Art Department

The Drawing Board

BY Dimitri NasrallahPublished Apr 23, 2011

To many listeners, Art Department are the new Crosstown Rebels signing that won over international clubs with their 2010 hit, "Without You." That track single-handedly catapulted Toronto, ON producers Jonny White and Kenny Glasgow to the top of a crowded list of talent vying for international success. But as many Torontonians who've been hitting the clubs for a few decades already know, such success has been a long time coming for T.O. house music producer Glasgow. Art Department are the kind of game-changer that revitalize careers, setting them in a whole new light, and it's an entirely deserved left turn for a worthy producer at this stage of his career. The Drawing Board builds on the winning template of "Without You": loose, tribal house music, delivered with an improvisational edge, ready to go anywhere and sad, crooning vocals that sound like Sammy Davis Jr. after a night of bad ecstasy. This is an album that finds its ingredients early and doesn't let them go. To some, the formula may grow predictable over 11 tracks. But to the DJs for whom this is intended, The Drawing Board is rich with club-ready offerings.

Did you expect "Without You" to be that big?
Glasgow: I didn't, but my partner, Jonny, did. When I was working with it in the studio ― because we work in two different studios ― I thought to myself, "it's a good song, but it's not going to be my favourite song." On the album alone I have about three of my favourite songs, one of which is "Tell Me Why" and the other one is "Robert's Cry." The last one is the Arnold Jarvis remake of "And I Love You," which we ended up calling "Much Too Much." "Without You" was just one of those ones I thought was kind of gimmicky, but everybody seemed to enjoy it, so thank you very much.

When did you and Jonny start working together?
Art Department are a new thing for us. We've been friends for about five, maybe six years and he was making music at the time. I wasn't really making music; I had stopped making music. I was making music in the early '90s and then I stopped for a long time. I met up with him ― some fresh, new, young blood. He got me in the studio and we started doing separate things. I was working on his label, which is No. 19; I did an album on his label and asked him to collaborate with me for another single I wanted to do on his label, which he did. I wanted to do some stuff just by myself on his label again, a couple more EPs. "Living the Life," which is out now, "Without You" and "Vampire Nightclub" were the first three tracks we worked together on, which Damian Lazarus heard and was like, "I need to have this on Crosstown Rebels."

How did the Crosstown Rebels connection come up?
We'd been bringing Damian to Toronto for quite some time as a DJ, so we were very closely connected as friends that way. Through the years, we've been giving him music and he would be like, "nah, it's good, but not good enough." Then he went out on a limb and asked us to do a remix for "Live and See," which came out on Crosstown Rebels digitally. We did it, he loved it and the rest is history. We gave him the three tracks and he was like, "I want an album from you guys," and so that's how that happened.

I remember way back in the early '90s, you were getting started and it really seemed like Toronto was definitely part of this Detroit/Chicago continuum, and there was a real house feel in the clubs that disappeared for a while and you disappeared too. Now it's back and it's almost like Toronto is proud to wear it again.
I'm glad that they're proud. I love Toronto and I'm glad to be from there and coming out of there doing stuff like this. I could have been anywhere, any place where I want to live, anywhere in the world, and I'm glad I'm staying in Toronto because that's where I'm from. I want other people around the world to know that you don't have to move to Berlin or anywhere in Europe. You can stay right where you are and make great music and still get noticed and heard. It's very important to keep your roots.

Although, as far back as two or three years ago, that wasn't necessarily the case with this type of music. Something definitely has changed.
I think the music has changed; I think there was a need for something that wasn't already happening. There are so many different styles of house, so many different styles of music that were already being exhausted. We came up with something that we've been told by other people is non-existent at the moment: a sound that broke through all the other types of music and wasn't commercial. We never wanted it to get to where it did. You know, everybody's happy when they blow up and it's good, but we weren't thinking that when we made it. We have very underground roots and we wanted to keep that when we were making our music. I'm glad that it hit and that people enjoy what we're doing.

And it's coming out at a time when you're not alone. Azari & III are out there, there's Egyptrixx coming out, there's XI coming out too; it creates a sense of community from the outside. It looks like something's going on there.
Something's happening in Toronto now. There was something happening before with Adam Marshall and Jeremy Caulfield.

Yeah, the city shut it down though and they all moved away. It's been 15 years.
That's what I'm saying; it's been a while since something fresh has come out of Toronto. I'm glad that it's us doing it.

Why did you stop working on music?
Well, to be quite honest, I was going through some personal issues at the time. I wasn't really secure with my actual ability to make music and also, being the big fish in a small pond, I was very comfortable being at home, DJing, living that kind of life, not thinking that I have to do anything more than DJ and still lead a really good life and be happy about it. But seeing all these young guys come up out of the woodworks, out of nowhere, blowing up and being like, "man, that could have been me. That coulda been, woulda been, shoulda been." I got tired of saying that. And I also needed just to get a kick in my ass from a lot of my friends that are in Toronto now, who are so happy that things are going good for me. They're going the way they should have been going a long time ago. But everything happens for a reason. I feel that I'm able to handle the situation now. Doing what I'm doing now, I might not have been able to do it eight years ago, nine years ago, when it should have been done. Now is the time, and I'm just glad that I seized the moment and things are going as they should.
(Crosstown Rebels)

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