Kaytranada: Not Missing a Beat

Montreal's best new dance music artist Kaytranada copes with both sudden fame and unmovable audiences

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Feb 5 2014, 3:38pm

Photos and Video courtesy of Derek Hui and Johnny Theophilus for The Freebirds Collective

Kaytranada must be shy. His headlining, sold-out show is in a few hours, but he's mostly quiet when we meet. I spotted his manager and him in their hotel lobby in downtown Toronto and, even after shaking hands, he hardly speaks until we get into his suite. For all the hype revolving around the gig, the artist and the music, I expected more, well, hype to be coming from him.

After all, this is Kaytranada (formerly known as Kaytradamus) the Montreal beat music producer and DJ from the Los Angeles label Huh What & Where. An artist who, two minutes into his NYC Boiler Room set last year, accosted the too-cool-to-dance audience, declaring “y’all motherfuckers better dance and shit, instead of bobbing your heads and staying on your goddamn phones.” His Soundcloud page is full of original music as well as signature bedroom-produced, bass-heavy remixes of Azealia Banks, Common, Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson tracks - tracks that have racked up hundreds of thousands of plays. His seamless ability to patchwork hip-hop, disco, R&B and soul elements across an already-extensive body of work have garnered him some serious attention, including praise from the likes of Diplo, Drake and Mobb Deep.

The five-hour train ride in from Montreal must have left him fatigued. As we head into the suite, Kaytranada is wearing clubmaster frames, an old Raptors Starter jacket and a backwards baseball cap. I notice the liquor-filled fridge, candy bars and bags of chips in the suite’s cupboard, but instead he goes right for the mineral water. He pours a glass and mixes in an orange-flavoured sugar packet, the kind you’d find advertised on the inside fold of Chatelaine. “You gotta be healthy on the road man,” he says.

Growing up in suburban Montreal, and raised by Haitian immigrants, Kaytranada is an artist that oscillates between multiple influences, making a fusion of disco, funk and R&B from decades past feel completely brand new. Named Kevin Celestin, he was initially exposed to popular music through the records his father would play in the house. His dad’s favourites, like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Bob Marley’s Legend, gave him a visceral approach to music. Kevin says his brother and him used to be very frightened by the screaming vocalese intro of Dark Side, for example. He started making beats at 14-years-old, after his brother introduced him to Fruity Loops. This emphasis, to move and be moved by music, is evident in Kaytranada’s sound. He’s been constructing a recognizable mood in his music, injecting mental cues that urge the listener to dance to the off-beat. In a music climate where genre deviation is expected, Kaytranada has managed to weave a consistent, up-beat, heavy bass tempo into his own narrative, which has made him a producer to watch. It's an impressive feat for an artist barely into his twenties, who works with the same software he’s been using since he was a kid. Besides his recent switch to Traktor from Virtual DJ for live performances, Kaytranada is a focused beatmaker, who’s been methodically honing his skillset, constructing a tangible progression along the way.

His Bandcamp releases under the old Kaytradamus moniker are bouts of half-music projects, half-versatility demos. There he runs across beat tapes, trap jams, rap remix compilations and disco tracks, each one building closer and closer to his signature bass-heavy, swing beats. That Kaytranada sound is in full form in his latest At All/Hilarity Duff project. The sonically pleasing quality of his music feels very natural, but this is calculated, refined bedroom-produced dance music, a Kaytra-brand statement years in the making.

Hot off a successful North American winter run from his No Peer Pressure Tour, Kaytranada’s about to play four sold-out shows in Europe. Yet despite being in the middle of a busy schedule, he stays mostly indifferent until we start to talk about music. Then his eyes start gleaming.

People from Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music camp have reached out to Kaytranada. He was just in the studio with New York rap veterans Mobb Deep, and even Drake reportedly asked for some work for Nothing Was The Same, which ultimately never came to pass. Along with several Boiler Room appearances, he’s done mixes for a number of websites. There’s a sticker of his face on his laptop, and he rants on Twitter about teenagers filling comment sections with complaints about there not being any “drops” in his songs. He’s a young dude getting used to the size of new shoes that he’s expected to fill. By all measures, 2014 is going to be a huge year for Kaytranada. And here he is, trying to get the hotel window open, unavoidably punctuating every other sentence with "and shit," while casually drinking Crystal Light just hours before his sold-out Toronto performance.

Noisey: You said you gave Mobb Deep some music. How was that experience?

Kaytranada: Being with Mobb Deep in the studio, I was starstruck. It was a crazy experience. I've been listening to them forever and now I'm in the studio for their next album. Red Bull put me and Mobb Deep in the studio and it worked out, they were recording their new album in the studio and they got their hands on one of my beats. They ended up making what their manager called one of the most "queens-sounding" songs on the album.

Where do you think pop music is going in terms of sound?

I don't listen to pop music but I know eventually they're gonna try to call me up, or try to call every producer on Soulection. I've seen a Will Smith/Ta-Ku joint the other day. Justin Bieber has dope shit, he definitely has the Soulection sound. I think we're gonna take over, the little Internet producers with their Soundcloud. Out of any pop star, I would love to make an album for Rihanna. Pop stars always wanna get into another phase. I would love to fuck up their usual shit, and make them better with my sound.

With beat music, you have influences always coming from all different corners that mesh together. You’ve said you take elements of Haitian compas music in your sound.

In a way, yeah. I'm not the only one. I think Lunice uses compas shit, nobody knows it but me. I don't usually think about compas, I only think about disco when I do my shit. I know hip-hop is coming from disco, like the first beat ever was from Chic, Nile Rodgers, Good Times. I always think about what people would like in the 80s, when hip-hop was starting to be big. That's what I always think of when I make beats. I don't think I make dance, hip-hop, or whatever. I just think I'm doing something new. It comes from a lot of influences, even African stuff, like what I did with D8 Sam Jam, a bunch of African people fuck with it because it comes from the Nigerian type of logo, a sub-genre of African music. I hang out with a bunch of Africans and Haitians, and we all listen to African music. I think they already made a new genre, like what Tribe Called Red did with Zouk bass. Shout out to them. I know they did zouk bass. It's something new but I know where it comes from. My mom play zouk all the time. Zouk is like straight Caribbean music, but they used it in like an electronic way.

Is that a big thing for you, to look back on past eras?

I think it's like an education to look back on old music. I've missed a bunch of albums and there are artists I've slept on from the 90s or 80s. It's like discovering new music at the same time, and I think it's way doper because it’s retro. When I listen to new music, it's only Soundcloud people, Soulection and people from Huh What & Where. Any released Madlib is when I listen to something new too. I like discovering new stuff from looking back to old times, like the finding rare Motown artists by looking at what people were dancing to in the 80s. I even check for Brazillian stuff, it's the illest shit. People should do that more often, checking out the old albums, just to educate themselves. They might find a new favourite album, that's what happens to me.

What do you think of EDM in 2014?

I don't wanna talk shit about EDM. EDM was dope in 2007-2008, but now it's the same shit over and over. They had to create trap, and, like, I don't know. The whole trap thing is already played out.

On Twitter you went on a bit of a rant about listeners upset about how there's no drops in your tracks. First of all, why are you reading the comment section on your music?

I don't know man, I was high one night and was searching what's new on my Youtube. I was looking at the Banks remix, and people were like "yo where's the drop?" and like, "wtf." I only got angry for like five minutes, I was like "what is going on with this world?" I hope it changes one day.

How come you've said you think you're overhyped?

Oh god. That was on my Tumblr. I don't know. The fact I got big in less than a year and shit. I have 75k fans on Facebook, way more fans than the artists I look up to. It's weird to me. Sometimes I can't believe I'm someone people talk about. It's kind of overhyped because they didn't hear the history, me as Kaytradamus, they don't know where I come from musically. It's not real to me yet. It all happened so fast that I'm like "what the fuck?" I've met artists like Skrillex and Diplo, I'm hanging out with them and they knew who I am, and I’m like "this can't be real." I did the Disclosure remix, I used to listen to Disclosure, I was like one of their biggest fans in Montreal, now I'm like hanging out with them. Sometimes I'm like "yo, this can't be real." That's how I feel.

I guess that's why you're reading the comments.

When somebody talks shit, you might as well. I go crazy sometimes. When somebody doesn't know their shit and they dare talk shit about my music. That's my most personal shit, and they hear it and talk shit in comments. It's like "why are you talking shit like that?" This mix has over 1k likes, you can't say shit. People love this.

The trolls get to you?

They get to me sometimes, but only for a minute then I move on. But I mean, because it's gonna be on this article, you may as well continue to troll your boy. I don't give a damn. [laughs]

Do you like playing in Montreal?
I love it. I also really love playing Paris. I've played there two times, it's always been a blast. Can't wait to go back to London, they go crazy. That's the type of crowd I'm looking for all the time. Toronto's a good spot to play too, motherfuckers go ham and shit. But Montreal is always the best city to play for me because it's my hometown.

Toronto has the “screwface capital” nickname, meaning it's hard to please crowds here.

Like I don't want to talk shit about New York, but like, the only time the crowd went crazy was at the Brooklyn Music Festival. The previous times I played there, people were not dancing, they were just standing there. I know they admire it, but they're just not doing anything. They're not bobbing their head even a little bit. Motehrfuckers were sitting down and shit! I was like "what the fuck? Stand up, you're supposed to dance!" It was weird. That's why in the Boiler Room New York video, I kind of spazz out. It feels awkward watching it… but the type of crowd we need in Boiler Room is like the one we have in Montreal. People dancing and shit. That's what Boiler Room needs.

Did you listen to any Canadian Radio growing up?

Mix 96, now it's Virgin Radio. I used to listen to that, waiting till midnight, you know when they get sets from clubs and shit. They’d play hip-hop, sometimes they’d play techno music. Sometimes I would stay up all night just to hear this music. Like club bangers. That shit influenced me a lot. I was looking for hip-hop radio station, but there was none. There were shows, but they were always at night and I had school the next day.

Is there a beat scene developing in Montreal?

Yeah, they used to have this thing called Piu-Piu. It was like two years ago and it was influenced by the L.A. scene but it was dead for a period of time. But now they're coming back with Les Beats, which is like a podcast, kind of like Boiler Room, but with beatmakers from Montreal. We have a bunch of talented producers in Montreal. It's about to get big.

Any collaborations coming up?

I got plenty coming up, a bunch of people on the come-up like Vic Mensa. I'm working with him on his album. I have this tape with my brother Louie P. The Celestics, that's my side-project. Reva, nobody knows her yet, but she's the new artist on HW&W, she's a good, talented singer.

What's coming in 2014?

A new album, maybe. Definitely working on a new album, called Havin' Thangs/All These Years. Havin' Thangs is the hip-hop side, All These Years is the dance-y side. 9 songs each, like a double album. I don't know if it'll happen officially, but that's my plan.

Eric Zaworski is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He is on Twitter