Photo via John Londono
CRi, an abbreviation of the name Christophe, is also the French word for ‘shout’ or ‘scream’. Quite the incongruous moniker when you consider the subtlety of Montreal beatmaker Christophe Dubé’s dreamy compositions or his reluctance to appear front and centre in his music videos. Following in the syncopated footsteps of local heroes Kaytranada, Jacques Greene, and Lunice, CRi is a self-taught house producer who has built a dedicated following through his poignant and visually arresting music videos. His music defies predictable electronic pigeonholing, yet he has developed a signature of gently undulating synths, soaring vocal hooks and throbbing jolts of rhythm.
Since first messing around with a cracked version of Ableton Live, he’s produced for Montreal outfit
, released a handful of EPs, soundtracked a Louis Vuitton ad, and has now been added to the roster of L.A. producer TOKiMONSTA’s esteemed Young Art label. In the lead-up to the June 17
release of his EP
, we spoke to the young producer to learn more about his interest in music, sidestepping dancefloor-tailored hysteria, along with the video premiere for his newest single, "Don't."
NOISEY: How did you and director Ménad Kesraoui settle on the concept for “Don’t?”
CRi: Ménad has had the concept in mind for years: this idea of a trio made up of two women and one man, in their most elemental fragility—nudity and water. It instantly appealed to me. Three bodies observing and touching each other, intertwined without talking or really understanding each other. It all fits wonderfully with the song’s lyrics: “don't you know my heart ain't okay.” The song also sometimes reminds me of muffled and diffuse aquatic sounds, so I thought the idea of bodies floating in water would be a perfect fit.
Most of your earlier tracks were instrumental but with “Don’t” you are collaborating with vocalist Gabriella Hook. Do you see yourself moving more in that direction?
Yes, I’m increasingly collaborating with vocalists (for ex: Odile M., Kroy, Mind Bath, Naadei.) The more music I make, the more vocals become intrinsic to what I do. Often, I also sing on my own songs, even if it isn’t immediately recognizable. Collaborating with other artists motivates me tremendously. That’s how I’m able to take my ideas to the next level. You’ve mentioned being inspired by cinematic and introspective producers such as Caribou, Jon Hopkins, Burial and Mount Kimbie. But how did you come to make electronic music, exactly?
In 2012, just before I left Quebec City, I dropped out of political science studies and began making music with computers. My first year in Montreal, I was delivering pizzas and learning the ropes of beat-making with no training whatsoever. The following year, I enrolled in the University of Montreal’s Digital Music program, and I deepened my theoretical knowledge. There are classes about music composition for video games, sound recording on location and in the studio, electroacoustic creation… It’s quite varied. It allowed me to meet Ouri, my first collaborator. We started making music together and she plays at my shows.
Photo By Oumayma B. Tanfous
You seem to take inspiration from a number of other disciplines—you’ve mentioned loving the work of Stanley Kubrick and Robert Capa.
Yeah, I come from a family that’s really immersed in art. My sister is a professional actress for film and theatre. My dad made films when he was much younger. My mother is a dentist but also a painter on her own time. Growing up, my father always took us to dance performances and museums. So I was exposed to sculpture, painting, dance, theatre and literature from as far back as I can remember.
You’ve added a significant live component to your shows in recent months. Did you want to draw a clear distinction with your DJ gigs?
Definitely. Electronic music culture is generally associated with DJing, so putting on a show is never very complicated. You bring a mixer, you drop the tracks, and voilà. It’s bread and butter work, really. I wanted to distance myself from that, so I developed a live show, which requires all kinds of gear, a singer to accompany me on stage, a carefully considered visual dimension, etc. I make pretty mystical, vaporous music, so when there are no visuals to accompany the show, I sometimes feel as though people have a hard time letting their guard down. People are generally more comfortable partying it up than being enthralled by something. Now, there are moments in the show where it’s pitch black so people don’t have to find ways to break the awkwardness of standing next to each other by checking their Instagram feeds. They just take it in. You’ve said that you aspire to build a career akin to those of established producers Jon Hopkins and Rick Rubin. How so?
Take Jon Hopkins, for instance. Not only is his music incredible, but his trajectory is really interesting because he’s done music for cinema and has produced records – he’s truly a studio guy. He’s not the young, 17-year-old producer whose SoundCloud page has just blown up. There’s substance there, and there’s really a solid narrative thread to his albums. They’re artworks onto themselves.
Since you first began releasing tracks, such as “Chemin”, music videos have played an intrinsic role in your artistic identity. Why is that important to you?
Well, I make introspective music, so I think it can be enhanced by images both in a live setting as well as through videos. That’s when my music really comes alive – it takes on its full meaning. I want to collaborate with artists who have different approaches, different visions while keeping a certain aesthetic signature that is frankly quite open-ended. Some people want to do it all – the music, the visuals, the music videos, the live shows. That’s really not my approach – I subscribe to the ‘strength in numbers’ school of thinking.
You never cast yourself in your videos. How conscious of a decision was it to avoid putting a face to the CRi project?
A very clear one from the outset! I think it becomes confusing more than anything, because we’re two or three on stage in a live setting, and I consider them to be part of the band as well. CRi is less of a rigidly defined face, more of a visual universe. I find it more interesting that way.
We often lump you in with a whole cluster of rapidly rising Montreal beatmakers, but you’ve said you don’t believe there is such a thing as a “Montreal sound.”
You know, Chicago is synonymous with house, Detroit and Berlin are all about techno, Paris is known for French Touch. Each of those cities has its sound. In Montreal, there’s definitely a tight-knit music community, but try finding links between the music that Jacques Greene, Lunice, Kaytranada and High Klassified make. I feel as though Montreal is a place of culture that’s very strong and diverse. But does it really have a specific identity, especially in electronic music? I’m not so sure.
The city is amazing for its undeniable cultural diversity and the bilingual reality–Francophones and the Anglo melting pot made up of Ontarians and people from around the world–which influence many little groups doing their thing, each in their corner, devising an aesthetic that is uniquely theirs. My friends aren’t just people making electronic music. A lot of them do rock or rap. There’s a big artistic community in Montreal: we’re all in it together. We encourage each other. But we’re not all the same or making the same kind of music. It’s very diverse. Michael-Oliver Harding is a writer who splits his time between Montreal and Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.
* CRi will be on tour this summer:
17 June - Montréal @ Centre Phil
22 June - Toronto @ The Drake Hotel
24 June - Vancouver @ The Biltmore Cabaret
25 June - Calgary @HIFI Club
30 June - New York @ Good Room