hosted at the prestigious Phi Centre, the entire facility was reconfigured from scratch by designer Zébulon Perron. Within the four floors, 70 attendees from around the world participated in exclusive workshops, lectures, studio sessions, and performances demonstrating the versatility of the modern musical landscape.

Given that Jacques Greene grew up in Montréal, it seemed fitting that the French-Canadian producer was invited to be involved in RBMA as a lecturer and headlining performer. Greene was raised in Outremont, the same area where musical collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor was established. During Greene's lecture with RBMA's Lauren Martin, he opened up about how he navigates the field of electronic music, the inner workings of his creative process, and how he uses the internet as a major resource for all aspects of his life. Greene also elaborated on being a "YouTube crate digger" and why he is an "internet liberal." 

 

"I can be a little cynical at times, but at the end of the day, I get pretty utopian and hopeful about how democratic information is in the internet age," he explained. "More than ever, there's a possibility to find what truly defines you and what you're actually about, and because there's this infinite possibility of combinations of things that kind of trigger creativity or wonder or curiosity in you, it would seem kind of weird if you were exactly like someone else."

For his live headline AV performance at Bain Mathieu, Greene filled up the entirety of an empty swimming pool with an arrangement of silk screens hung from two sections of the ceiling onto which images were projected in sync with the beats and lights. Greene wanted to provide a sense of warmth in his set and maintain a level of intimacy behind all the synths. (After all, this is the guy who wants to bring back sensuality and romance to R&B.) The whole visual setup was a collaborative effort with artists Melissa MatosJason Voltaire, Adam Hummell, and Shadi Asadi.

We caught up with the newly Toronto-based producer after his lecture; dive into our discussion, below.

How does it feel to be a part of this big program in your hometown?
It's pretty cool. It's very much against the nature of Montréal. I feel like we're so low-key here, like even to the point [where] when a big band like Arcade Fire comes back, they usually just do a secret show in a church. Everything is downplayed. I've been the same way where I had a hit single, and instead of licensing it to Ministry of Sound and getting a million remixes, I was like, "No, I'm now ashamed that I have a big song." I think that's part of the nature here—this low-key vibe. This is such an extravagant moment, but it's awesome. It's really cool because all of us here are modest to a fault. Things remain kind of small scale, so having something that is forcing all of these Montréal people to make some noise... It's really bringing a lot of people together from the city, and everyone is stoked.
 
In the lecture, you talked about how you collaborate with a variety of artists from Montréal. Why is that important to you?
I'm super stoked on having influences and ideas from everywhere in the world, [but] there is still this element of "What are you about? Where are you from? What are you doing?" Being able to work with Montréal creatives is super sick because inherently I can trust them a little more. I can delegate them to handle a little bit of the visual stu,ff and I know that it's going to come from a similar place. There's this inherent trust there because we're going to have some of the same reference points and comfort zones.
 
And then also, it's almost like that rapper shit, like when you see YG play a show and he's got 25 of his friends on stage. Not the "I'm the one to make it out the hood" or anything like that, but I'm making this music, I started from this city. The idea of using that as a platform to broadcast creatives from my city, that feels right. It feels cool to put on people that I have known for 10 years.

What is the biggest highlight of RBMA for you?
For me, it's like the greater idea of it happening in the city. I was taking the subway the other day to go to my dad's house, and just seeing all the walls plastered with ground-breaking, amazing events is so crazy. I would never have thought in a million years I would ever see an ad for an RP Boo show in that subway station... The city is just like stoked. I will say, Kelsey Lu who opened for Sampha was a huge highlight. People were talking a little too much over it, which was annoying, but it was fucking sick. 
 
Everyone is always asking me, "What is Jacques Greene doing? Where is this album?" 
I know. It took so fucking long, and then it's been finished for so long, and I have just been sitting on this thing. Getting to share stuff finally and people mostly reacting to it well is really reassuring and soothing. It's one thing to write four songs, but then you get severe anxiety and sit on it, and then it's out five months later... It's like doing the photo shoot with no makeup and no retouching. I am really putting myself out there. 
 
There are personal reasons and professional reasons why it was just this holding pattern. I had to fire management, move countries, broke up with a girlfriend, and started another relationship. Life is crazy, but now everything is so solid that it's perfect to just move forward and drop it. I hope people fuck with it; it seems like they do. I feel like I've got the good graces of the internet.

You said you're not in this for the money, so what are you trying to accomplish as an artist?
Create relatable stuff. The imperative of creating in general is a weird responsibility. Obviously, I don't have to do it. I'm sure some people out there wish I didn't. I think I have always been a little slower with releasing stuff because there is so much fucking noise out there, and the sewage pipes are just open all day pumping out content. I've done it long enough, and I think enough people relate to it, that clearly I make something that means something. I think I just strive to keep that connection going, this kind of conversation. It's not so much a conversation because I don't really want your input, it's more me talking at you. I guess I strive to make something that means something to you.
 
It's really cool the amount of times I have had kids come up to me in the club and be like, "The reason why I got into dance music was hearing your stuff." There is nothing else like that. To be able to change something about someone's life in a positive way without meeting them is crazy. That's some magic. The idea that you can make something that is frozen in time and was a moment in your apartment, but it becomes this thing that's repeated as someone is going on a subway. I think it comes from being such a nerd and such a fan of music. Like I have my artist that I love and I listen to all the time; I've been on a flight or on a subway, and I get to one song and it just stays on repeat for like 55 minutes. If I could be responsible for one moment like that in someone else, I feel like I am giving back what I got out of music.