Poirier (Ninja Tune) w/ Dubspot: Talks Production, Remixing, DJing +

Poirier is a man with a broad interest in a variety styles that span the globe. That breadth provides him an opportunity to communicate with diverse crowds and a lot of other artists. The conversation is always a two way street. As a DJ, he expresses his personal interests, but only within the context that the audience is interested in. As a producer, once he establishes why he’s interested in working with someone, it’s pretty much fair game from there. In advance of a Brooklyn party he headlined this Friday, the ‘electro-soca’ and ‘electro-dancehall’ producer spoke to us about these experiences and more. He draws lessons from the numerous vocalists he’s worked with; the remixes he commissioned that made up the entire second CD of his last LP, Running High on Ninja Tune; and the shows he’s played across the world like Cape Town, Mexico, and London. Beyond that, he also discussed the cultural aspects, limits, and ethics of working with styles that cross borders and boundaries. - MS.

[Poirier - "No More Blood (feat. Face-T)", Photo by Raphaël Ouellet.]


I listen to a lot of music or I sometimes meet people when I’m on tour or while I’m in Montreal and I like them. Sometimes I even choose vocalists haven’t yet done anything close to what I do, but I can see a curve of them going towards something more electronic or more experimental and think they’d be a good match. That’s what happened, for example, with Face-T and Boogat. That was kind of their first experience working with a producer like me. Face-T had been doing more reggae and Boogat more hip hop. So sometimes it’s a matter of guessing, like I can see the talent and where they could match my music but they might not be there yet. So it’s development – getting to know the vocalists and them having ideas for your riddim.

It also gave me a lot of surprises, like we’ll end up with a result we never thought about. For example, this morning I received some vocals from an artist in LA, Juakali. We’ve played a few gigs together, and we both appreciate each other’s work. He’s from Trinidad, and was complaining that he’s never had a chance to do soca vocals. He’s like, ‘Oh, I really want to do something with you,’ because I’ve been doing these soca riddims. So I sent him some riddims, and he sent me back vocals this morning, and I was like, ‘Nice, I’ve never heard you doing anything like that.’ And he said, ‘Well, nobody’s sent me a riddim like that!’ So it’s nice for both parties to discover new territories.

I’m working slowly but surely on my next EP, Soca Sound System Vol. 2. It will be, again, four tracks at 160 BPM. Super fast soca. I’m slowly seeking vocalists and building new tracks. The first track, ‘Sak Te Gen Tan Gen La‘, is done and features a rapper from Haiti and Montreal called Imposs. All in Creole. We spread it on YouTube because I wanted people to hear it and because it will soon be carnival season in Haiti. It’s a track for them, and I didn’t want to miss the boat. We spread it on the radio over there and to YouTube for the rest of the world.

[Poirier - "Sak Te Gen Tan Gen La (feat Imposs)", Photo by Daniel Paltán.]


If I work with a vocalist, I make sure to put his name on the track. It’s just fair. It’s just normal. One of the biggest crossovers of electronic and dancehall didn’t even put the name of the vocalists on the songs. I won’t mention the name, but you know the song.  It’s still happening in 2010. It’s happening in 2011. And with people who are having a lot of success. And people will never know who the vocalist is, they’ll just know the production team. But the vocals are driving the song.


It’s similar to how I chose vocalists. Most of the time it’s people whose tracks I’ve played and really like. I’ll see it as blending well with what I like or going in a direction I can’t really do as well as them. I’m very open with remixes because I do a lot myself. So when I ask for remixes, I give less restrictions, and more like ‘You do a lot of music, but these tracks that you did, where you’re exploring this kind of vibe, I think that will fit really well if I gave you this track. Let me know your thoughts on that.’ It’s just giving them a little direction because it can go everywhere. Sometimes, as a remixer, I ask, ‘Why are you asking me? Which songs do you like from me? What are you looking for? What kind of remix?’ I think it’s a fair game, because you have endless possibilities. Obviously I like remixers to dig my stuff. I mean, if they’re not digging it, what’s the point? Sometimes I will work with vocalists, remixers, or producers, and we’ll make the call maybe two years before but the timing isn’t good. So we say one day, we’ll make it happen. Sometimes it can take six months, sometimes a year, two years, but that’s fine. For example, Face-T, my main vocal collaborator, it took two years from the initial contact. But he was working with a group, and finishing an album, and then he had to go on tour. It was just a matter of timing. Music is also about patience.


It always depends on the goal. If we were to do something where I wanted dancefloor, and it’s not dancefloor, we missed the point! A good remix has no respect for the original. If they have too much respect for the song, they won’t push it or bring it further. They’ll be too polite. I don’t want them to be polite I want them to bring their touch, their ideas. Take Modeselektor‘s remix of ‘Blazin”. They used nothing from my instrumental, nothing from my riddim, and they only used a snippet from the vocal. And it’s not even saying, ‘We keep it blazin,’ it’s just saying, ‘We keep it, we keep it.’ And they revealed something totally new with that, and it was amazing! I’m quite tired of people thinking a remix should just be a boosted version of a song. I think that’s part of the disco era where people were looking for an extended version with a louder kick drum. I’m not really into that. If people ask me to do a remix and they want that, I won’t do it. Also, if people ask me and really want me use all the vocals, I also don’t want to do it. Sometimes I don’t like the whole vocals. I’ve been doing a lot of remixes lately where I don’t use any of the vocals and people are quite shocked by it. But fuck that, you know? Let’s move forward. I mean, there’s people like LCD Sound System, where that’s basically what they did. Disco remixes. They’d take the whole structure and everything. But for me, that’s not really enjoyable, either to remix people like that or to be remixed like that.

[Poirier - "Blazin' (Modeselektor Remix)", Photo by May Truong.]


In Cape Town I was able to play soca and they’ve never heard about it. I was chilling with some producers and DJs, and they were like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ He’s like, ‘I don’t think you’ll be able to get away with it.’ I’m like, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ And I played a gig, and was able to play it. Every party is a different party. You can play five different nights in one city and it will be five different contexts, five different vibes. Having a large repertoire is quite useful, but it doesn’t mean I adapt my set to a specific country. It means I adapt my set to every night. I’m responding to the crowd. It’s an exchange. It’s not like driving on a highway where I know what I’m going to se – number one, two, three, four, five… I don’t even know the first track I’m going to play. I just show up and look at the people and see what I can do with them. I like to play a lot in Montreal and define my style, but I must say that when I play in the UK, a lot of the music I play fits and the reaction from the people is better, more intense. Playing Notting Hill carnival in London was quite a good moment because people were very happy that I was playing very specific dancehall and soca styles and tracks. It was funny, one of the London DJs was like, ‘Oh, the carnival is cool because I can finally play some soca tracks’. But I was like, ‘I don’t need a fucking carnival to play soca. I don’t need a pretext for that, I’ll bring it almost every time.’ There it was making more sense, yes. But it doesn’t change the way I play in other contexts. So, yes, people have a better understanding there. Reggae has been a part of the UK for 50 years now, and it’s spread out to almost any kind of urban music possible there from hip hop, to dance, to drum n bass, to techno even. So the sensitivity to it, the understanding of the bass and everything is quite good for me because that’s exactly where I am.


My set in Bushwick in 2009 was interesting because the DJ before me was the worst experience ever. It was very tense. He was fucked up basically and aggressive, spitting beer on the equipment, and yelling at everybody. I’ve never seen anything like that. And when he left, he unplugged everything, so I wasn’t able to start right away. So I had to rebuild the whole vibe because it died. Everybody was tense. But I kinda figured it out, I started with some slow reggae and put people in a good mood. I managed to rebuild the vibe and it was good. But before I played? It wasn’t good. That DJ before? Fuck him.


Just a laptop. No hardware apart from my mouse. I use mostly Fruity Loops. To build my sample banks, I sample stuff myself. I’ve been using a little bit of bank samples, but a lot of stuff I sample is from old CDs. But I don’t sample sequences. It’s all one hits. I rebuild all the riddims. They’re mine. I have huge folders of sound banks that I select a few sounds to start with. When I start a song, I usually don’t have any ideas. I don’t try to reproduce anything from my mind. I’ve never heard anything in my brain. I’m not trying to reproduce something, I’m trying to do something. Music for me is an action. Sometimes I might have an inspiration, where I wish it might be this or that. But sometimes the sounds or the melody don’t make it dancefloor. And that’s not a problem. I don’t want to censor myself while I’m making music and having ideas. But when I finish songs or have thick sketches, I will select them and they’ll go to different projects. It’s like a giant puzzle. It’s like turning on a sink and the water comes down.


I used to say that as musicians and DJs, we kind of have a diplomatic, social passport. I strongly believe in that concept. Musicians, vocalists, and artists have kind of a way to reach beyond the certain social and class borders. Whenever you work with somebody from another city or country, it’s all about working with a certain respect. You respect the person you are working with, regardless of their position in class or whatever. It’s an exchange. And if that exchange happens, anything can happen. And if you’re an asshole, well, you know…

[Poirier - "Blazin' (feat Face-T)"]


In Toronto, they have Caribbana every summer at the end of July. It’s probably the biggest, or one of the biggest, soca celebrations outside of Trinidad. There’s a huge West Indian population in Toronto, and right now it’s all about soca. It’s bigger than dancehall or reggae. It’s for the West Indians, so they just do what’s current and relevant there. You can be assured that the carnival winners in Trinidad this year from different categories will be at Caribbana doing maybe four or five showcases per night. They also have a huge web site called TorontoLine.com that is kind of the main soca web site in the world. So there’s a huge scene in Toronto. And there’s also people like Machel Montano who did Madison Square Garden in New York. So for something that stays in the community, it’s quite huge. So they have their own star system.


My goal with soca is not necessarily to blend into their market. My goal is to be more like a bridge. There’s almost no DJs outside of the soca scene that play it. So I have that privilege to bring that kind of music to a public crowd and network that have never heard about it. If it’s blended over there a little bit, that’s fine, but they have a huge system there where they have big artists and stars. And I’m quite far from being a star, so I think they’re good with that! I think what is cool is just taking some of the tracks they release and also doing my own kind of soca and Caribbean style. These are what I’m really interested in. But sometimes there’s other stuff. For example, take ‘Sak Te Gen Tan Gen La’. To me it was just soca, but to Imposs it reminded him more of a style from his country called rara. For him it’s not far. They have the same kind of pacing, drumming. In Montreal there are a lot of people from Haiti, so I’m looking forward to working with more of them.


Sometimes I work with the Haitian rappers here. Montreal isn’t as, let’s say, multicultural, as New York. So you don’t have the same blend of people. The first blend you can have is not a racial one, it’s a language one. If you have a night where one half are Anglos, and the other half are Francos, that’s pretty rare and precious. A good achievement. I’m more concerned about that chiefly. It’s just a natural divide because it’s all like word of mouth or friends of friends, so that’s what happens. My goal is not to do a night that’s specifically designed to be for Francophones or Anglophones. It’s for everybody. Everyone’s welcome. I like to play music that West Indians will like, that Africans will like, North Africans. I play stuff like cumbia that Latin American people respond well to. I’m just playing a little bit of everything because I like a little bit of everything, and I like to show the links between a lot of music that people might not see.

[POIRIER - "Wha-La-La-Leng (feat. Face-T)"]


It’s not music I really enjoy. It’s more like pop singers that go to France. But it’s a bit strange; Quebec has produced a few RnB stars specially designed for France because there’s no RnB market in Quebec. So they’ll produce it here, do the vide here, but make their career in France and never play in Quebec. Montreal doesn’t have any urban radio, if you want to listen to commercial hip hop you have to go onto community radio or university radio.


Names are names and we need them for a certain reference. Sometimes it’s not the best name, and if tropical isn’t the best name, at least it shows it’s not rock music, shows it’s not rap. It gives certain indications. It might not give the perfect indication, but at least it will delete some association, and that’s enough. I’ll play a little bit of everything, I’ll play electro, house, soca, dancehall, reggae, roots, cumbia, 3ball, UK funky, dubstep. Everything. What’s important to know is that it is a mixture of certain things. I’m not against tropical. Personally I like the name global. It should go in that direction. But there’s one thing I really hate, and that’s the word ghetto. I don’t see the point of relating anything musically with the word ghetto.


I was hoping to go to Trinidad, but schedule-wise, it’s too much of a squeeze for me. At the end of the summer, there’s the Notting Hill Carnival in London. I went there last year, and it was very, very fun, so I’d like to go back there. And I’m still running my monthly night in Montreal called Karnival. We have a big one coming in two weeks and we hired Brazilian dancers and percussionists. DJs, MCs, dancers and percussionists.


Yea, we just released the second mixtape for Boogat, who sings in Spanish all over it. It’s not necessarily about my production, it’s more about selecting some of the riddims and doing the mixing for the whole thing. So, we gather stuff from all over the place and try to make something that makes sense. Boogat has started work on an EP, and I’ll probably have one or two songs on that. We’re waiting for the Spring to release a video we did for ‘Ke Viva’. We’re gonna wait until Winter is over because it’s a Summer song.

[Poirier - "Kalima Shop Titi (feat Boogat)", Photo by John Londono.]

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[...] Behind the decks you might catch him spinning dancehall, like at his recent appearance with Poirier, but you could also hear a jungle set if you attended, say, Konkrete Jungle or one of the Brooklyn [...]