Meet the 23-year-old Toronto phenom whose tracks have been spun by everyone from Tiga to Tiesto.
Who: Twenty-three-year-old Toronto producer John Roman creates techno, tribal, and house music that grows more original and recognized with each release. The Oakville native began experimenting with Reason production software at 13, got schooled on piano and the guitar a few years later, and, along the way, concocted sample-based hip-hop instrumentals inspired by idols including DJ Shadow, RJD2, Pete Rock, and Kanye.
By 19, Roman’s attention turned to dance music. He moved to London to study at Western University, and that city’s then-burgeoning electro scene caught his attention.
“Around 2008/2009, London was a surprisingly inspiring city for that kind of music,” says Roman. “A lot of artists that are now playing massive venues and festivals were coming through to play for 150 of us, like Bloody Beetroots, Crookers, and Felix Cartal.”
Flash forward a few years, and Roman has received support for his music from some of these very same artists. His early electro and blog-house experiments matured into more textured sounds, with 2010 seeing the release of Roman remixes for both Tittsworth and Nadastrom, and his debut EP, titled Sing. Last year is when his career really began to take off, with the “Sala”/“War Drums” EP’s release on Plant Music.
What: “I really see my career and sound beginning with the “Sala”/“War Drums” EP,” writes Roman by email. “I wish everything before that would just disappear from the internet. They say the first stage of an artist’s development is imitation, and nothing could be truer for that earlier work. It was just excessive, maximalist copies of that Justice sound. But even then, I didn’t feel fully satisfied by this, and I knew it didn’t reflect my personality.
“I think discovering labels like Sound Pellegrino, Deadfish, and dirtybird around 2010 helped change my interest towards the more drum-heavy, sub-bass tribal sounds. Again, I knew I wasn’t expressing my interests with this style, although I was getting closer. A lot of it sounded too rounded or too clear. I was trading the grit and intensity of my earlier work for more complex rhythms and groove, but I still hadn’t learned how to combine these two ideas in a relevant way.”
Roman hit it out of the park with the anthemic “Sala.” Both pounding enough to satisfy big-room needs and minimal enough to intrigue the underground, the EP earned notice from internationals including Laidback Luke, Roska, Carte Blanche, Congorock, and Nadastrom. That attention has led to loads of remix work, with Roman enlisted to offer his take on tunes by artists including Nouveau Yorican (Defected), Sinden (Grizzly), Crookers (Mad Decent), and Proxy (Turbo).
That said, Roman’s focus has increasingly turned to his own creations. When he dropped the impressive Reclusion 2 mixtape in May of this year, Roman blew minds with the quality of its sounds. All eight tracks in that mix were new originals.
“I’d never worked so hard and so focussed on one project ever before,” Roman offers. “It was an endlessly frustrating eight months, but I wanted to make a big statement with this project, saying, ‘This is my sound, it’s exactly what I want it to be, and this is what it will be from now on.”
The eight songs have since seen release on three different EPs: Infrared on Lektroluv, Petrified on Twin Turbo, and Monitor on Bad Life. It’s Reclusion 2 that especially made me take notice as Roman’s meticulous attention to detail is apparent throughout.
“I do my own mixing, and often my own mastering, so every detail is noticed and over-analyzed,” he says. “I export a lot, and then listen in the car, on my laptop, and on my iPod. I want to make dance music that works in all these situations, as well as in the club.
“I hate when producers have to preface their work by saying, ‘Make sure you listen to this on subs!’ I understand the importance of subs, that clubs generally have subs and subs are cool, but if your work is unlistenably boring without them, maybe your songwriting just isn’t that good.”
Why: Roman has songwriting skills. He makes music with unique hooks and great personality. Tracks from the three abovementioned EPs—all released within the last six months—have also earned him support from huge names in global dance music, with A-Trak, Carl Cox, Mark Knight, and even Tiesto joining underground enthusiasts like Martyn and Untold in playing Roman’s releases.
Montreal’s Tiga released the excellent Petrified, and all three of its tracks are deeply innovative. The title song, with its insane drum programming and vocal hook, has become a global club favourite. It’s included in both Chocolate Puma’s In the House mix CD for Defected and Brodinski’s Fabriclive60 blend, leading to praise from the likes of a Pitchfork reviewer who called the song “a siren” in the latter mix.
“The Petrified EP on Twin Turbo was pretty special because I’ve always been a huge fan of Tiga and Turbo Recordings,” Roman enthuses. “Getting my first vinyl in the mail for the Infrared EP on Lektroluv was amazing, too. Dropping the needle on my record, manufactured, and sent from Belgium, just a few feet away from where the tracks were originally produced was pretty surreal.“
As if that wasn’t enough for 2012, Roman also set out to release “20 tracks in 20 weeks” as part of his new Revisions series of free downloads.
“The concept is that I take a rap/R&B album from the past 15 years, and by only using that album—no outside sounds, VSTs, or samples—I create a new, dancefloor-oriented track,” he explains. “Crunk is transformed into UK garage, pop-rap warped to deep house, R&B mutated to industrial techno, and so on.”
Beginning with “Give U My Life,” which revises DMX’s Great Depression, the Revisions series has also borrowed from Bubba Sparxxx’s Deliverance (“The Nights I Missed Out”), Missy Elliott’s Miss E… So Addictive (“Read Between The Lines”), Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death (Resurrection”), and other albums.
“All of the CDs were bought as they came out, and I think it creates an interesting portrait of my past and perspective as a producer,” Roman says. “Some albums were definitely more influential than others. Stankonia by OutKast [sampled for "Lightyears"] is still my favorite hip-hop album of all time, and, in my opinion, one of the greatest achievements in pop-music production, while Ashanti’s Chapter II is definitely a bunch of songs burned on a disc.”
Those digging the sounds of Revisions should also check Roman’s writing about their production in a series of articles for Earmilk.
What’s Next: Roman stepped up his touring game this year, playing dates across the U.S. and parts of Europe, so he’s likely to spend much of 2013 on airplanes. In the meantime, he’s at work on remixes for both Mumbai Science and Sharooz, and is stoked to create Reclusion 3.
“Reclusion 3 will be another step closer towards an album for me. Reclusion 1 was a mixed bag of originals and remixes. Reclusion 2 was a focussed mix of originals. Reclusion 3 will be more artistic and expansive. I want to make underground dance music with more emotion and drama. Not just tracks, but songs.”
When & Where: Roman DJs Friday (Nov. 9) at HolyTrinity 001, an event produced by the Mansion crew. Hosted at Church of the Holy Trinity (10 Trinity Square), the event also features Parisian producer Para One and Toronto party rocker Rynecologist. $15 advance tickets are highly recommended, available at Soundscapes, Rotate This, Play De Record and online.
Says Roman, “I can’t wait to play ‘St. Hood’ looking down on the crowd from the altar.”
Fun fact: “I think that Nirvana The Band The Show is the funniest thing on the Internet. More people should watch it.”