From their very inception, the Canadian duo Art Department have known success. Individually, the two enjoyed a bit of it throughout the 90’s and 00’s as figures in the Toronto house and techno scenes. But it was not until Johnny White and Kenny Glasgow came together to form Art Department that the two experienced the type of success one can only dream about. Just a handful of months after joining forces, the two found themselves in Resident Advisor‘s prestigious Top 100 DJ’s under their new moniker. [UPDATE 12/6: The RA Top 100 DJs of 2011 Poll has been released, ranking Art Department at 6 in the world.] A year later, their tune “Without You” was listed as RA’s number one track of 2010: one of the highest honors in the dance music world. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with the duo following a soulful set at Chicago’s Spybar. We talked about the live show they’ve currently got in the works, legendary prog-rock band “Yes,” and the recent shenanigans of a one Steve Angello. Read this and more, plus some bonus Art Department sounds after the jump.
Bright & Shiny: For starters, why don’t you tell us how you got your start in the world of dance music?
Johnny White: For me, it was at a club called Industry nightclub in Toronto. Kenny was a resident DJ there back then in the late 90’s– he was actually my one of my favorite DJs back then, but that was my first kinda introduction to proper underground dance music.
B&S: What’s it like working together after both becoming respected figures in the scene, individually?
JW: It’s great; it’s very different obviously than working on your own. There’s another person and another person’s ideas and perspective to consider at all times. But we’ve been friends for years, lived together, worked together on a different level, putting out his music on my record label, No. 19 Music, and DJing together for years together in Toronto. It’s a fun collaboration. I really respect him as an artist too, and vice versa, so you always come up with something interesting.
B&S: How would you describe your sound?
JW: I think it’s mostly house and there’s something new to it. But it’s a twist on what we’ve both been listening to our whole lives — [Kenny] about 20 years in the business and me about 15 or so. We take cues from all the people we’ve loved and listened to all these years and it’s just a collaboration that speaks to where we’re both at right now, mentally and musically. That would’ve been a lot easier to answer if I wasn’t wasted right now. [Laughing]
B&S: [Laughs] That’s going in the written interview.
JW: Yeahh, I know.
B&S: What inspires your overall musical aesthetic? As in, what kinds of media, be it music, film, literature, art…?
JW: I’m a lover of art, not just music, right… But it doesn’t just always come from electronic music, obviously. It’s not even what I listen to often when I’m relaxing. But a lot of where we grew up and what we’ve been through and your relationships with people affect it more than anything. The city that we live in, your habitat, your family, your friends and the people you surround yourself with: I think those are the biggest influences more than anything.
B&S: True words. So, if you could, take us through the artistic process when you’re producing in the studio.
JW: Wow, this is tough. We both, for the most part, like to work in our own studios so there’s a lot of coming up with ideas separately and then bringing them together.
B&S: What’s it like being a part of the Crosstown Rebels family?
JW: It’s great. It’s something I was a fan of for a while before I started working with everybody on the label. I mean, Damian [Lazarus] I’ve known for years. I’ve known Jamie [Jones], I’ve known a lot of the guys for a long time and it’s like… Actually, I can’t even really put it into words how much it means to me, and I’m sure I speak for Kenny, too. To be working at this level with all these guys that we love and respect and they’ve actually become some of our best friends, ya know?
B&S: And to be able to work with labels like Hot Creations? Get Physical? And artists like Jamie Jones– who’s an absolute inspiration; Lee Foss, Soul Clap… I can’t even imagine.
JW: Yeah Jamie’s great., pure class. Lee & the Soul Clap guys are a lot of fun. I mean we have a ton in common, like as far as vibe and taste in music. Being the same age and all of us having grown up in North America, we have a lot in common right off the bat and they’ve become some of my best friends as well.
B&S: What’s coming up for Art Department in 2012?
JW: Live show. That’s what we’re working on right now.
B&S: What about in the studio?
JW: Live show. There are a few remixes and whatever else, and a lot of new production. But our number one vision and goal right now is our live show… A big part of that equation is also the live visual aspect we’ll be introducing.
B&S: So the next album is not in the works yet?
JW: We’re working on an album with Deniz Kurtel actually right now for the end of next year which will be incorporated into the live show. Basically, were working more or less on a band-type project.
B&S: Very nice, that’s definitely something that this scene lacks in terms of live performance. What are your top four tracks of the moment?
JW: That Storm Queen record that we were just talking about [“It Goes On”], coming out on Environ. A record called “Games” by Infinity Ink, which is Ali Love and Luca C. Not sure when it’s coming out, I’m guessing on Hot Creations, but it’s probably my number one favorite record right now. [To Kenny] Top four favorite records, give us two.
Kenny Glasgow: In the world?
JW: Yeah, right now.
KG: [singing] “Dreamer, I’m nothin’ but a dreamer. And when you put your hands in the air, oh no… “
JW: Yes’ “Dreamer” is one of your top favorite songs right now?
KG: [still singing] Ohh no… [laughing] That’s one of my favorite songs ever.
JW: I saw Yes live like two years ago in Toronto.
B&S: Two years ago?? Yes was a favorite of mine when I was in my “classic rock” stage.
JW: In Toronto, yeah, I went to the concert with my dad, it was a mindfuck.
KG: Unreal, UNREAL!
JW: Progressive rock and roll is some next level shit. It’s incredible. There are twelve minute songs where the mind can’t even comprehend the time signatures and what’s going on, it’s next level. What else… one more song. I’m really digging that Aquarius Heaven record “Can’t Buy Love” and… fuck, I don’t know, some of that Art Department shit [laughs].
B&S: Any upcoming producers in particular that we should keep an eye out for?
JW: Tanner Ross, is he still considered up and comer? Luca C and Ali Love… new No. 19 signings Louie Fresco, Tone Of Arc and Soho 808. I’ve signed albums from these three cats and they’re going to blow everyone away.
KG: Kenny Glasgow’s new album coming out. Actually, it’s a new label coming out under the No. 19 moniker.
[Club rep. approaches Johnny to pay him. Out of the exchange, the only words I catch are “$100,000”]
B&S: What, you guys made $100,000 tonight?
JW: Yeah, I mean we did play for two whole hours. [Laughs] No, not really, that would be insane. Hopefully someday… We’re getting there.
B&S: Yeah, that’d be nuts; like Swedish House Mafia level shit.
JW: I just heard some fucked up shit, actually. That [Steve Angello] was caught DJing a mix CD, and his response to it was something like…
B&S: “Oh, I can DJ without headphones!”
JW: Honestly, I’ll go on record right here: Steve Angello, you’re a jerkoff. Thats some fuckin bullshit, right there. The fuck are you getting paid for? This guy’s getting paid five times what I am… he’s a fucking joke, and don’t get me started on his music..
B&S: How did it feel when Resident Advisor, one of the highest regarded internet dance music magazines, listed your track, “Without You” as the number one track of 2010?
JW: That was a defining moment in my life. Like straight up in tears. For me, that’s the authority on what we’re doing. It was mind-blowing that we were even in the Top 100 DJs last year after we had only been playing for a couple months as Art Department. But having the number one record was– I remember, I was in Barcelona. I remember that morning: I woke up– we were stuck there in the middle of a tour cause there were crazy storms all over Europe– I was in my room and I went on RA and I checked. I was going down the list, waiting to get to the number one. I got to it and I was in fucking tears, man; jumpin’ around my hotel room. Called up Kenny, who was in his hotel room, like, “Did you fucking see RA?!” We were losin’ our minds… It was an amazing day.
B&S: Well, that’s all I’ve got! Thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with us, and, of course, for that lovely set you’ve just played.
JW: My pleasure, thanks man.