Last updated: 10th Dec 2014.
Originally published: 9th Dec 2014
Image: Jax Jones
The ‘rockstar’. We’ve heard of it, we’ve seen it and maybe even experienced its wrath. But the hazy myth heavily laced in hedonism and debauchery is just that.
Self-schooled multi-instrumentalist Jax Jones is none of the above - but what he lacks in irreverence and apathy he makes up for in panache, production and songwriting.
Not one to be typified, the boy from south London pulls from all sounds – and his booty bumping, bass jumping Duke Dumont collaboration ‘I Got U’ (below) is merely a testament to his approach to music and the goldmine of music the adolescent Jax grew up listening to.
As one of the stars of Blasé Boys Club, the new imprint Dumont has been pushing this year, he's been building a head of steam as a DJ, including a set at the imprint's showcase for Ahora in Sheffield's O2 Academy on Friday 12th December.
Ahead of the party we caught up with him in engaging form, with everything from making pop music, his views on Disney's forward thinking attitudes to racial boundaries and DJ EZ making him 'poo himself'.
‘I Got U’ is the song on everybody’s lips at the moment. But we want to hear about the nitty gritty details of the journey to now. Was there a particular ‘one day, we’ll look back at this and laugh’ moment that stuck with you?
It was a bit crazy. When I first started on ‘I Got U’, I tried to harness some birthday luck. On my birthday, I went into the studio and made a really raw demo to show to Duke and I thought let’s hope this luck pulls.
It was initially just called ‘Birthday Beat’ and when Duke heard it, he was like: ‘this is sick’. I couldn’t believe it. He is the most fierce quality assurance man out there – he’ll tell you if something is horrid. (Laughs)
He’ll be straight up.
Yeah, he’s the most amazing A&R man in that respect. He was like: ‘there’s something in this’. We battled through it and I think there must have been at least 25 versions!
Such a long process of creation is always filled with obstacles and ‘is this shit?’ moments. How did you motivate yourself?
I wrote on a piece of paper before I started the process: I hope to have a Zane Lowe's hottest record. When that happened for ‘I Got You’ – well that was quite a moment. That was the ‘look back and laugh’ moment! It’s like those little crappy motivational notes you write yourself actually help.
People mock the motivational messaging on Instagram or whatnot but they get you through the dark days.
Yes! I stick my Post-it notes on the screen of my desktop so every time I sit down I’m reminded. It’s like ‘haven’t done that yet, better get on top of it’!
Your music would be classified in the dance, house, electro scene but ‘I Got U’ proves that really that music pulls from all over. Do you believe in labelling your music with genres?
One part of me thinks, it’s important to be part of the scene so people know where you came from. Ultimately you just want to make music that people love and - most of all - that people can and want to dance to. I’m happy for my music to fall under ‘Good dance music’.
Do you think fans look to their favourite artists for direction in sound?
Yea. Everyone wants to make big club smashers and as a DJ and producer, you are a curator first. It is a weird time in electronic music because there is a bit of a gold rush happening. But as the artist you are there for your taste in music as well; people like A-Trak harness that perfectly.
If A-Trak pulled out some folk song half way through a set people wouldn’t be like: ‘what’s going on’, they’d just try and appreciate it. It’s the ultimate when you surpass all labels.
When you become the tastemaker.
Yes, you can do anything at that point.
You co-wrote The Vamps' hit 'Can We Dance' (above), which further proves your ability to dip into all sounds. Would it presumptuous to say you like all music or you’re just very skilled at honing it at all types of music?
I make good music for the club and then sometimes I want to make music for under-18s. (Laughs).
Did you set out to write a pop track?
Yea. I wanted to write a big pop track - to me it's the standard of commercial music. That was a cool process because we collaborated with Bruno Mars. ‘I Got You’ is still pop but at the heart of it, it’s a song that means something to people and conveys that in an original way.
In the Vamps’ record, the chorus - for a teenage pop band -, is quite gritty. He’s sayin’: ‘I talk a lot of shit when I’m drinking’. You don’t really hear that on a debut pop single. At the heart of it is just an emotion. Same with ‘I Got You’. In my head – I don’t know what was going on in Duke’s head – but in mine, I just wanted to make a song that people would get married to.
Really? Care to expand on that?
Imagine you were at the alter, and when you say your vows to your partner, you say ‘ask me what I did with my life? I spent it with you’. Every kind of song should work towards that. It’s the same with the Vamps track, we thought: how can we make this as cheeky as possible?
With a good beat! It’s interesting that you touch on the fact that The Vamps are a boy band. As a concept it differs greatly to the ‘boy bands’ of the nineties.
So different, but there were always a lot of underlining messaging going on. Remember Britney’s ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’? Those lyrics were on another level! You’d listen to it and think, what is she actually saying..?
There was a lot more insinuation and innuendos back then whereas now..
Now it’s, who can be the most shocking
And every time someone shocks you, it’s a surprise because you think, fuck I’ve seen it all.
Remember when Cee Lo Green came out with ‘Fuck You’? It was a big pop moment. Now it’s like, whatever.
It’s all Disney now, there wouldn’t be surprise if it was the theme song to one of their new shows.
But Disney was stepping out of the box when they put a black princess in their film ‘The Princess and the Frog’. But that’s for another interview...
Ha we'll move on. You’re well into your UK garage scene but a lot of your music is influenced by nineties r&b. The inspiration for ‘I Got U’ was the chorus of the Missy Elliot remix of Janet Jackson’s 'Go Deep', right? Growing up, were you influenced by the music your family listened to?
I was really influenced by my stepdad. If he had not come along I think I would have had really dry taste in music. My mum was into Kylie Minogue and Luther Vandross. It was a weird situation growing up because my mum is Malaysian but my stepdad is Nigerian so he listened to a lot of blues and r&b mixed with African stuff. Then Missy Elliot came in as well as Prince and Fela Kuti.
Did you see the Fela Kuti film?
I did. He’s just a don, isn’t he?
He is, but it also portrayed him as a right dick.
A lot of those artists, like him and Marley, were all womanisers; they had such incredible power over women. I heard Fela had like 13 wives!
You’d never see that happening today - the industry is completely different.
Yea. Well it’s not cool to be like that anymore. (Laughs). The ‘rock stars’ don’t exist in the same vein. Everyone is just saying ‘thank you’ and giving high fives – apart from Noel Gallagher! He’s leading the remaining ‘rock stars’.
Someone’s gotta fly the flag! Speaking of rock stars, your single ‘I Got You’ received mega props from some mega people. Including Katy Perry. Did you send her one back?
That was pretty sweet. I’ve been giving Katy Perry mega props for years. I just think she’s one of the greatest pop stars of our time. I gave her a virtual high five on Twitter! (Laughs).
You reckon you would follow in her stage-show footsteps?
She’s a bit theatrical for me. I couldn’t get behind the DJ decks and start busting out cowboy costumes and that. I’ve seen some of the shows and I was like – woah. It’s a bit much (laughs).
Not even a hat?
I would bust out the hat. That is my thing. But with headphones you’re kind of limited to what hats you can pull off. I usually have a baseball cap but Avicii and others are using that to the max - I need my own thing.
Well you can’t do the helmet or mask, they’ve been done to death.
They’ve been rinsed! I look good in a pork pie Pete Doherty style hat but it’s not so practical when DJing.
Aesthetics aside, you’ve noted elsewhere that DJ EZ’s Boiler Room set (above) was something special. How does he inspire your own approach to music?
I don’t scratch; my thing is mixes and keeping the crowd entertained with my selection. Watching someone like EZ - who is just an incredible showman who keeps you on your toes for three hours - is mind blowing. He can do a nine-hour set!
Typically in house music people mix quite long and play like four bits of the track. After seeing his set I wanted to be more fast-paced. I’d love to do a Boiler Room but I couldn’t DJ after EZ – I’d probably poo my pants. You don’t want to be the guy that cleared the floor!
Now finally and completely off topic: if you were stuck on a desert island what three things that aren't technology-based would comfort you?
Is it life or death?
There’s a chance you’ll get off, so let’s say no.
In that case, I’d take my Air Jordan 6 Retro trainers – you gotta look good while you’re stranded on desert island. Also one of my baseball caps, obviously we’re still trying to figure out the hat situation, but I need protection from the sun. And swimming shorts.
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