Brooklyn-based electronic producer James Hinton is quickly becoming as closely associated with YouTube as Rebecca Black or Tay Zonday, thanks to his second album as the Range — the exquisite Potential, out March 25 via Domino. It’s not viral success that the website is providing Hinton, though, but rather a limitless arsenal of unknown voices and recordings to sample, many of which he stitched into the fabric of Potential. It’s a sort of 21st-century extension of Moby breathing new life into field recordings on his 1999 blockbuster, Play, or even of crate-digging DJs like DJ Shadow and J Dilla crafting entire albums out of obscure vinyl finds. “Because of the way it’s indexed, it’s so easy now,” Hinton raves over the phone. “I’m still a fan of the idea of [record browsing], but you get to this point — just a point of timeliness — where you don’t have a choice but to use YouTube, right?”
As a fan of the streaming service for reasons far beyond its professional utility, Hinton selected seven of his all-time favorite videos currently available on YouTube — some with millions of views, others with just a couple thousand — to discuss. And while he stops short of being a straight-up shill for the company, the producer is still happy to be cast as “The YouTube guy.”
“I’m happy to always be on point and clarify that YouTube is good,” he explains. “[It’s] where everyone’s going that is interested in music — posting on their YouTube channel. That’s one consistent thing, and that’s what makes it unique, and that’s what makes it kind of exciting.” (He does give himself an out, though: “Talk to me when the next record comes around.”)
1. “Stephen Curry ALL 98 Three-Pointers in 2015 Playoffs, Unreal NBA RECORD!”
I’m a fan of the three-pointer becoming the thing — it’s changing basketball, basically. Obviously, Steph is the number-one reason. I remember I was always the kid that tried to shoot whenever I had the ball, which [made it] not fun to play with me. Therefore I love Steph, because that’s exactly what he does. It’s been amazing to watch.
I think it’s interesting, from a statistical standpoint, because once people realize you get one-and-a-half [times] more points [from hitting the three than the two], it’s a huge statistical advantage if you can knock it down.
Have you seen some of the criticism? People being like, “He’s ruining the game,” or “He’s teaching kids that they should just be pulling up from wherever on the court and not learning basic fundamentals,” or whatever?
I think now it’s almost funny. That was drilled into our heads almost from day one, anyone that’s played any sort of structured basketball. You pass it around the perimeter, blah blah blah. But looking back now at the way it used to be, where Shaq would just back himself up into the post, and dunk on someone… That looks just as insane to me now, even though that was the fundamentals, as does this.
I do think, having watched the pickup games, I’m starting to see kids are absolutely going mental from three. These little kids are just two-handing it from [way out], so he’s having an impact. But it’s fun.
How far did you make it in your own basketball playing career?
I played through high school, and then stopped when I got to college. I played on the “B team,” so I wasn’t very good: My school [Newtown in Queens, New York] had Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva, they played on the same team. That was cool to see, when I was a freshman — they just dunked on everyone.
2. “Complex Closets: DJ Khaled Shows His Sneaker Closet”
I guess because Khlaed is becoming such a meme now, that’s still the video I go to where I’m like, “That’s him at his purest form, doing what he loves.” I do like sneakers, clearly not as much as he does, but I like the way he patterns a lot of his phrases. That’s one of the early videos where he’s starting to be able to point his finger and say something crazy and not have someone laugh at him, so I think it’s cool.
It’s an insane video in every way. I have so many questions. Does he seriously have enough time to redesign the room, completely around sneakers? Which he clearly does — that’s nuts.
I didn’t realize that this is the video where “Congratulations, you played yourself” came from. That became iconic in pretty short order.
Yeah, that’s a serious, serious gift. I don’t know, I still kind of ride with him because he seems like a genuine person. He’s definitely crazy, but that video showcases it really well to me: He’s very real in how insane he actually is, which is cool.
I want to see the sequel video where he launches into the findings of his street investigation into the five missing sneakers into that room.
Ooooh, yeah. Because, also, you know that there’s no “street investigation.” Come on, Khaled!
3. “CJ Bolland sampling with the Emulator III (1991)” & 4. “Squarepusher- In The Studio (Interview Part 1 Of 2)”
I was doing this mix for Solid Steel, and I was just kind of going back. I was dabbling in early stuff that I definitely missed growing up, and I guess through PC Music, I started to get back into the idea that maybe [’90s] rave music, in how it was presented, wasn’t that interesting, but there certainly are pockets that I find really exciting. [Bolland] was the guy that I had never heard anything from before. I had no idea who he was. But just digging for that mix, I found, “Wow, he’s like a serious, serious dude.”
He was spending so much time on that one sound, to try to get it to make sense: I found it inspiring. [The Squarepusher video is] sort of similar. The technology was so limited, and you can clearly see that in the CJ Bolland video, but they didn’t let that stop them. They still made some incredible music — it just took longer, and they had to develop some tricks to make it happen. So I thought that video was cool because it illustrated part of that.
It seemed like the message of the Squarepusher video was that the ideas in electronic music production stay the same, it’s just the technology that improves.
Yeah. And the thing I love about it is that you can totally hear both parts within the music. You can hear the level of technology, but also the degree of inventiveness of the person, and it lives as this document. That’s why I like those “in the studio” videos.
They still qualify as geniuses of our time of music, all [these producers]. But they’re qualified by the limitations of the technology. That becomes interesting, in electronic music — that you’re forced to take advantage of the history, much more than if you are in a band. That format has been known for a while, so you can kind of judge people apples-to-apples, whereas this, you have to take [the context of history] into account.
How much did you choosing the CJ Bolland video have to do with his ’90s ponytail?
It’s pretty funny, because he totally nixed the ponytail after! He’s just a cool guy — a cool guy with a ponytail. There was no one around that had one that cool.
5. “How YouTube Works – Computerphile”
I found this one interesting, I guess, because it combines two interests. I really do enjoy that [Computerphile] channel, but this was a special one. Especially with how much of the project had to do with YouTube. [I was] kind of doing some research before I started doing press for the album — making sure I knew what the compression rates were, and everything.
It obviously goes pretty deep, and it’s a little long and a little wonky, because it’s essentially talking to the engineers, but I do enjoy that it kind of shines a light on how much technology goes into YouTube. Again, because so many people just assume a lot about it: that you can click video and you’re going to get playback, and it’s fine, and you don’t have to worry about it. But there is a lot that goes into this, and a lot of thought.
The interesting thing about the video, for me, was that it said a lot of things that I realized I had always intuitively understood about YouTube, but never actually thought about.
Yeah, it’s really fascinating. Watching the video, your intuition is matched. Plus, that whole channel is just really smart people — it’s very funny when they choose to try to dumb something down or not.
6. “Glenn Gould, L’ Art de la Fugue, Jean-Sébastien Bach, Documentaire”
Another one that I was hoping would crack two things. I love Glenn Gould. He was very iterative: He would constantly rehearse, and practice and practice and practice, before he’d ever do a performance or record. But then, also, clearly this video shows just how deeply he understood the theoretical side of the music. I think it’s a really good explanation of how smart he actually was with this stuff, and I really admire him.
He’s also just fascinating to watch. The way his hands move, and the way he kind of conducts himself while playing.
Everyone talks about how you can hear him singing in the recordings. He can’t help it! It becomes part of the performance. There’s something going on in his head that I don’t know if I can register. It’s almost like he is conducting his own tempo and his own mind with his hands. He’s a mad character, but he’s done a lot.
He has a way of kind of explaining things that feels more reverential than hectoring or lecturing.
Yeah, he has the professorial trait in that he cares about being right, for sure, but he cares about the person he’s talking to. He’s never going to talk down, he’s just the vector by which [Bach] is telling you that you’re wrong, basically. [Laughs.] He’s not saying it, but the composer is. But I agree: I think he’s a genuinely nice man.
7. “Inside Black Holes | Leonard Susskind”
This is another one where I think you’re detecting I like the weirdos, for sure. Especially with scientists. So this guy [Leonard Susskind] went head-to-head with Stephen Hawking, back in the day. That’s his claim to fame.
It’s just really interesting for me — yes, it’s very dense, but I think there are some interesting points to pay attention to. In theory, everyone’s idea of a black hole is that matter collapses on itself and there’s a singularity, right? There’s this big, gigantic, massive point. His formulation of the mass actually says that that might not be true. Everyone says a physicist’s favorite way to die would be to fall into a black hole. Because you could see the end of the universe, because the way time will stretch out, you will get to watch the universe end, because your clock will change [so that would be] possible. His formulation is that that’s not true, and that you’d die instantaneously from being burnt to a crisp from the radiation, and being collapsed.
He’s just another character. Contrary to Glenn Gould, where he does care if you’re wrong, and he personally wants you to know that, which I like.
He’s also kind of dunking on students in a black polo and gym shorts, which is a look you’re not used to from a Hawking competitor.
I also just love how he’s making fun of the university during the video. He’s mad, but he’s clearly smart. He’s part of the old school of professors that can explain things — he doesn’t need a computer simulation to explain what he’s talking about.
Lastly, do you have a favorite of the canonical YouTube videos? Like “David After Dentist,” or “Lazy Sunday?”
I like “Charlie Bit My Finger.” That’s my classic one. It’s just, like, the classic cute one.