The reductive, mutant, minimalist, funk and disco of Man Made Hill (otherwise known as Cambridge born and Toronto transplant Randy Gagne) has been welcomed with open arms by the underground electronic community in Hamilton. It's spaced out and spastic tunes that bemuse and befuddle like truly engaging art should but for Gagne, it's all about chasing the perfect pop song.
"This record is another step in figuring out how to make pop music," muses Gagne on the phone from his current North End Hamilton home of three years on how this album figures into his massive discography of twenty plus albums. "It's been a journey. I've always attempted to make pop music despite myself. It's a closer step to the pop music that I've always wanted to make. It's a good stepping stone into my ultimate intention, which is to make the perfect pop song."
While one might want to qualify what defines perfectly pop as it could include the likes of Madonna or Billie Eilish as they're fully based electronica artists that rule the pop realm. But Gagne's pop is more in the vein of M's 1979 hit "Pop Music' if you were on acid listening on a well used '80s Walkman, Gagne's take on pop has moments of brilliance in the cover songs in particular. Previously he's taken on the Rolling Stone's "Emotional Rescue" as well as John Stewart's "Gold" and those AM classics were done up and pulled through the ringer to great delight. This time out Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" is transformed into "Rot With You" with great comedic effect although the serious cerebral side comes out in discussing it. There is a fine line between art and entertainment for Gagne and Man Made Hill.
"I would like to think that I am attempting to strattle that line between art and entertainment at all times, maybe even grinding that line at times," says Gagne. "I think the general public are underestimated at how much they can enjoy something strange and different. I think people want something different that will flabbergast them. There is a great capacity in popular music to surprise people like that.
"Good pop music can give you a visceral, physical reaction and I wanted to almost take that literally and say music is an intellectual pursuit but it's also a highly physical action so I want to explore those themes," adds Gagne. "The idea of physicality is all over the album - the physicality of music and how it can grab you but then "Rot With You" explores decomposition so that's literally bodily - so the song is of the body and for the body. The lyrical content mirror the physicality of the music."
The thought that goes into this disco and funk - the methodology of the electronica dance music for the new decade might be betrayed by Gagne's art school upbringing and punk rock roots.
"It's punk rock in spirit but distilling my musical influences in dance music in a DIY, 'F the world - I don't care what you think spirit' for sure," says Gagne. "I'm not doing protest songs but it is leading you to make decisions for yourself and however you interpret the world is valid.
"I want everyone to hear what I do but finding the right ears is a special thing," adds Gagne. "There is a small but devoted following in Hamilton and certainly across the country. There isn't a huge community but enough to feel encouraged enough to continue what I do."
With all music composed and performed by Gagne at the Critter Vault and The Player Chamber in The Hammerzone, the end result was mixed and mastered by Personal Records' Jackson Darby, a fan and co-conspirator. From Caribou (read Manitoba's] early beginnings through Motem to countless others and more recently Jessie Lanza and the Junior Boys or even the Freaky Boos, Hamilton has long been a hotbed for innovative and exciting electronic music in all its forms. Man Made Hill is home in Hamilton and when Gagne does his hometown release party, he hopes to truly bring his music to life.
"The live performance of this music completes the idea," says Gagne. "The album format is great but seeing this music live, it'll click a little more for the audience. My Show is a combination of live instrumentation, some live percussion and some backing tracks as well. It's a different beast live. It's just me up there on stage so I get to inhabit these songs and unfold the personae of Man Made Hill that might not come across as much in the recordings. Live, you see the transformation happen and that's what makes it exciting for me.
"The special thing that I have to offer is the energy level that I bring," adds Gagne. "I have a marginal amount of talent - many people do and many people make music - but the spirit and the energy level I bring... I want it to be infectious and unrelenting, disorienting energy. The only way to get that is to see it live. Everyone should check it out but even if you don't like the music, it's going to entertain you. Anybody that wants to be entertained should see it."
Man Made Hill release party happens Friday March 6 at This Ain't Hollywood with BBomit, Tax Haven, + Vactrol (film). Doors are at 9 pm and it's a $10 or pay-what-you-can cover. Click on manmadehill.bandcamp.com