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Digital Crate Digging: Jacques Greene on Flute Rap, Acid House, and Synths That Sound Like Ecstasy

The word “producer,” in the context of dance music in 2017, usually brings to mind a solitary man or woman, cranking out tracks with a MIDI controller and a laptop full of softsynths. The Canadian musician Jacques Greene, who releases his excellent debut full-length Feel Infinite today after a string of EPs and singles, is a producer according to that definition, but also in a more old-fashioned sense of the term. Greene’s music, which draws from the pulse and enveloping warmth of house and the twitchy rhythms and infrared timbres of the UK hardcore continuum, is immaculately arranged: low-pass filters slowly open and close, arpeggios twirl into the forefront of the mix and then retreat, a scorched-sounding square wave disintegrates just as a snatch of sampled vocals emerges to take its place. Each element takes up just enough space to distinguish itself without muddling the others.

The music on Feel Infinite is the most stylish and best-sounding I’ve heard so far this year, with textures so rich you sometimes forget they’re composed entirely of synths and samples. Listening to it, you get the sense that if Greene were born a few decades earlier, he’d be a louche studio wizard, conducting a grand disco orchestra like Cerrone or Quincy Jones, rather than taking furtive stabs at electronic music with the rudimentary hardware available at the time. Beneath his meticulous productions, there’s a yearning for sweaty transcendence that will appeal to fans of Jamie xxan artist with which Greene has more in common than an affinity for sunny percussive sounds. But while the In Colour producer often seeks to capture huge collective euphoria–“All Under One Roof Raving“–Greene’s music is more interested in the heat between two bodies, whether they’re circling each other on the dancefloor or groping in the back seat of an Uber on the way home. 

The sophisticated glow of Greene’s music belies his devotion to the raw early days of UK dance music, when tracks were arranged from just a few brash elements and mixed for maximum physical impact on the floor. (’90s nostalgia is another thing he and Jamie xx share.) When I asked Greene to participate in SPIN’s Digital Crate Digging, a series of interviews arranged around a search for new music in the internet’s dark corners, he suggested that we begin with the videos he’s bookmarked on his YouTube account and explore from there, clicking through related links on the sidebar to each clip. That led us on a journey through decades-old drum & bass and acid house obscurities, with one more recent epic Italo disco-style cut thrown in, uploaded to YouTube by accounts with names like DaBlazedUpOne and MrAcidTechno. Through even the dustiest of these tracks, Greene was fully in his element, providing enthusiastic and technical commentary on each.

With his samples drawn from R&B and a multicolored synth palette, Greene is also fluent in contemporary sounds, and before we began our rave listening session in earnest, he gave a lightning-round seminar on “flute rap,” giddily cuing up recent songs that have employed that most delicate of woodwind instruments: “Feds Did a Sweep” and “Mask Off” by Future (“Out of control”), “Tunnel Vision” by Kodak Black (“So mournful”), “Stutter” by Gucci Mane (“So much flute”), “Get Right Witcha” by Migos (“Beautiful flute on this one, like Peter and the Wolf”), “Big Amount” by 2Chainz (“Sounds like an old medieval RPG video game, like Ultima Online”), and “Novacane” by the up-and-coming Toronto rapper Pressa (“Fantastic flute beat. This song has been making waves, it’s playing out of every car in Toronto right now. But also, he made front page newspapers because he kidnapped a guy at gunpoint in an elevator of a condo building, like on security camera, last summer. My friend lives in the same building where this happened. And now I’m really riding for this rapper and she’s like, ‘No dude, I’m like traumatized.’”). With that, we made our way down the rave rabbit hole.

1. Tone Def – “Power Metric”

Greene: This era of jungle and hardcore stuff is very influential to me. These guys are crazy with vocals. What year is this? Let’s look it up on Discogs. This is what listening to music with me is like. The browser tabs are slowly multiplying.

So this is 1992, man. That means this guy is doing this one like, one shitty sampler.

SPIN: I love this era of dance music for its willingness to be really rough-sounding.

And the mix being completely off. That one melody is like a total ASMR trigger warning for your ecstasy. Like the way some people like scratching their back, or piano—that one slightly detuned lead sound just speaks to ecstasy. It’s like a snake charmer to your high. Fantastic breakbeat.

2. Cosmo & Dibs – “Xultation”

Yes. Hot. This is hot.

I’m just following the videos on this guy DaBlazedUpOne’s account. I love that a lot of these guys who were ripping triple stacks of ecstasy in the early ‘90s all became massive weedheads, like once the E wore off. I have this one friend in Toronto who doesn’t go out very much, and he’s super stoned. He has a good job, so he’s got cash, and he spends it all on expensive jungle and breakbeat and hardcore records. And he’s really into craft beer. So you go to his house, and he’s like “I just got this crazy bitter,” and you’re like, “Oh that’s pretty good.” And he’s like, “Also I just picked up this $90 jungle record.”

I admire the impulse of people like this DaBlazedUpOne guy. “Sure, I’ll uploaded my rare 12-inch for an audience of only 6000 people on YouTube.”

YouTube is the best for this shit. And I think it’s kind of a victimless crime, in the sense that a lot of these labels are not active anymore, and they’re not making their stuff available. I’m sure they’re not mad. I’m sure some of them are hanging out with their friends, smoking their weed, as 50-year-old men, ex-E heads. And they’re like, “Oh yeah, and then I made this record.” And it’s right there.

3. Omni Trio – “Thru the Vibe (John B remix)”

I love Omni Trio. Omni Trio are fucked. Talk about euphoria and utopia. I just want to be 16, in Rotterdam, all your friends are there, your jaw has been moonwalking for like five hours. I appreciate the lack of restraint and ironic cool. That sample just says “Music is my life,” and there’s this Robert Miles “Children”-type piano.

I once made an edit of this song, where I slowed it down to a tempo that I would play in my sets, but it was still too intense. I couldn’t really get away with it at a club, because the drop on this is out of control. Fucking crazy! 

4. Aquaform – “Borneo”

Trance acid–I feel a kind of way with this stuff. There’s such an unrestrained, unapologetic quest for euphoria in this music. In a way, it’s similar to action movies from this era: You’re gonna see guns, you’re gonna see a badass guy, he’s gonna get the girl, he’s gonna blow up a helicopter.

They give you everything you’re hoping for. There’s gonna be an explosion with doves flying out of it.

And it’s probably set to this music, like a John Woo Movie. The one-note acid line is always really good.

With all the filter modulation, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d mistake it for a whole melody.

It feels like multiple notes. Chilly Gonzales has been doing this podcast that’s like, “What makes music cool?” or something like that. And the first topic was Daft Punk. He was talking about how “Rollin’ and Scratchin’” and “Da Funk” are amazing, because there’s next to no melody. But the filter modulation is the hook. I was like, “Whoa, that’s mind-blowing, and so real.” With this stuff, there’s so much movement, even without a melody.

5. Detroit Deisel – “Fu Dimension”

Oh yeah, that big, Plastikman, slow attack, square wave acid. Earlier we were talking about the idea of utopia through club music. Acid is cool, because it’s actually dystopian sounding. It’s much more Matrix rave scene in the caves. This is the shit. The weird, tight, minor chord acid loops.

The rhythm of that bass part is disorienting.

It’s like it’s in 3/4, looping in a different time from the drums.

There are a few similar moments on your album, where phrases of uneven lengths or meters are set up against each other, slowly moving apart and coming back together.

I like doing that a lot, driven a lot by these records. Even the first record I ever did, that “(Baby I Don’t Know) What You Want” thing. It’s all kind of pop, and on the grid, but the acid line is in 3/4. It’s a really cool technique, disorienting and satisfying in equal measure, because the rhythms will come back around, and the notes will harmonize with the chords in the back in very weird, fun ways.

Retro/Grade – “Moda”

One of my favorite club songs. This has been a dance secret weapon many times, but I haven’t played it in a long time. Now it’s more of an “only on New Year’s Eve” type of record.

Listen to the clap pattern in the back: the whole melody is not in 4/4, so it switches around the drums in a crazy way. Also the melody is never played the same way, ever—they’ll add a different little flourish each time. Love this shit. Still kind of an underrated thing. This has one of the most ridiculous, epic breakdowns, and the biggest clap you’ve ever heard in your life.

If you played this in a set, would you let this long breakdown with no drums play out?

Absolutely! That’s why I play it, for this moment. You have to play it toward the end of the night, and you’ve got to make sure everyone is on your side. And then this creates probably the biggest moment of the night, every time I’ve ever played it. Because it feels like you’re just slowing down the whole record.

It’s so clever to just break the whole song down and slowly put it together again like this, turning Italo disco into the most epic prog-trance kind of thing, but still with this weird raw edge, where it doesn’t fall into big room trance. I really like when a producer feels like they’re knowingly making a synth patch that sounds like ecstasy. This melody feels like I’m on a dancefloor with five of my best friends, and I’m ripped, and it’s like the sound was custom made to make me go “Ahhhhhhhhh!”