After five EPs and seven years of studio explorations, CRi is officially launching his first full-length album, Juvenile.
“I see it as an accomplishment, a page that I’m turning, but also the start of something new,” he says, as if thinking out loud. “It’s a bit like the EPs were research projects, and this album is me turning in my final paper.”
To achieve this, the Montréal-based electronic producer had the support of Anjunadeep, the slightly more left-field branch of the British label Anjunabeats. “I made sure I waited to be well placed [before releasing the album],” he says. “I didn’t want to release it independently, with limited means. I wanted it to happen with people I trust, because it’s always quite challenging for artists in my genre to export themselves and advocate for Québec culture.”
The mother label, which is behind the immense success of Above & Beyond, is mainly known for its trance releases. It started its sub-label to be more audacious, and give a chance to often-emerging producers, from all musical horizons. “Frankly, I didn’t quite identify with their style, initially,” says Cri. “But then I understood that Anjunadeep was specifically to showcase young, new producers that make something other than the ‘deep house Ibiza ecstasy’ vibe. I changed my mind. I went to London, and met the human beings behind the company, and saw how passionate they are.”
Launched in the fall of 2019, the three-track Initial EP served as bait. “It’s a complete club-oriented electronic delirium,” says CRi. “A way to introduce myself top the Anjunadeep crowd. I made a slightly safer selection, [whereas on Juvenile], I was going for something more personal and authentic. I went to a place I’ve always wanted to go.”
After a stint in Feuilles et Racines (Leaves & Roots), a Québec City band that enjoyed a certain niche success in 2011– thanks to its organic and harmonious rap, with philosophical lyrics – Cri (aka Christophe Dubé) has always been attracted to the pop aesthetic and “any melodious and emotional music.”
Influenced by his studies in digital music, his first forays as a producer didn’t take him in that direction. “It’s my mom who pushed me towards music after seeing me on the verge of a nervous breakdown and a serious alcohol problem,” he says. “I moved to Montréal to complete a program which you could define as a mix of electro-acoustic composition and computer programming. I released Eclipse [his first EP, in 2013] as soon as I started university. I didn’t understand what I was doing, but I very quickly realized I wasn’t edgy, and all I wanted was to give people goosebumps. University taught me to intellectualize my practice, but it truly is when I tinkered in the studio, spending a whole day fine-tuning the sound of a kick drum, say, that I found my own voice.”
Juvenile marks the peak of his sonic quest so far. Located somewhere between progressive house and future garage, CRi’s signature is made of raw emotion, expressed with sensitivity, through cold and enveloping layers of synths, cavernous basslines, and intense rhythms. “Never Really Get There” and “Faces”, songs he co-produced with his longtime collaborator Jesse Mac Cormack, set the tone of the album.
“After that, my intention became clearly more pop,” says CRi. “I adapted the album to my live shows by relying on massive drops. But to achieve this, I had to accept that side of me; just a few years ago, I thought pop was corny and was for douchebags. I was thinking like a Mile-End hipster!” he says, bursting out laughing. “Now, I’ve emancipated myself into something lighter and dancier.”
And rather than complicating his structures, CRi stuck to the essentials. Even the album’s short title says a lot: “Juvenile is a state of mind, a demeanour, a lifestyle,” he says. “It means running towards things without over-thinking, and embracing whatever comes your way. It’s instinctive and in the now,” he explains, before feeling the need to nuance it a bit. “But even though emotions are through the roof, it’s a controlled chaos.”
He created this “controlled chaos” with excellent artists (and friends) such as Robert Robert, Sophia Bel, and Bernache (of Men I Trust). “My main motivation to create is to be in contact with people,” says CRi. “Music is almost an excuse. It’s so much fun to hear the feedback of people I love, to be able to rely on their sensitivity. Otherwise, I end up feeling ridiculous, dancing by myself in my slippers, alone at home…”
CRi had the privilege of working with one of his idols, Daniel Bélanger, on Signal. “Rêver mieux was the soundtrack of my teens,” he says. “To this day, that album still moves me. I cry every time I listen to it.”
Alongside Charlotte Cardin, his house remix of “Fous n’importe où,” one of the standout tracks from Bélanger’s third album, had seduced the ears of the veteran singer-songwriter. “I was convinced he’d hate it when it came out! Even I thought it was too pop,” says Cri. “I was even reluctant to put my name on it,” he says about the cover, which crept into the Song of the Year category of the 2019 ADISQ Gala.
“I finally found out he really liked my remix, and that gave me the courage to write him a short message on Instagram,” says CRi. “I proposed a collaboration and not even five minutes later, he replied: ‘I only see good in that idea.’ We met in a café in Little Italy, and it felt like we’d known each other for 15 years.”
In and of itself, this new alliance is the symbol of CRi’s new ambitions. Aware of his international potential, the composer still wants to conquer his home province first. “I used to want to move to London or Berlin, but now I want to reach a wider audience here,:” he says. “The script has flipped. There was a lot of ground covered, in recent years, to democratize hip-hop, and it would be nice if the same happened to electronic music. Producers like Kaytranada, Jacques Greene, and Lunice made their mark internationally, but they’re still relatively unknown here. I want that to change, so that we can have electronic music tours across Québec. I’d love it if Monique from Baie-Comeau listened to my music.”
CRi says he’s most creative when he’s got nothing on his agenda. “Those when I have no engagements, no interviews, no meeting in two hours,” he says. When the context is optimal, his songs take shape progressively. “I’ll start with chords on the piano and I’ll tinker with those after a spliff and coffee,” he says. “Once I have my chords, I move to the studio and transcribe those into MIDI. Then I send that to synths and try to find the song’s colour. Then I move on to the percussion. To be honest, I see myself much more as a songwriter than a producer.”