Whether he's spinning slow jams over a SxSW sunset or getting lost in Jersey Club heat in Newark, Brenmar is never anything less than on point. Hot off the back of being Mary J Blige's man-behind-the-decks at FADER FORT NYC this past fall, the Chicago-born producer is gearing up to release his Award EP on Fool's Gold on January 20th (pre-order here), and we're pumped to be premiering standout "Hula Hoop"—which features vocals from UNiiQU3—this fine winter's day.
"With "Hula Hoop," I was thinking about EDM festivals where you'd see people—girls, primarily, but not exclusively—hula hooping, all the time," Brenmar explained over the phone from a lively sounding NYC cafe. "It just occurred to me, why hasn't anyone made a song in reference to that? I stumbled upon a video of this girl hula hooping—Remy LaCroix, she's a pornstar but she's also amazing-talented at Cirque du Soleil-type shit—and watching her dance with the hula hoop kinda brought it all home. I jotted down some simple lyrics and talked about the idea with my team, and we were just like, 'Why don't we have UNiiQU3 be part of the song?' She's fam."
"I feel like there's not enough dance songs with girls on them," UNiiQU3 told us over email. "It's forever a guy being the instructor. So when Brenmar came to me about this, I was excited to work with him again and I was excited about the concept. It's a fun song—with a dance to go with it ;)" Listen below, and read on to find out what inspires Brenmar's grind, and whose laugh that is on every beat he makes.
How did your Award EP come together? I hadn't done an official release for a while—I did High End Times last year, but that was all self-made, self-produced, self-released—and I figured it was time to try to find a real home. Fool's Gold has always been really supportive—they're fans, they get it. They tried to poach me a couple years ago about maybe doing something but at the time, I was trying to build my own brand, my own sound, my own identity. I wanted to have more of an equal footing—like Fool's Gold and Brenmar, not Fool's Gold presents Brenmar—which I feel like wouldn't have been the scenario a couple years ago. I've put in work and I've made some noise in the last couple years, but I know they can offer me more outlets and opportunities than I can get, so it makes sense now in that respect. I wrote maybe like 10-12 little demos and dwindled it down to my favorite four.
Club music has a way of soaking up emerging sounds and scenes from all over the world—what themes and trends do you think are gonna come to the forefront this year? Obviously the whole Jersey Club sound is doing really well. It ended 2014 really strong and I think there's a lot of full potential to be expected from it. To be honest, I've been fuckin' with some of those Her Records kids, like Sudanim and Miss Modular. Reminds me of early Night Slugs club stuff—it's pretty fuckin' weird and raw. I like raw, it's always good in my book. In terms of trends, I don't really know! I've been making a lot of hiphop lately, hiphop/R&B, and my own version of club music that borrows from what makes sense to me. Let me take a lil bit of this, a lil bit of that, and combine it in a way that feels natural—that's always what I'm trying to do with Brenmar. Even with "Hula Hoop," there's a bit of a trap element to it but then it goes into the club. Obviously the world doesn't need another trap song, but that initial, low-end, half-time drop is so effective and feels so good, it's like, how can we keep that fresh? What do we gotta do? There's a lot of cookie cutter stuff out there and it's the same with any of these genres that blow up—there's always a cool, initial theme and then someone or something fucks up along the way. I always try to go back to that initial "why?"—why do I like it anyways?
Do you spend a lot of time replaying stuff and digesting it part by part? Always. A lot of my process [involves that], and I'm always looking for ways to streamline it because I want to be a machine. I want to be able to go into the studio and just knock out a couple beats a day, or go in the studio and write with someone and be able to come up with tracks and tracks. I've gotten much better at that in the last two years, just in trying to improve my songwriting abilities and writing on the spot, you know? I come from like a remix background so I think that whole taking all day to make tracks - when you don't have anyone else to worry about other than yourself, it's really fun. But I welcome the challenge of having the label breathing down my neck, having the R&B diva breathing down my neck—I think to excel in that kind of scenario is the ultimate accomplishment, in a way. I've seen The-Dream write two hits in one day on YouTube—one of them was for him and the other was for Mariah Carey, and he recorded both of them in the same day. I'm like, "fuck!" That's what I want to do.
Your grind is well-renowned—where does that drive comes from? I'm in this for the long haul, I'm not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. I'm constantly trying to get better and better as a producer. You can go back and listen to the early stuff and it sounds different from what I'm making now but there's definitely a thread there. I'm still playing with a lot of the same ideas. Ever since day one, there have been vocals on my tracks—it's important to the music I'm making. At the end of the day, beats are really awesome but I'm tryna make moves, and vocals help.
There's a running joke between my friends and me that I've been up-and-coming for like three or four years now. It's funny, and it is what it is, but I think if anything it's more good than bad. Trends come and go and a lot of producers come and go with them, especially when it comes to dance music. I'm just trying to constantly improve my sound, learn more, and continue to make the best music that I can make. For me, it's always about being in tune with what's happening, what's relevant, what's popping in the club, and what the streets are talking about, but also being hyper-aware of not chasing those trends. When all you do is water down what's already out there or mimic it, people aren't gonna remember it. When you add to the conversation, that's when people respect you.
Maybe being connected to the club—which is a constantly transforming, transgressive space—instead of to a specific genre is something that helped you? Every time I sit down to make a track I try chasing the feeling I used to get when I started making beats at 15. If I can keep pushing myself and keeping myself excited I think people who fuck with me and my sound will also continue to be excited. You can tell when a singer/rapper/producer is just 'phoning' it in...at least I can and I hate it. The day I start 'phoning' it in is the day I stop making music and get a real job in tech or something and start making some real money.
On the flip side, sometimes it feels like I'm too "dance" for the hip-hop heads and too hip-hop for the dance heads and people don't really know what to do with me. On one hand I'm "new," "exciting," and "different, but on the other hand people don't like being confused and if they don't know what to call me or what to do with me it's also easier just to go with someone they can more easily sell/push. I feel this way with tracks that I'm pushing to major label A&R's sometimes. I call it the gray zone—it's the most exciting space to me but it's also the hardest for people to deal with because it's not black and white for them.
I really hope that the records speak for themselves. I'm just trying to make the best party music I can make—if it sounds too much like anything else I'm aware of or familiar with, I go out of my way to fuck it up. How weird can we get without actually alienating people? That's always my thing.
Finally, I've always wanted to know whose laugh that is in all of your tracks. That's my friend Bea Fremderman. She lives in New York now, but she's from Chicago and directed a few Salem videos back in the day. She left a voicemail on my phone years ago, and I took it and put it on a track, played it for her, and I've been using it ever since. Either know the laugh is my drop or you don't but either way, you don't mind it— for all you know it's part of the song and I think that's what's cool about it. I've used it ever since my very first Brenmar remix, so it's been in almost everything.
January 21, 2015: Primary @ Chicago
January 22, 2015: Los Globos @ Los Angeles
January 23, 2015: Elbo Room @ San Francisco
January 24, 2015: 88 Palace @ NYC
January 29, 2015: 79 Club @ Paris, France
January 30, 2015: Cafe Leopold @ Wien, Austria
January 31, 2015: BLA @ Oslo, Norway
February 3, 2015: Birthdays @ London, England
February 5, 2015: Pasaz @ Tel Aviv
February 6, 2015: Cakeshop @ Seoul
February 11, 2015: Q Nightclub @ Seattle
February 12, 2015: Hifi Club @ Calgary
February 13, 2015: Union Sound Hall @ Winnipeg
February 14, 2015: Halocene @ Portland
February 19, 2015: Smith College @ Northhampton, MA
Photo credit: Ryan Mikail