When WANARB Met: Art Department

This week I’ve been incredibly lucky to catch up with one half of Art Department, Jonny White, ahead of their set next week at Return To The Future in Hackney, London. Lucky for you I wasn’t quite the gibbering fan-girl you’re probably picturing, and I managed to ask some all-important questions about being Canadian, those Swedish House Mafia comments and the recent Resident Advisor poll.

So hi!


First thing I want to start with is, what’s the absolute best thing about being Canadian?

Hmmm. Definitely not the weather. I would say the people, and how polite everybody is over there. It’s actually really refreshing going back. You don’t realise when you’re living there but once you’re travelling abroad and you go back home, you realise how polite and friendly and nice everybody genuinely is. It’s pretty amazing.

I had heard that about Canadians.

It’s so true; I never really realised.

You guys get a good rep abroad!
So, Art Department’s origins are fairly well documented- individually both very successful, good friends but not together in the studio until 2009- so, was there anything that had previously held you both back from working together until the remix on the Crosstown Rebels compilation?

That was the first thing we did together and we’d actually been living together a while before that. I had my studio upstairs, Kenny had his studio downstairs and we’d bounce ideas off each other but never wrote anything together. We were both just doing our own thing: djing together and putting out music on my record label [No. 19 Music] but writing our own music. It took Damian [Lazarus] hiring us for that remix to get us working together.

Okay so there wasn’t one specific thing or moment where you just knew you had to form Art Department?

No, when we decided to form Art Department it was New Years and it was a while after we’d done the remix and we were just partying, talking about it, and our careers, and we decided we should give it a go.

Aw awesome. You guys have played in a quite a few places around the UK, and even a few UK festivals, including what we Londoners affectionately called ‘Mudbox’ [Lovebox].  What do you get more of a kick out of, clubs or festivals? That’s sort of like asking do you prefer to play at daytime or at night I guess. Do you think that has an impact on your music at all?

It definitely does. Everything has an impact on your music: whether it’s a club or a festival or a beach, daytime/night-time, the size of the club… it all affects your mood, right? Your mood dictates what you’re gonna play and it dictates everybody else’s mood. DJing is about feeling the crowd. It changes based on what type of party it is. What we prefer to play? It’s hard to say. We love playing all these different types of places, they’re all so different and they all bring something really special to what we do and that influences what we do.  We like playing of all them!

Where’s the most unusual place you’ve played?

That’s a tough one. Kenny’s been playing for over 20 years; I’ve been playing for 15 or so. Oh god, like thousands of gigs. I guess some clubs have been strange…. I’ve ended up djing in people’s bedrooms for 12 hours. Any time that we’re playing it’s usually pretty cool.

There’s a definitely a theme of relationships and love, very strongly at times of unrequited love, through your music. What do you think it is specifically about the sense of melancholia and desperation in your music that seems to really strike a chord with people?

Since the beginning of music, that’s pretty much been a *theme* in what people are writing. I was actually watching High Fidelity the other day, and in the beginning of the movie John Cusack is talking about how it’s absurd how we let our children listen to thousands and thousands of songs about misery and love and melancholic kinda stuff but we won’t allow them to watch movies with violence. And then he says: What came first, the music or the misery? I think that’s a pretty good statement because that’s where a lot of great music comes from, right?

If the music of Art Department was a girl, would you date her?

Hmm. That’s hard to say. I sure as hell wouldn’t date myself so maybe that’s a no. (laughs)

Haha, okay. You’re known to be fiercely protective over your music, with all your downloadable mixes having an anti-copy message over the top of any Art Department tracks. How do you feel about the way the music industry is headed in this regards? I recently read a comment by a producer who noted the irony when he realised his music wasn’t reaching the success he desired when he couldn’t find free torrents to it. I was just wondering what you thoughts were on this.

(laughs) It’s the nature of the beast now. You have to protect the music against getting out there before it’s released. Like our Essential Mix for example, every song was cut out and posted on YouTube within 42 hours of it airing. Had we not asked the BBC to put “dance” at certain places just to cover the tracks… I mean, people couldn’t really get away with playing them [out]. They’re still gonna cut them out, and edit them, it’s just how things are. There’s a lot to be said for the direction the music industry is going in with the big business side of it disappearing, and major labels not being able to rape artists and rape consumers so there’s the advantage there. But at the same time it’s hard for a recording artist that maybe isn’t a DJ who doesn’t make all their money from touring to make a living making music. It’s a double-sided sword really.

Congratulations on your spot in the Resident Advisor Top 100 DJs Poll by the way.

Oh, thanks so much!

How do you guys feel about that?

Um, I felt pretty amazing about it. (chuckles) It was a really nice surprise that day. I had a good cry when I saw that.

It was quite a different poll to the DJ Mag one.

Yeah I haven’t seen the DJ Mag one.

Ha, well, I was going to say, Swedish House Mafia did come up quite high in that one… I did want to ask about the recent comments you made regarding them [how they DJ without headphones] that’s been doing the rounds over the internet the last few days.

Yeahhh, I’m not going to apologise for it. It’s how I feel.

There’s actually been a lot of support for you.

Really? I heard it made the front page of Resident Advisor. I was like ‘Oh shit.’ It was just something I said in passing in an interview in Chicago a couple months ago. Like I said, I’m not going to apologise, it’s how I feel. I don’t really have to open my mouth about it, and I probably wouldn’t have if I’d been sober at the time. But yeah, it is what is: you’re gonna pay that much money to hear a mix CD.

So you’re playing in Hackney next weekend for Return To The Future. What kind of things can we expect from the set?

I’m really excited about it because it’s also my birthday party and it’s going to get messy. It’s going to be a proper mess, a lot of fun. I’m super-excited and our whole crew is really excited.

So will it be more of a mess than New Years Day? [Art Department play the Hot Natured party]

Uhhh, hmm. We’ll see.

And finally, if there was a zombie apocalypse what would your course of action be? And I ask everyone this.

To be honest, I don’t think things would change a whole lot for me. I spend most of my time hanging out with a few of my friends in the studio. Whether there’s zombies walking around or not, I think we’d still be doing the same thing.

That’s AMAZING to hear. 

There you have it. Even if the world came to a standstill, Art Department would still be making music. Actually amazing. Check out their Essential Mix and then make sure you get a ticket for Return To The Future as, clearly, this birthday-blowout is going to be off the hook!

Return To The Future//Friday December 16 2011
The Print House, Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, E5 

 Art Department – Radio One Essential Mix

Rachael Williams



One Response to “When WANARB Met: Art Department”

  1. […] weren’t making music and why in the event of a zombie apocalypse it would just be them and Art Department […]

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