News Column

The boy in the bubble ; Nicolas Jaar makes music like no-one else - and he has the prism to prove it. Jim Carroll catches up with him ahead of his Body & Soul appearance - and picks five other acts to catch at the festival

June 14, 2013


Nicolas Jaar makes music to dream to. You can hear it in the rich, deep, complex and atmospheric span of his debut album Space Is Only Noise. You can feel it in the blend he put together for a mesmerising BBC Radio One Essential Mix, which stitched Jay-Z, Beyonc and 'Nsync into the fabric of an ingenuous, emotional two- hour grand parade of high-grade ambience.

You can also sense it in the remixes he's knocked out of tracks by Shlohmo and Nina Simone or those throwaway one-off EPs in his back catalogue. Jaar makes organic, fullbodied soul music for daydreaming space cowboys and cowgirls.

When Jaar makes music, he thinks about people. "Often, what I do is based on people I have strong connections with, like my best friends. I'm not trying to do a specific something, just trying to be honest with what's inside.

"Improvising has always been the most exciting way to get at something new and internal. The music I make tends to be going against the really fast, harsh techno sound, against the whole clubby aspect of it. It's kind of also going against the drug aspect of it and the wasted aspect of it. It appeals more to emotions, it's much slower."

The music is also much sadder too. "My favorite music in the world is sad, and I think I always thought sad music had more of an effect. But I'm realising now that not everything has to be sad or dark to be special. That was the first phase of my creative thinking. Now I'm thinking that pain or melancholy can actually be something really beautiful and complex."

Jaar started out making music about a decade ago when he was 14 years of age. The New York-born kid, who had lived in Santiago in Chile for a few years after his parents separated, decided to try his hand at electronic music. It could have been hip-hop - he was a big fan of Coolio's Gangsta b's Paradise - but he went for the abstract beats instead.

"I had heard an album by Ricardo Villalobos called Th Au Harem D'Archimde and I thought it was really interesting. I was into minimal at the time, that kind of experimental minimal where you didn't put a big beat underneath, and that's how it started. I thought it had something you couldn't do with rock or hop-hop."

By the time Jaar got around to releasing records a few years later, he'd found a sound. That beautiful hinterland between so many different shapes and sounds, from jazz to electronica, was to be a happy hunting ground for Jaar, a musician whose tracks always sounded both of the moment and defiantly unfashionable.

"I think people are genuinely interested now in stuff that doesn't sound like everything else that's out there or has been out there," he says. "People get excited by musicians who are making new types of music or who are coming up with brand-new ideas and genres. They're prepared to go with these things more now than in the past, I think."

He's a great one for subtlety too, more than capable of excercising restraint rather than extrapolating and extending the most obvious groove or melody. "There are probably more people making slow music than fast music in the world. I'm making music in a tempo that is I guess experimental for dance music, but normal for any other music. Playing with time is interesting. It's been done, but it's so easy to not do with electronic music so you quickly see the limitations of electronics themselves because of those difficulties, which leads to some interesting places."

Jaar took to the album format like a duck to water with Space Is Only Noise. "I often felt like I was doing things wrong putting out my music as EPs or tracks. It felt like they were just fragments of what I wanted to say. With an album, I could tell stories in full and let them play out properly. You could create this little world which had a language and a landscape."

The same also applies to Jaar's adventures in the record business. He set up the Clown & Sunset label to release music by friends and people who are making "really interesting, complicated and pretty experimental music that wouldn't be able to get heard otherwise".

But Jaar isn't simply thinking about releasing MP3s or CDs. Clown & Sunset came up with its own way of releasing music in the shape of a small aluminium cube with two headphone sockets called the Prism. The first release using this technology was Don't Break My Love, a 12-track showcase of the label's wares featuring Jaar, Valentin Stip, Vignike, Nikita Quasim, Acid Pauli and others.

"I see Clown & Sunset more as arthouse than music," says Jaar about his format adventures. "And I think it makes people realise that music has a value and that you can do things which are improvised and risky. I'm not trying to say 'CDs suck', I'm just saying that I don't like them and maybe we could find something that's more appropriate to the music. I take risks with my music all the time, but taking a risk with technology like this is more complicated, because it's not what I do normally."

All of the above - including running your own label and releasing some groundbreaking music - would be more than enough for most, but Jaar is only getting started. There will be more collaborations like Darkside, his project with guitarist Dave Harrington, more art and film projects with Clown & Sunset and probably more albums like Space Is Only Noise down the line.

The abiding aim with all of this work, Jaar says, is to get a reaction. "You want to change the way people see things in a positive way. My favorite art has changed me for the better. Music allows you to be in a state of mind where you're just letting go.

"The real beauty in music is finding something sacred deep inside, but I feel like the older I grow, the more distractions there are. You have to be idealistic and crazy to make music and stay on that path."

||| Nicolas Jaar plays the Main Stage at the Body & Soul festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, from June 21st to 23rd

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