Art Department's Jonny White Talks Debut Albums and World Domination
A monstrous bass-driven banger oozing with raw sex and haunting Quaalude-hazed vocals, it dominated international dancefloors and DJ charts all year, eventually making it to the very top of Resident Advisor's prestigious Top 50 Tracks of 2010 Poll. Breakout hit is a severe understatement.
The duo are now slated to release the first full-length LP on Crosstown Rebels, while Jonny White has kept busy on the side, expanding his No.19 label with contributions by the likes of Jamie Jones, Osunlade and No Regular Play.
We caught up with White in advance of Art Department's New Years' Eve performance with Wolf + Lamb at the Electric Pickle, the same venue that broke the duo to Miami audiences last WMC.
New Times: So you guys pretty much catapulted to the top of the international ranks this year, and seemingly out of nowhere! How did Art Department first come about?
Jonny White: The collaboration came about in early 2009 when Damian [Lazarus] asked Kenny and I to remix Riz MC's "Don't Sleep" for Crosstown Rebels. We had worked very closely on our own solo material and we were actually roommates at the time but had not actually collaborated on a record 'til then.
With so much music spreading digitally these days, it's rare to see new tunes blowing up live. That seems to have been a major driving force behind the success of "Without You" this year, considering it got lots of play at WMC and DEMF before it had even been released. Did you know how special the track would be?
Yeah, I kind of had a feeling about this one towards nearing completion. I knew it had potential to crossover a bit more into other realms, i.e. hipster markets due to the off-kilter vocal, tempo, etc. I mean, we obviously couldn't have expected the massive success the record has achieved, you can never really know when a record is going to catch in such a huge way. It's also not something we think or care about when we're writing a record. I can only imagine that being a horrible thing to be concerned about throughout the creative process.
Clearly your first EP has a major strain of '80s electro-funk running through it. What other sounds or artists are immediate influences for Art Department?
That's really hard to pinpoint. We're both obviously music lovers and come from different musical backgrounds, but we more or less love all genres, and have been influenced by everything from house to rock to '80s and hip-hop. A lot of classic house from artists like Robert Owens, Arnold Jarvis and Freaks have been a big influence, right up to people we currently work with like Jamie Jones and Osunlade.
What can you tell us about the EDM scene in Toronto? Any other budding stars we should keep an ear out for?
Yes, absolutely. I think more than anything there is a massive influx of talent coming out of Toronto right now. The scene for what I consider to be "proper" electronic dance music may be small, but in proportion to that, the quality and quantity of good music being made there is huge! In particular Azari & lll, James Teej, Caribou, Teeloo, Nitin (my partner in my No.19 label), My Favorite Robot, The Kings Arms, etc. Toronto's coming with it!
No.19 has reached a much bigger audience this year. What do you have in store for the label in 2011?
2011 is going to be a massive year and I'm really excited about it. I had obviously been very busy with Art Department this year so we've been looking forward to 2011 and building an amazing release schedule for the last several months. Our No Regular Play Serious Heat EP with Art Department and Shaun Reeves remixes just came out on vinyl finally! Next up we have an extremely exciting artist out of LA that has been making massive waves over the last 2 years releasing an EP under the alias Modern Amusement, followed by ours and Soul Clap's first ever mix compilation Social Experiment which everyone is really excited about! This is a really special project for them and for the label, it includes loads of exclusive material from Soul Clap, Art Department, Lee Foss, Gadi Mizrahi, James Teej and a ton more. That's just a hint of what we have on the way for '11.
Art Department also has a full-length artist album pending release on Crosstown Rebels. How did you find the time to work on it this year with your already hectic schedule, and what was the creative process in the studio?
Well, we actually spent the majority of 2010 in the studio and that became our hectic schedule. Looking back I'm not quite sure how we found time to do the events, run the label, and have a life! But we have so many really helpful and supportive people around us that made it possible to stay on top of everything. The creative process for Art Department material is not an exact science, it's very organic, but efficient. Kenny writes a lot of the initial ideas, i.e. a bassline and synth line. I'll then take the idea and write the drums and arrangement and more or less turn it into a finished song. Of course, these rolls are completely reversed at times but the process just seems to flow so naturally, which is what has made everything so enjoyable and also possible to create so much music in the span of one year. Kenny does of course write and sing all of the vocals -- you do not want to hear me sing.
In terms of traveling and playing out, what were some of the some of the highlights and peak experiences of 2010 for you?
There have been so many! As far as actual gigs go, my personal favorites were DC10 for Pandamonium and Circoloco, Mint Club in Leeds for the Louche crew, Fabric just 2 weeks ago in London. And most recently, our show at Panorama Bar this past Sunday, and of course we can't forget where it all started for us -- the Crosstown Rebels Get Lost event at WMC this year at The Electric Pickle! We've been very lucky in the way that almost every show we've played as Art Department this year has been really amazing along with the people we've been lucky enough to meet. But these shows were the ones that make you just say "WOW".
Art Department with Wolf + Lamb and residents. 10 p.m. December 31, Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Presale tickets are available for $20 from wantickets.com. Age 21 and up; 305-456-5613; electricpicklemiami.com
Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.