Philip Aubin-Dionne needed some honest feedback. He knew the Montreal club scene and he knew some industry types from promoting shows, but he wanted to belong on merit, not on relationships. He thought about sharing his tracks with friends, but would they really have useful, candid thoughts? Would your friends get real with you? Aubine-Dionne had a better idea. He shared his tracks with his friends, but under the guise of a regionally believable pseudonym: Jacques Greene.
“Instead of sending them demos of my music and saying, ‘Yo, I made this, what do you think?’ All you’d ever get is like ‘this is cool man.’ But instead I was like ‘yo this kid Jacques from Montreal just sent me some stuff, I think it’s kind of all right. What do you think?’ ”
Armed with B.S.-free feedback, he created a fake email account and sent some tracks to his friend Dominic Sum Flannigan, co-founder of LuckyMe Records, with a note: “There’s this kid that’s been sending me some music; I think it’s kind of good. I hope you enjoy it.” Flannigan responded in earnest.
“He was like, ‘Yo, this is sick. Can you put me in touch with him?’”
Days later, Jacques Greene was on Flannigan’s label, and not just any label—a UK imprint with real momentum. The promising roster included electronic innovators Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, whom Aubine-Dionne knew well, having met both in 2007 when he booked Hudson Mohawke and Rustie’s first North American gig.
Check out the video for Jacques Greene’s “To Say”:
Fast-forward 10 years, and Jacques Greene is responsible for one of the most compelling electronic albums of 2017. Feel Infinite is an ambitious and sprawling debut in the same ways Hudson Mohawke and Rustie accelerate sonic particles, yet it tells a personal story. Understanding the Jacques Greene pseudonym is instructive.
The Jacques Greene name nods to many things: Aubin-Dionne’s mother’s French-Canadian background, his father’s Anglophone heritage, the Montreal cross-streets Ave Greene and Rue Saint-Jacques near his old ad agency job. The name conjures ideas of your French everyman, a character Aubin-Dionne knows well (two of his great uncles are named Jacques). The name remains both insightful and useful for Aubin-Dionne.
“Now it’s like this defense mechanism, where if I’m like at a club or at a festival, and an acquaintance introduces me like ‘yo this is Jacques,’ and they say, ‘Hey, Jacques,’, I can just file you as an industry acquaintance as opposed to a friend.”
Whatever you call him—Phil, Philip, Jacques, DJ— he’s the kind of person who won’t mind. It’s whatever would be his moral judgement on your ignorance. The nightclub ethos—the community that turned a dude into a pro, a Phil into a Jacques—requires understanding and a certain social flexibility. He treasures the scene that gave him “self-esteem, friends and a day job.” He hated high school and rejected the prevailing jock culture. He couldn’t hang with the skaters, either—”I wasn’t enough of a badass”—so he did music stuff. He got into Nirvana, a gateway drug for Aphex Twin, and eventually found himself entrenched in the Montreal club scene.
“It was eye-opening, it was reassuring,” he says. “After years of being this psychiatrist guy in high school, like I can’t relate to anyone, I don’t like people, I feel too smart for the jocks, and not cool enough for the cool kids. I had no sense of belonging until I went to a club. Even within clubs, there’s all these subcultures, and in those I found family, friends, I found interests, I found a meaning to my life.”
“It’s an ongoing culture,” he says of the Montreal club scene. “It’s not like it’s a nostalgia for something that’s dead and gone. It’s something that still very much exists. And it’s fun and it’s non-judgemental and it’s kind of juvenile and it’s kind of crazy.”
Given the artful and wondrous Feel Infinite, it’s alarming to hear a decidedly unpretentious, accent-less, certainly-not-holier-than-thou voice over the phone. There is no air. Phil’s chill. But his music is earnest, inspired by the Montreal after-party scene he wouldn’t try to escape. Feel Infinite has all the dramatic weight of a Darren Aronofsky film score. You could seamlessly edit out Kavinsky’s “Nightcall,” from THE 2011 film Drive, with half the tracks. But the album does more than ambience. His tracks represent a call to action—a call to forego the snapchat video, to forego the furrowed brow, the “Ew, what is that guy DOING” bar-side commentary. It’s more a beckoning.
“For a lot of the dancier moments, it’s trying to capture the energy I’ve always felt back from the weird after-hours scene in Montreal. But even though my strongest moments in that scene were a few years ago, I kinda dip back into that every time I come back to Montreal. It’s an ongoing culture. It’s not like it’s a nostalgia for something that’s dead and gone. It’s something that still very much exists,” Aubine-Dionne says. “And it’s fun and it’s non-judgemental and it’s kind of juvenile and it’s kind of crazy. So a lot of the clubbier moments are like if I was at my ultimate Montreal after-party, this is what would be playing right now.”
Here’s the video for Jacques Greene’s “True,” featuring How to Dress Well:
Aubine-Dionne views himself in community-membership terms, a collaborator who understands the give-and-take of group dynamics. His earliest days in the Montreal club scene were as a promoter, building relationships with the LuckyMe crew, throwing shows, doing fun dumb shit while everyone else slept. The ambitiously lush soundscapes of his friends Hudson Mohawke and Rustie are easily identifiable within the Jacques Greene DNA, and vice versa. Greene finds confidence referencing his co-conspirators whenever appropriate. ”It grounds the music,” he says. Hudson Mohawke, in particular, manipulates expectations, trading linear paths for four-dimensional sonic explosions. And Aubine-Dionne has a similar taste for sonically epic moments. Tracks like “I Won’t Judge” and “You See All My Light” expand beyond the dance hall to digital fields, ditching hip-hop beats for more emotional destinations. The title track, “Feel Infinite”, is the most profound statement to date.
“It’s a sly non-reference to some of the more powerful epic moments of some of the powerful guys on the label like Mohawke and Rustie,” Aubine-Dionne says. “I used to throw parties in Montreal regularly. We had this very early Hudson Mohawke show, and being exposed to this hyper intense hyper-colored, almost ecstasy vision of hip hop was so inspiring. I remember being so overwhelmed. Like, ‘this is so beautiful’ but also like ‘yo this is sick as fuck.’ It’d be like the climax of a movie.”
Aubine-Dionne understands the challenge of pushing the envelope, of rejecting the complacency of revisionist mimicry of decades long past. But the balance point for him is knowing your voice and building off your vision. Don’t sketch; paint. Seven years into a career, every track is intended for the canvas. That’s how you get a record like Feel Infinite.
“I’m proud of this album because I think it’s the best version of what I can do.”