Toronto, Canada
New Kanada, Cynosure

Flipping through a rack of vinyl, there’s no mistaking a release from Adam Marshall’s New Kanada imprint. A black-and-white photograph, perhaps a portrait or an architectural detail, occupies the center sticker; a bold red dot hovers somewhere in the circular frame. It’s as immediately identifiable as it is cryptic.

The strength of the label’s visual identity goes beyond its consistency, though: the grainy, vintage photos generally depict foreign faces and places, suggesting some long-ago expedition when the world still felt big and strange. It’s a fitting complement for the spirit of exploration that defines Marshall’s work across genres, media and formats.

It has become de rigeur to talk about boundary-hopping artists, but in Marshall’s case, he’s earned his reputation as a trailblazer. Born and raised in Toronto, and now based in Berlin, he’s been active as a producer, DJ, promoter and label head for some 10 years now. But, at a point in his career where other musicians find themselves slowing down and settling into their comfort zone, Marshall seems refreshingly unencumbered by his past achievements—and equally unconstrained by the limits of the scene around him. Marshall has long been a top-notch producer, but the past few years have seen his work getting more inspired, more experimental and more confident in its own path.

It’s hard to put a name to the music Marshall is making these days. Although rooted in house and techno—particularly in its lush chords and rich, analog feel—it has just as much to do with contemporary mutations in bass music. See, for instance, his masterful “North at Night,” released in 2009 on Cynosure, which filtered resonant dub techno through skippy UK garage rhythms, featured one of the most lyrical synth leads in recent memory, and took the bold step of all but subtracting the kick drum. In his DJ sets, Marshall makes even more explicit the link between precision-tooled techno and bass music’s rhythmic trickery, playing fast, tight and dexterous. And a new sub-label, NKLTD, promises to focus even more intently on music falling outside the confines of house and techno as they’ve come to be known.

But, at a time when more and more bass-music producers are slowing the tempo and easing into 4/4 grooves, Marshall isn’t just “going bass,” as though mirroring his colleagues from across the divide. He’s clearly invested in finding a new path that isn’t stuck in the rut of any single sound. Thus we get a track like Marshall & Milosh’s “The Valley,” a one-sided single from 2010 that hovers tantalizingly in the space between club music and pure pop, elevated by its hypnotic melodies and its refusal to hew to conventional structures. Or flash back to 2009's “Vespers,” where tight machine cadences flare up into bright, expressive chords. Again and again, that melodic dimension sets Marshall’s work apart, tugging it out of the orbit of club tools and into the realm of the transcendent.

Back to New Kanada: while half of the label’s output comes from other artists, it’s impossible to separate the label’s aesthetic from Marshall’s own expansive, inquisitive style. A sure sign of the strength of his curatorial vision: when he signs a record, it often sounds unlike anything you’ve come to expect from the artist. On their New Kanada releases, artists like Seuil, Tolga Fidan and Basic Soul Unit all step outside their comfort zones to release material you wouldn’t hear from them elsewhere.

The boundaries of New Kanada may not be clear, but that’s what makes the label so exciting. Instead of chipping away at calcified forms, Marshall translates the essence of classic dance music into compelling new forms. Whether working as a DJ, producer, live performer, label head or curator, his vision is singular—and the results, exhilarating.
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