Junior Boys - Essential Albums

ESSENTIAL ALBUMS: 5 Canadian classics hiding under Junior Boys’ Big Black Coat

Neil Young, Mantler, the N.F.B. — Junior Boys list the experimenters and songwriters they admire most.

- Feb 11, 2016
In Essential Albums, our favourite artists dig up a handful of records that they consider “essential” by any definition they choose. This week, Jeremy Greenspan of Hamilton electronic duo Junior Boys dishes on the five Canadian albums (plus a Drake s/o) most influential to their music.

When Jeremy Greenspan began Junior Boys in Hamilton in 1999, he never intended to play live. It was just for fun, but, he says, "I kind of fell into a music career."

Now, near two decades active, he and Matt Didemus have established their group as a world-touring electro-pop institution, purveyors of late-night, introspective dance. And though Hamilton may not seem like a global hub for electronic music, Greenspan reminds me of the talents we sometimes forget who call or have called the city home: Caribou, Jessy Lanza, Orphx, Electric Youth. There's long bubbled a techno and industrial scene — sometimes above ground, often well below. It's driving distance from Toronto, Detroit, and New York City. In Canadian fashion, it's receptive to the waves coming over from England and France. And it's quiet. This last part is crucial.

"I'd play to double the amount of people in Edmonton as Hamilton," he explains, "but that's the thing I like: nobody cares." People are supportive, don't get him wrong, but the relatively small, relatively isolated electronic community has granted him the space to write, experiment, and craft in private.

Junior Boys' latest, Big Black Coat, delivers the results of five years left alone in the lab, touring dance genres — Detroit techno, electro pop, soul, French house — with the elegance and vision of masters. They're scholars and innovators — they know how dance music works, and obviously that means: they know how to make you dance.

We spoke with Greenspan by phone to learn about the music central to Junior Boys. And, though you might think of the group's distinct mix of experimental electronic-tinged pop songs as a regional anomaly, it's not. All his picks, in fact, are Canadian.

Junior Boys' Big Black Coat is out now via Geej and City Slang.

Neil Young, On the Beach (1974)

Playlist: Neil Young "On the Beach" - Full Album

Jeremy Greenspan: My favourite Neil Young album is On the Beach. I think it’s his best album. I think it’s the album where he perfectly got that middle point between freeness and polished song craft. Some of the other albums veer one way or the other, like into that super loose, super grungy Neil Young, or some of the others go far into that polished ’70s AM Neil Young. It’s exciting when he gets both of those together perfectly and I think On the Beach is the album that he did that the best.

I just love great songwriting. In the world of dance music, that’s a part that’s not always there. Although I would argue there are a lot of people who make dance music — throughout its history, a lot of disco music — who pay attention to song craft, a lot of great chord structures, and stuff like that. Nile Rodgers, for example, is an amazing songwriter. I like a lot of what you’d probably consider classically great songwriters, and Neil Young, I would say, is the best Canadian songwriter.

Musiques de l’O.N.F./Music of the N.F.B.: Volume 1(1977)

Greenspan: The NFB in general has been a big influence. Our third album, Begone Dull Care, was sort of a love letter to the NFB and in particular, Norman McLaren. He’s got a number of pieces of music on that album along with a bunch of the other animator/composers. Maurice Blackburn has a piece. Alain Clavier does this really awesome piece. I love that sort of raw creative energy.

What’s great about the NFB is that it has this funny mandate: being super experimental, but also it’s a public service so its supposed to appeal to a broad demographic. Experimental, but not alienating. There’s something very Canadian about the NFB, which I like: it’s about being inclusive as opposed to exclusive.

Plastikman, Recycled Plastik (1994)

Playlist: Plastikman - Recycled Plastik

Greenspan: It was the first album of his that I knew and loved. It’s the one that has “Spastik” and “Elektrostatik.” It’s his hit album, I suppose. He was a major influence on me growing up. I think that album and Sheet One and Consumed stand up as great records. Recycled Plastik just doesn’t date. It was made 22 years ago and it sounds as futuristic now as it did then. Say what you will about Richie Hawtin, he’s a total genius when he’s on.

That’s the stuff that I was into as a teenager. By the time I started Junior Boys, my dance leanings were in the UK. It's actually taken me a while to come back. [Big Black Coat] is a nod back to my youth, being into industrial and techno music in Hamilton and the scene that existed here, as well as my continued life here. Everything I write about is about Hamilton in so far as it’s about my immediate experiences.

The people here don’t care about what I’m up to. Most of my relationships in Hamilton are with people who are interested in me as a guy, they don’t care about what music I make. Even the friends I have that are musicians in Hamilton, I’m not necessarily connected to them musically.

Chart Attack: Hamilton seems like a place where you can rent a studio cheaply and have room for gear and operate kinda quietly, at your own speed.

Exactly. Like having [The Brain, the bar Greenspan co-owns], for example. That just came about because I had the space for a studio and I didn’t know what to do with the ground floor, so I asked a friend who ran a bar if they wanted to run a bar there. I don’t know anything about running a bar.

Mantler, Sadisfaction (2002)

Mantler "You were free"

For me, he’s just like the most important Canadian songwriter that nobody knows. There are a ton of people in the music community in Canada who totally worship him. He’s just so much better than anyone else working in the country as a songwriter. He’s just a step above. And it’s a complete mystery to me why he isn’t a household name. He’s insanely talented.

What does Junior Boys owe to Mantler/Marker Starling? Is it again the interest in songwriting?

Yeah, it’s the love of song craft and the feeling of outsider pop. He’s a total outsider and he’s a guy who’s obsessed with soul and R&B music — which I am, too — but he’s also a white, middle class Canadian guy who’s trying to do something with that love. He has a great, open mind. For me, he represents the best in Canadian music.

Egyptrixx, A/B til Infinity (2013)

He’s not quite like Chris [Mantler]. He has a fairly large audience in Europe, but he’s not as appreciated at home as he ought to be. In my opinion, he’s the most important electronic musician working in Canada. There’s nobody who sounds like him, which, in electronic music, is quite rare. Most people are derivative of something, whereas he’s completely his own thing. And he’s just unbelievably prolific; I don’t think people realize how much material he puts out. I think he’s putting out like four albums this year. He does this thing called ANIMAI. He just does so much stuff.

Honourable Mention: Drake, Take Care (2011)

The only one I would throw in at the end is a Drake record, because I do think Drake is the most important Canadian musician of our generation. People get sick of hearing about it and talking about it, but I think if you listen to any of his singles and you listen to how little is going on in the backing track, you realize he’s the guy. It’s just all him coming up with hook after hook. I was a little disappointed when he didn’t win the Polaris Prize. The guy’s been nominated a bunch of times. He’s clearly the most important musician in the country, he should win the fucking prize.

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