In the summer of 2010 Kenny Glasgow’s haunting and distinctive vocals sauntered their way through just about every nightclub in the world. Accompanied by an obscure electro tinged house vibe, they spread contagiously and wherever you went, ‘Without You’ was being played to full force, supported by DJ’s and fans alike. It was the debut output from Canadian duo Jonny White & Kenny Glasgow, aka Art Department. What followed was a non-stop tour around the world and at the years close, ‘Without You’ was labeled as the No.1 track of 2010 by Resident Advisor. Art Departments recognition and rise is without doubt one of the quickest this industry has ever seen. Their artist album ‘The Drawing Board’ arrived just eight months later on Damian Lazarus’s Crosstown Rebels imprint. Equally well received, it only added fuel to the already roaring fire; kick starting 2011 with an acknowledged vibe that hasn’t let up. As the second year of Art Department’s seemingly unstoppable reign comes to its close, the pair were voted as No.6 in the ‘Top DJ’s of 2011’ poll on Resident Advisor. I caught up with Jonny White after the massive Crosstown Rebel night at Manchester’s The Warehouse Project. Sadly, Kenny was too busy moon walking across the stage as our interview commenced…
No.6 – how does that feel?!
I’m not going to lie, it feels really damn good. Neither one of us has ever really been the type to care about this sort of thing, but there comes a time when you realize how much of the past year you spent touring hard, playing in different cities every day, wearing yourself down, away from friends and family…all the while enjoying the ride but working your ass off and putting your body through hell to be there playing music for people. Although we don’t need that type of gratification, it’s nice to be recognized for all the hard work we’ve put in.
There was such a huge shift in the overall results and styles of the RA Poll this year – what do you think that means for dance music – what direction are we heading in?
Well it’s always changing and evolving, that’s essential to keep it alive. But this did feel like a major shift or movement if you’re going to gauge things by RA’ statistic. Who’s to say if it’s right or wrong, or if there can even be a right or wrong when it comes to trying to decide who’s better at this art than someone else? Sales charts make sense, fine, that’s actual math… deciding who is the “best dj”? Like I said it feels good to be recognized for your work but this is the only field in the arts where it’s some kind of competition. It’s a bit like charting visual artists, who are the top 100 painters? I can go on forever on this topic so I’ll stop before this begins to sound like a rant. What do I think this means for dance music? I think it’s a positive shift because I personally really enjoy the music that is now at the forefront of the “underground” EDM world. And to sum it up, what it means is that the doors have been blown wide open for other artists to follow along, and for our music to reach more people.
Although you’d both been working in the industry for a long time art department as a duo was a really sudden rush to the top, what is it about the combination do you think tippled you guys over the edge in comparison to you as individual artists?
It’s hard to pinpoint. It’s undoubtedly the music production because that is what is so different from what we were both writing on our own. We developed a new sound for this project and “without you” is what caught fire and started all this madness. I consider the music we’re making now vs. what we were making as individuals more “stand out” and writing full vocal records allow you to connect with people on a more fundamental level.
Does it bother you that the majority of people seem to think you and Kenny just sprung up out of nowhere and made it big within seconds?
Not a bit, maybe it will have them thinking we’re younger than we are….I’m looking at super talented guys like Mateo from Tale Of Us (he’s really young) and thinking we could stand to lose a few years. I think this is the case with a lot of successful acts and bands. One of the reasons that some acts are able to seemingly become so successful so quickly is because they’ve been at it for years on the low, learning and mastering their craft, figuring out what does and doesn’t work.
Releasing your debut album ‘The Drawing Board’ came crazy quick after ‘Without You’ – it’s pretty unusual to release an artist album in such a short space of time?
You know it may have seemed that way to people because the hype from the first EP lasted quite some time but there was an eight month gap between the two. We had also been working on an album from the beginning, ‘Without You’ and ‘Vampire’ was just the lead EP off of the album.
Did you not feel pressurized or kinda scared after just one big release to do a whole album?
Not really, we had completed most of the record by the time ‘Without You’ became a huge success so we weren’t writing, thinking god, we’ve got to write 12 songs that are going to do what ‘Without You’ did.
You also own and run No.19 – How have you handled the label for the last 18 months or so since Art Department took off – you must barely have any time to work on the label these days?
It’s been very difficult to be as involved in running the label as I would like to be. The demanding schedule and distance between Nitin, Teeloo (my partners in the label in Toronto) and I has made it hard. I’m a bit of a control freak especially when it comes to No.19, that’s my baby. I don’t like my vision or my work being handled by others so the release schedule reflected that greatly this year… Never the less I am absolutely thrilled with everything we’ve done this year. There were so many highlights…Soul Clap’s ‘Social Experiment’ compilation, Tanners Ross’ first solo release and Maceo’s new single ‘Under The sheets’. There were also some really magical events in Mexico (BPM), Miami (WMC), Sonar with Morgan Geist… it’s never been about quantity for me, I run the label with the idea that in 20 years I’ll be proud and pleased with the entire catalogue of music and memories. There is no rush, and I’m back at the wheel now that I’ve settled into the touring groove and we’re finished with all the work involved with launching a new project like Art Department.
And My Favorite Robot – you run that too right?
No I don’t run it, but I think Jared (MFR label boss) would agree you could call me a consultant of sorts. I did start the label with him and ran it with him for several months but it was at a time when No.19 needed my full attention and energy so that was short lived. I still do a bit of A&R for him but it’s really just the usual bouncing ideas off each other, shooting the shit and offering advice. Although I’m not running that label now the MFR crew are some of my best friends and I’m really proud of that project as well.
On a personal level – how has it affected you both, the sudden non-stop touring of Art Department?
Physically, it’s likely shaved a few years off our lives…but how much fun could we possibly be having in those last few years anyhow. Emotionally and spiritually it’s been an eye opening, mind blowing experience that’s affected us in countless ways. We’ve made so many amazing friends, met so many like minded people and we’ve seen so much of the world now. I can’t imagine many people are able to travel this way and meet so many incredible people in a lifetime let alone in less than two years. Best words to describe the lifestyle would be fulfilling and inspiring and it’s undoubtedly affected us in a positive way. I think that we’ve actually been humbled by the experience and I’ve personally learned to value people and the time we get to share because my time with people I care for is so limited now due to the schedule..
You have what I’d call quite a specific sound, quite recognizable as being Art Department – is that something that you now specifically stick to it because you know it works?
We’re not trying to stick to anything. Actually quite the opposite. We’ve made so much music in a very short period of time so there hasn’t been much time or room for the sound to evolve. We’re always exploring ourselves and our art and we’ve made loads of music that hasn’t been released that would surprise people. But at the same time, this project does have a sound and I think people will be able to identify most of what we will release in the future with Art Department.
So 2012 is gonna be all about the Art Department Live Show?
That’s what we’re working on now. We’re not rushing it because we want it to be “right”. We’ll be introducing a third member of Art Department as well who will bring a live visual aspect to the show. That’s something we’ve been working on, making our visuals a live performance art and making the crowd very aware of the fact that it’s a live aspect of the show.
Do you and Kenny both live in the same city?
No we don’t at the moment. I live in Barcelona, Kenny’s still in London where we were based for the first nine months on tour in Europe. Kenny’s making the move out to Barcelona in the next few months but London is a hard place to leave, understandably. For now we work on ideas in our own studios and bring them together, play them for each other on the road and exchange bits to work on… it’s not so different from how we’ve always done things.
Which have been the best shows of 2011 for you?
Any one of our shows at Panorama or DC10 could take the cake… those are always really special. Warehouse project tonight with Jamie, Seth, Damian, Matthew Johnson, jozif, Rob James, Subb-an, Miguel Campbell and TED is up there for sure…I would probably have to go with Get Lost in Miami this year though, that was magic.
And lastly what do you guys hope for for Art Department in 2012?
I just hope that things continue along the way they’re going. I wouldn’t change a fucking thing at the moment so although we’re always looking for the next project and the next aspect of this business that’s going to turn us on, all I can really hope for is that we’re able to continue to do what we do at this level.