Jam City believes in dreaming
“I don’t think it exists yet in the material world but perhaps it could exist in the future, if we learn the power of our own imagination. We’re able to think of and inhabit places that aren’t colonised yet. That’s the message of the album in a way; our dreams are still our own, our dreams haven’t been sold yet, and they’re incredibly powerful.”
Jack Latham has always typified a bunch of producers assembling music with an architectural approach, building imagined environments for their electronic constructions. Making music as Jam City, his is a sound born entirely out of fantasy and imagination, feeding off the textural brutalist structures of his label home Night Slugs. Though a stylistic U-turn, Latham’s latest album might be the most explicit exploration of this theme yet. Grappling to live and love within a stifling world, Dream A Garden finds Latham tearing down his chrome-plated realm of inspiration, and longing for an environment that doesn’t yet exist.
It’s been three years since Jam City’s blueprint album Classical Curves. Widely regarded as one of the most influential electronic albums of the decade so far, it incubated the London producer’s stylised amalgam; angular yet incredibly bold and expressive. A montage of disembodied sounds where broken glass and camera flashes feel comforting, Latham’s debut album subtly imitated a dystopian present; beneath its seductive gleam laid a sinister, distinctly inhuman refraction of Western society. Where Classical Curves was influenced by the physical material of capitalism – marble, mansions, oily black Jeep windows – Dream A Garden sees Latham tackling the emotional fallout of its excess.
You can trace this evolution through his sublime Earthly mix series, where feverish NY ballroom and grime unfurl into the stretched out, displaced comedown of the third instalment. “The digital culture we live in often makes a virtue out of being incorporeal,” Latham explains over Skype. “The meaning behind the name is that there is a physical world that we still inhabit. As scary and as unkind as it is, it’s ours to take back.”
Rejecting the bleakness of the present, Dream A Garden is Latham’s rallying cry for those left cold by apathy and austerity. “It felt urgent to make a record that reflected the reality of a lot of people’s lives at the moment,” he says, “to try and orientate the work to ideas of love, passion, solidarity, and resistance against what can feel like a totally oppressive world sometimes.” It’s not an abandonment of his stimulus but an inversion, looking at the individuals trying to function within cities that are being sold off before our eyes, and, as he outlined in the text accompanying the album, beneath “vacuous and superficial machinery.”
Having teased first single Unhappy through a site that requires users to click through various ‘pop-ups’, Latham outlined reasons for his pervasive unhappiness; under-25 depression, nauseating capitalist ideals, aggressive weight loss schemes and alien muscular definition are just a few. “It’s a reality, just walking down the street to get a pint of milk you are bombarded by expectations, lifestyles trying to be sold to you, or things you should be doing. It’s really difficult not to let that make you feel really unhappy and depressed.”
“There is a physical world that we still inhabit. As scary and as unkind as it is, it’s ours to take back”
Embracing traditional songwriting structures, this is the first time Latham has used his voice so clearly. As it utters through a mist of undulating guitar leads, cushioned chords and brunt edges, sadness permeates his lyricism too. It’s an unexpected, yet remarkably affecting comment on the persistent millennial anxiety many find their lives embroiled in. “I expect more from mainstream popular culture than what is being given to us at the moment,” he explains. “I have very high expectations of it, I want to hear things that make me question a lot of the standards by which we’re taught to live our lives.” For Latham, lyricism was a way of streamlining his concerns in order to communicate them, crediting Curtis Mayfield as a massive influence for his ability to write love songs, and songs that have a conscience. “It’s a really privileged position to be in, to make music that is going to be heard by people,” he says. “Even if it’s a small audience, you have to take responsibility for that and try and commit to it emotionally.
This imagery, this objectification of bodies, it all contributes to a fascist landscape,” he continues. “I don’t think that’s OK and I know that I’m not the only one who thinks that. I know that we all feel under pressure from that world and it’s my way of saying, ‘it’s OK to be angry about this, we should try and make our voices heard together.’”
Since his debut release on Night Slugs in 2010, stark contrast tugs at the core of Latham’s work, a palpable interplay between the hard and the playful, between muscular aggression and hyper-femininity. “To try and express something in between, something a little bit more complex, is one of the main reasons I wanted to express myself via music,” Latham tells me. “It allowed opportunity to be slightly more ambiguous.”
Disillusioned with a cold, stifling scene, Latham’s interpretation of masculine energy reflects this desire to present ways of being that are counter to mainstream, normative culture. “There’s a lot of aggression on the dancefloor at the moment,” Latham laments. “It became really important to try and put something out that connected emotionally. I don’t want to put out aggressive, cold, masculine energy onto the dancefloor, I want people to love and respect each other.”
Discarding ambiguity, Latham’s ideas are more clear-cut than ever. He’s been resolutely explicit in his motivation for the album, and the political intentions behind it. I wonder whether he thinks this is being reflected in club culture at large. “As part of an underground culture, even if it is global now, it’s important to realise the power in not being immediately monetised or having capital expectations of ourselves. We can honestly take things wherever we want. We have this huge opportunity to talk about these things, to open up conversations. I really want to contribute to that, to start a dialogue.”
“The first step is resisting, saying no to the awful ideologies of this world, reclaiming the dream”
Indeed, the very act of DJing brings into question ideas of authorship and appropriation, and an expert navigation of that is something that Night Slugs have made their name for. Yet, in London for example – a city that Latham agrees has become a “ghetto for rich people” – it can be increasingly difficult to actively participate in counter culture. “The parties I started going to when I was younger did feel very politicised and very much felt like a free space away from daily struggles. It’s important that we try and preserve that.”
Though Dream A Garden’s soft, bloated core provides the soundtrack to Latham’s lullabies for a hopeful world, the sound hunches beneath a layer of destructive corrosion, existing on an axis of crushing and growth. Indeed, a key aspiration behind the album is resistance. Latham isn’t only interested in mourning our freedom; he’s inspired most by our ability to reject our fate. If Dream A Garden inhabits an as-yet uncolonised space, where does this resistance come from? Latham responds with passion, and I think it’s worth printing his answer in full.
“It comes from learning to love yourself, to love others, reclaiming your ability to dream,” he declares. “I don’t know how we can change this world systematically, but I do know that it’s possible. The first step is resisting, saying no to a lot of the awful ideologies of this world, selfishness, greed, money, to reclaim the dream. The society we live in tries to buy our bodies and sell them back to us in a strange form. It conspires to estrange us from our own bodies, our sexualities, our own capacities to love and genuinely respect one another. It’s important to begin a process of saying no to this. While I don’t have the direct solution to dismantle the apparatus, it’s a starting point to realise that as a world we’re allowed to dream, we’re allowed to create a space that hasn’t been colonised, been alienated from us yet. A dream is the first step, allowing love into your life in whatever capacity, and trying to live according to those principles in a way.”
Adopting the personal-is-political mantra, for Latham change begins at home. Describing his own embrace of these values as “an incredibly liberating experience”, Latham expands on the light he’s envisaged in this bleak corner we’ve carved out for ourselves. “I’m optimistic about our generation and the next generation, I think we have the opportunity to do an incredible and exciting thing in our culture, if we begin a process of saying no,” he concludes. “We have so much power, we really do.”
Dream A Garden is released 23 March via Night Slugs