Published Jul 24, 2009You'd be forgiven for assuming that Ghislain Poirier's ground floor apartment does not double as the studio where he's produced the bulk of his speaker-rattling catalogue. The Montreal bass maven - who's currently at work on a trio of EPs that explore the common ground between soca, dancehall, and techno - maintains a workspace that is inconspicuous by even the most discerning standards.
Turns out that Poirier, one of Quebec's most reliable beats exporters, has made albums like 2005's Breakupdown and 2007's No Ground Under using only an old Toshiba laptop, two small speakers, and a basic amp. His so-called studio takes up no more than one tabletop, which is tucked snugly into the corner of what is otherwise a living room. No MIDI, no keyboards, no oversized old school samplers, no 303s, no 808s. He still uses the relatively old fashioned Fruity Loops.
Of course, Poirier has good reason for keeping his approach to music this refreshingly simple. "The idea is to be comfortable with what you have. Sometimes, by being able to do a little bit with many softwares, you're not able to dig deeply into any of them. If you use one software for a long time, you can get things out of it that others don't find."
Call it either an aesthetic of modesty or a practical musician's siphoning of experience; the stripped-down approach that shapes home and studio also serves as the backbone of Poirier's rise over the last decade. The high octane walls of rhythm that wobble the globe's dance floors are about using the right tools at the right moment - whether it be an air horn for DJing or a modest Toshiba for producing. Poirier's quasi-Buddhist workspace is all about the organization needed to convert musical imagination into BPM reality. His main engine for progress, he laughingly admits, is abstract thought.
"I don't have something in mind when I sit down to make music. It's an action. I do it, and I discover what I'm doing while doing it. But while I'm doing it, I can be really efficient. All my folders, my mics, have been classified already, so I can operate fast. Making music is also a matter of having good organization of your samples and your tracks. My music is all samples, so making music is essentially about having a certain order, and knowing how to use the few machines that I've chosen."
A career built on samples is typically framed by a huge record collection, but even in this department Ghislain Poirier goes ponderously against the grain. He only keeps a small collection of vinyl, and readily admits to DJing and sampling primarily off a couple hundred CDs. In fact, he professes to routinely sampling himself.
"I have sounds that I've been using and reusing for six years. I can go digging through my previous albums and find sounds I like that I don't have anymore, so I sample myself and present them in a different context. You can use the same sample many times, and it'll never sound the same way twice. You can put textures on it, or use it in the foreground here, the background there. Texture is big part of doing music."
Texture and, one might add, self-awareness. More than other musicians, over five albums and dozens of singles and EPs, Poirier has produced a discography that doesn't stand still for long. "I feel I'm entering my third wave," he says, describing his evolution. "I started with ambient music, then switched slowly to more hip-hop driven beats. In that period, I began to integrate more vocals, like hip-hop, but then it became a more Jamaican-Caribbean influence."
His last release, the Soca Soundsystem EP, is a testament to his love of the island sounds, but it's also the first in a trilogy that aims to see how fast he can advance sonically while maintaining a coherent thread to his work. "There's no more hip-hop at all in my sound," he says almost proudly. "I feel that I'm becoming even more electronic than before. More techno, in the old sense."
Run The Riddim, the second EP in the series, comes out on August 25 and deftly moves into more minimal dancehall. Meanwhile, the projected final instalment will push the electro-dancehall sound deeper into the roots of early techno. All three will eventually form his next album, which is due next March. After that, you can bet that Poirier will head off, unencumbered by the trappings of gear, in a new direction.