Make no bones about it, Nicolas Jaar is an ambitious sort of fellow.
Jaar – still a stripling at 22 – started remarkably young, turning out his abstruse The Student EP way back in 2008. Subsequent releases, from 2010’s woozy Marks And Angles to the strutting A Time For Us single, showed an impressive eye for detail and craftsmanship. It was 2011’s Space Is Only Noise LP – a collection of brittle electronic miniatures and watery electro-pop – that really ramped things up for the American-Chilean producer, and he’s kept up the momentum throughout 2012. His Clown + Sunset label, previously a hothouse for his own productions and side projects, has recently welcomed The Notwist’s Acid Pauli into the fold. We’ve had a numerous collaborative projects (Darkside, Just Friends) an Essential Mix that runs the gamut from Villalobos to *NSYNC, and, of course, 2012’s most notorious bit of blue sky thinking. Before his flagship set at MUTEK, Jaar – clipped, composed, and thoroughly intense – talked Mount Kimbie, Sasha Spielberg and more.
“It can seem pompous, it can seem stupid, it can seem silly. But I prefer doing it than not doing it.”
“For this one we’re doing just me with a synth, two controllers and a mixer and a microphone and a computer. On my left, I have one of my best friends who plays saxophone and keyboards, he’s going to be doing that. And on my right hand, my partner in Darkside who plays guitar – he’s going to be playing guitar all night, and a lot of effects and electronics. That’s what my live set looks like now. One third of the material is my past album, and then another third is new material, and the last third is basically improvisation. I would shoot myself if I had to play the same thing every night. It’s just boring, and people enjoy it less.”
What does that live setup enable you to do that you couldn’t with a more conventional, Ableton-and-nothing else arrangement?
“You mean playing with the musicians?”
“There are these two things: there’s fucking techno, then there’s church. And then they start fighting. And I chose the church to win.”
Yes, and also having a degree of exigence and flexibility through the improv as well.
“This summer, I’m touring with the band the whole time, so this isn’t MUTEK-specific. What is incredibly different is that I refuse to play my remixes or my edits when I’m playing with a band. So that already changes a lot of things, because when I’m in a club and I’m playing at 3am, I’m playing a lot of my remixes, I’m playing a lot of my edits, because it’s 3am. Of course, I still play slow, but I also build it. With my band, I need to basically be playing my own music, and arranging – rearranging – and composing all my songs.
“That’s a beautiful, beautiful job for me. Just sitting with them and reimagining the music, you have to do that. There were really no saxophones on all the tracks in my album; there’s no guitar in any of the tracks, for one. So, reimagining the tracks with ‘What would the guitar do here?’, whether it’s noise, or whether it’s melodic – it’s fascinating. I love it. It adds a lot of excitement to me to be playing with other people. Playing alone gets repetitive. Playing with other people, it’s like: ‘Will played really well today’, or ‘Will didn’t play so well today. Will, what’s wrong?’. And that’s exciting.”
Moving onto your Essential Mix, which we enjoyed on our shores fairly recently. It went all over the place, it was a very rangy and exploratory set. What was your rationale behind the more unusual choices in there?
“So, here’s the problem with it sounding [making air speech marks] ‘unusual’. It sounds unusual to a lot of people, but I basically just tried to give, I promise you, the most honest account of what I’ve been doing in the last six months. These are edits I’ve been doing in the past six months, I didn’t do them for the mix. This is stuff that I used to play at university. My *NSYNC edit is something that I worked on. I was like, ‘I really like this *NSYNC track’. By itself, I feel stupid playing it, that’s the truth of it. I want to turn it into something that I can play. The time comes to make the Essential Mix, and I’m like ‘Wow, the *NSYNC edit would fit very well here’, because it starts with those bells and drops for a second. Same thing with all the edits.
Nicolas Jaar – Essential Mix
“The classical music in it, which might seem odd, is my favourite classical music of all time. That’s the stuff I grew up with. I grew up with that ‘Encore’ by Keith Jarrett. I didn’t go searching for it, it’s something I grew up with. So, it’s a personal set. I thought for my Essential Mix I wanted to give people actually what is personal. These are personal edits that show where I am now. This violin piece that I put on for ten minutes is something that I grew up with for ten years. I heard it so much, and I want to make you hear it so much that you understand how the music after sounds.
“One thing about the ‘unusual’ quality: there are, sure, a couple of unusual moments, but it’s because I wanted to try and say something. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. There’s a moment where the violins are playing on one speaker, and Aphex Twin is playing on the other. Then Aphex Twin starts going through the speaker like this [he mimes the sound travelling from speaker to speaker]. I don’t know if you remember this – if you listen on headphones you can hear it, also with a good soundsystem if you go in the middle. So you hear Aphex Twin going into this side and leaving this speaker alone, and then finally the violins come in and it’s just the violins for ten minutes. This is after an edit called ‘There Is No God’. I’m just trying to say certain things, like ‘What do you do after there is no God?’ There are these two things: there’s fucking techno, then there’s church. And then they start fighting. And I chose the church to win. But then, in a way, it doesn’t, because it ends with my first techno release, called ‘The Student’. So, I’m just trying to build a narrative.”
“I wasn’t going to give you exclusive tracks that DJs sent me – who cares? I mean, I don’t care.”
What’s interesting about the Essential Mix in particular is that it offers an unusually big canvas, in terms of temporality. You have two hours to play with.
“It was difficult at first. And I said, the only way I can do this is if I’m honest and I say “Here’s the story”. I wasn’t going to give you exclusive tracks that DJs sent me – who cares? I mean, I don’t care. I don’t care to give you that. Personally, I think I’m better at giving you a story than some exclusive tracks.”
Another project with an interesting ‘story’ behind it too is the Just Friends project [with Sasha Spielberg]. Tell us maybe a little about how that came together, and what your modus operandi or aim is with that.
“Sasha went to school with me. We were best friends for four years – we just graduated a week ago.”
“Thank you. We always said we should make music together, and then finally we made five tracks – and my apartment got robbed, and I lost all of them. Only one survived. Why? Because it was so good, or at least I thought it was so good, that I instantly sent it to get mastered, and that was ‘Avalanche’. So I had many more songs with Sasha, but the only one that survived was ‘Avalanche’. Sasha’s been my best friend for a long time, and we just decided to make music together two years into knowing each other, and we’re going to continue doing it, for sure. It has its own sound, so it’s exciting.”
Are you going to try and reanimate those lost sketches, or are they just gone?
“Just gone. Too bad – it doesn’t matter. We’ll just make more.”