There are pro DJs, and then there are professional DJs. Linus Booth and Chris Macintyre make up the very professional DJ/production pair that is Toronto’s Jokers of the Scene, which means they throw parties and tour all over and make exultant, moody, rave-ready techno. They also return e-mails promptly and ensure promo music is delivered and are generally very helpful. (Sorry: I come from the land of rap, in which shit does not get done and chronic setback is a pleasure sport.)
Being so on it points to just how much Ottawa-borne JOTS wants it. And they’re pretty much there: signed by A-Trak to Fools Gold Records in 2007, JOTS has been pushingheady, heavy, idiosyncratic remixes and a consistent flow of EPs to global acclaim (and placement! “Baggy Bottom Boys” landed on MTV’s controversial Skins and in the videogame Saints Row: The Third).
Yesterday, Booth and Chameleonic dropped their fifth EP, J0T5. If the tectonic-plate-shifting urgency of “Black Mountie” — both the original and Daniel Avery remix, which appears on next week’s accompanying release, the J0T5 RMXD EP — doesn’t make you want to do something stupid, then we can’t be friends. JOTS will also release a “pop-structured dark electronic thing” on 7” next month as Blank Capsule with vocalist Vitaminsforyou, then kick off a lot of touring. Catch them at Wrongbar this Friday before they abscond to stadium status like Azari & III, with Gingy + Bordello and Nicholas Nice. But read this first.
Tell me a bit about life pre-Jokers of the Scene.
Chris: Before Linus and I started working together, I had a day job in the high-tech sector and a small indie label to put out my own stuff–at that time I was producing experimental glitchy stuff. Linus had his record store (Organized Sound in Ottawa) and I became a customer there. It wasn’t long before we realized how similar our tastes were. I think our musical bonding breakthrough was techno music. Once we started DJing the same parties and essentially carrying the same records in our crates, it made sense to start doing it together.
Linus: We’d both been in bands in high school so music has always been in our lives. I was itching to get back into the music making/creative side of things and meeting Chris solidified the deal, so we began throwing parties, making music and DJing together.
There’s this bit in your bio which references “Canada’s dance music renaissance.” Explain what that means to you.
C: Over the past year or two there’s been a resurgence of dance music acts hailing from Canada, particularly Toronto. We’ve been releasing music since 2006, and dance music was still pretty underground then, so it’s been interesting to see how things have changed and grown. Canada played a pretty big role in pushing club music to new heights: it’s definitely become a global focal point. Take now-major artists like Azari & III, Mstrkrft, Art Department, Egyptrixx, etc. We’re proud to be Canadian.
In that same vein, you moved from Ottawa to Toronto but you also travel. What advantages, if any, are there to being a musician in Toronto?
L: I grew up outside of Toronto and it served as my stomping ground as an impressionable youth. Sneaking into clubs and buying records shaped my weekends, so I have a fondness for this city and have always wanted to come back. We’ve been able to (re)connect with other artists, allowing us to work on a variety of projects, which would have been difficult in Ottawa. If there’s any disadvantage it would to be to be lumped into a “scene,” which essentially marks the beginning of the end for an artist. JOTS has always struggled to fit in and never has, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
C: Toronto is also full of great venues (big and small) that have been open to us experimenting a lot more in the live setting. There’s a supportive audience here. Also, because we travel so much, Toronto is a much better launch pad. Getting a direct flight anywhere was always an issue in Ottawa, for example.
What’s it like to hear the club music influence in top 40? Do seismic cultural shifts like that have any trickle-down effects for you?
C: There’s no doubt the mainstream/pop world has homogenized drastically over the last 10 years, and the dance music you find in that realm is no exception. But on the other hand, it’s allowed us (and many others) to be heard by a much larger audience. We pay very little attention, but I’d say the musical homogenization and lack of creativity in the mainstream has had a detrimental effect on the artistic literacy of many people out there. You definitely see a lot of the same old getting celebrated and a pretty severe lack of fresh ideas.
L: We’ve been thrust into this world that we initially were trying to provide an alternative to. It’s definitely challenging at times to play for commercial audiences while staying true to our vision, but in the end it makes us better DJs — and we’d get bored pretty quickly playing the same type of gigs night after night.
There are a lot of different influences running through J0T5: techno, prog, acid, trance. When you’re making heavily referential music, how do you make it new?
C: I suppose we aren’t consciously trying to separate anything from its history. We have such a wide array of influences (musical and otherwise), and we’re very open to trying new things and experimenting with aligning the more unusual ideas/influences together. If anything, that’s part of our manifesto: to attempt to not repeat ourselves.
L: Yeah, everything has been done before, hasn’t it? We’re at a crucial point in history where we’re close to exhausting the amount of our past that we can draw influence upon. Luckily for us there is no single source from which we draw inspiration.
What makes a good remix?
C: I don’t find a “dance version” of a song all that interesting. Beefing up a tune with a bigger dance beat seems to defeat the purpose completely. I’m most interested in remixes that take a completely different approach, but still manage to capture the essence of the original. We generally strip a song we’re remixing down to one or two elements of the original and write something completely new. In some cases we only listen to the original once or twice so we don’t use it as a reference: it takes things in an infinite amount of directions.
L: It’s more challenging and of greater reward when I hear some of our favorite remixes and can’t distinguish which is the remix and which is the original.
Okay, so how would you describe the new EP to someone who might not be familiar with any type of club music?
C: It’s tough. At the core it’s techno, but lately we’ve been attempting to inject much more texture and feel in our tracks: something that evokes images and colour. People have been labeling us “psychedelic techno” lately. I’m not mad at that.
L: The whole concept grew organically from a single place: music inspired by eras in which electronic artists created bodies of work with the sole purpose of being listened to over two sides of vinyl, like Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Chemical Brothers’ Exit Planet Dust or The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Underworld. That people could enjoy these works at home or in a club was an added bonus and not the norm. This record is greater than the sum of its individual parts: it’s meant to be listened to from start to finish for full impact.
Anupa Mistry writes regularly about music for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @_anupa.