In a recent article on influential electronic music website Resident Advisor, Berlin-based Toronto ex-pat Christian Andersen (a.k.a XI) is described as a mentor for other Toronto dance artists. It's a label that caught Andersen by surprise.
"It was weird to read that because I'd never thought of myself as a mentor," says Andersen, over the phone from Berlin where he's been living for the past 10 months. "When I was throwing parties and booking people and producing in Toronto I never saw myself that way - if I saw someone who was young and needed any kind of guidance, it felt natural to help them out."
Andersen has been credited for helping kick-start the late-aughts dubstep scene in Toronto, but in the intervening years his own music has crept more toward dark, melodic house. A few weeks ago saw the release of Discard, Andersen's second EP as Ambalance with collaborator Skeleton Bone. On the cusp of a release as XI, he'll tour for the next two months starting with a homecoming party this Friday at Visions, opening for big names Jimmy Edgar and Actress.
It wasn't so much about Berlin's music scene. I'm not the hugest fan of techno, so that wasn't a major draw for me. I wanted a change of scenery, and wanted to live in Europe - Berlin happened to be where a good number of my friends and contemporaries are. It's essentially exactly how everyone describes it. Usually when people describe something as being that good, you have to take it with a grain of salt. It's not paradise, but it's a great place for artists to work. It's easy to live here and there is a lot of space - everyone can find their own zone.
You've been away for most of the past year, but do you get the sense that RA piece is on the mark about the current Toronto scene?
I recently caught up with Kevin McPhee when he came through on tour, and it was nice to get an update of what's going on in Toronto. I'm happy that guys I was keen to boost up like Graham and Kevin are getting a lot of recognition, and that there's a nice influx of younger DJs playing different styles. It seems like eclecticism is alive.
It was cool you got shouted out as a mentor, because I think scenes need champions in order to grow.
Well, without getting too deep into it, considering the amount of talented, prolific, driven, motivated and culturally attuned individuals that Toronto produces, the city never seems to reflect that eclecticism in the nightlife. It's always been this battle between people who see a trend and want to cash in and others who aren't too concerned with taking a hit or putting effort in just out of love. It's generally little cells operating individually and it always remains a small thing.
But, from what I can tell, it seems there's a lot more collaboration going on in the underground side of things and people are getting more industrious. There will be trend-hopping because Toronto's so big and it's just that kind of town. I'm really excited to get a firsthand look at what's going on currently this weekend.
You've been credited as this dubstep champion, but your own music's changed a lot. Is that deliberate?
Well, originally I was a jungle DJ. My musical compass has always pointed me in the direction of whatever interests me, and I've been lucky that it's been part of this burgeoning scene or whatever. I'm sure two years down the road I won't be making house anymore. When I was making dubstep I wasn't thinking of it as, "making dubstep". It's been like that for years - whenever people ask what kind of music I make I'm just like, "Uh...electronic?" People say I make house now and it doesn't sound like house to me.
You've talked about there being less tempo restrictions in dance music these days. Does that make things more interesting for producers?
I've thought about it a lot over the years. The thing about this whole BPM illusion is that it obviously stems from DJ culture: you have to make music in a certain range to play it together on turntables, otherwise you can't pitch it up or down far enough that it'll mix properly. So I get that. But a lot of people are going more into the live form - the Ableton format - and working with tracks by re-BPMing them and re-pitching them. That is making it a lot less necessary to make your stuff at particular speeds.
Even when I DJ, I do my best to find cool transitions between speeds and incorporate as much different music as possible. There is something to be said for people who are good at making trap music or juke or whatever: you need people who are exceptionally good at specific styles to lead the way for people who are fans of a specific genre. For me, it's just more interesting and dynamic when things are changing. We're benefitting from people starting to feel and think that way because it breaks down the boundaries of genre and style.
What do you get out of doing projects outside of XI, like Ambalance?
The XI stuff is inherently designed with some element of being performed live for a dancefloor or club setting - generally I'm thinking about playing it out. But Ambalance - which I loved, loved, loved working on and I'm super happy that anyone downloaded it, let alone the response it got - that's just exciting for me to be working with Darcy [aka Skeleton Bone]. He's been involved in promotions and nightlife and DJ culture for almost as long as I've been alive. It's very exciting to work with somebody like that, because on top of all this experience and taste, he totally doesn't give a shit about making sure it can be DJed or if it's this genre or whatever. Left to his own devices I'm sure he'd be making '90s braindance/IDM. We need that free thinking perspective and less of "Is it cool?". It's not meant to be immediately palatable. So working outside of my brand is creative expansion: I can go to the bounds and limits of my brain without worrying how it's going to be received or sales or getting gigs.
What's up next?
You can expect something fairly soon. I've just been head down in the studio and I have a feature mix up at Percussion Lab, which includes six new tracks that nobody has ever heard before. It's revamping my production style and taking things in a new direction so expect it to be another flip.