A few folks asked for a translation of the French interview I did with La Revue about Sunday’s Piknic Electronik Gatineau. We talked about not being a DJ, playing video games onstage, and Lady Gaga karaoke.
Here’s the English text in its unfiltered glory…
Musician and composer Math Rosen will have the privilege of moving the crowd at Piknic Electronik on Canada Day, along with Manalogue, The Gulfstream and A Tribe Called Red.
LR: For those who may not know, what exactly does a DJ do?
MR: DJs collect records and play them for people. I’m not a DJ, but we can listen to my record collection if you want to come over to my house sometime. Otherwise, you can come to my show and watch me perform some music I composed. I break apart all the bits and pieces of the music I’ve made, then I put it back together to make something different. I have to flail around a lot to keep track of all the instruments. I’m a bit like that Dick Van Dyke character in Mary Poppins, except with more blinking lights.
LR: What equipment do you use?
MR: All kinds of gadgets. On stage, I use a handheld box of buttons called a Monome. It’s equipped with an accelerometer (tilt sensor), so I wave it around a lot. I’ve been told it looks like I’m playing Star Fox on the SNES. I also use a computer, but I try not to look at it.
And at home, I’ve been playing a lot of kalimba and tuning my dad’s old autoharp.
LR: What does it take to be a good DJ?
MR: From what my DJ friends tell me, you have to be good at taking requests and stuff. I have trouble taking requests — people don’t seem to like my Lady Gaga karaoke, but it’s the best I can do.
LR: What are the greatest challenges of this artform?
MR: The biggest challenge I have as a producer is finding a way to tell a story. I make a lot of music for films, where the story is laid out in front of me and I have weave sounds into that story to enhance it. But with club music, especially instrumental club music, the story is a lot less obvious. You have to create dynamics by finding the conflict between the sounds. Maybe a jazzy chord progression clashes with a big synthetic drum sequence, but that clash creates the tension that your song has to resolve.
I want to leave the listener with a feeling that they’ve just witnessed a dream - that feeling you get when you leave a movie theatre and you want so badly to go out and find true love, or become a race car driver.
LR: Tell us about Piknic Électronik.
MR: Piknic is a wonderful place full of dance music, beautiful people, big speakers, and corn on the cob. What more can you ask for on a Sunday afternoon? The Piknic crew have been very good to me in both Montreal and Gatineau, and I love them dearly.
LR: What are your favourite types of music?
MR: That’s a tough question! Every mood has a different sound — if I’m trying to get pumped up, I might put on Kanye one day, but on another day it might be Talking Heads or David Bowie. If I’m sitting down with a book, I’ll probably put on Tangerine Dream.
I listen to new music when I’m walking around the city — lately it’s been a lot of the drugged-out, melting hip-hop sound that Clams Casino and Zodiac are making.
I also listen to a lot of 80s cop show theme music.
LR: What do you say to people who are prejudiced against electronic music?
MR: Actually, I’ve noticed people becoming more and more open to electronic music in the years that I’ve been doing this. If you think about it, a huge portion of pop music in the past two decades has been produced electronically. Hip hop is electronic music. Modern R&B is electronic music. Boy bands are electronic music. And it’s been that way for years, not just since Katy Perry or since Skrillex or since Britney collaborated with Rusko or whatever. Pop music has been shaped by technology from the beginning.
Besides, we’re all on our smart phones 24 hours a day now, so we’re basically cyborgs anyway.