A lot has changed since Jokers of the Scene's 2008 hit "Baggy Bottom Boys" thrust the Ottawa DJ/production duo into the spotlight. Now based in Toronto, their productions have been steadily moving away from that big room sound. Once closely associated with Nick Catchdubs and A-Trak's label Fools Gold, they've instead released their debut full length LP End Scene on Throne of Kanada, a new joint venture between New Kanada and Throne Of Blood created specifically for this project.
End Scene has some dance floor moments, but draws most of its inspiration from the larger history of electronic music. At times it feels like a rediscovered soundtrack to some obscure old sci-fi movie, while other moments reveal forgotten connections between industrial music and techno. As a companion to the album, visual artist Sean Dack has created a series of videos for each song, which evoke fuzzy memories of '80s futurism and technology fetishism.
THUMP caught up with Linus Booth and Chris Macintyre over pints of beer to talk about escaping EDM, being scared of Doctor Who, and the advantages of collaboration.
THUMP: Do you expect listeners who are more familiar with the earlier era of Jokers of the Scene to be surprised by your debut album?
Chris: Not people who've been paying attention, but if you know us for one thing only, then yeah. I think it was actually a pretty natural evolution. No release ever jumped too far from the last thing.
Linus: I was kind of expecting that kind of reaction, but so far no one has been too surprised though, which is really nice, because it means that a lot of the people that have been following us have also grown with us. And for the ones that haven't grown with us, we don't even seem to be on their radar anymore.
Was there a moment when you realized that you wanted to leave the scene and sound that you had been associated with behind?
C: I don't think we ever wanted to leave anything behind. I think it was a natural progression that came from not being so comfortable doing something that we had already previously done, and that took us in all these different avenues as we grew as people and listened to different things.
L: I think we grew tired of that scene and sound though as well. It definitely wasn't something that inspired us anymore. With the whole dance music explosion and us being put into situations that just weren't us. That just didn't make sense.
C: We were thrust into that world because of being with Fools Gold from the very beginning. I don't think anyone could have expected what ended up happening.
L: It was great that it helped us get to this point, but it just wasn't comfortable for us anymore when things really blew up and took off. You get known for one thing, and you can spend the rest of your career either trying to escape it or recreate it. We never wanted to try to recreate it.
Given that much of the material on End Scene isn't aimed at the dance floor, how are you going to approach touring behind it?
L: We want to explore this in a live scenario, and balance that with some DJing. I think DJing full time is something that we're over.
C: When we began making the album, we weren't really thinking about that aspect, because it started off as us trying to make a type of music library that could be applicable to literally everything. We've always wanted to get into scoring film soundtracks. But once it became an actual album, that's when we started to think about how to expand it into a live show.
Did you guys have a background in live music before Jokers of the Scene?
L: Yeah, the dance thing was actually an accident. That was never our original background.
C: We both grew up playing in punk bands. When I was a teenager I played in a number of bands, and after graduating I build a small little 8-track home studio, which then later led to digital recording. I did some solo work around that time, and that's how I got to know Linus, because he had a record store where I sold my music on consignment. At that point I was doing shows with a full live band, and I know Linus used to play in bands too.
L: It's come full circle now. Our plan for the summer is to figure out how to do this live show, and to debut it in the fall.
What's the concept behind the videos? Was it always the plan to have a video for every song?
C: When we switched gears and realized that it was going to be our album and not a soundtrack, we still wanted to have that element. And when we started thinking about performing it live, we realized that the visual element was going to be important to that, so those videos are going to be part of our live show as well.
How closely did you work with Sean Dack on the videos?
C: He was brought into the loop early on. Even before songs were complete we were showing him some of the music, and that's when he started to dream up some ideas for treatments that were tied together in a certain way, but that were different and unique enough from each other that they could have their own narratives. We gave him free reign though, because we wanted it to be a collaborative thing and not us telling him what to do.
L: He knew us well enough to know where our interests lay, and caught the references in the music to certain imagery. He picked up on that, and already had a lot of his own footage that he'd shot out in the desert, which he then put through this custom video synthesizer that he has.
How much did movie soundtracks influence you growing up?
L: For me growing up in the late '70s and '80s, my taste in film as a kid was mainly sci-fi films. You'd hear all this electronic music, but not really think about being able to listen to it outside of a movie context.
C: Being exposed to that music when you're young has a lot more impact, because it's entering your subconscious immediately.I remember being a kid and being terrified of the Doctor Who soundtrack, and being really scared of the opening sequence. But that is a huge recurring memory and vision for me, and it's just a testament to how powerful music is on the developing mind. When we sat down to make an album without any preconceived ideas, I think those kinds of memories are why this is what we puked out.
What was the deal with the cassette version of the album?
L: There was a bit of confusion actually. There were a bunch of songs that were left over from the album, which we put on a limited edition cassette called Endless Scene for Record Store Day. It's actually six other songs, and more a companion to the album, not a cassette version of the album. At the moment, it's not available digitally, but we might do something more with that material in the future.
How did End Scene end up being released on both Throne of Blood and New Kanada?
L: We made this album with no real idea what we were going to do with it. We knew we wanted to try something new, but it was like starting all over again. We sent the album to a handful of our favourite labels, and they were the two that showed the most interest. We were trying to make pro and con lists to try to decide which to go with, but got the idea of introducing them to each other and see if we could do it as a collaboration.
C: We've known James Friedman and Adam Marshall for a long time, and they had both independently asked us to contribute music for ambient compilations on their respective labels. That made it feel kind of cosmic, and like a sign that we should try it. I think they both knew that it would be a gamble and also logistically difficult to facilitate, but they were willing to take the chance, and everyone really stepped up to the plate.
L: We knew that we weren't going to have a big budget for PR, so it made sense to go with the strength of all of us reaching out to our individual audiences, and so far it's worked out really well. Spending thousands of dollars on a conventional PR campaign couldn't even guarantee the kind of response we've got so far. It's not like a new Jokers of the Scene album is exactly a great clickbait headline.
Follow Benjamin Boles on Twitter: @benjaminboles