Artist Feature 013: Rennie Foster
Nov. 2. 2015
This week we welcome underground house/techno artist Rennie Foster to the blog. Residencies, releases, gigs and beats… Rennie has been eating and sleeping music for the past two decades. Besides amassing an impressive discography, his craft has taken him around the world, from intimate afterparties to main stage superclubs. In this interview, we dive into Rennie’s hip hop past, talk about his experiences in Japan, and discuss the future of his label: RF music.
Take us to the beginning. Did you grow up in a musical household? What were some of your earliest musical influences?
Yes and no. When I was born, and for the first years of my life, my parents owned a competitive, all girls marching band. My earliest memories are being on the road with baton twirlers and glockenspiels and popular disco tunes done with all brass and drums. Pretty awesome. However, after that was over, so seemed any serious interest in anything musical in my family life, and neither of my parents pursued, or even listened, to music on an advanced level beyond that. I did though, and in 1983, my then divorced single mom put me in breakdance lessons at a community centre. It was there, through an older DJ who was teaching me to pop and do the worm, that I had a very intense musical awakening that has never let up to this day.
In your teens you were a part of the “sound advice” crew, one of the first Hip Hop crews to emerge from the Canadian west coast scene in the late 80s. What were these years like?
Those years, like now, were full of ups and downs and passion. We lived it 24/7 and gave little care to the world outside of the subculture. I wish I knew then what I know now, we would have gotten a lot more music recorded. So many crazy stories, going to jail in Cali for bombing (graffiti), opening for Green Day and playing Hip Hop to confused audiences at wild punk shows, participating in a movement that was changing the world bottom to top and being the best dressed poor kids in the city. Lots of girls, weed, sneakers, paint, battling, fighting, dancing and music. I often traveled very far distances to do music shit without any money in my pocket. Slept in cars with my homies like it wasn’t anything but doinglife. This crew is still my closest friends to this day, by the way. My real familia.
In 2004 you relocated to Japan. What brought about this move? How was it adjusting to the new culture and musical landscape?
Well, something a lot of folks don’t realize is that during my career in electronic dance music, I have been raising twin girls on my own in the background. Their mom is Japanese, and for many reasons, just couldn’t do the family thing. I went to Japan in 2004 with the hope of re-uniting my kids with their mom and getting that happening. It didn’t work out, but I was embraced by the Japanese club scene and found myself getting more involved. I was never planning to stay forever, one year turned into another, and another. I also didn’t want my kids to lose contact with their mom, who didn’t live in Tokyo, but in a nearby city. There was a lot to keep me inspired and motivated in Tokyo. It’s a city that feels more like home to me sometimes than where I was born. I wanted to live in the future, so I moved there.
2007 saw the release of your first full length album: “The War of Art.” Talk to us about the name of the album and the process behind it.
The War of Art album was recorded during a time when record sales were disappearing for niche artists like me and the digital music age was in full swing finally. “Minimal” had arrived and everyone had decided anything outside of that sound was old, or they hated it and constantly talked about “real techno” and vinyl. People were using really polarizing language and everything felt really elitist, stylized, and divided in my surrounding niche industry. This album was basically me shutting myself away and trying to wrap my head around everything happening and what I wanted to do with it as an artist. The themes of non-conformity, non-purism, strategy, rebellion, etc. are present throughout if you listen.
The album made waves for both the excellent audio and interesting cover design. The album art of course being done by celebrated media artist Alexander Gelman (also known as GLMN). The Museum of Modern art in New York has listed Gelman among the “world’s most influential modern and contemporary artists in all media.” How did you guys cross paths and collaborate on the album?
When I met GLMN I really didn’t know who he was, but he is a serious fan of underground techno, and was also an aspiring DJ. So ironically, he was like the fan in the situation, even though obviously he is a much more famous and accomplished artist than I. He invited me to a showing, I loved his work and since he liked my work too I asked him to do the CD cover and he was stoked. I had no idea he had designed album covers for artists like Blonde Redhead at the time. He also gave me a beautiful and rare German synthesizer as a gift once, and in a moment of especially dire poverty I sold it. After he found out about that I think our friendship degraded. I regret it of course, totally my fault. I hope to see him again soon though, such a unique artist and kind person.
In 2011 you relocated back to Canada. What made you decide to come back to the west coast?
I came back to Canada to work for a company in Vancouver called MacProVideo that is run by a long time friend and collaborator, Martin Sitter. I worked there for the last four years, doing things like connecting with software trainers and building out sub brands for niche electronic music and even skateboarding. Honestly though, I am a terrible employee, I am a very obsessed artist who is totally unable to conform to what most would call a normal, stable life. I wasn’t fired, but when the company saw some hard times, the work I was doing became less essential. I was also, by this time, making progress re-asserting myself into the Canadian dance music circuit and holding down my residency at Gorg-O-Mish, which has really turned into something special. I am currently back in the full on music hustle, all day, every day. I never imagined myself living in Vancouver, but now I am happy I do.
Just last year you started your own label: RF music. Talk to us about the focus and direction of the imprint…
The RF label is all about the DIY drive that has fuelled me thus far. Under this banner I am consolidating a lot of art. Some of the older “vinyl only” releases are getting a digital re-release, and I am taking control of some of the work I have released on other labels over the years. I have been too dependent on other people for a good portion of my career thus far, and simply put, I don’t think any of them are as enthusiastic about my vision as I am. RF Trax is the new vinyl label, through Prime Direct Distribution UK, there is a new YouTube channel where I am filming, editing, and releasing original video content. All the visual aspects are far away from the usual “graphic art” concept of most online labels. The release art is mostly original, physical pieces, like paintings, multi media pieces etc. by artists like Erik Van Kobra from Wolf / Sheep, Victoria, and local Vancouver based artist Jean Paul Langlois. As well as my own work and homies I used to paint with who have passed on from this world, like Hans Fear aka Ghost. Vancouver based conceptual photographer, Vasho Pekar, has created several designs for RF Trax that consist of photographing projected text onto objects rather than using photoshop. So that is turning out to be something very unique.
I see this genre keep popping up called “Hi-Tech Soul” Not only to describe your music but also the music of fellow Vancouverite: Jay Tripwire. Describe this genre to us…
I think the term is fairly subjective, although everyone can agree it is tied to Detroit techno legacy. To me, it represents techno’s place in the lineage of American black music, like hip hop, jazz, house, blues, etc. I use this term sometimes to describe my music rather than “house music” or “techno” because those words represent wide “movements” to me more than “genre”. I have little interest in genre and from my experience, people use “house” and “techno” totally interchangeably when talking about my stuff depending on their perspective. I feel equally attached to those words in terms of lifestyle and culture, but I don’t have any “genre” descriptives, hi tech soul or otherwise, in my mind when creating music. I let other people decide that stuff however it makes sense to them. I consider the obsession with “genre” to be a real weakness of the N. American dance music scene. I really don’t hear artists in other places talk about it as much as I do here, and I don’t think it’s especially empowering as an artist to attach your creative identity to any label that has already been so defined by others. I am interested more in artists that challenge those definitions.
What does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?
The rest of the year is chalk full of releases and gigs. A re-vitalized collab project with Noah Pred, called “Mad Science” is in the can, remixes for Detroit’s Sean Tate and Body Mechanic, Owen Ni, Alex Agore etc, an EP for Santonio Echols “D” label coming up soon, some rap related projects with Moka Only, Birdapres etc. In November there is a compilation called “Entrowerk” coming on RF full of new blood for the industry, including some local Vancouver artists: Jay Douglas and DRONUS. An EP and some vids from Vancouver label Subspec, another piece of wax on RF Trax called “With Abandon” with remixes by Stephen Brown, Cloudmaster Weed and Detroit’s Antwon Faulkner. A few exciting remixes coming on RF as well, Carlos Nilmmns, Someone Else, Butane, Claude Young etc. Also, tons of inspired video content for the Rennie Foster YouTube channel so please subscribe to that.