Ian Maleney spoke with Nicolas Jaar ahead of his main stage performance this Sunday at the Body & Soul Festival.
At the ripe old age of twenty one, Nicolas Jaar has created quite a stir in the world of electronic music. Playing with downtempo beats and melancholic textures, the music he creates is dark and warm, offering more immersion than release. It is still house at its heart, though of a type as comfortable unfolding within a pair of headphones as over some packed dance-floor. The kicks are always there below the surface; sometimes practically subconscious, other times rising up to hit hard in the solar plexus. The music works with a certain tempo that allows every nuance to shine through. Every acceleration and drop in pace is felt, each echo rings out in a clear space. From the eerie arch-pop of ‘Colomb‘ to the bluesy dub of ‘I Got A‘, his debut album, Space Is Only Noise, flits across genre boundaries and expectations, constantly surprising and wrong-footing its listeners. It is an album in the traditional sense, a solid, cohesive body of work that is designed to stand as a whole. Removing one track can change the tone of the rest, severing the inviolable ties that are carefully woven between each song.
After touring all over the world since last year, Jaar is due to make his first Irish appearance at the Body And Soul festival in Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath next weekend. Recreating an album as deep and subtle as Space Is Only Noise in a live environment, especially one as ad-hoc as a festival, is always going to present difficulties but Jaar has worked out his own way of dealing with this. “I do one type of live show alone and one with a band”, he says. “The one with the band is really musical, I work with a drummer, a saxophone player who also plays keyboard and a guitar player. We try to recreate and explode the songs that I’ve already written.” Does the band work differently to the album? “Yeah, the band is pretty different from the album, it’s a whole new dimension altogether, whereas the solo show is slightly more sample-based, but I still play a lot of my music.”
Jaar has seen a lot of the world over the last year, touring whenever college allows. As a student of Comparative Literature at the Brown University, his time is consumed from both sides but he seems to relish the dichotomy, “I love it, it’s great. One fuels the other.” Life on the road has seen him develop a few favourite environments, with Tel Aviv, France and Berlin being worthy of special mention.
Jaar’s musical story started quite early, certainly for an electronic musician. “I was 14 years old, I just started making beats with Reason”, he explains. “It wasn’t unusual for me because I was doing it. I’m sure it was pretty unusual to start that young, at least back then but I think now a lot of kids are making electronic music by the time they’re 14. Before, kids were making rock music with a guitar when they were 14 now it’s the same thing with computers, it shouldn’t change anything. I’m sure it has to do with how the technology is getting easier. It’s getting easier to make music with just a computer now. People have been making music from such a young age for a long time.” Despite the jazzy over-tones of much of his music, Jaar himself has no formal musical training. He plays some piano and a little guitar but the idiosyncratic nature of the music he makes stems from a willful evasion of musical rules and established building blocks, preferring to operate outside his comfort zone as much as possible, “When you don’t know what you’re doing, you just start creating more interesting shit.”
Recently, Jaar’s musical endeavors have not been limited to simply creating his own music but have been extended into curating and running his own label, Clown & Sunset; a move which might seem odd considering his own position on two highly regarded labels in the shape of Wolf + Lamb and Circus Company. So why choose to start his own label? “When other labels ask you for music, they kind of want their own aesthetic and I wasn’t ready to do that for all my releases. I wanted some of the releases to have total creative freedom and creating your own label allows you to have that”, he says. “I have a lot of aims. I can’t talk about a lot of them right now, but mainly just changing the way people are distributing music and releasing only music I really, really love. I think in the next six months you’ll see a new way of selling and distributing music.” What exactly the new way of selling and distributing music is, Jaar isn’t saying, but the ambition and sentiment is clearly coming from a heartfelt place.
While the long-term aims remain under-wraps, Jaar’s plans for the more immediate future are simple enough, “The next release on the label is this guy from Montreal called Valentin Stip, who is actually my first girlfriend’s brother, who I gave Ableton Live to. He makes wonderful, slow, sad music and I’m very, very excited about it. It’s coming out on vinyl and digital, which is all we’re doing now. This record kind of needed to come out on vinyl, the textures needed vinyl you know?”
Jaar’s plans for his own future are as vague acls those for his label. As well as some more straightforward house tracks, the prospect of collaboration seems to be on the horizon, “Yeah, I’m working with a couple of people. I can’t completely say who and what but you’re going to see a couple of collaboration in the future, it’s pretty exciting. I have also been asked to produce a couple of people. I haven’t said yes yet but hopefully there will be something exciting.”
Nicolas Jaar plays the main stage on Sunday night at this weekend’s Body & Soul Festival in Ballinlough Castle.