“Shoe-store House Music”
Image Courtesy of Russell Canceran
If you follow Broken Social Scene drummer Justin Peroff on Twitter—whose username for some reason is Randy River, after his DJ name @juniorpande—he's been tweeting nonstop about a young producer named Harrison. The 21-year-old just released his album Checkpoint Titanium (2016) and it's a medley of different sonic influences: Hip-Hop, House and ’80s Atmospheric Synths; you can also hear tinges of Jazz in the piano and the sax. That's exactly what Harrison wants you to hear and feel as you dance along to his music. He likes to call his music “shoe-store house.”
I spoke with Harrison this past week with no specific questions in mind, but to talk about music, life and anime. Harrison was born and raised in the Beaches on the east end of Toronto, and that day he was just relaxing at home. He casually mentioned that Ryan Hemsworth was headed over to his place. We were just two individuals talking about what we love: music.
As an emerging producer in the Toronto music scene, he is attempting to find his place. Toronto Hip-Hop as a genre has developed a grimy and dark sound thanks to OVO, Noah “40” Shebib and Drake. Since then, the artists and producers in the GTA have taken on this sonic quality; from The Weeknd to PARTYNEXTDOOR, from Grammy-winning producer Frank Dukes to Boi-1da. However, Harrison is taking a different approach. “There’s enough people who are amazing at that. I get more of a kick trying sort of poppy and more uplifting jazzier progressions just because there’s so many great Toronto producers and artists that are good at that art.”
When you’re a young and emerging Canadian electro hip-hop producer, it’s likely that you’ll be compared with your contemporaries—like with Kaytranada, who recently won the Polaris Music Prize for 99.9% (2016). When I asked him about it, he didn’t believe that they had a lot in common. “I find it flattering to be compared to Kaytranada.” He’d rather work with other musicians like Kaytranada, rather than be baited into “stupid rivalries” by comparison. He’s actually found that Toronto has been supportive of his music, and it doesn’t “necessarily have to be in the same scene.” One example that he cites is that Ben Cook, guitarist and back-up vocalist for Toronto hardcore band Fucked Up, is featured on an R&B song on his album.
Talking about his musical style, I was reminded of Carly Rae Jepsen’s production on her 2015 Polaris Prize nominated album EMOTION, through Dev Hynes of Blood Orange and Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend). I asked him if he would ever want to work with Carly Rae Jepsen and produce for her: “Oh my god, yes. I dream of it!” He says that Hynes and Batmanglij working with Jepsen is proof that “maybe I have a place in the radio world.” I told him that an Indie Canadian producer working with a prominent Canadian Pop artist would be incredible. His humble response was, “I just stick to my Jazz and ’80s influence because I love that sound.”
Harrison’s love for anime and video games are also well-documented in other articles about him. I grew up the same, so I wanted to see how similar our tastes were. He mentioned that his whole family watched anime, including his dad—something I did not expect. He cited Dragon Ball Z, Death Note and Naruto, but he also mentioned Samurai Champloo and its soundtrack’s producer Nujabes as a big musical influence. For Harrison, anime is a way to relax from the stress of life.
Video games also sonically influenced him, though more subtly for Checkpoint Titanium. He sampled some video game music for his EP, Colors (2015). The influence is clear on his newest album however, especially on his track “Vanilla” with Ryan Hemsworth. He played a lot of early console games on SEGA, PS2, and Nintendo, but interestingly never got into Pokémon craze—he was more into Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. Harrison was excited to tell me that he just finished building his own desktop with separate components. As a child, his father was interested in computers, but he never had one powerful enough to play games like Starcraft or Warcraft.
Harrison is certainly a talented producer and has a bright future ahead of him in the music business, but following the history of Canadian Indie musicians, I know that his growth from here will be tough. I was curious to see what he thinks and where he’ll go from here. “You know, music was just a joke or a hobby until about a year ago,” he said. He credits Last Gang Records and Peroff as being very supportive and guiding him in the business. I asked him how he thinks independent music, like his own, can get out there with or without the institutional support of important Indie radio stations and music festivals. He pondered the question and responded, “[The music business] is scary and it takes time. You just have to utilize those tools you are given like Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Canada gives out a grant, FACTOR, to musicians to have a little bit of music and work on PR. And go out to some shows and meet some people!”
We spent about 45 minutes speaking on the phone and I enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with someone about music, especially someone as friendly and relaxed as Harrison. “Give me a shot,” he said. Harrison is exceptionally gifted and has great potential. Let’s hope Carly Rae Jepsen gives him a shot too.
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