The 21st Century DJ

By
Photography Yann Bean

Published December 9, 2013

ABOVE: JACQUES GREENE IN NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 2013. PHOTOS BY YANN BEAN.

When it comes to his profession, Jacques Greene can be quite self-loathing. “I’m so embarrassed to be a DJ,” he says. Going through customs is a nightmare (“If you’re a musician, where are your instruments?”) and he fears that touring Europe with so little has given him “bad karma.” Lucky for Greene, he’s much more than simply a DJ: his live show is laptop-free, instead featuring an assemblage of synthesizers, keyboards, and drum machines; and his production is much more pop-R&B than EDM. Even his traditional DJ setup now comes with live visuals, masterminded by his friend Jason Voltaire. That said, Greene still knows his way around a remix—a duality that has made the 24-year-old a favorite amongst club kids, the fashion crowd, and esoteric music nerds alike.

Having recently moved to New York from Montreal (he hasn’t even gotten around to switching his cell phone number yet), Greene is poised for an exceptional 2014. In the wake of the success of his EP On Your Side, which featured vocals from How to Dress Well, and his Internet-famous Ciara remixes, Greene has been hard at work in the studio, occasionally coming up for air to play warehouse ragers in Brooklyn, Art Basel parties, and a gig to fête fellow Montrealer Rad Hourani. With plans to release another EP and eventually a full-length, it’s unlikely anyone will be pigeonholing Greene as “just a DJ.”  

ALLYSON SHIFFMAN: What does the live show look like these days?

JACQUES GREENE: I’d like to make it even more expansive, but right now it’s me and another guy, Andrew Gordon. It’s a huge headache to put together, but I definitely deserve it. Being a DJ is so easy. I can put headphones in this pocket, USB sticks in the other and that’s it—I’m a DJ. When I do the live show I’m bringing all this fragile analogue synthesizer equipment and dealing with three-hour sound checks and all that.

SHIFFMAN: Has anything ever gone horribly wrong with all the extra equipment?

GREENE: Things have gone wrong. The first time we ever did it in London was with Four Tet for his FabricLive Mix launch. Two songs in, a voltage adapter just breaks. It was a nightmare. Luckily we had keyboards and were able to save it. I don’t think anyone noticed, but it was the worst 45 minutes of my life.

SHIFFMAN: Some of the best dance parties I’ve been to were at sketchy illegal spaces in Montreal. How involved were you in the DIY after-hours scene there?

GREENE: There are a few legendary spots along Van Horne that had some of the best parties I can remember. Montreal has always had this tradition of illegal loft spaces with names like “The Fall” or “Torn Curtain.” It wasn’t even really a drug thing— obviously it comes with the territory, but it wasn’t just druggie ketamine techno parties. It was interesting music, great times, a varied cast of people…

SHIFFMAN: … Good sound systems.

GREENE: Yeah, surprisingly good sound systems. Especially considering you’re in some dingy industrial loft space where drinks are five dollars and you see the guy run across the loft with the cash register whenever the cops come by. I have really, really fond memories of all that.

SHIFFMAN: What’s your favorite late night Montreal food?

GREENE: The smoked meat sandwich. The thing is, I always regret it. It triples your hangover, it stays on your breath for 14 hours, but in the moment it’s one of the greatest things.

SHIFFMAN: How great of an understanding do your parents have about what you do for a living?

GREENE: I think by now quite good. Not that it was full-on disapproval, but it was, “So… you’re going to quit your job to play a few shows in Europe? I thought people didn’t buy music anymore.”

SHIFFMAN: What was your job?

GREENE: I was an art director at an ad agency.

SHIFFMAN: So a real job, then.

GREENE: It was a fantastic job, but I had used all my vacation time that year to tour. “Another Girl” was about to be released and I realized I couldn’t quit my job and try this when I’m 32. At first my parents said, “Okay, make sure you’re all right.” That same year Radiohead asked me to do a remix and they’re like, “I know about Radiohead.” [laughs] Then the following year I was doing support for The xx. I opened for them at Metropolis and my mom came and I think once “Jacques Greene” was on the marquee under The xx at a venue she’s gone to all her life she was like, “Yeah, OK. I get it.”

SHIFFMAN: You’ve done some really exceptional collaborations. How did you come to work with How to Dress Well?

GREENE: It was mostly on a mutual fan thing. I started talking to him and said, “I feel like you see pop music in the same weird way that I do. We should try to see what happens if it comes together.” I sent him the most early of ideas and then the whole thing grew organically. It wasn’t, “I’ll send you a finished beat and send me back the vocal.” I hate those forced collaborations, they just feel like a mashup. It was much more of a creative conversation. I sent him this little 10-second loop and he hit me back a few days later with him just humming different ideas into his MacBook.

SHIFFMAN: What’s your fantasy collaboration?

GREENE: I’ve got to do the real collaboration with Ciara. This summer I did these Ciara bootlegs of “Body Party” and “Sorry” and those have been getting a lot of run on the Internet. I think at this point she’s heard them. Ryan Hemsworth was playing my “Body Party” remix at the Opening Ceremony runway show at New York Fashion Week, and I think she was even there.

SHIFFMAN: This is something you’re probably sick of talking about, but how did you wind up in that Azealia Banks music video?

GREENE: [laughs] Travis, Machine Drum, is an old friend of mine and I’ve known his manager for years. He picked up Azealia as an artist years ago and she moved to Montreal for a whole summer. I guess she needed someone to show her around town so we became friends and then the video was shot two blocks from my house so she was like, “Hey, do you want to stop by?” And at that point it was just a little video being shot on the corner… And now 60 million people have seen my face. It’s kind of scary to think it was such a little moment, a blip in a day, and now I’m never going to do anything seen by as many people as that.

SHIFFMAN: Don’t say that!

GREENE: 60 million people! Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted it. For a while I was being recognized in airports by 35-year-old women. They’d go, “Were you that guy from the hip-hop video?”

SHIFFMAN: What’s the right way to ask a DJ for a guest-list spot?

GREENE: [laughs] I don’t even know the right way.

SHIFFMAN: Would you rather get a courtesy “Hey, what’s up?” first or would you rather people cut to the chase?

GREENE: You’ve always gotta ask “How you doing?” It’s fake, but fake is better than nothing. Just the other day I had organized this show at Village Underground in London. Obviously day of, all our phones are just blowing up. I got a few from a girl I sort of know and it was just, “Hey, can I get a plus one?” I don’t even reply to those. I can’t imagine promoters doing parties in New York, they must get flooded. And really, what’s 20 dollars?

SHIFFMAN: It’s the principle. People won’t pay for music either.

GREENE: I’ve paid for nearly all the music I’ve gotten this year. That’s mostly because my accountant told me it’s tax deductible. But I’d be kind of a jackass if I didn’t buy music. A song costs maybe $1.50, I’m playing for an hour or two hours… the return is… it’s a pretty good investment.

FOR MORE ON JACQUES GREENE, VISIT HIS SOUNDCLOUD.

For more of our 14 Faces of 2014, click here.