Nicolas Jaar interview - Electronic pop artist on UK tour
NY-based experimental DJ and head of the Clown and Sunset label
The NYC-based experimental DJ who once said ‘everyone who goes to a club is heartbroken’, reflects on his music, which draws as much from minimal techno as modern composition
Trends bloom and wither fast in the fragmented landscape of modern music, and most die out without ever seeing the light of the popular consciousness. In the high-turnover world of electronic music this ephemeral air is accelerated, although it’s perhaps to the most unlikely of noises that we should look for signs of what the future holds. Amidst the hinterlands lie truly brilliant artists who are just waiting for the world to catch up with them.
Nicolas Jaar, a 21-year-old New Yorker who was raised in Santiago, Chile, is one of the brightest stars in contemporary electronic composition, an artist who unites the early adopters of clubland and more classically-inclined purists of digital sound in acclaiming his name. Yet his debut album Space is Only Noise, released last year, is a tricky sell on paper, a collection of minimal, futurist hyperballads consisting of Jaar’s often effects-laden voice set against stark, heavy dubstep beats, intuitive African-influenced rhythms and fragile piano.
In many respects he’s a transatlantic spiritual companion to James Blake, and his reaction to the music of his similarly youthful and talented contemporary perhaps explains a lot about his own approach. ‘What’s he’s doing is just pop music,’ Jaar says when pressed for an opinion. ‘It’s great, I like it a lot. I’m not really interested in where my own music fits, though. I’m just interested in making it.’
To say Jaar is taciturn might be stretching things, but there’s a certain sense of intellectual reserve about him. He doesn’t seem keen to engage in small talk or overegg his answers, and again this might say a lot about his own artistic desires. ‘I guess I just decided to do something that I hoped people would take as a very honest piece of work,’ he says of Space is Only Noise. ‘I didn’t try to change it into something more accessible.’
The son of celebrated Chilean contemporary artist Alfredo Jaar, Nicolas currently studies comparative literature at Rhode Island’s Brown University, as well as running his own label, Clown & Sunset. He’s obviously ambitious as well as prodigiously creative, as evidenced by his entry into music. ‘I wanted to play the bass and the drums and the guitars and the piano, I wanted to do everything. And the only way to do it without a band was computers, so that’s why I used them instead. I’ve been doing that since I was 14.’ Four years later, his early recordings were snapped up and released by New York’s label of the moment Wolf + Lamb.
This show will feature support act Valentin Stip, one of Jaar’s own signings to Clown & Sunset (he describes Stip’s style as ‘beautiful, sad, slow, intelligent electronic music’) and will be an early evening set, although Jaar is comfortable playing concert or club. ‘I like making people dance early in the night,’ he says, ‘it just means they’re not that drunk yet and I’m still making them dance. That’s good.’
It will also be, flying in the face of what might be expected from the archetypal lone electronic boffin, a full band show. ‘I play with a band because there’s more chaos, it’s more interesting to me,’ says Jaar. ‘If it’s just one person with a computer… okay, it can be beautiful. But music is more interesting with something different thrown into the mix.’
Nicolas Jaar plays the Arches, Glasgow, Fri 29 Jul, with support from Valentin Stip. The album Space is Only Noise is out now (Circus Company).