Published Jul 25, 2010When IDM-techno producer HRDVSION (aka Nathan Jonson) hit the stage at this year's Mutek Festival, he was not only opening for like-minded international contemporaries like Mouse On Mars and Nathan Fake, he was also introducing Canadian audiences to a new live set and a new means of performing it. Save for the odd MIDI keyboard, a Jonson live set is really only a computer program away, ready to plug in at a moment's notice anywhere in the world, without the hassle of special visas and extra musician's fees. The portability allows him to cross borders and perform wherever the invitations comes from.
Yet this is more a matter of necessity than the luxury it may first appear to be. You see, North American festivals are a bit of an anomaly for HRDVSION these days. Increasingly for emerging electronic music producers like Jonson, where they play is a function of living in close proximity to a network of European clubs and bookers, and constantly jet-setting from one country to the next.
Nathan, 29, is the younger brother of melodic minimal-techno kingpin Mathew Jonson. Last year Nathan decided to follow in the family footsteps and relocate, leaving Victoria for Berlin — the epicentre of the professional techno industry — and a shot at a full-time career.
Given that recorded music in this genre now mostly serves as a business card to get an artists through the club doors for live and DJ sets, where the real money is, Jonson's move coincided with the determination to make a proper album upon which to hang the HRDVSION live hat. "I moved to Berlin and had a bunch of gigs that were really amazing," he says of his 2009 journey. "And then those gigs petered out a bit over the summer, and I had this time open. I was watching my money fritter away, and so I decided to work harder on my own music. I had an external hard drive with at least 300 unfinished songs on it, so I started at the beginning and finished all the songs one by one. It was strange. It was like I was remixing myself. So to actually finish what's on the album, it took me two months."
In a twist of fate, this summer sees both Jonson brothers releasing their first serious full-length statements within weeks of each other. Like HRDVSION's record, Mathew Jonson's Agents of Time is coming out on Wagon Repair, which is owned and run by the elder Jonson. According to Nathan, the Jonsons were always a close and musical family. "We were always surrounded by instruments in the house. As kids, my mom put us both in piano lessons. My dad was the type who had to have the best of everything, so while we were learning piano, he bought us a 88-key weighted MIDI keyboard with soundbank and MIDI recording, which must've cost thousands upon thousands of dollars at the time. Totally unnecessary for an eight-year-old kid to learn piano, but as a result of that, we began to mess with all the sounds in it and experiment."
That experimentation with synthetic sound has come to characterize so much of what the Jonson brothers do, though while Mathew has always leaned more obviously to the dance floor, Nathan's identity live and on record is more abstract, which often differentiates him from other acts when performing live. "Playing live in Victoria made me go even further into the abstract," he says. "But I was making maybe half my money every month from music. I moved to Berlin because it's so much easier to get gigs when you're based there, especially if you're not an artist who is guaranteed to pack a club. At that point, it becomes pretty hard for a booker to justify spending an extra $1,500 on your flights when he could just book someone else."
No longer so geographically isolated from the live circuit, Jonson gets to travel Europe and the world, playing gigs such as his recent Mutek performance, as an ambassador for Wagon Repair. "I'm proud to be on my brother's label," he says. "It means something more to me than doing records on a stranger's label. Everyone from the guy who designs the graphics, the girl who draws the graphics, the people who own it, I'm friends with all of them. Whereas when I've done stuff on other labels, I just get sent a package in the mail when it's done, and that's that."