Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
“Earthly does not tolerate: Bad energy, aggressive leery boys, Tories.
Earthly encourages: The alienated and sleepless, dreaming on the floor, those that don’t feel normal”
The event page for Jam City’s Earthly VI night formally draws up a general statement of intent that you can piece together from parts of various conversations with Latham. To be relaxed, welcome and to feel you are able to lose yourself in the dance without negative distractions is something that’s really important to Jam City. His second Earthly night pulls together fellow Night Slugs producer Girl Unit, Radar Radio favourites and Body Party DJs BBC Azn Network as well as the peak time party bangers of Kamixlo.
2015 has been an incredibly busy time for Latham. This year, he released an album that enforced he isn’t an artist that's going to adhere to what’s expected and also one who has become more comfortable speaking out about what he believes in. 'Dream A Garden' combines his own voice, splintering noise and guitars buried deep in reverb – a surprise curveball in sound, both for him and especially for something released on Night Slugs.
It was a challenge for Latham as well, who’d never had to think about producing a live show before. Playing his debut set at Unsound last year, he had to build from the ground up and hone that for the various shows he’s played this year. In a DJ context, seeing Bok Bok loop the intro to A Walk Down Chapel in the middle of a hip hop set earlier this year and it not sounding out of place shows there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the record’s dexterity. His forthcoming 12” shifts the album into a more club friendly context, with mixes of A Walk Down Chapel and Crisis as well as the previously unheard track Dream ’15 which was half finished during the making of 'Dream A Garden'. "It’s very much from that world but it looks towards the future a bit more as well" says Latham when we talk.
Today, an Earthly 6 mix has just surfaced. The "LOVE IS RESISTANCE" sticker that has accompanied Jam City's work and been handed out surrounding Dream A Garden is defaced, the word Resistance being overwritten with "Delirious". Earthly mixes have become checkpoints in Jam City's sound, giving clues to where his musical headspace is at that moment in time and talking about being less tired in our chat, this mix definitely has the energy to reflect that.
While he picks up on and openly comments on a lot of the negativity that surrounds society, especially a lot of political unrest as a London resident in 2015, there’s no feeling of negativity present when I call Latham. Warm, laughing at points and beaming with examples of positive changes in motion – we talk about reinforcing positive club spaces, the necessity of having open conversations about societal problem areas and new 12” 'Earthly Versions'.
Where are you at today?
Jam City: "I’m just working and about to get down to some studio stuff and get involved with sorting out stuff for this party."
On the subject of the Earthly night, I wanted to talk about something that’s on the event, as part of it you have a do not tolerate section which includes aggressively leery boys. There’s been a lot of emphasis lately about safe spaces but I feel sometimes it’s hard to enforce that properly, especially because sometimes the people that it needs to be said to might not read the statements. I wondered if you see a definite change due to nights that you’re linked to like Earthly and places like Body Party.
Jam City: "I completely agree. The thing is, when you put that on your flyer that those are your intentions but I think it’s important to say that there’s no way that we know how to police that sort of behavior. I would never want to put anyone under the impression that they didn’t have to expect things anywhere because these are things that as people who put on a night – none of us know how to control it. I do think it’s really worth making your intentions clear and saying this is the type of event that we want to run. To be honest, I think that the atmosphere that I’ve experienced in places that do have a policy like that is lovely, it’s so different because there’s a sense of trust that obviously has to be built over time.
If you’re going to put on a party, it’s just as important as the music you’re going to play to talk about the atmosphere you want and to try present that. There’s really a responsibility for anyone putting on a party to say we want to have a good atmosphere where people can really enjoy themselves and not have to worry about all that bullshit and we also want to put on really good music – I think those two things go hand in hand."
Especially as someone who has been harassed a lot at nights, it’s very important to have these spaces, which are very clearly laid out like that.
Jam City: "A club night isn’t going to solve misogyny, effectively. As I say, we can talk about and be positive about the environment we want to create and try to let people know, “I want that too!” Coming from my position, I’ve never had to experience those things directly but it ruins the night and obviously as you said, it’s not something that we have to deal with. Over time, hopefully, a trust can between to grow between dancers and DJs and promoters and these things will maybe begin to happen organically along with other areas. It’s really important to be direct and open and clear about what you want from your night and that’s what a lot of other people would want as well, not having to deal with that fucking bullshit.
Obviously we’re just a tiny, small part of it. These conversations are happening elsewhere and other people are talking so we really do have to work together and make sure that the conversation is continued but we’re putting things into practice as well."
Both your Earthly nights and you as a person reject a lot of normative ideals, were spaces like this available to you when you were growing up?
Jam City: "Not really but also, yeah, maybe in a weird way but I don’t think I quite realised that. I didn’t grow up in the city so I didn’t really have a lot of places to go but at the same time, as you get older you look back and you realise. I used to go to a lot of punk nights or band nights and even then, it was a slightly different time. I think there weren’t very many of them but there were a few times that a 13 or 14 year old who was struggling with a few things could go and be in an atmosphere where you could lose yourself. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere that I could hold up as that sort of place, it’s an ongoing thing you have to assess. There were a few places but there’s even more of an importance to create things like that now."
Would you have liked there to have been more?
Jam City: "I grew up the way I grew up; I think the lack of those things forces you to take different routes in life. I moved to a city to be around that more. I don’t regret anything at all about my growing up so I think it’s about having an idea for a place that you want to operate in and trying to make it happen somehow. It’s a driving force, you get fed up and you’re not seeing what you want to see or hearing what you want to hear so you think I’ll do it myself. A lot of people are fed up of the political situation in this country at the moment and some things are peeking through now as well. There’s been a few examples – like Kieran Yates’ British Values zine – people want to hear these things, they need them in their lives. There’s definitely a change in attitudes at the moment, which is really exciting.
Thinking about a few months ago, I went to the Anti Austerity march, it’s mad, you’re looking around and there were so many people on the streets. There are so many people involved in the music industry and artists in this way that of course what’s going on in the streets is going to bubble up into people making music. I feel this year has been really unstable in a very good way where things are bubbling through in areas in unexpected ways and people are definitely taking more a stance – using their music to channel feelings of alienation and frustration, it’s fantastic and I really support that in any possible way."
Shifting subject, I wanted to talk about the video for Proud, which you co-directed with Cannella Blue Roan who also did the video for Unhappy. How did you meet and end up working together?
Jam City: "She’s been indispensable for the making of the whole record and the conversations that we had really went into being able to articulate what I wanted. It also gave me the confidence to talk about these things and express myself in this way, also working collaboratively in my opinion is essential if you’re ever going to try and talk about something which is complex because you’ve got someone who can check you on things and also be honest and critical. I really couldn’t have done it without that other voice and support as well. I always want to give her a bit more shine but she’s very adamant about not being reduced to a commodity on the Internet, which I respect so I’ll leave it at that!"
Do you ever feel that it’s frustrating having to work on something alone?
Jam City: "Sometimes it’s necessary to bunker down and do the work but if you’re talking about things like depression and the links between the capitalist state that we live in and feelings of exhaustedness… If you’re talking about real things that other people might be able to relate to, you need to be having conversations to look at all sides of things. At the same time, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and say things that come from your heart. You need someone to give you the confidence to do that otherwise you feel like, “I don’t want to say anything, I don’t want to rock the boat!” It’s so essential, this is one thing that I’m excited to see more of this year and I’ve been excited when it’s happened this year – the solidarity that’s shown between different experiences and communities are formed. Not that we all have to work together under one big group but just that people support each other basically, looking after each other is massively important."
The first lyric on 'Dream ’15' is “No I don’t feel sad”. You’ve previously mentioned there’s a lack of awareness surrounding men’s mental health. Is that something that feels close to you personally?
Jam City: "Definitely. In this society, in exchange for privilege, men are effectively brutalised which makes it hard to talk about these problems. You never want to prioritise men’s wellbeing over anyone else’s because they’re already at the top of the food chain. At the same time, it’s worth talking about things and I have friends where the weight of silence that they’re expected to uphold is so much more damaging than what it would mean to be able to open up and talk to people. There’s a book that I always quote on this called The Will To Change by Bell Hooks, I read it at the beginning of the year and – it’s just bullet point after bullet point like yes, yes, yes. It’s about creating an environment… men need to talk to women more basically.
If there was a space where these things could happen outside of power relations, obviously everyone’s going to be like “that’s not possible, you can’t do that!” but that’s what you have to believe in. You have to believe in a space where these things are acknowledged but they’re also actively trying to be dismantled. I’m lucky in a sense because I grew up with two older sisters and they sorted me out if I was acting up. That’s natural for me; I’ve always been around that. I know that’s not what everyone has. I think we have to put an end to the boys’ club mentality, it’s exhausting. No one benefits from it. You’ve got to have a different energy; you can’t always be around people who are exactly the same as you. You have to be around people who are completely different in all sorts of ways, that’s what makes exciting.
Earthly is about making that change that you want to see because no one else is going to do that for you. This is what I’d say to people as well, if you’ve ever thought about saying something or starting a zine or writing a record because there’s something inside of you that’s burning and you want to get it out there, now is the fucking time. Just do it. The tools are there to most of us. The Proud and Unhappy videos probably cost about £60 in total as Cannella and I did most of it on our phones. It feels like there are certain barriers imposed but just pick up a camera and do it. No one else will give you that permission. I really get excited when someone just does that."
For the visuals of both 'Dream A Garden' and 'Earthly Versions', you’ve been contrasting these images of beautiful flowers and nature with harsh realistic power structures such as financial buildings and police figures – I wanted to know why the juxtaposition of those images is important for you because it’s a very interesting one.
Jam City: "I think it’s weird… I feel both of us started using that imagery, especially the flowers, without even thinking. Flowers are beautiful but there’s definitely some unhinged power in the idea of weeds, tendrils and blue flowers being in the same space as liberal capitalism – there’s something psychedelic and dream-like (no pun intended!). I’m never trying to make out that the dichotomy of those images is like good and evil but there’s something powerful and sublime… uncontainable about plants in that respect that visually is perhaps the only antidote to rampant capitalism because let’s face it, nature’s going to have the last laugh whatever happens. We can’t run away from that! There’s something there, definitely.
It’s hard because you’re going to throw in all these ugly images of fascist underwear models, policemen with six packs, that kind of vibe then what image do you use to counter that… It’s like well what do I want to see in its place. Sometimes nature feels like the last truly wild, unclaimable thing that can’t be commodified so easily and it’s beautiful as well, which is why we keep coming back to that because it’s seductive and also not man made as well."
Talking more about 'Earthly Versions'; 'Dream A Garden' was a slight curveball in your musical path. What made you decide to take things a bit closer to your earlier productions with these bass-heavy, club ready versions of the tracks?
Jam City: "On Dream A Garden, the bass heaviness and the drums are still in there but they’re buried. On this 12”, it was just about letting that lead it. As well, I feel Dream A Garden is a particularly angry record, thinking about smashing in estate agents and describing how good that would feel, it’s angry but submerged in many ways and also sleepy, which was the kind of state I was in – being exhausted. At the same time, I think it’s okay to let the anger through more sometimes so with this, it was about more of that balance. This year has been mad in the sense of having so many shows and being away from the situation in London, you get this weird homesickness sometimes. This year has definitely been less tired."