How composer James Jacob bottled the exhilaration and ugliness of the post-exam holiday in How to Have Sex

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How To Have Sex is streaming exclusively on MUBI. Watch with 30 days of MUBI for free via

There is something so quintessentially British about Molly Manning Walker’s debut feature, How to Have Sex. Despite the story taking place in Malia, on a riotous post-GCSE holiday for three best friends, there’s a singular energy contained within it. Perhaps it’s encapsulated best in the characters’ PrettyLittleThing-core bodycon dresses, the sipping on enormous goblets of radioactive-blue booze, or the munching on soggy chips in the early hours.

But what really captures the feeling of youth and reckless abandon is its core, a constant thrum of bass-heavy dance bangers mixed with affecting ambient instrumentation. Composed by producer, songwriter and DJ James Jacob – who also goes by Jakwob and has worked with the likes of Shygirl, Nia Archives and Charli XCX – the music in How to Have Sex is an omnipresent force. It’s alive in the muffled sounds of a neighbour’s pre-drinks, the cacophony of tunes blasting from streets lined with clubs, and the thumping electro of a pool party, when last night’s hangover is setting in with full intensity.


Jacob first met Walker on the set of his early music videos, before they started bumping into each other again and again at house parties in Bournemouth. “Ironically, we met through music and raving,” Jacob says, explaining that the pair stayed in contact ever since. The main character Tara (played by Mia McKenna-Bruce) is one of thousands of ravers in How to Have Sex who experiences Malia in all of its euphoria, but also in its debilitating ugliness, as she endures experiences that bring up questions of consent. Jacob drew from his own memories as a DJ to create a score that captures both ends of this discordant emotional spectrum. “While I haven’t been through any of the traumas Tara goes through in the film, I’ve been in those environments and know that goes on,” he says. “I’ve been observant as a sober DJ coming into a club in the middle of the night when people don’t think anyone else is watching.” Calling from his home, Jacob shares how his untraditional score came to be, and what makes the perfect club banger.

Crack: How did the initial conversations you had with Molly Manning Walker about the score’s direction go?

We were both just drawing from our own experiences. What was it like being in those club environments? What feelings does it bring up for you? I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy [revisiting that]. I was anxious, stressed and disoriented. But I’ve also had really great experiences, so we chatted about the juxtaposition of what it’s like to feel alone in a space that is full of people seemingly having fun.

The film’s music doesn’t sound like a traditional score; there’s an ambient feel to it with the dance music seeping in, rather than the other way round. How did you land on that approach?

The original idea was that the music is a monster; an ever-present hum and thud in the background. Like when you’re at a festival and you can’t get to sleep because the dance village is still going. And then it becomes a darker figure and takes over and it becomes angry. We were talking about the music “falling apart”, like you don’t really know what is the score and what’s dance music, or what is sound design or just part of the environment. We also talked about the location at length. Depending on how close the main character was to the strip area, the music would be more intense, and there would be overlapping and badly mixed music going on.

“The idea was that the music is a monster; an ever-present hum. Like when you’re at a festival and you can’t get to sleep because the dance village is still going”

What was it like making music that’s purposefully badly mixed, the antithesis of your practice as a DJ and producer?

It was interesting. One of the things we found really tricky was figuring out how to make music that was legitimately bombastic and not too serious. A lot of the time, I ended up making music that was too “cool”, like, realistically these girls would not be dancing to this weird techno – so how do we make it more silly and more extreme?

What do you think makes a timeless club banger?

A timeless club banger would have a really big soul diva vocal and a big Motown sample in it, then a huge kick drum and piano line. I think that’s the recipe. MK is the blueprint. There were a few people we looked at for inspiration, actually: Romy, a producer called Fisher, MK, and Fred again.. Also, of course, Burial for the ambient, darker side.


I’m curious about the technicalities and timbre of the score. Was it all created electronically?

We knew we wanted there to be a lot of dance music. I used analogue synths a lot, there’s piano in some of it, and then there are also strings at the end. I was really determined to use the M1 keyboard – I’ve got an old 97 keyboard which has all of the classic house music sounds on it. There’s a moment in the film where they’re all swimming in a pool, and Tara goes back to her new friends’ villa. We tried to make the gentle moments more ambient and euphoric in a dance music way, but I couldn’t find the right instruments or tone for those parts, so we resorted to gentle piano.

There’s a moment where Tara is dancing in a club and the music gives way to the sound of crashing waves. What journey did you want her to go through there, musically?

For that wave sound, it’s a combination of wave noise samples and white noise from one of my synths, and loads of reverb. Tara is dissociating, becoming completely numb to what’s going on. I don’t think she even knows how to feel during that moment. I think the waves are a nod to the beginning of [a turn in] the film and the change that’s happening. There is another sound design choice Molly went for too, and that was the sound of crickets. They’re really subtle and I’ve only started noticing the last few times I’ve watched the film, but they get louder and louder throughout the film – and then the waves.

This is your first time scoring a feature film. What did you have to learn on the job?

I’ve worked with Molly on a few of her short films, and it’s a similar headspace to be in – but the workload is just huge. I describe it to people as a good stress. The project was really all-encompassing, and even when I walked away from the studio, the feelings of the scenes I was working on sat with me – as it does when you watch the film. When I first met the actors, actually, I felt like I knew them all. I said, “I’ve been sitting with you for the past six months!” That was strange. I also had to do a lot of YouTubing to figure out how to do stuff on Logic.

Is this a creative path you’d like to stay on?

I would love to – in fact, this is all I’d like to do. I’d like to live in the middle of a forest with animals, scoring films for the rest of my life. I’ve talked to a few people and sent some ideas, but, you know, I’m just waiting for Molly to finish her next script…


How To Have Sex is streaming exclusively on MUBI. Watch with 30 days of MUBI for free via

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