estled somewhere in the rumblings of warehouse walls and the humidity of dance floor body heat, you’ll find Canadian concocter of underground sorcery, Jonny White, aka Art Department, at the pulse of the party.
His latest release, “Roots Deep,” premiering exclusively on Billboard Dance below, is an homage to the origins of the culture while blending a hypnotic bass line and sultry, “Preacher”-inspired vocal commands from Roland Clark.
With a massive touring schedule in the pipeline, including a collection of party stops during Miami Music Week, White chatted with Billboard Dance about the relevancy of MMW, new release “Roots Deep” and the underground’s global popularity.
Your new track “Roots Deep” quite literally teleports listeners to a similar sentiment of the underground’s origins, especially collaborating with legends Todd Terry and Roland Clark. How did this team-up take shape?
I had begun writing the song when I realized the potential it had for a real authentic classic vocal, stylistically. originally I thought to do something in the same vein as Todd’s “The Preacher” with Roland Clark’s vocals. I had worked with Roland’s vocals on a remix some years ago for “X-press 2” so I just reached out. I had used Roland’s “Preacher” vocal as a place holder when I sent them the idea and it just worked so well that We ended up doing a license deal for the original recording of Roland and finished the record. That’s how that went down.
Did your vision for the record align with theirs initially? What was that process like?
They were really easy about it, I think they really just went along because they dug the record.
What does the track embody for you personally?
For me, it embodies the original feeling of both what house music set out to be and what Art Department originally set out to be at the same time. It’s a bit of a departure from the other two songs on the record but the reason I did it was just to literally take things back to the roots – to give the AD fans something reminiscent of what they might have fallen in love with when we began, and to remind people of the kind of music that kicked this whole movement off. I think that’s something important right now as the scene is growing so quickly and we have so many kids finding their way over to this music that weren’t around for the early days and missed a lot of where it’s all coming from maybe. And hopefully it’s just something without all the big build ups and over the top bells and whistles that everyone can vibe on.
What’s your take on the underground’s rise in popularity at festivals/event bookings and now even in Vegas? Is there a point where it’s no longer underground or is mass consumption healthy for the culture?
I don’t think that the scene could really still be called “underground” for several years already. I mean what’s underground? Underground is somebody making art that isn’t even part of popular culture, or maybe not even discovered yet. This music has been widely accepted in just about every corner of the earth already. I did a cameo DJ’ing in a scene in a Hollywood film two years ago. I mean, come on. Who cares to call it underground, or otherwise, at this point?
Anyways, it’s more about quality control than anything. Is mass consumption good for it? No, It’s not good for any art form because it breeds a lot of whatever art we’re talking about that’s designed for profit. But are there still a shit load of artists doing it for the right reasons and making great fucking music? Definitely. It’s just quality control, man.
With Miami Music Week approaching, what value does the city add to dance culture for you? Is it still a tastemaker?
You know what, I think that Miami is currently my favorite market to play in In America. I love it and it has a lot to do with the Rebel Link Miami guys bringing back Space, as well as this healthy competition with Heart nightclub next door. When you can have two good-sized rooms, booking the same genre, operating the same hours — well into the morning and afternoon literally side by side in a city — that city is fucking killing it.
Miami has always had all the makings of being a prime breeding ground for dance music culture, even at times when it felt like it didn’t have its footing. There’s a very rich history of house and techno there with WMC (before it was MMW), Space, The Pickle, Ultra. It’s a live city with nightclub culture deeply engraved in it since the 70’s, right? Like I said, it’s probably my favorite market and the Space terrace is definitely my favorite place to play in America right now. I’m really looking forward to being back there with Jamie Jones for his Paradise show on March 22.
Whip out your fans and bounce Boiler Room-style to “Roots Deep” below!