We’ve seen it a million times, but it still hurts. After spending a solid five years in the often thankless trenches of Detroit’s electronic music scene, Matt Chicoine (aka Recloose) skipped town just seven hours after completing his brilliant debut album, Cardiology. But there’s a twist on his Detroit flight formula. Rather than being simply the latest case of local techno’s “I’m huge in Europe” brain-drain cliché, he opted for a place where sheep outnumber humans. Nobody moves to New Zealand to get big. But considering that Chicoine now lives on the beach with his girlfriend, who can blame him?
“Well … I did move shop to the other side of the Pacific,” says Chicoine coolly when asked how he lives up to his moniker. “Basically I try and play the game when I have to — I do press, photos, radio, and I tour — but I’d honestly prefer to be at the crib working on beats in my underwear, eating chips and smelling like an onion.”
The truth is that Chicoine’s not really a recluse, he’s more of a contradiction: humble when confident; relaxed when excited; introspective when extroverted; funny when deadpan sincere. He’s an artist who warrants his own remix of a name. And finally, that name’s more likely to be associated with his music than for getting signed after cleverly slipping a “Maxell on rye” into Carl Craig’s to-go bag back in his post-college sandwich artist days at a downtown deli (a bold move for someone who claims to have done it out of shyness).
Chicoine also has a gift for being an unassuming center of attention. Amid last year’s DEMF fiasco — with the firing of his mentor and label boss, Carl Craig — Planet E held a press conference hours after its all-night after-party. Picture a strung-out group of reporters stammering over a bunch of stupid questions no more hard-hitting than “What’s your favorite color?” Completely ignoring the bloodied pink elephant in the room, someone asked the panel the lazy old standby, “So, what’s inspiring you lately?” Chicoine was the only one to bite. He slowly leaned into the mic and announced: “Love.” The room let out a chuckle of Bevisian proportion, then quickly fell silent. What should have sounded like manufactured or forced irony didn’t in the least.
Cardiology seems to be the fleshing-out of Chicoine’s idiosyncratic inner world. But something that sounds so effortless doesn’t come easy. Machines won’t sound warm and inviting if you just ask nicely. And developing one’s own sound in the convoluted, style-biting world of electronic music is no small task. “It’s gotta be new and different,” says Chicoine emphatically. “If you think my music’s shit, that’s cool, as long it sounds like original shit.”
Zen-style fortune-cookie proverbs like “simplicity is the result of profound thought” hold true in Chicoine’s approach to production.
“I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a total cheeseball, but basically I tried to quell the cerebral process and get into the music on a baser level. There are live musicians that play like machines and programmers that create like jazz soloists. But for me, I found that a lot of times I would over-think my own music, spend too much time on one song, and later realize it was much better at its beginning stages. While there was a lot of thought and programming involved with the album, I wanted the music itself to speak the loudest. Hopefully, it’s an album people can listen to in a lot of different circumstances, not just when they’re gearing up for the club.”
It is. Cardiology’s moods, styles and imagery cover an enormous range of the digital map. Chicoine doesn’t settle for just writing tracks, he crafts songs with a palette of disparate elements from vocals and live instruments to esoteric samples, helping sounds to interact without forcing them. “Ain’t Changin’” is a squiggly bass massage served over broken beats with catchy-as-hell sing-along lyrics. In a world where the masses could handle unpredictability, “Can’t Take It” would be a soul-pop hit. “Procession” is smoked-out dub-tech with a jaunty rasta swagger. “M.I.A.,” a collaboration with locals John Arnold and Genevieve, is a silky smooth after-hours jazz lounge affair. But the song that best captures Cardiology’s essence is “Kapiti Dream,” which Chicoine wrote while trying to imagine what life would be like in New Zealand — it floats and morphs in and out of consciousness to the delicate pace of a shuffle-step 4/4 heartbeat.
Schooled in electronica
Surely having an established producer of Craig’s caliber nurturing Chicoine from his days as DJ Bubblicious to where he is now has made all the difference. Chicoine will be the first to admit that he’s a product of the Planet E institute of technology. But it seems that Craig’s biggest goal with Chicoine wasn’t to clone himself, but rather to sit on the sidelines and help Chicoine to find his own voice.
“Carl’s role with creative direction [has always been] more about quality control than anything else. But you have to learn the language. When he says ‘it needs work,’ that means it sucks. When he says ‘it’s slick,’ that means it’s pretty cool and he might put it out. When he doesn’t say anything and just smiles, you know you did something great. I only got that once.”
And when the news of Craig’s firing from the DEMF hit last year, Chicoine took it especially hard. It may or may not have been his last straw with Motown, but there’s no question that it fueled his Kapiti dreaming.
“I won’t lie … that did a job on me. The DEMF was recognition of this potent, world-changing music that was spawned in Detroit. I thought my reservations about the city had been proven wrong, but it was just a matter of time before something got screwed up. It was seriously disillusioning for me, and it confirmed to me that Detroit is simultaneously blessed and cursed.”
Chicoine still loves Detroit. As we drive down “the corridor” Chicoine looks around at buildings that he hasn’t seen in months and gets nostalgic. His eyes are wide. By the end of our conversation, it’s clear that his move to New Zealand wasn’t about sour grapes and bitter mangos … or whatever they eat in New Zealand. Detroit has been good to Chicoine, even if it has been a tough love relationship at times. Local comic artist Kenjji did the cover art for Cardiology (and all of his EPs). Friends offered advice, gear and remixes over the years. And in no small way, Detroit’s extended-family smallness — which is its music scene’s strength and its Achilles’ heel — shaped Chicoine into Recloose.
“I came to Detroit being pretty ignorant of what went on musically — at least in the present sense. But in the process of learning I developed a better sense of what good music is and what quality music means. You couldn’t have a better panel of critics than the [electronic music] community in Detroit. People won’t hesitate to tell you what’s wrong with your music, but if it’s hot, they’ll tell you that too. You know if you’re making music from Detroit it’d better be good because people are listening. They may be in Japan, Argentina or Portugal, but they’re listening.”
But what do you call it? Cardiology is the latest album in yet another nameless electronic subgenre — one that necessitates its own abstract vocabulary — that has recently emerged. It is a grouping that includes artists such as Herbert and Jazzanova. “Good” doesn’t quite cut it. So, just like anything else, the mad scientist who creates it should at least have the first crack at naming his monster. But Chicoine, as usual, isn’t sweating it.
“Not to sound like a dick, but I could care less what it ends up getting called. I think most artists are more concerned with where their music is going than sweating if it’s ‘techno’ enough, or if they’ve just created ‘hypno poop-step.’”
When asked to humor us with a file-under pigeonhole, it’s Recloose answering and he’s in rare form.
“Butterbuns. But-ter-bunz.”Robert Gorell writes about electronic music for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]