Night Slugs | Young Turks | Merge Records
In 2011, though, synth-y sounds are leaking into the pop charts via singles from artists like Rihanna and the Black Eyed Peas, while, buzzy indie-label acts are mixing electronic textures into any number of existing musical templates, from chillwavers such as Neon Indian to art-rock titans Radiohead; they might have electronic elements, but none of them are strictly and exclusively "dance music." It sounds like a paradox, but the more electronic instruments and techniques become part of pop music's overall makeup, the less a genre like "dance" seems able to enfold them.
So when the Juno Awards announced last October that, for their 40th anniversary, they were adding a category for Electronic Album of the Year -- crucially, without eliminating the already-existing Dance Recording of the Year category -- the move came as a surprise to critics used to slagging the Junos for being behind the times.
The announcement defined the category as celebrating "album-length original recordings composed with electronic equipment as the essential songwriting tools and defined by their electronic elements." For once, it seemed like the Canadian music industry was right in step with what's been happening to the music in general, as electronic music separates itself from strictly being something you'd hear in velvet-rope-fronted nightclubs.
"I think it's really natural in 2011 for people to make music that kind of references all these different sounds, because of the way people listen to music now," Egyptrixx, aka Toronto producer David Psutka, tells Spinner.
"Ten years ago, people would go to the record store and they would go to the techno section or the drum'n'bass section. Whereas now, people listen to music on YouTube."
Psutka is in some ways the embodiment of the shift he's describing. He's just released his first album, the largely electronic 'Bible Eyes,' on celebrated UK label Night Slugs, whose artists are famous for taking diverse influences -- from the rumbling, chest-rattling bass of dubstep to the brash, untamed sounds of classic Chicago house, and even the irresistible riddims of Jamaican dancehall -- and throwing them in a virtual blender. It doesn't faze him.
"It's so easy to bounce around and be exposed to new things; people pass around MP3s like it's nothing. They're exposed to more."
Psutka's already winning kudos for his music's seamless combination of those sounds, but although most of his gigs thus far have been in clubs, he insists that he's not a DJ; as Egyptrixx, he performs his music live using a computer and a few other pieces of equipment rather than mixing and manipulating prerecorded tunes.
He'll be doing an Egyptrixx set at Spinner's JunoFest dance party celebrating the Electronic Album category at Wrongbar on Saturday (March 26), alongside dancehall/electro fusioneers Bonjay, DJ Denise Benson and category nominees Poirier (who expertly combines Caribbean pop such as soca with experimental electronics) and Holy F--- (a high-energy live act represented here by a DJ set); don't be surprised if Egyptrixx's album is nominated for the category next year.
Though they won't be performing at JunoFest, the other three nominees are no less boundary-blurring. There's Crystal Castles, whose abrasive synth-rock has made them mainstream stars in the UK and cult heroes everywhere else; Feist co-producer and omni-talented bon vivant Chilly Gonzales; and Caribou, aka Dan Snaith, whose musical output incorporates everything from the latest club sounds to vintage psych-rock.
"It's great to be nominated in the new electronic category," Snaith tells Spinner from his adopted home in London, England. "[It's] a category whose existence is long overdue given the way electronic music has repeatedly revolutionized pop music over the last 50 years and has permeated all areas of music."
He's got a point; having won plenty of praise outside his home country -- not to mention Canada's own Polaris Music Prize in 2009 for his album 'Andorra,' an electronics-heavy album that sounds like it was made using acoustic instruments -- the Electronic Album category alone doesn't dispel the Canadian music industry's general skepticism about electronic music.
Where Snaith veils his criticisms with a characteristically Canadian veneer of politeness, Psutka doesn't hold back with his prescription for the next step towards improving our domestic electronic music scene.
"Aside from a few people, music journalists in Canada don't do a very good job of covering electronic music in Canada as a serious art form. The first step for creating a scene is for journalists to contextualize it and make it interesting for fans, because there are lots of music fans in Canada but they're probably more interested in Arcade Fire or whatever, who get a more serious journalistic treatment."
Either way, it's a watershed moment for electronic music's profile in this country when someone like Chilly Gonzalez can perform on stage with a rapper like Drake -- whom he'll be accompanying at the official Juno gala -- as not just a producer or an accompanist, but a fellow nominee being recognized for his own achievement.
Snaith, for his part, is flattered. "It's an honour to be up for the very first one."