Jam City is living 3 a.m. eternal
It’s a Friday night in 2004, and Jam City is standing in a suburban car park in the pouring rain, taking his turn on a bottle of White Lightning. It’s 1979, and the samba breakdown that cuts halfway through Chicago’s Street Player has sent New York’s Paradise Garage into a frenzy. It’s 2017, and Jam City is sitting in Jason Derulo’s house in Tarzana, Los Angeles, trying to coax a pop song out of his computer. It’s ten years earlier, and Jam City, 18, is raising a pint of lager to the ceiling as the lights go up in Liquid & Envy, and the crowd, head-to-toe in their bodycons and best shirts, belts out the final chorus of Livin’ on a Prayer.
It’s March 2023, a Tuesday afternoon with a wintry nip to it, and Jam City is sitting in the Coach & Horses on Soho’s Greek Street, nursing a misty half-pint of pale ale. Google calls this place an “enduring, historic haunt for journalists and thinkers”, and Jam City is thinking about what he’s going to say next.
Sweater, shirt and tie: Artist’s own
“Time is important and context is important,” the artist born Jack Latham says, tucking plumes of dyed-white hair behind his gold-hooped ears. “But when I’m in the studio, none of that really matters. It’s all for the taking.” Every bit the art school philosopher in two shades of denim and a mottled black rollneck, he leans forward and lifts his jar for a sip. “I’m a postmodern baby, that’s just the culture I grew up in; discovering all these past music scenes and subcultures.” He prods the table to punctuate his point, two squat fingers playing hopscotch with the water marks on our wooden table. “On. The. Internet.”
Not too long ago, Latham felt embarrassed by this origin story. “I felt like I wasn’t authentic,” he admits. His career as a musician didn’t fit into the neat arc that he wanted it to, the one sketched out by pop culture writers like Simon Reynolds, whose books about post-punk, garage, jungle music and the hardcore continuum gave everything a historical surety. Instead, Latham, now 34, spent his teens and early 20s devouring everything that interested him, buffet-style, from a single piled-high plate. “I’m just a little internet baby making my little playlists and discovering everything in my bedroom,” he says. “But the older I get, the more I’m like, ‘Well, I’m kind of fine with that. That’s just who I am. That’s how I make art.’”
It’s a grab-bag approach that today, looking backwards through the omnivorous prism of TikTok and hyperpop, sounds almost quaint. But as a fine art student newly shipped off from Surrey to south London’s UAL Camberwell, and thrown into the dizzying rush of late 2000s and early 2010s parties like Horse Meat Disco, FWD>> and Body Hammer, Latham stood out from those loyal adherents to scenes strictly defined and delineated by their tribal values and beats-per-minute. He stares down as he makes these recollections, eyes sometimes hovering shut as if he’s watching life play back under his eyelids.
Latham was searching for a place where he fit in, and London, then later Los Angeles, looked promising. But it’s taken him 15 years, and a move back to suburbia, to realise that the most important place in his story wasn’t just the one that he was running towards, but the one he was trying to escape. This is the epiphany that EFM, his new album, and the first in a trilogy of dance records that document life in liminal spaces, is tapping into.
Shirt and Tie: Artist’s own
Still, Latham insists that this is not an autobiographical album. EFM stands variously for Endless Fantasy Mode, Environment For Music, Emotions Forcing Memories and, quite possibly, Earthly FM, after Latham’s label and mix series of the same name. It puts the pursuit of hedonism and escape front and centre, and sounds like bubblegum house, garage, breakbeat, grime, disco and Jersey club all sandblasted to an impossibly glossy patina. Even where there is grit — as in the clatter of snares on Be Mine, or the rattling hats of LLTB — there is also sparkle. The album blends the boredom and banality of suburban life with a dose of aspirational glamour, and captures vivid snapshots of reality and fantasy colliding. Turning up to a club in a limo may look corny from the outside, “but that’s not what it feels like when you’re in the limo. It feels like you’re a fucking star when you’re in the limo – and that is so important.”
It’s all-inclusive holidays, dressing up, getting a big round in. “I know that feeling, and that’s how I conceive of nightlife, in a way. It gets you to live outside of yourself for one night, to feel important for one night.” He gesticulates while he speaks as if moulding his thoughts in real time. “And that’s the place this feeling comes from, more than pills and collective euphoria. This isn’t a bucket hat record. This isn’t rave nostalgia.”
Autobiographical or not, EFM certainly carries the fingerprints of Latham’s lived experience. “For the first time, I gave myself licence to draw on more of who I am and where I’m from, and how those things are central to what I do as an artist,” he says. Latham grew up in Redhill, “a pretty drab place which culture didn’t really reach”. Five stops from Croydon on one side, four stops from Gatwick on the other, it’s a place you’d pass through on your way to somewhere more exciting. Friday nights meant fake IDs and cheap cider in the park. Once 18, it was pints at The Sun and then Liquid & Envy – a chain club that, like Oceana or Flares, was once the messy pride of English satellite towns. Even the idea of ‘chain club’ sounds like a relic now.
“The thing about Liquid Envy” — those who know drop the ampersand — “is there’s nothing cool about it,” says Latham. “It’s not a mythical club utopia. It was a place where you go on a Friday or Saturday night, and you just… get fucked up.” He erupts into laughter. “When I went, it was Heartbroken by T2, 90s club classics, Robin S, Pretty Green Eyes, then capping off the night with Bon Jovi or Purple Rain — songs that everyone knows, and deliver maximum emotional pay-off, crying with pints in hand.” EFM tracks like the moody shuffle of Reface, the cooing call-to-embrace of Touch Me, or the Empress Of-featuring Wild N Sweet (a bespoke fit for a snog on a sticky dancefloor) swing big for that same return. “It doesn’t matter,” goes the refrain on LLTB, vague enough to envelope thoughts of Monday morning, the guy who’s not worth it, or tomorrow’s hangover. All that matters is now.
Blouse: Artist’s own
Latham wasn’t a regular weekend warrior (“because I was a weirdo, and I was into art and films, and I was going to move to London and become an artist”) but the high emotion he associates with going out on a Friday and blowing your whole paycheck, rolling the dice one more time — that still resonates. This was a different kind of shared experience to the type evangelised by the rose-tinted ravers of yore. “I’m not interested in, ‘In that moment, it felt like we were family,’” says Latham. “No, people were fighting outside in the carpark and then in the kebab shop afterwards. That was the night, and it was all wrapped up in Pretty Green Eyes.” He pauses. “I don’t know if I’ve ever really experienced another moment like that.”
Latham pauses often and adds to the pub’s soundtrack of buzzy midday chatter with a stream of ums, ahs and kind ofs. Far from being absent minded, it’s almost always because he’s searching for the perfect phrase, anecdote or bookish reference to put a full stop on his point. This, if anything, is the least surprising thing about Latham, whose solo music as Jam City has been defined by a laser precision and clarity of vision across all of its various eras.
Latham’s debut album, 2012’s Classical Curves, set the benchmark for a new strand of club music that borrowed the sparse arrangements of grime and dubstep and plugged them with untethered emotional heft. Released on Night Slugs, the influential London label then pushing a coldly futuristic and experimental sound, Classical Curves gave an early sign of his omnivorous approach, too, arriving accompanied by release notes that described it as “a record that owes equal parts to Philly Club as it does to Laurie Anderson, The Neptunes as it does to Einstürzende Neubauten, Steve Poindexter as it does to the progressive, smooth jazz leads of Pat Metheny”. You weren’t supposed to get all of the references.
“I’m not interested in, ‘In that moment, it felt like we were family.’ No, people were fighting outside in the carpark and then in the kebab shop afterwards”
Soon, people were talking about something called “deconstructed club” and missing the point entirely. If anything, Latham was more interested in constructing the club. In interviews, he would tell fibs about a career in corporate espionage, with the ruse all in service of making his imagined world feel more real. He met New York-based singer and producer Kelela around the same time, and the pair’s musical experiments, fusing R&B with far-out electronics, laid the groundwork — along with contemporaries including Arca and SOPHIE — for a feted new era of deliriously unbridled pop music.
Dream a Garden followed Classical Curves in 2015 and added reinvention to Latham’s artistic modus operandi. He swapped the icy synths for fuzzy guitars, and cold emotional abstraction for burning rage, singing on record for the first time and adopting a more strident political tone, donning jackets that read ‘CLASS WAR’ and ‘PROTEST & SURVIVE’, and giving interviews under the silent gaze of Karl Marx’s tomb in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Then he took off for Los Angeles and ended up at a writing camp at Jason Derulo’s house. He co-led the production on Kelela’s 2017 album, Take Me Apart, and went “speed dating” with other artists, signed or otherwise, who’d been drawn into the city’s showbiz orbit. His writing and producing credits now stretch from Joji and Troye Sivan to Olivia Rodrigo and, as of earlier this year, Lil Yachty. In 2020, his third album, Pillowland, breezed by in just 32 sweet minutes and narrowed the dividing line between what a Jam City record and a Jack Latham co-write could sound like.
“Some of those Lil Yachty sessions were straight from Pillowland, so it’s one of the first times there’s been a true representation of what I do, musically, and someone else has taken it and used it for their record. I got a real kick out of that,” he laughs. “I saw him perform the ride- at Rolling Loud at the weekend. He had a whole band, and seeing that, with my little guitar line that I wrote, played out to a crowd of people – that was just such a rush. Everyone had their lighters in the air and it was just like, ‘Fuck yeah, sounds awesome.’” It’s in these little outbursts of excitement that you get a glimpse of Latham, the internet baby, squirrelling away moments of excitement in the memory bank. “It’s kind of cool that these people are ten years younger than me, they don’t know about Night Slugs or Hessle Audio, or that whole London scene that I came up through,” he says, “and that’s liberating, really, because it means that I can do anything.”
Blazer: AV Vattev via AI PR
Shirt: Stefan Cooke
Footwear: Vintage via Cloakroom Archive
Earrings: Artist’s own
Writing and producing for other artists provides plenty of other stockpiling opportunities, as offcuts and spared ideas accumulate “in their own little corner”. Actually making time to work on solo material is harder. But, Latham says, “I realised that there are people out there that were waiting for another album from me, and it hit me like, do you know how rare that is? I don’t want to just neglect that for another ten years and then realise I had just abandoned something.” With EFM, he’s been able to fold in both sides of his practice, bringing other voices into the album’s world and narrative in a way that previously hasn’t been possible.
Having exhausted every dog-eared book he could find written about 1970s and 80s New York, Paradise Garage and those early, influential days of club culture, Latham found himself looking to the margins. “What I started to really get into as part of my escapist world was tracking down stories of everyone else: the dancers and bouncers and people doing drugs with the mafia,” he says. “This is all totally romantic stuff to me. Those stories became way more interesting than the biographies of the great DJs and producers. I started thinking it would be cool to approach writing a club record with those narratives in mind. The people who were never memorialised.”
“This isn’t a bucket hat record. This isn’t rave nostalgia”
It started with a single image – one that was just as much about Liquid & Envy and FWD>> as Paradise Garage and the heyday of the discotheque. “There are some people in a car, in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter, and they’re going towards this place, this kind of promised urban centre, looking for fun and hedonism and all that good stuff,” he says, his powder blue eyes slowly widening. “And that’s the initial starting point, but as it begins to expand outwards, you start thinking, ‘OK, what are they wearing? Who are these people and where are they going? What’s on the radio?’ The idea of filling that gap, musically, is something that becomes much clearer.”
Latham doesn’t know exactly where the rest of the trilogy will lead, but the second part is “40 percent written” already – and the guide rails remain fixed. “There’s something that resonated about those stories of working people that are just being within this music – but the lives they lead outside of that one night are very unglamorous. I keep coming back to that as an emotional register,” he says. While more subtle than previous incarnations, EFM does, in its binding narrative of self-invention, escape and inequality of access and experience, offer its own political bent.
Sweater: Artist’s own
Still, Latham is acutely aware that his leap from making the firebrand Dream a Garden to producing pop acts in California (where “no one really cares about what your politics are, they just want to know if the song that you’ve written is going to be successful or not”) and escaping suburbia for the bright lights, only to return again, is one that won’t make much sense to everyone — himself included. Does he still worry about authenticity?
“I’m not interested in authenticity,” he says, paraphrasing the late Mark Fisher’s declaration that he’s not interested in truth. “The reason I’m an artist is so I can invent who I am.” He’s more interested, he says, in presenting the version of himself that makes most sense under the terms of each musical project’s wider aims — all in service of the emotion that he sets out to stir. That meant telling tall tales of espionage for Classical Curves, revelling in safety pins and sloganeering for Dream a Garden, and diving dome-first into no-strings psychedelia for Pillowland. “I think I am being authentic about my life, because the emotions behind it are always real,” Latham says.
And what is dance music if not a tussle between function and feeling? For Latham, the feeling is the function. “I know that feeling of being in a car on the way somewhere, and away from somewhere else, and a really great song is on and it just feels fucking otherworldly. Cosmic. And you wouldn’t rather be anywhere else,” he says, hammering fresh colours to the mast. “That’s the point.” He pauses, one last time. “And I’ll happily spend the rest of my life in service of that ideal.”
EFM is out on 25 May via Earthly