By now it's nothing new for strangers to make music together via the internet. Like when Phonte of Little Brother and Dutch producer Nicolay turned this into a Grammy-winning endeavor.
Still, when the digital din is tracked to weird music and seemingly mismatched collaborations made in unassuming places, you can't help but cock your head a bit. There's Vancouver's Babe Rainbow, and Nutley, NJ's Clams Casino and now, meet 22-year-old Ryan Hemsworth: emerging producer, recent journalism school grad and a self-described "skinny white dude" from Halifax, NS.
Since early 2011 Hemsworth's built a small but loyal internet following off the strength of three cluttered, pulsing, genre-fucking releases, plus the A.D.D. beats he's built for come-up rappers like Charlotte, NC's Deniro Farrar and Oakland, CA's Shady Blaze and Main Attraktionz.
Fans include BBC Radio, French DJ/producer Brodinski, and Canada's baby-voiced overlord Grimes. A recent mix, which nips between Action Bronson and Kuedo, landed Hemsworth parallels to lauded Glaswegian whiz-kid Rustie by SPIN.com.
Here's an exclusive mix from Hemsworth:
Hemsworth's back in town this Friday at Visions - a new A/V art party series and Mansion's three-year anni - opening for L.A. producer Shlohmo (whose Weeknd-sanctioned remix of Crew Love might suggest an appearance by Abel himself?)."When that idea was pitched to me I was like, ‘No way, that's not going to happen! But it's very cool," says Hemsworth, audibly smiling on the line from Ottawa where he's spending the summer with his girlfriend.
Turns out an opening gig can lead to much more: Shlohmo's imprint We Did It is set to release Hemsworth's next EP, out this summer.
Congratulations on finishing school. It seems a lots happened over the past while. That's pretty good timing.
Well the past four years it's been about trying to find a balance, but most of the time music was taking over what I had to for class. So it's nice to have the time to focus on it. If it works out it'll be perfect timing because I don't have a job yet. I do love writing and interviewing and people but music has been my passion for a while. [I'm starting to make some money] now with shows and people, surprisingly, do pay for stuff on BandCamp. The crowd that listens to my stuff seems to be diverse so I get a bunch of people who are willing to support me.
When did things start getting really different?
Different offers are coming up constantly which wasn't happening before Christmas. And it's definitely from getting posted on sites people look at, like Fader and HypeTrak. Once you get recognized by one or two of the right people things seem to start snowballing.
SPIN is probably good for that.
That was awesome. I have Google Alerts so I woke up and found it in my inbox and had to re-read it because I also get a lot of Chris Hemsworth Google Alerts (laughs) but it was nice. The Rustie thing was a little uncomfortable. I think a lot of people get confused thinking I'm making those claims, you know? It's weird to me because everyone he mentions in that piece - like Rustie, I'm one of his biggest fans. But it's exciting to get recognized in a similar light. Hopefully he doesn't hate me for the comparison.
That correlation makes a lot of sense though. There's a real scattered cohesion to your music, all these references and styles coming together - even though the end product sounds very different.
It's hard for people to apply a straight two-word term to what I'm making, but it also makes me stand out I think. I can go from making a rap song, to a dance song, to a 70-minute mix with all these different samples. Really everything's just coming from my iTunes. Ten years ago, if I was at the same point I am now, I would've been a huge crate digger but now I'm just... blog digging (laughs). It's what I'm listening to and it's what I've grown up on and basically what I'm downloading off the internet.
This comes up in the SPIN piece, but it definitely sounds like a refined iteration, or like the next evolution, of that Girl Talk stuff...
Oh, I was definitely a fan for a while and the way I mash everything together - that's definitely an influence. What I like to do is take pieces of songs that I have stems of, from my friends and stuff, and put it all together as opposed to layering a bunch of verses from different songs on top of each other. I'll take the outro from one video game song and a rap intro and put it all together to make a new song within a set. I guess that makes sense: the next step of blending and mixing and stuff.
So what ties the rap beats and dancier stuff and mixes cycling through everything together?
So, like, Grimes has a lot of distorted stuff that jumps out to me and it's the same with trap music: there are a lot of harsh tones I take for snares and hi-hats, and rhythm too. For melody I go to different resources for different textures. Video games tend to have softer synths and nicer melodies so it's nice to contrast between dark and light like that.
What'd you listen to growing up?
Well, I started out from an indie rock background. In junior high I was pretty anti-rap and anti-hip hop but I guess a lot of stuff changes (laughs). I was 15 or 16 when I started playing guitar and listening to Bright Eyes and stuff! Not complete emo music but what you first start with on guitar, like Weezer. Around 18, I became obsessed with hip hop, from Wu-Tang to Mobb Deep - that grimier New York East Coast stuff - and then I got more into Southern/Atlanta rap and I'm still obsessed with that.
How did playing guitar translate into creating music digitally?
When I first started playing with drum machines - just virtual ones within editing software - I was still playing guitar and instruments, but I was adding more rhythm. Over time I found myself relying more on that stuff within computers. I don't use any instruments now and that just happened organically, from listening to more and more rap that's software-based music. Thinking back to what I was listening to: Outkast stands out big-time because it fused what I used to be super into and still am, like Aphex Twin and a lot of technical stuff with that gutter rap sound. There's just something about mixing the clean sound with the dirty sound.
So how'd you move from rap to dance records?
I started out singing but I hated listening to my own voice, so once I got a response - I was just emailing rappers at the time, like Shady Blaze - and people were recording to my work I was happy. That was what I always wanted to do. And it gave me the freedom to put out dance music under my own name.
You're also releasing a split-single with Exeter from Toronto really soon. Is it hard not working in the same city as your collaborators?
Yeah, sometimes but DropBox is revolutionary, like, I mixed an entire Main Attraktionz mixtape by sending files through DropBox. But at the same time it doesn't make up for bouncing ideas off someone next to you. I used to be in a shitty rock band in high school but that was a different experience. All my collaborations have been through e-mail and DropBox which seems impersonal but it's kind of rewarding to be like, ‘Here's a song, go with it' and get back something perfect. It's nice to know that can happen.
How do you even establish a working chemistry though?
For example, with Deniro Farrar we've only talked a couple times and I talk with his manager every couple of days but whatever I send works with what he raps about and his flow. I've also sent lots of stuff to other rappers who haven't responded or it didn't sound that great. There's a lot of trial and error too.
What's it like doing what you do in Halifax then?
It's probably different for a lot of other people because I'm just sitting on a laptop in my bedroom. Up until this year I haven't been playing many shows there so everything I was doing was out of town, like I'd fly to Montreal for the weekend. Halifax is more interested in indie rock or straight up top 40 pop stuff and the scene is pretty specific to that. It's starting to change. I've noticed when I start to play more shows and do really current rap, people are responding, but it doesn't seem as daring as Montreal or Toronto, you know?
That's cool though because people tend to rally around people from their hometown doing something different, so maybe you can help start a new thing. If you're staying that is.
Yeah, I mean regardless of what happens I'll always be coming and going so I can hopefully open some minds maybe (laughs).