MATHEW JONSON with ADAM MARSHALL , NITSUJI , OTAKU , TASK at No Regrets (219 Dufferin), Friday (February 18). $15 before midnight, more after. www.wabi.org. Rating: NNNNN
There's something about Vancouver techno producer Mathew Jonson's sound that's immediately recognizable, and that's not just the enormous hype behind him talking.
His palette of sounds and equipment aren't particularly unique, and he's not really reinventing the genre either. Instead, credit his melodic sensibilities and songwriting approach for making his tracks stand out of a set.
This likely comes from his background as a pianist, which means that he's better equipped than most DJs to come up with a satisfying and unique melody. Growing up in Victoria also distinguishes him from the larger techno scene, giving his tracks a naïveté and freshness that the genre needs. Not surprisingly, Jonson is influenced by a much wider variety of music than most of his peers.
"I don't listen to that much techno at home - I'm more into hiphop, drum 'n' bass and a bit of jazz and rock," Jonson mumbles sleepily from his new home in Vancouver. "I enjoy making it when I'm in the club, but it's not something I usually want to hear when I'm at home."
The drum 'n' bass influence might be surprising, but once you know to look for it, you do sense that his heavy distorted synth lines draw more from that sphere than from the restrained minimalist pulse of techno. You take those dirty sounds and wrap them around the chords and melodies that reflect his love of jazz, and the Mathew Jonson sound starts to emerge.
Although he didn't release his first track until 2001, he'd actually been recording drum 'n' bass remixes privately for years without bothering to send them out to anybody. He might never have come to the world's attention if his friends hadn't started a little techno label, Itiswhatitis. Soon you started seeing all the big-name techno DJs charting his records, not to mention repeatedly bringing his name up in interviews as someone to watch out for.
Over the past year, that hype has snowballed, garnering him even more praise from key tastemakers along with lots of mix CD appearances on all the right compilations. The shortlist of dance music celebrity fans includes Richie Hawtin, Sven Vath, Gilles Peterson, Laurent Garnier, Ricardo Villalobos, Tiga, Swayzak and Dan Bell.
"Ricardo Villalobos helped me a lot when I was first starting. He came to town to play a gig, and we all hung out for a few days, and he really liked the tracks. Later, the label started sending promos out to the big DJs, but most of that I just heard about from other people."
All this hype has given Jonson the chance to release a flood of music on a variety of labels. It's also meant that he now spends much of his time in Europe playing live sets, and sometimes DJing. The live sets in particular have a lot of people talking; his Friday gig at No Regrets will be his first non-DJ appearance in Toronto. High-quality recordings of his European live sets suggest that he might be one of the few techno producers who could pull off a full-length album, but he's not that interested.
"I might do a compilation of the singles, but I'm not really planning on doing an album. I don't really like to hang onto my tracks for that long. If I had a big block of time without gigs I might consider it, but it's not a big priority for me.
"People tell me to slow down and not to oversaturate the market with singles, but I'm not too concerned about it. If they stop liking what I'm doing, they stop liking it."