Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Aside from potatoes and onions, which the Dutch are apparently the leading exporters of, Jarreau Vandal is one of the country’s most exciting commodities. Born in Maastricht and raised in Amsterdam, the 27-year-old artist, known for his ‘Vandalized’ edits and Valentines day mixtapes, has been a music obsessive since day one, and in that respect, nothing has really changed.
Growing up surrounded by his dad’s jazz record collection and a grandfather who taught him the basics of Logic, Jarreau quit studying music production at college to pursue a full-time career which quickly found him exploring DJing. “My beats started sounding better because I was mixing them right. At that point DJing was a logical thing to learn,” he says, when Dummy meets him prior to his headline show at London’s Village Underground.
Vandal has become a master of both skills since then, but for him the learning never fully stops. “I’m always finding the combination between them because it's two completely different principles. A producer is not always a good DJ, and a good DJ is not always a good producer.” The burgeoning scene he grew up in is one which thrived on competition and diversity. “Not every country has the bar set so high. When I started out everybody was doing their own thing, but the last few years everybody's been helping each other out.”
Jarreau Vandal (credit: Vicky Grout)
Where the Dutch scene’s rivalry bolstered his abilities, Jarreau has also benefited from being part of the Soulection family. “A lot of the exposure I've had I really have to thank Soulection. You see it with a lot of other artists, like PartyNextDoor – the combination of a big label or collective and then SoundCloud.” The LA-based collective is known for plucking SoundCloud artists from the ether and giving them a platform to be heard and collaborate: “We just help each other out. I always want to be part of Soulection, and I think as long as I make a sound that's soulful, I will always be a part of that family.”
The era of the ‘SoundCloud artist’ is no longer since Jarreau’s come-up, partly due to the legal difficulties encountered by the platform, along with an increasingly competitive landscape for other open networks. Asked whether he thinks SoundCloud is still a destination for discovery, Jarreau is cautiously optimistic: “As long as your sound stands out, and you send it to the right people, you might still get a lot of followers. It just changed a lot. If I want to find nice DJ edits, I have to search for hours to find three or four good songs.”
Vandal’s own sound sits within the broad church of hip-hop, soul and funk, but it’s expanding as we speak, with the release of ‘Anthology’ – a culmination of Jarreau’s talents. A deeply personal project, the thirteen-track mixtape is undoubtedly a new direction for Vandal, but one he’s thrilled to explore: “I just want to keep trying stuff out, and make timeless music. Even if it sounds poppy for now, it doesn't matter, it can change over time.”
The project marks a few firsts for him: “There’s a song [‘Rolemodel’] that's fully me on vocals. I took some time to evolve my voice, and I don't practice enough. But if Thundercat or Tyler, the Creator, who’s not really a singer, do it… I don't want to be insulting, but if they can, why can't I try it as well?” Talking about singing live, Jarreau is up for the challenge: “It's always scary because it's new, but it feels really good. I had to do it in order to keep growing. Once you let go of that fear, it’s just fun. I think on the next tour I'm going to do it like it's nothing.”
Another first is Jarreau’s live tour, which features keys, bass, drums and a female vocalist, all of whom he knew beforehand. Vandal feels a unique connection to the city. He dubs London “the LA of Europe” due to the density of actors and musicians, and can only stay a for a few weeks at a time before the magic wears off: “I want to keep it special. When I come back I need that energy like, ‘now I'm going to go extra hard because I'm in London’.”
Jarreau Vandal (credit: Andre Gordon)
On the night, Jarreau beams through the mist on Village Underground’s stage – clad in Carhartt dungarees and a Daily Paper top, he looks a bit like a child realising the joy of live music for the first time. Positioned behind his drum pad and keys, he makes his way up front for any singing parts. Running through some of the mixtape’s highlights, he brings out JGrrey for their dub reggae collaboration ‘Down About It’. More of ‘Anthology’ follows, interspersed with a other cuts like ‘Sober’ by Mahalia, and Jarreau’s vocals replacing Masego’s on ‘Small Talk’. On ‘Someone That You Love’, Olivia Nelson takes to the stage, ending the night on a melodic high.
Since the release of the mixtape, some fans have been scared of losing the Jarreau who reworks Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Trippie Redd, and J Hus into his highly coveted ‘Vandalized’ edits. “I will never stop doing remixes and edits,” he reveals. “There's been a lot of people thinking that since I started doing live stuff, and that's a good thing because it means they care.” Having built up his career from zero to big in only six years, it’s unsurprising that Jarreau has already broken free of the ‘DJ/producer’ label, and moved under the broader umbrella of ‘artist’: “I think being a DJ and making music as an artist is nice. But I feel like as a person I have much more to offer and to evolve.”
Jarreau is truly an artist unafraid to broach a wide gamut of genres. “I’m just trying to see what I like, and what I could be doing bigger and better in the future,” he says. This aligns with how he views success: “To me success is temporary. Once you have one success, it's not going to last forever. In the short term, success is doing what you like, being able to make a living from it, and eating what you want, whenever you want.” For someone who has already crossed geographical borders and genre boundaries with his music, Jarreau has many more creative endeavours to conquer ahead.
Listen to ‘Anthology’: