In less time than it took him to earn his journalism degree from his hometown Halifax, Nova Scotia’s University of King’s College, producer and DJ Ryan Hemsworth has ridden waves of internet buzz to become an internationally-touring performer, releasing his debut full-length Guilt Trips on famed Canadian label Last Gang Records (who has also released albums by the likes of Metric, Crystal Castles and Death From Above 1979) along the way.
Though his first interests were in indie rock, Hemsworth began making music on his laptop and releasing it on the Internet while in school. Treading the same ambient, cloudy lane as Clams Casino, Keyboard Kid and other pioneers of the “#based” sound — but with an unflinching pop lean influenced by ‘90s top-40 — Hemsworth quickly made a name for himself with his production for web-based independent rappers like Main Attrakionz and Deniro Farrar along with his plentiful blog-friendly remixes and bootlegs of trendsetting artists from Grimes and Frank Ocean to Backstreet Boys and Migos.
And while Guilt Trips features Hemsworth sticking to his ultramodern electro-R&B roots, his suddenly in-demand performances have forced him to diversify his sound to adapt to a live setting. Speeding up the tempos to transition from bedroom studio to venue stages, his sets are now inclusive, wide-ranging affairs pulling from multiple genres and eras. Shifting from grooving house cuts to aggressive “trap” rap to J-pop to remixes of ‘N Sync or other middle-school radio hits. He often tiptoes the line between brilliant fusion and cheesy irony, but it always seems like the selections are heartfelt.
Much of Hemsworth’s signature aesthetic comes from his intentional juxtapositions of street rap lyrics and shimmering major-key pop instrumentals. Take, for instance, the 44th minute of his Boiler Room Pitchfork Festival Afterparty set, where he transitions from a spacious, echoing rework of Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s explicit “Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)” into a mashup of Brooklyn enlightened-goon Mr. MFN eXquire and Japanese pop icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. The original tracks couldn’t be more opposite – one all 808 thumps and chest-puffing boasts, one pure neon Harajuku sweetness – but he somehow pieces them together perfectly.
Hemsworth’s set at last year’s Decibel Festival was similarly shifting and comprehensive, and his headlining performance at Neumos this Thursday should feature more of this signature boundary-pushing experimentation.
8 p.m. Thursday at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $15 advance (206-709-9467 or www.neumos.com.