Bubblin' Up: Grenier
- Words: Glenn Jackson
Considering Dean Grenier's discography reaches back to early 2008, to call the Bay Area native a burgeoning producer may be a bit of a stretch. After diving into the world of dubstep back in its less bombastic days during the mid-aughts, Grenier began gaining traction as DJG, issuing singles of dark, sleek dubstep for labels such as NarcoHz, Subway, and Lo Dubs. But somewhere along the line, Grenier's focus began to shift, in part as a reaction to the exploding American dubstep scene, which increasingly diverged from his own artistic values and sonic aims. The productions which followed expanded Grenier's established talents into new, hybrid territory, folding in echoes of techno, house, and bass along with his honed penchant for deep textures and punishing low end. Now, following several compilation appearances and a handful of recent singles, the San Francisco-based artist has firmly stepped into a new role, electing to operate simply under his last name, Grenier, as he continues to push onward in his adventures through forward-thinking dance music.
Grenier's involvement with music goes back to his earliest days, picking up the violin at the ripe age of three before eventually getting into DJing later on, focusing most of his time behind the decks spinning drum & bass and techno. After a trip to Europe in 2006 landed him in London for the fabled DMZ club night, Grenier officially became a dubstep head. Influenced by the works of early pioneers such as Mala, Loefah, and Coki, he decided to take production seriously and completed his first single as DJG in 2008. "In the beginning, dubstep was such a small community of really wonderful, amazing, kind-hearted people," says Grenier, "and it was really something I wanted to be a part of and contribute to." But, as we all know, dubstep has changed, the genre largely taken over by producers who frequently ditch subtlety in in favor of visceral sonics and an unhealthy obsession with the "drop." In response, Grenier felt a need, especially as an American producer, to distance himself from this side of the scene. "With dubstep, the insanely unexpected and huge change that happened started becoming apparent to me back in 2009," explains Grenier. I realized this whole thing was becoming too aggressive. It started to feel like a bit of a sport. I'd seen that before, I know where that goes—it's not creativity, it's not art, it's just industry. It just didn't leave a lot of room for the creativity that I thrive off of."
The tipping point came in 2010 with the release of Voids, a two-part series of tracks which Grenier self-released through his Bandcamp. Composed of songs he'd put together between 2007 and 2010, the 12 tunes showcased the producer's increasing willingness to push beyond genre, particularly on the series' second part, which he described in an email to XLR8R at the time as, "more personal, a bit lighter maybe, and closer to my heart." Songs like "With U" held on to stepping rhythms, while folding in plenty of machinist techno; "Round" wrapped UK garage in a bed of bottomless sub-bass; and the drumless "BC3" opened up the second half of the collection with an immersive electro-acoustic journey.
By 2011, his work could be categorized under the catch-all umbrella of bass music, and although he had no direct releases, his tracks began appearing across a number of compilations. The first of which, the glowing, almost funky "Uncertain," found a worthy home on Pinch's Fabriclive mix. Later on, Grenier popped up again with the tribal, flute-wielding "Rites," which came nestled towards the beginning of Frite Nite's slick and space-aged Surreal Estate compilation. "Rites" caught the ear of Photek, who enlisted Grenier to contribute two diverse tunes to his DJ-Kicks mix, "Here Come the Dark Lights" and "Say Something." Both songs showcased Grenier's breadth of production ability, the former cut landing on warmer, more melodious half-time club fare while the latter delved into shuffling, dark, and brooding house.
Perhaps in an attempt to make up for his lack of official releases last year, Grenier has unleashed three singles under his new moniker (and one extra as DJG) in the past three months. Both of his contributions for Photek's mix saw release as a single on the drum & bass legend's own label, he dropped a drum-heavy, percussion-packed pair of collaborative dancefloor heaters ("Wake the Dead" b/w "Forest Floor") on Frite Nite with former SF resident Salva, and—finally—two lush, brimming steppers (the aforementioned "Uncertain" b/w "Vendetta") came out via Pinch's Tectonic imprint earlier this month. Given these three releases, a wide image of the producer takes shape—one who enjoys traversing the borders between techno, bass, garage, house, and all their related genres, finding unexpected ways to connect the various pieces together while always keeping the dancefloor in mind. According to Grenier, there may never have been a better time to cover so much ground, "I think that 2012 and the 'YouTube generation' allows us [producers] to do whatever we want. I don't feel the pressure anymore to just play one genre of music in a club. I don't think people care so much anymore... I'm trying to take advantage of the fact that people are really enthusiastically blurring the lines."
With an already prolific year in his pocket, Grenier has plans to drop another single with Frite Nite—this time around operating solo—before the year's end and, among a variety of other projects he's taken on under a more traditional "producer" role (working with different vocalists and such), he reveals that he's been collaborating with NYC outfit Archie Pelago, assisting the three-piece (bass/string player, saxophonist, and DJ/producer) group with putting together its debut LP, which is still very much in the works. It would appear that we haven't yet seen the full scope of Grenier's production ability, and as long as the dance-music community remains open to ever-increasing sonic avenues, he's likely to keep delivering from every angle that suits his fancy.
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