The Vancouver-based experimental producer and Halcyon Veil recording artist Will Ballantyne a.k.a. City specializes in a form of electronic music that feels starkly animate and lucid in comparison to the more recondite and sterile dancefloor-oriented electronic music world at large. Ballantyne does not consider his music to fit within the categories of “dance” or “club” at all, although these terms describe several of his friends and peers.
Among said group of “friends and peers” are Halcyon Veil label-head Eric Burton a.k.a. Rabit and Halcyon Veil art director Lane Stewart. City was approached by Stewart in early 2015 through Twitter after hearing his ‘Sacred and Profane’ EP for Beatgatherers. Stewart introduced him to Burton and shortly thereafter Ballantyne began work on an album for the innovative, abstract electronic label. That album turned out to be the heavy-hitting “A Goal Is an Image” released last year. It is a staggeringly intense and beautiful work of rigorous exercises in post-industrial rhythmic destruction, ecstatic trance-indebted chord progressions and living, breathing ecosystems of textural sound.
The aesthetics at play on “A Goal is an Image” are firmly in line with Burton and Stewart’s artistic vision for the Halcyon Veil label. From the tracks themselves right down to the artwork, there is a decided inclination towards naturalistic expression. City confirms this when asked about the creative direction he took with the release:
From the start, all of us — Eric, Lane, and myself, were really adamant on keeping digital renders and cold, un-human images away from the release. We’re all into this humanist, warm, honest depiction of nature and life that represents something “real.”
Although Ballantyne is geographically removed from Burton who is based in Houston, they are closely connected by their creative drive. The conceptual underpinnings of “A Goal is an Image” and Rabit’s latest album “Les Fleurs de Mal” are not dissimilar as they both focus on expression of life and emotion. As Burton explained in an Instagram post announcing “Fleurs,” he “wanted to feel human again, to be interested in a sound or intrigued by an idea or feel a new emotion.” Accordingly, City fits right in with Halcyon Veil, which has become a home for like-minded artists concerned with pure, honest expression, spanning across a wide range of backgrounds, styles and ethnicity.
Back home in Vancouver, Ballantyne finds himself involved with another legion of artists pushing boundaries in their own underground circles. He notes that he is hesitant to speak with any degree of certainty regarding the Vancouver scene as a whole as he has only been involved there for about two years but he says he is close with a crew called s.M.i.L.e run by artists Baby Blue, Jade Statues, J.S. Aurelius, Sebastian Ruslan and x/o.
They throw monthly events in the city and host a radio show on n.10as every second Monday. Ballantyne notes that they “put a ton of work and care into each event [and are] an amazing group of people to have active in the nightlife.” As far as the reception to his music in Vancouver goes, he says it’s all been really positive and has had several memorable performances including Threshold YVR No. 1, New Forms Festival 2017, and s.M.i.L.e last October with Toxe.
It’s certainly encouraging to hear that something so left-field is receiving a warm reception out west, considering that a lot of Canadian experimental artists sometimes have trouble gaining traction, even in a city as big as Toronto. Often they are forced to venture across the Atlantic where electronic/experimental music is more widespread but in City’s experience, he has found that North American audiences are more conducive to the idea that his music comes from a history of playing metal and just generally loud live music. This comes in contrast to Europe where he finds that audiences sometimes expect more academic, art-world music. To be sure, he notes that this is a fairly lazy generalization and he has been treated very well wherever he’s played.
“It’s a meaningful choice to consider yourself an artist, and you owe it to yourself to work as hard as you can.”
City is looking to build on the momentum from “A Goal is an Image” in 2018, beginning with the Toronto show we are co-promoting alongside Ghost Emoji and a date in Montreal with Jesse Osborne-Lanthier, QUALIATIK, Kazuki Koga and Valeda presented by our friends at Everyday Ago. He will follow those shows up with an appearance at Seattle’s Corridor Festival. As far as releases go, he has three set to drop sometime over the course of the year: a tape on Ascetic House, an EP and a collaboration with Victoria, B.C.-based musician i.o. Exciting stuff on the horizon for a producer who has only been active for a few years now. Sometimes it’s not about experience however. Sometimes all it takes is a commitment to your craft and an ear for innovation and City certainly has both.
RSVP + Purchase tickets to City’s Toronto and Montreal performances at the links below:
Feature photo credit: Pieter Kers