An accomplished student of jazz guitar and orchestral composition, with his attention now geared towards electroacoustic composition at university, it’s no wonder why Montreal-based producer Drew Gragg has been picked up by Nicolas Jaar on his forward-thinking, subscription-only label Other People. Drew debuted his 6-track Over-Under EP on the label a few months back and it’s been rapidly gaining attention. His fusion of textures between organic sounds and synthetic frequencies underpins the delicate and intimate nature of Drew’s unique soundscapes; born to unravel and build within each song much like the improvisations of jazz musicians playing live on stage.
There’s soft reverberated piano licks, crystal pings of guitar harmonics, white-noise hisses that snake in and out of your head whilst phased-up warm bass-stabs dance around and give the whole thing space and body. It’s elegantly framed around organic snaps, wooden taps and claps that tumble between house and even reggae rhythms at times. His use of tape-delay modulation adds that nostalgic VHS-like dreamy quality, reminding us somewhat of Boards of Canada, yet this is something very different; almost as if Drew has given techno a big hug and sat it down with a warm mug of camomile tea and switched on some spaced-out visuals to watch in the dark. This is most certainly a bridge between post-nightclub music and dancefloor ambience.
We caught up with Drew Gragg to discuss this more, and to also have a little chinwag about how he hooked up with Nico Jaar and his thoughts on the Montreal scene. Check the Q&A below and listen to his exclusive mix. DOWNLOAD FOR FREE below.
1. Ivan Tcherepnin – Santur Opera
2. Yoko Duo – Lack of Comfort
3. Ukkonen – Thrym
4. Pheek – Landing (Marc Neyen Remix)
5. Pender Street Steppers – Bubble World
6. STL – Silent State
7. Cloudface – Otcho
8. Patricia – Josephine
9. Juniper – Jovian Planet
10. Ginger Baker and Tony Allen – Drum Solo (Live, 1978 Berlin Jazz Festival)
11. Bennie Maupin Ensemble – Neophilia
12. Move D – Your Personal Healer
13. Move D – Silk Dub
14. Leon Vynehall – St Sinclair
15. Basic Channel – Radiance III (Edit)
16. Lewis – I Thought the World of You
You’ve been broadly labelled by many as an ambient producer. How does this sit with you, as a reaction to your music? Is it more restrictive than how you see your sound?
I don’t think anybody means it derisively, but at the same time I think that term has a connotation of being purpose-made background music, which isn’t my intention. That being said, I don’t take offense to it; everyone is entitled to their own impressions and it’s interesting to see how different people listening to the same thing can draw very different conclusions.
Sonically-speaking, your debut EP is very much a record of two sides. Could you take us through the journey that is Over-Under, both as a listening experience and how it came to being?
When Nico and I were going back and forth about the EP, it slowly became apparent that there were two sonic palettes emerging that might not work as a cohesive statement together. We eventually decided to release a double EP to showcase both aesthetics.
How did your relationship with Nicolas Jaar come about? And what was it that attracted you to Other People?
Nico heard my music through our mutual friend Africanus Okokon, and reached out to ask if I’d like to be involved with the label. I was already familiar with Nico’s work, and particularly liked the way he used slower tempos and melded acoustic and electronic timbres.
Where does what you’re doing fit into the Montreal scene at the moment? How would describe the current state of Canadian house and techno?
There’s a lot going on in Montreal at the moment. It’s a small enough city that most people in the electronic music scene are only one or two degrees of separation away from each other, but diverse enough that there isn’t really a “Montreal sound”. It’s a great place to be – there are cool local parties as well as bigger events like Elektra, Mutek, and Piknic Electronique which are always well curated.
Elements of your sound draws comparison to what’s coming out of Vancouver at the moment from Mood Hut and Pender Street Steppers. Is there a sense of long-distance community between the two cities, rallying behind a Canadian musical identity?
I’m flattered by the comparison. I’m definitely a fan of Mood Hut and a lot of the stuff they’ve been putting out, but I haven’t really been in touch with any of them. It would be nice to see those artists booked more often in Montreal.
You’re also associated with things happening in your geographic neighbour of New York, with Galcher Lustwerk and White Material especially. It seems a very natural fit – could you give us an insight into how that connection has emerged and grown?
We connected on Soundcloud at first, after his Tape 22 EP came out and I met him in person when we were booked to play a gig together recently. In my opinion, he’s one of the more interesting producers out there now, I’m excited to hear what he comes out with next.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you made for us?
One track of particular interest to me is the first one, Santur Opera by Ivan Tcherepnin. It was on a compilation of pieces written on Serge modular synthesizers called The Serge Musician’s Tape, released in 1983. I spent a long time trying to track it down, and just found it recently. I was really scouring the web and emailing a bunch of people who were associated with various Serge communities online for weeks, and finally got a complete copy from Derek Holzer, who is an electronic musician and instrument maker in Berlin. Other people had been sending me bits and pieces, and I was pretty close to having all the tracks on the compilation, but it was nice to get the entire thing.
Anything on the horizon, in terms of releases or bookings this summer?
I’ve been working on new music and trying to make my live show more dynamic and improvisational. It’s difficult to try and translate my studio process to live performance since I’m normally pretty detail-oriented, but I’m starting to realize that my live music can be its own thing; I’m working on being able to say more with less. I imagine that could also work its way back into music I create at home.
Keep locked and discover more of Drew Gragg over on his Facebook, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. You can purchase his debut EP Over-Under over on iTunes and stream the whole thing on Other People’s soundcloud.