We Talked to Jam City About His New Protest Record, the Angry But Still Hopeful 'Dream a Garden'
"You've just got to open the sails and see where the winds take you. That's life man."
In May 2012, Jam City released his debut album and I genuinely couldn’t wrap my head around what I was hearing. It was club music, just of no other variety. It was UK bass, house, industrial, techno, pop and whatever else, destroyed and rebuilt and fused together in this immaculate recording. The fact that the album’s visuals—artwork featuring a discarded superbike strewn across an ostentatious marble floor—so beautifully and accurately matched the grandiosity of the music’s architectural achievement, made it a complete vision.
After three long years (in which he produced two tracks for Kelela’s Cut 4 Me mixtape), Jam City has returned with the eagerly awaited follow-up to the genre-destroying Classical Curves. However, as much as that album achieved such a singular sound, this new record is not cut from the same cloth. Jack Latham, the 25-yaer-old behind Jam City, has completely renovated his sound to help give a voice to all of the problems in the world he can no longer ignore. Which is why, unlike he did on Classical Curves, he uses his voice to help convey his message. Buried within the chopped up guitars, shattered beats, and cascading synthesizers, the London-based Latham croons, “I can see it now / How they got away with it / I was foolish for a while / See there’s no time to doubt in The West / But sometimes its like we’re stuck / Like we’re not allowed to grow up / I was ashamed but it’s not enough.”
Noisey emailed Latham some questions, to which he responded with lightning-fast timeliness, about protest music, working without any limitations, the problem with making unclassifiable art, and how much of a dream it is to produce for an artist like Kelela.
Noisey: Your profile was a lot more anonymous when you released Classical Curves. What made you decide to put yourself out there more for Dream a Garden?
Jam City: Well, to be honest people have used my real name for a long time, but there was a conscious decision to not be so much in the shadows. I sing on the record and you'll see me singing live, so I may as well show my face. Really it's about being comfortable with yourself and creating the image of yourself that you would want to see. I think creating our own images rather than feeling pressured to conform to what the normal people think is right is a good site of resistance.
Dream a Garden is being called a protest album. Why did you choose to take that direction lyrically?
It wasn't a choice. Everyone I know is depressed and fed up with living in a world of violence, exploitation and suffering and we've had enough—it's just not working anymore. The very least I can do is try and start using my music to talk about how that feels.
So this is a political album, but I hear your message as more hopeful than angry. Do you feel that is the more effective way of getting your message across?
Yeah, you’ve gotta be otherwise what's the point? I think you can be angry and hopeful at the same time. Hearing other people getting angry makes me hopeful, that's for sure. If we just don't stop making a noise then we'll have even more reason to feel optimistic. I honestly think it's way more exciting and exhilarating saying “fuck you” to a certain status quo... I understand the cynicism, the urge to just accept things, but I would say it's more fun on this side, the unrealistic side.
How important is it for the listener to pick up on what you’re saying with Dream a Garden?
People can enjoy it however they like! It's music, it's not superficial to like how it sounds, that's the point. And if you find yourself nodding to the beat, then you definitely get what I'm saying in the lyrics. The culture we live in is designed to make us feel shit about ourselves, so if listening to a three-minute song can momentarily make you feel good, then the music and the message is doing its job.
This album also sounds radically different from Classical Curves. How intentional was that?
The changes in my life and the changes in the lives of those around me made me realize it was perhaps more important to be a little more tender. I didn't think too much about it, I just started playing guitar and singing and it sounded right to me.
Was there any particular music that inspired this change?
Curtis Mayfield, UGK's “3 in the Mornin’,” slowed down club music, the Cure, Ron Hardy mixes, and the stuff my girlfriend plays in her car.
When you released "Unhappy" some people were really taken aback to how different it sounded from Classical Curves. How do you feel about some fans not feeling this album the same way they did the previous one?
It's cool, some people will be into it, some won't be. It’s no big deal. A lot of people said the exact same things to me when Classical Curves came out too, so you gotta be patient. To be honest it's none of my business what other people think of this album or the last anyway. And if you don't go searching for it, you probably won't see a lot of the negativity anyway, which feels healthy.
All I know is, this is the best record I've made so far and it was the most fun to make. At the end of the day I'm just trying to make my friends and family proud: My sister loves this record but she wasn't keen on the last one, so I know I'm doing something right!
I hear quite a bit of guitar on this album. What made you want to use it more this time around?
I love the guitar. It's just a really tactile instrument that you can make it say things that other instruments can't. It can be angry and it can be sweet and sad all at the same time. I'm not technically very skilled, so playing live instruments and doing multiple takes forces you to slow down your work rate, which I'd actually recommend to any producer. It really makes you see your process in a different way.
Jam City appears to be this ever-changing project. Did you always consider it to be something that would work without limitations?
You've just got to open the sails and see where the winds take you. That's life man. It's more fun that way!
What influence did the London club scene play in making Dream a Garden?
Being in spaces where people come together and dance is always going to be a massive influence. And the gradual attempts at dismantling an organic and independent club community in London was also a massive influence in the sense that it makes you incredibly sad and angry.
What I loved so much about Classical Curves was that it sounded alien to me, like nothing I’d ever heard before. How important is it to make music that is so unclassifiable?
I think it's a terrible idea to try and make unclassifiable art. Everything has its roots in something else. Classical Curves doesn't sound alien to me, it sounds like it was heavily influenced by Jersey Club, Ryuichi Sakamoto, death metal, and Ruff Sqwad instrumentals. I think you can hear all of that in there. If you strive to make something unclassifiable for the sake of it you're just going to alienate people and the music will sound terrible. You're also silencing all the other voices that were so vital in inspiring you and making up your sound. It's a masculine desire to always be pushing forward into uncharted waters and it's boring as hell.
The Courts – Jam City (off Classical Curves).
There was a certain feeling of opulence in Classical Curves, from the album art to the pristine sound of the production. How different was the feeling you were striving to achieve with Dream a Garden?
Classical Curves is the surface, Dream a Garden is the exhaustion, frustration, anger, and dizziness underneath I think.
You produced for Kelela’s mixtape, Cut 4 Me, which was widely praised. What was it about her as an artist that made you want to produce those two tracks?
She's knows exactly what she wants in a beat and she is so versatile it makes working with her a dream. We wrote about five songs over two days the last time we were in the studio together, so finding that kind of compatibility is very rare and special.
When you produce music for someone else, is it catered to that particular artist or does it begin as something that could work for Jam City?
This is how you should approach producing for someone else: take a day to sit down with them, find out about them, how they're feeling, what sounds they hear in their head, their favourite artists, their inspirations, and what they're going through right now in their life. Listen to them incredibly closely, and then start thinking about how you could help them achieve that. Then afterwards you might find you have an idea that could work.
Dream a Garden is out on Warp/Night Slugs now.
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