A Conversation with Cyril Hahn
If college radio were still a prominent means of finding new music, Cyril Hahn’s intelligent, and occasionally dark, house tracks would be on repeat in every university basement studio. Instead he’s become a mainstay on 2014’s version of college radio, blogs. Hahn doesn’t seem to care too much about the attention though. His ultimate goal is to potentially become a producer for other artists and not have to tour and play shows. Unlike other artists, he doesn’t don a special outfit for his shows, opting for a sneakers and a white t-shirt. He isn’t concerned with showiness or creating any particular aesthetic -- he just focuses on making good music. As a former art history major, he’s also thoughtful. Besides his analytic approach to music he also wears Reeboks out a conscious consideration of their slightly better ethical track record than other footwear companies. We sat down to speak with Cyril Hahn during his tour and learn more about his come up and where he’s going.
Can you talk about how your new forthcoming Voices EP is going to sound?
Pretty much every song is a collaboration or sample track. I’d say it’s really poppy too. Overall, I wouldn’t call it house music that DJs will play in a club. It’s more like pop music. Especially like the tracks “Slow” and “Breaking.” My new song, "Open" featuring Ryan Ashley, who is also on my label (PMR). “Getting There,” is a really old track that was always sort of around but we still had to clear the samples and now was like the right time.
Did you have a hard time clearing samples?
Not really. That’s the only one we had to clear. These days I just work with vocalists instead, or if I sample, I use fragments more for texturing. I don’t have to clear those because they’re not recognizable. They’re sort of just like an ambient sound, so you can’t really tell what it is.
Are you trying to move beyond remixing?
I wouldn’t say beyond. I still like it. It was more at first, I did a lot of remixes because I didn’t really have vocalists to work with but I liked to chop up vocals so I would just download stuff and do remixes or do bootlegs, but now that I have a label, and they help me find good people that I want to work with, the interest has shifted because that seems way more appealing, to create something new. I definitely think the remixing thing has sort of saturated in the last year or two. It’s just every R&B sample has been done in a remix. I’d still like to do remixes for new songs or if artists that I really like hit me up, then I’m down.
So are you are done doing remixes and bootlegs for the moment?
I wouldn’t say I’m done. It’s not really something I’m thinking about. If there’s ever a song that comes out and I thin, “I’d really like to bootleg that,” then I’d bootleg but I feel like every song is already bootlegged these days, especially R&B songs.
Not to flatter you, but how did you get so technically adept so quickly? Your first song was the Destiny’s Child Remix that got a lot of attention on the internet very quickly. Did you have a background in production, beforehand?
Sort of. Not so much straight up electronic music, but I used to play piano and guitar. In high school, I would play around with recording my own demos but it was sort of instrumental post-rock, like Explosions In The Sky or Sigur Ros. I was making songs like that. They were very bad, but I still had fun with it. When I started university in Canada, I sort of just stopped playing music. I didn’t pick up my guitar or piano anymore. I would just sort of not do it for awhile. Sort of took photos instead and other different creative outlets. After awhile I missed it and came back to it. It was just that year that I started doing electronic music. “Touch My Body,” and “Say My Name,” were the first two songs I made. There were tools for me to learn the [music production program]. I had no idea that they would have an impact. I worked on each song for 2 or 3 months and I would just learn as I would go. I watched a lot of YouTube tutorials just to learn the ins and outs of Ableton Live and different sorts of things. It was surprising to me to, obviously just because they were more like tools. An exercise I guess.
You studied Art History in college. A pretty big part of Art History is the process of deconstructing things. Do you do that at all with your music or a song like when you’re remixing it?
Yeah. With just the way I listened to music, it helped me focus on a single element within the song. In a way it’s weird because when I listened to music these days, it’s very analytical. I don’t really listen to it as a whole anymore. I just listen to it as an element. I see what I can take from it. In a way it’s sort of helped me, but I’ve also lost that romantic perception of music of like taking it in. I still really enjoy songs but it’s always like, “what could I learn from this song?” or, “how can I use this song?” It sort of changed the way I listened to music.
Is there any music that’s pure still? Like you can still listen to it without all the analysis?
It’s more just like finding the right mindset for that. It’s harder to find the mindset for that these days.
Electronic is a lot of EDM right now, but you don’t fit into that. You make danceable music though. Where do you see the niche of where guys like you, SOHN, and Ryan Hemsworth going in the future?
It’s hard to say. I definitely think in Europe, it’s picking up a lot, and that’s where I play way more. But North America you just wanna play festivals here and look at the lineups. Especially electronic music festivals, they’re super heavily based on Trap and Hardstyle type of music. All the big stages are gonna be that type and then there’s like a smaller, House stage, and that’s usually where I’ll play. Whereas, European festivals are often very House centered, or they’re like more bands and electronic acts. It’s hard to say how it will evolve in North America. It’s super different from North America for sure.
Do you have different sets that you’ll do in Europe vs. North America?
I find with Europe, people come to hear my songs. When I first started to dj and play in Europe, I could tell that people were dissatisfied when I didn’t play a lot of my stuff, so now I play a lot of my stuff. I feel like in North America, it’s a bit more relaxed and I can just play a DJ set and maybe play one or two of my songs and people will enjoy listening to music. Especially in the in the UK people will wait for you and have a camera on your songs and film it. It’s a really different culture.
Do you ever do special production for the live sets?
I often have to sort of edit my tracks for my sets, because they’re not very DJ friendly. They usually start with a melody and end with an ambient outro, especially my first few tracks. There’s a lot of house tracks that start and end with drums because that’s what people write. I didn’t come from a DJ background so I just write whatever I wanted and what sounded good to me, not thinking I’d end up as a DJ.
On your last tour, you played with Ryan Hemsworth. Is that relationship that could yield musical collaborations in the future?
Yeah, for sure. Even before we went on a tour together, we were exchanging music. We had new stuff. We were always talking about making something but it hasn’t happened yet.
You’re from the West Coast of Canada. Ryan is from the east. Do you feel like your music is at all representative of the different Canadian coasts? Or are you very much your own thing?
I wouldn’t say that it’s geographically rooted. I think we both have a background listening to more of bands and now what we produce is sort of electronic music. I think also the fact that we embrace popular music in our stuff rather than only working with underground ideas; we’re both sort of a weird mix of things. We both started out from the internet rather than letting it play out.
There is a common narrative about you with every blog piece that gets written about you. Do you feel like you’re being put in a box at all and do you feel like there’s a part of you that isn’t being represented in that sort of prism?
It’s hard to say. I try not to read about myself.
If you were me, writing a piece about Cyril Hahn, what would you write?
Even though I dj now, people always call me a DJ. That’s just really funny to me. I started out writing music. I never went to clubs. I would only go to see bands. I’m fine with [being called a DJ]. I’ve heard it so many times at this point that I’ve just accepted it. If I was to write my own biography, I’d definitely say producer.
Cyril Hahn is currently on tour in North American will be releasing the forthcoming Voices EP.