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DJ Planet Express Taps Into His Happy Place With “Halcyon”

The Toronto producer’s debut video single blends electronic sounds of the past, present and future. 

by Ben Boddez

Taking a trip to the uncanny valley has never sounded quite so good. A veteran of the Toronto electronic scene, DJ Planet Express’ video for “Halcyon” is his first official visual offering ahead of his debut album, Shiny Things due March 24, 2023. Single-handedly written, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered, the track is an upbeat house with heavy UK club vibes, as DJ Planet Express blends sounds of the past, present and future.

The video itself is a series of early computer animations across 40 years, dating back as far as 1960. They appear to be the kind of experiments and tests trying to capture natural, realistic emotion and movement, something that often lands in the territory of the unsettling and bizarre as they come close but not quite right. The video runs through a series of leaping tigers, conjuring wizards, fire-breathing dragons and, strangest of all, malleable, putty-like faces contorting through a range of emotions. It’s quite appropriate for a track with such a happy, upbeat energy and an echoey lead vocal repeating the central lyric: “I’ve been missing you.” In any case, the faces in the music video seem to be enjoying the song they’ve been set to, as it often appears like they’re singing along.

We caught up with DJ Planet Express below to talk about black holes, his equipment and his inspiration behind the video. 

What made you interested in the visuals of these early computer tests for the video? What do you think are the most interesting images?

I always loved the way computer generated images from that era looked because they were working with so many technological limitations. Having these parameters always requires creative solutions for every problem and usually results in something pretty interesting. Personally I always loved the way the faces look the most, because they’re primitive, and with very little detail are still able to communicate so much emotion.

 You’ve previously nodded to the UK as a pioneering force in electronic music that you wanted to capture in this new song. What’s so interesting about that scene right now to you?

I came up listening to acts like Boards of Canada, Autechre, Aphex Twin etc, so this incredible lineage of electronic artists was always so mystical to me, being from Canada. So whether or not it’s conscious I think it has a big impact on the way I put together sounds.

You’ve also said you’re interested in blending together old and new sounds, nodding to the past while creating something unique – what are the old and new elements here?

I’m always using a wide range of instruments and samples, from different eras. On this particular track there are some older drum machine samples going on, and a synth pad from the Roland JV-2080 (a rack synth from the mid 90s). It’s easily one of my favourite synths, I’ve been using it for years now. But of course it’s all produced in Ableton, on a laptop, so naturally it’s all modernized with various combinations of VST’s and processing.

What’s the meaning behind the title “Halcyon”? Is it the peaceful, happy vibe of the music itself or something else?

It was honestly just a word that came to mind for reasons I couldn’t even really describe, maybe even just an aesthetic decision at first. The meaning of the word then also seemed to fit the emotional content of the track so I stuck with it.

 What went into choosing a lead single for your debut album? How did you know this was the one?

“Halcyon” just felt to me like a track that has a bold new direction for me personally as an artist. I started out this project making a bunch of lo-fi sounding tracks, but I’m interested in so much more than just that. Halcyon feels to me like a ‘next step’ in terms of creative direction.

Who have been some of your musical inspirations? What have you been listening to lately?

I listen to just about everything, and go through really intense phases that change probably once a month. At the moment I would say I’m in yet another heavy Aphex Twin phase, which happens quite often, ha! Also been listening to a lot of Dean Blunt, DJ Lostboi, Tirzah, and Four Tet.

You’ve done production work for acts like Big Thief and Nick Hakim in the past – do you have a different approach when it comes to creating your own tracks?

I worked as a sideman with those particular projects, and spent some time in the studio with them. I’ve produced for a bunch of different artists across different genres at this point. In a way it’s always easier making my own music because it only exists in my head. Collaborating as a producer has its own challenges because other artists are coming with a sound already, so you’re trying to extract that, crystallize it, and still add to it your own creative approach. For those things to all work in harmony requires a much more controlled approach, which can also be fun because different combinations can create unpredictable results. Creating my own tracks is much more streamlined and free for all of the obvious reasons.

If there really was a Planet Express, what stop are you getting off at?

Assuming it’s interplanetary, I guess I would travel into a black hole. Ideally once I enter it’ll be like Interstellar where it’s some sort of 5th dimension that allows me to communicate through time using gravity. Would try and leverage that to finish a lot more music. 

What’s next for DJ Planet Express? Anything else you’d like us to know?

I’m constantly working on a million projects and ideas, so following this record there will likely be a handful of others that will hopefully come out. The one I’m most excited about is Samantha, who is my close friend named Cub, and is an NYC/Toronto based rapper. I’m writing and producing an EP with them, along with my closest collaborator Jon Nellen, who I started No Content Records with. I’m also doing my first tour dates in Europe⁠—in Berlin on Nov. 23 and London December 3, opening for dj poolboi.