A track-by-track guide to Jacques Greene’s career-spanning <I>ANTH01</i> Mathieu Fortin

Jacques Greene, by his own admission, is not a nostalgic person. And yet, this month he released ANTH01, a collection of his earliest and rarest material that undeniably evokes memories of parties that long since ended. The album works in two ways, both as a digital home for the electronic producer’s out-of-print 12”’s and as a mark of how far Greene has come since his days of working all day and DJing at parties in his native Montreal by night. These tracks, mostly recorded in a bedroom studio during Greene’s early 20s, are a timestamp on a moment in electronic music where the internet still felt a little unruly. Prior to the streaming giants taking hold, Greene and peers like The xx, Clams Casino, How To Dress Well, and Koreless, as well label mates on both LuckyMe and Night Slugs labels, were sharing tracks on SoundCloud and seeing the effects in real time by the time they got behind the decks that weekend.

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ANTH01 is a reminder of a cultural moment a decade ago, as well as giving newer fans an insight into the groundwork for Greene’s two official albums, 2017’s Feel Infinite and 2019’s Dawn Chorus. It contains both deep cuts and what count for greatest hits (“Another Girl” and “The Look”) in the world of club music. Speaking about the release via phone, Greene says now felt like the right time to put this project out as he feels “pretty self assured in my work today, between my albums and my work that's upcoming, that I can fully separate this early stuff as feeling more like the blueprint for where I am now.” Greene says that the true impetus came after “a lot of conversations with friends about the true cultural amnesia that Spotify gives them” and how streaming in general is “literally engineered to crush away parts of the past and make it hard to navigate. So I thought it'd be nice to have an easily accessible gateway to this time capsule.”

Greene offered to play the role of guide to his past as he broke down the album track-by-track, sharing insights into his thoughts from both the time of making the music and also how he feels ten years on.

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1. “I Won’t”

The FADER: This is the oldest track on ANTH01. Was there a sense of having to remind yourself of some of the material you made way back when?

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Greene: Yeah. I feel like when you read pieces about the Kanye Wests and other artists of the world, and you find out that they go to clubs. And they want their own music to be playing. I imagine they listen a lot to their own music all the time. I'm constantly listening to the things I'm working on right now, and I love what I do. But I'm not a nostalgic person. So, a lot of this stuff, I hadn't listened to in years. And it was kind of fun, kind of scary to rediscover. “I Won't,” I probably hadn't heard since 2013, or something like that. I hadn't listened to it in eight years. And there's always this amazing moment when you're interfacing with a past version of yourself, in a true way. It’s like, ‘Oh wow. I made this decision. That's crazy.’ But I think on the flip side of that, there's a few things that I was like, ‘Wow. Okay cool. So I was 20, 21 when I made this. I had been lucky enough to buy a 303 on the cheap from a friend that wasn't really using it. And taught myself how to use the sequencer. I'm like, cool.’

Could you take me back to that period of your life and tell me what it was like, 10, 11 years ago when you were very first making this music?

I got out of college and skipped university. I got a job, moved into an apartment with my then-girlfriend. But one of my main interests in life was organizing and throwing a lot of parties. And throughout my late teens, I had been doing something that was more on this left field. I was trying hip-hop stuff. I was doing parties with Lunice, and interfacing a lot with the early LuckyMe sound. And in my late teens, early 20s, with some of the friends from that and other people, did something that was a little more rooted in dance music. And so, after being a guy that was really more into, I guess, hip hop and IDM and stuff like that, I started to really appreciate house and techno and other things like that.

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So, I think for me, that was around those years, that was the main musical journey happening. And finding my footing with slightly higher BPMs and a totally different notion of groove, than something like just beats. And so, my life was really working so I could buy some synth parts, and then once every month or once every two months, my friends and I would get a couple hundred bucks together, get a thousand dollars together, whatever. And write down a list of some DJs we want to bring to the city and try to organize some parties. I tried to make some music to subtly slip into DJ sets or whatever. And that was the cycle of life. It felt great.

2. “What You Want”

This track appeared on Night Slugs All Stars Volume 1 in 2010 alongside stuff from Jam City, Girl Unit, and so on. You said you're not a nostalgic person but does that period of electronic music that you emerged as a part of feel like a special time, a decade on?

Absolutely. But I think part of not feeling nostalgic is wanting to feel optimistic about what comes next. So it's like, it's two faceted, where on the one hand, I'm really grateful that the people that I rose up with, whether that be Rustie or its Girl Unit, Jam City, it's incredibly special, talented people. But now there's Umru and PinkPantheress. Loraine James is dropping right now. That sounds like an exciting time to me.

So while it was special in the sense that it was special to me. I don't know if it was special in the whole framework of history. One thing is, I think that the ecosystem of the internet was a healthier place to make and release music. And there was a lot of room for experimentation.

I feel like that track is ironically one of the ones that, for me, has aged the most poorly. The chipmunk vocals are hard for me. But at the time, it totally made sense.

3. “The Look”

So here is the breakout moment. People hear this and start to know your name and your face a bit more widely. What are your memories of that period of your career? Did you know that this was going to take off the way that it did?

That song and “Tell Me” were definitely, ‘Oh okay. I think I know what I'm doing.’ I think what's before was still a bit of truly figuring things out. And I think even on “The Look” and all that, I'm still moving kick drums around. I think there was still this innate discomfort with truly defining myself as a dance music person. So there was often a lot of hedging my bets, and purposefully trying to break formula and break rhythm patterns.

I think there's a certain breadth to that song. It's a big track, but I think it's also where I came to know myself a little better, know my strengths and weaknesses, and be like, okay. I think I'm making dance music. But I don't think I'm ever going to be a Beatport top DJ kind of guy. I think of my stuff often lands in the camp of songs, as opposed to tracks. I'm aware of it being a bigger moment, but I feel on a more personal level, it was one where I unlocked a bunch of things. Production-wise and songwriting-wise, but also personally, okay. This is where I stand in the world. This is my POV and where I sit in the ecosystem.

4.“Tell Me”

I looked up an old review of yours and “Tell Me” was described as “music for models to stumble back to their suites to.” Did you have a specific listener in mind when you started out creating these songs?

I don't think I really started thinking in that way until later, to be honest. I think a lot of the early stuff was truly borne out of quite literally sometimes, trying to make myself music for sets I was playing around Montreal. So pretty self-interested.

But “Tell Me” was the track that got me my first play by Mary Anne Hobbs on the BBC. I messaged her to thank her dearly, because I grew up on [BBC Radio 1 show] the Breeze Block and that kind of stuff. And I think she replied something like, I've always been a b-side kind of girl. Because that is the b-side to “The Look.” The fact that she had immediately gravitated towards that one, and decided to play it on the air, was huge. So, maybe I was making music for Mary Anne Hobbs.

5. “These Days”

This track samples Mario’s “Couldn’t Say No.” What was it about that original that inspired you to use it like you did here?

A, his timbre is incredible. There's so much drama in the performance of that song. I think that was one of the first times I was truly trying to really deconstruct a vocal line. Where you can barely make out the words he's saying. I like getting into more of the affect, of what was in the lines, more so than creating a lyric. Just trying to capture the genesis of the actual, the raw emotion of the vocal performance. More so than a hooky line, or a hooky thing. And yeah, I think that worked on that one.

6. “Arrow”

You worked with Koreless on this 2012 release. I’m always interested in people who primarily work alone and then occasionally collaborate with others. What’s that process like when you’re so used to calling all the shots?

I'd say part of what really drew me to electronic music was the excitement of being able to make everything myself. I think I played in a couple bands in high school and when you really first understand the concept of samplers and synths and that someone is alone, making all this music? It's like, ‘Wow, so I don't have to worry about the drummer in my band doing a tom fill at the end of every bar? Holy shit.’

But as the years went on I would try to open it up and “Arrow” was one of the first collaborations I ever did. Mostly, not mostly, but partly, to challenge myself. Now at this point, it's funny because it's flipped and specifically with the pandemic, and the isolation of the pandemic, I'm craving collaboration. Especially in person. Working with Koreless, especially at that time, felt really important. We were ascending at the very same time, and obviously, hitting a lot of the same emotional markers in our music. And I think it felt funny to make a song together that had no vocals. Because both of us were specifically known for vocal heavy tracks at the time.

7. “Ready”

How were you feeling when you made “Ready”?

I was feeling a little more surefooted I think, as a producer. ‘Ready’ feels like a step up production-wise. It just feels big. It feels assured, locked in. It was something I first used as a weird transition in live sets to go from something that was more abstract into more full on techno. I'm still very proud of that record. It definitely sounds 2012, but I feel like it sounds good. And when I say that it's well produced, it's even... there's mistakes in it, but they all feel purposeful. There's a big compressed short reverb on the hi hat, but it's not technically right, but it feels right.

8. “Faded”

“Faded” is one of the two tracks on ANTH01 that has never been released in any form before, it only really existed as part of much longer mixes. Was any part of you tempted to keep it hidden in that way? Build a bit of mystique around your back catalog?

I'm definitely more of the school of wanting people to have things. Unless there's really, really egregious illegal sampling, I'm usually against vinyl-only releases, in a world where I know you emailed your master to your mastering engineer, so I know a digital master exists. Let kids who can't afford 20 dollars for one song, buy the song.

Of the two unreleased tracks on here, “I Won't” is literally not available and “Faded” was on a torrent website, because it was on a tour only CD. But I think both of them really inform some of the studio sessions and hint at the other studio experiments going on at that time. I also want to be purposeful with what I share. And have a reason behind it. I think these two songs feel like there's purpose there. It helps tell the story of the rest of this compilation.

9. “On Your Side”

This is another collaboration, this time with How To Dress Well. What was your connection with him?

We were already friends and were both interfacing with R&B as outsiders. In totally different ways. Him, as a vocalist. Me as, hinting at it, and even melodic structures of stuff, and obviously in the vocal sampling. So he felt like to me, like a natural person to reach out to be like, ‘hey, we seem to think about stuff in a somewhat similar way. We should probably be able to do something cool, because yeah. We're working in similar head spaces, or something.’

Were you aware of the sensitivities of being an outsider making R&B back then in the same way you presumably are today?

Not that I think that what we were doing was particularly unwoke, or egregious or bad, but it was definitely a less self-critical time, then. I think as the years went on, I definitely... Part of the sampling less, or sampling vocalists less and stuff, was this... not power dynamics. But what does it mean when you disembody someone's vocal? Specifically, a Black woman's vocal, or whatever. And trying to do the work, as an artist. And trying to break down the theory and the why. It was very much appreciation over appropriation. I think we were approaching it as mega-fans, more so than wanting to replace it or something.

I never thought I was better than this. I love it, and want to use and reference the parts of it that I love. And I think that's even in food, that's a thing. There's the old adage of you know pornography when you see it. And I think the same is true of appropriation. And I think there is a weird, fine blurry line between appreciation and appropriation. And I'd like to think that you know it when you see it. I'd also like to think that Tom [How To Dress Well] and I were always very much in the camp of total appreciation.

10. “Faithful” and 11. “Quicksand”

You said when you first announced ANTH01 that the older material “was equal parts challenging and fun to revisit.” Which bits did you find the most challenging?

I think just realizing that so much time has gone past. I think when you're nose down and working and making a new record, and going to tour that new record, coming back home, and making more songs. It's very easy to forget the forest for the trees, and sometimes, I'll think of something that happened last year, was actually in 2017 or something. Even “Quicksand” was eight years ago, or something.

One of the most joyous parts of it was feeling how not embarrassed I am of the overall bulk of the work. I think at worst, there's stuff that really feels of its time. And at best, I'm like, ‘Holy shit. This track's pretty cool.’ “Faithful” is actually one of those. We got Oliver Day-Sou doing the vocal, who is a close collaborator of Hudson Mohawke and the LuckyMe guys. So it was really cool to get him on a track. To look back and be like, okay cool. I try not to slow myself down with being too concerned if something's too of the moment, or not enough of a moment, or something. But I'm happy to look back and see that it's somewhere in between.

“Quicksand” was funny because that was a true prime SoundCloud era. I just uploaded it as a loosey, and immediately, people were reacting to it pretty strongly online, and so we just decided to put it on the record of on “On Your Side” and “Faithful.” I think in general, that package of songs is one of the ones that still sounds quite nice. The overall production, melodies on it and all, pretty good.

12. “Another Girl”

Along with “The Look,” this is the track that got you noticed at the start of your career. I wondered if in this period of time, when a lot of people have been deprived of live music and clubs have been closed, which memories of playing “Another Girl” during DJ sets stand out to you?

That was the song that allowed me to quit my job. I basically had to quit my job to go on tour, actually. For that entire two month run in Europe… in the intro of this song, you could just lower the volume fader, and 400 kids in Sheffield would just sing it back to you. It was truly insane.

You have new music coming early next year. Has the process of making this anthology informed any of that in any way that you can identify?

I think only in the sense that I feel really confident about the new music, because it really feels like it is a decade apart from a lot of that work. I think it's funny, because I haven't reinvented myself between records. I think like those different kinds of electronic producers out there, tend to really go for those total mutations. I haven't even tried to do that. I think I've really tried to go the other way, in fact.

A track-by-track guide to Jacques Greene’s career-spanning ANTH01