Winnipeg-based electronic producer, Exquisite Ghost, shares insights into his creative process and the burgeoning Indigenous beat-making scene.
Jordan Thomas, aka Exquisite Ghost, is something of an anomaly in the contemporary Indigenous music community.
Although headlining acts like A Tribe Called Red have claimed a centre stage spotlight at the intersection of electronic dance music and powwow-infused rhythms, more cerebral and esoteric beat excursions by Indigenous producers have received less critical acclaim and attention.
But that's not for a lack of innovation and creative expression.
If anything, Exquisite Ghost's productions offer a more nuanced and exploratory set of aesthetics than many dancefloor-focused DJs can provide. Echoes of J Dilla, Flying Lotus, and Aphex Twin can be heard in his production style, but Thomas is crafting his own uniquely melodic and ethereal take on contemporary beat-making. Through an evolving set of sonic experiments, Exquisite Ghost brings a deft hand and hip-hop-inspired touch to his head-nodding and hypnotic compositions.
Following the 2013 release of his debut album, Shrines, on Salient Sounds, Thomas has been steadily dropping gems on his SoundCloud. Although, by ATCR standards, he's still flying under the radar, Thomas is definitely a producer to watch—one who's changing the game in the process.
We caught up with him to talk music, creative inspiration, collaboration, and upcoming album plans. Stream and download new tracks from Exquisite Ghost below.
Thanks for talking with us. Please introduce yourself and tell us what nation you're from.
I am Jordan Thomas, Exquisite Ghost, from Peguis First Nation, and thank you too.
Where'd you grow up? What's your connection to your home community?
I was raised in Winnipeg, with a large branch of my grandparents and family living in Peguis, which I have visited at times since I was young. My grandparents were taken through residential schools and, as I grew up, they told stories of how they made their way to rise above. My immediate family is working with many First Nations in design and media, building projects.
How did you get started making music?
I think watching my dad firsthand getting his architecture degrees, as I was growing up, the long path to developing forms and conceptions until they are concrete, and to have musical experiences and inner questions about what is salient when these things have to come together—they're are all sort of the beginning of my path to music. I began playing guitar, which was my dad's, and we had a recording studio when I was younger, which was my uncle's. They all played music, my grandfathers on both sides, virtually everyone, my mother too, so it was definitely something that was waiting to happen.
What inspires you to create?
These days after all the hundreds of jams and tracks and ideas and days spent with music, I will be inspired by a feeling or memory, or musician, movie, show, a friend in conversation, a sound of a train outside...it's this idea about how, these days, there's a fluidity of information that we're faced with, organizing these messages constantly, so it's always interesting to arrange music in a very open sort of way. The effects of fusion in music, in a global sense, are becoming very apparent, so a musical conversation between timeless Indigenous cultures is being recognized and engaged with in excitement, fun and playfulness. Not without due respect for the places of origin—in time, in people and places—but it is this way that we learn and discover more about ourselves.
A lot of your music has an otherworldly quality to it. What do you think of Indigenous Futurism? Do you feel like your work fits in that vision?
The idea of Indigenous futurisms feels exciting. As some descriptions mix and blend over time, proto-neo-post-meta-style, fusion, world music mixing with jazz, rock, pop, dub, bass—my country or yours, this land or that land—the qualities of my own vision of the music are intrinsic to a combination of these. That might include connections to other things: like sci-fi, literature, or design in general. A thread I followed through my life, was when my dad was thinking about what Indigenous architecture ought to feel like, or how to describe it, and to demonstrate the connection between the two words.
So the feel of a lot of my work has been created from inversions of mixtures of textures and places I listened to music from— worldwide, from any time, past or present, that I felt was interesting, and from trying to get deep into finding out what it's affecting by listening and playing. It has a futuristic feel for sure. Sometimes I like to imagine what music in clubs or spaceships, or as you walk down the street far into the unrecognizable future, might sound like, and why.
Your first album, Shrines, dropped in 2013. Since then you've been posting some dope new tracks on your SoundCloud. Can we expect a new album soon?
Since Shrines, I have had to deal with a time consuming, unexpected house fire that took up a lot of space and showed me a lot of things. Six months without internet for one. Life has changed. Producing music now, in this state after getting engaged with it fully, finally feels great. And there are plans and themes for an album of Exquisite Ghost music that I've been fine tuning for the past year. I am working on sound and music for a game as well, that is underway, involving Space and Canoes. It's an Indigenous Futurist piece, and I'm learning tons about producing these projects, culturally and creatively.
Who are you collaborating with on your new stuff? Is there an Indigenous beat-making scene emerging that we can keep an eye for?
I am always seeking people to talk with about music, or just about ideas in general. The idea of sampling, contextualizing, is integral to growth, and welcomes surprises, and the music I'm working on now is shaped to be remixed, or to inspire anyone interested in it to reach out and chat. I want to make music for people. That's what truly inspires me. There is always music around to find: the Indigenous Futurisms Mixtape on RPM was incredible, wonderful music, along with the artists listed on the site, the shows of Aboriginal Music Week, the musicians I played to, all have really brought something special to my own music. I'm enjoying exploring.
Listen to new tracks from Exquisite Ghost
Watch Exquisite Ghost, "Evening"
Exquisite Ghost's Shrines is available in digital format and on limited edition vinyl from Salient Sounds.