Ryan Hemsworth w/Danny Brown,
Tennyson, Weirdo Click
Saturday, October 25, 7pm
Halifax Forum, 2901 Windsor Street
Halifax-born, internationally adored DJ and producer Ryan Hemsworth (and former Coast writer, incidentally) just got back from Japan. He's predictably tired but extremely happy. If you follow him on any social media, you'll understand this was a big deal—Hemsworth's a bit of an anime fan. "It was my best week of my life," he says. "I'm just nerdy and always wanted to go there for many reasons."
Though Hemsworth could have easily spent his Japan adventure browsing for Samurai Champloo figurines (I'm assuming), instead he was there promoting his newest album Alone For The First Time (out November 4 on Last Gang). Filled with both cheery and melancholy synths, mechanical hums and touches of guitar, Alone For The First Time is a magical mixture.
"It surprised me, I sent it to some friends for review and they said it was a lot poppier than anything I've done before, which was the opposite of my intention," Hemsworth says. "But I'm happy with that. I thought it was weirder or more self-indulgent because I used different sounds, different types of music and singers."
Alone lands comfortably between weird and pop. The single "Snow in Newark" is a perfect example, a story of long-distance love and loneliness, Dawn Golden's radio-friendly voice smoothly blankets Hemsworth's otherworldly marimba/wind instrument medley and delicate beats.
Hemsworth's live sets are usually more energetic than the contemplative moods of his recordings, but he doesn't underestimate his audience's intelligence and desire for a different kind of dance club experience. "That's always been the back and forth I've had in my mind—what exactly I want to get across in a live setting," he says. "What I make is a lot more downtempo, I consider it headphone music. People say they like to listen to while travelling or doing homework, that's kind of nice. So I'm always trying to find that middle ground, translating that to clubs where people want to get drunk and have a good time. I really like going to shows and dancing but it needs to have more depth. People want to be feeling more emotions than just top 40 cold pop music."
Unfortunately, he didn't get to hone these audience-pleasing skills on the stages of his hometown for long. Though most articles mention that he's from Halifax—it's easy to romanticize the idea of a world-famous producer and DJ getting his start in some wind-swept shanty on the coast of the Atlantic— Hemsworth moved to Toronto and has expressed that Halifax isn't the most welcoming place for electronic musicians, something any struggling local would agree with.
"I've tried to figure it out, I've never felt like people were turning their back on me, but there's always been a stronger connection to bands and folk in our culture, it's Maritime-ish," he says. "It's such good fodder for writers—I'm either from Halifax or from the internet. Either way, it doesn't really matter geographically, all of our shit ends up on the internet."
Hemsworth mentions the group Tennyson (which, thanks to Hemsworth's power of persuasion, is also playing the Pop Explosion: Friday at the Carleton—three guesses who the secret guest is on that bill—and Saturday with Hemsworth and Danny Brown at the Forum) specifically as artists he feels a kinship with. Based in Edmonton, brother-and-sister duo Tennyson was the "catalyst" for Hemsworth starting his label Secret Songs. "They were first track. They really appealed to me, it's something that I would love to have made."
Secret Songs is Hemsworth's baby—the label takes the excitement of discovering new songs through Soundcloud and matches it with the trained ear only a DJ listening to hundreds of emailed tracks a week can provide. The songs are released every two weeks for free and unlimited download, there are no blog premieres, no A&R, no label involvement. It's a way to get back to basics for Hemsworth who, like many musicians, finds the industry machine tiring. "You get exhausted really quickly, you finish a song and the next question is 'who's premiering it?' Or you do a video and a site puts their name all over it," he says. "I wanted to go back to the original feeling of putting a song on Soundcloud and being nervous about what was going to happen next."
Unlike Iggy Pop, whose recent John Peel lecture focused on the evils of free downloads and internet piracy, Hemsworth embraces the freedom of the internet. "It really is a generation gap. It's so hard to imagine an artist from his perspective looking in to the way I view music. Everything is available and free and it feels natural. Even when I was in junior high I downloaded albums. I would buy stuff too, but downloading feels natural," he says. For an artist to be successful today, Hemsworth says, "You have to be creative and find alternatives to survive and still make it fun and interesting."