Jack Adams’ career arc doesn’t fit snugly into any pre-existing music journalism narrative. Its no tale of ‘overnight success’, neither is it a story of a veteran finally receiving his just desserts after a long-hard slog to the top. Rather inconveniently its all a bit more confusing than that. Growing up in Brighton he became hooked on Jungle and Hardcore, hanging around local record store Happy Vibes and the recording studio upstairs, trying to get as close as he could to the music he loved through asking questions and doing odd jobs. A stint promoting parties led to him moving to London to work for VICE, whilst at the same time a track of his found its way to Diplo. He’d end up getting released for the first time as Mumdance on Mad Decent, eventually travelling the world with the likes of Jammer and Trim, peddling a slightly ill fitting hybrid style that contained only faint allusions to where his sound would later end up.
The globe-trotting success ended up being relatively shortlived, as Adams eventually found himself and his music no longer in fashion as the gigs and releases dried up. There’s a conspicuous gap in his Discogs entry around this time, stretching all the way from 2011 to 2013 – a period in which he’d moved back to Brighton to live with his parents. Once he resurfaced it was clear things had changed. Two EPs made with Logos in 2013 saw the first appearances of his new aesthetic – a fragmented and icy re-imagining of the Hardcore continuum. Since then its been full steam ahead, as Adams has moved from the periphery of British producers operating in the wake of Dubstep, to the forefront – with last year seeing him drop an acclaimed mix CD and an EP with Tectonic head honcho Pinch, as well as one of the Grime anthems of the year with young microphone phenomenon Novelist in the shape of ‘Take Time’.
With 2015 still in its infancy, Adams has wasted no time whatsoever putting his stamp on it. Him and Novelist have dropped another 1-2 punch, this time on independent mini-major XL, whilst this week has seen him join forces with Logos once again to release ‘Proto’ – an album of original material that explores their self proclaimed ‘Weightless’ sound with boundless imagination. Him and Logos meanwhile have roped in Shapednoise to form The Sprawl – a live project that travels the headier reaches of their sound through open ended improvisation.
Arguably the biggest release of Adams’ year – nay his career, is yet to arrive though. Next month will see him immortalised as the 80th entrant into the FABRICLIVE mix series, with the release serving as the big shiny exclamation point on a two year run that has seen him push the envelope further than perhaps any other on these shores. ‘FABRICLIVE 80’ is by no means a victory lap however – with an opening section laden with harsh, alien drones and deep silences, making it perhaps one of the weirdest and most uncompromising stretches to grace the series.
With his future well and truly set in the ascendancy, we visited Adams in his East London studio and discussed musical exploration, cultural context and future goals…
You’ve been to Mexico, Egypt and Brazil on musical trips in the last few years and you also recently participated in RBMA Tokyo. Is there anywhere else you’d like to visit and explore the musical culture?
I’d like to go back to China and spend more time there. I visited recently but didn’t have enough time to go in as deep as I’d have liked. There’s such a rich musical heritage in China, people know the basics over here but there’s so much undiscovered stuff for the Western world to find. To me, as an English person, it felt like China was one of the most alien places you could visit on earth, in a good way for sure. The shops are weird, the food is weird – just different to what you’re used to. Going back to the music though, I was very lucky when I visited as I had a guide with me, he showed me round local record shops and showed me stuff to sample like Beijing operas and local traditional music.
In terms of the people collaborated with and the styles explored, you probably have one of the more complicated career trajectories out of any artist I can think of in recent years. Are new experiences and fresh stimuli essential in keeping you going?
I just try and keep things interesting for myself. If you get bored, that will show in your music, if you’re absorbed, that will show in the final result. When something interests me I prefer to go and experience it first hand, that’s the most important thing to me, you can’t really have an opinion on something unless you’ve seen it up close. The internet is amazing as you can discover so much new music, but for me that’s only the start of it. I like to go to the place and speak to the people who are making it.
You’ve spoken previously about understanding the context of music being important to truly understanding it as a whole. How then do you feel about the fact that many instrumental Grime producers are geographically or socially very far removed from what was the genre’s very specific original context?
To be honest, I feel like an outsider in the Grime scene. People say that I’m Grime, but that’s only one part of what I do. Even though I roll with a lot of the MCs – I’ve been all around the world with Jammer – I don’t consider myself Grime… but I LOVE Grime. You know?
If you look at most other long standing types of British Dance music – for instance Drum and Bass was born in the UK and now it’s a completely global scene, it’s popular in Australia, New Zealand, Japan – all over the world. I think Grime draws a lot of parallels to Drum and Bass, it’s had it’s moments in the mainstream, but nothing in comparison to something like Garage, or Dubstep, I guess. Jungle and Drum and Bass have always been there, and it’s massive, but never fully tipped. I think that’s right? It’s hard to judge these things. The internet is the most important thing here, it’s spread the word about Grime all over the world and people are now putting there own spin on it and understanding it from their own perspective, I think that’s great, it’s a wicked thing. It keeps things interesting, someone will do something in a track and you’ll be like “why did they do that?” It leads people to break out of the so-called boundaries of a genre and make people think about the music in a different way. It feels like a we’re in a proto-period in music at the moment, in between genres. That’s why myself and Logos named the album for Tectonic ‘Proto’.
If we were to characterise your career with one quality it would probably be your versatility. Given the way in which you’ve adapted your style over the years, what do you feel is the one thing that’s remained intact throughout?
It’s just matured I guess. People don’t listen to the same music they listened to five years ago. It baffles me a little that some people just don’t mature in that sense, they know what they like and they stick to it. That’s fine, but that’s not me. I’ve got a short attention span with music but mainly I think it’s to do with maturing as an artist and as a person. Now I feel more content with the music I’m putting out, where as before I was still learning how to make music and I wasn’t happy with what I was putting out. I was still searching for my sound and I wasn’t technically good enough at the time to realise it.
You have generated a lot of buzz from your collaborations with Novelist over the last year or so – how important do you think it is for experimentally inclined producers such as yourself to be making tracks with MCs?
I love vocal Grime, I mean it was the instrumentals that the first caught me, but the wordplay and aggression within vocal Grime was the other major thing. It was the first time I’d ever really heard English accents used in music in this way. I was aware of UK Hip-Hop but that didn’t really resonate with me, I have respect for it, but it didn’t stir my soul. When I first heard Grime I was already into the dark Garage and this awkward sound came along and it was like “what the fuck is this?”
We’ve spoken to Logos about space in his music before – but I just wanted to get your take on its importance in your music, and how you go about generating it?
There are a lot of different aspects, to me the space is just as important as the sound. Like with most things, the ‘Weightless’ thing, the structure of a DJ set, you need the lower parts that aren’t so hype, to make the hype parts… hype! You need the difference, if everything is at the same level dynamically it’s just noise. You need the silence to emphasise the loud parts.
On the other side, there’s the technical aspect of it. I’ve got a mixer where I can only use 16 channels. This limits how many sounds I can use. I can only use 16 mono channels, or 8 stereo. That makes my production more minimal. I could have had a bigger desk but I chose to work this way and have a smaller one with less channels. Now I only use about 8 elements in a tune really. I think this makes you concentrate more on each individual sound, making that sound as good as possible. The idea of the music I’ve been making with Logos is creating a coherence in the colour of the sound, that’s why we use old equipment. We don’t want it to sound clean, hi-res and digital, we want it to sound gritty and old. The idea of using old machines to make futuristic music is at the core of what runs through my second wave in making music.
Your FABRICLIVE mix is due to drop in March – how did the opportunity to put it together come about?
I’ve been playing at fabric for 7 or 8 years now, they’ve consistently booked me for a long time. We have a good relationship, so I just went and asked them to be honest! (laughs) I felt like there was something exciting happening musically and I wanted to document it. I see the FABRICLIVE series as a run of documents that are a snapshot of what was happening at that time. I’ve collected those CDs since I was young, around 15 or something like that. I remember the DJ Hype one in particular, I think that was number 3 right?
Yeah, I remember that one well (laughs)…
Same here! To get one of those tin cases with my name was a life ambition. I’ve achieved two life ambitions so far this year, putting out a record on XL and doing a FABRICLIVE mix. Programming Room Two at fabric for the launch party is another one. I’ve been raving there for years, it was the first place I went clubbing outside of my hometown. Going to fabric for the first time is definitely one of those “this is what I want to do” moments.
It’s all gone full circle?
In the press release you spoke about your desire to challenge people with the mix, the opening section in particular certainly does this. Was there any apprehension on your part about using this platform to do so?
I don’t really think like that to be honest. I mean I did think the other day that this might not bring in as many DJ gigs as it would of if I’d played it a bit safer. But right now it’s more important for me to do it this way. Maybe ask me in ten years time when I’m old and bitter (laughs). But I’m very happy with it, I spent a long time on that mix, the majority of the songs were commissioned especially.
It was a really hard process putting it together as I did a lot of it in China when I was travelling. Obviously the internet is fucked out there in the ‘great firewall of China’. I was having to use my phone to call people a lot, I got cut-off as the phone company were alarmed by the size of bill I was racking up. My phone bill was through the fucking roof. But it was worth it, we got some incredible music in there. I like the CD format but it was sad as quite a bit of the music didn’t make the cut. I didn’t have time to fit it all in. But I’m going to do a second mix of all the material that didn’t make it onto the FABRICLIVE, that’s going out through fabric also. That’s a nice touch I think.
You’ve got the album on Tectonic coming, the XL record just came out, FABRICLIVE, RBMA Tokyo – is it fair to say these are biggest achievements of your career so far?
Yes, on paper these are my biggest achievements to date. It just so happens that they’ve happened at a similar time. I don’t really think about these things, maybe if I had a manager I would have lined up things to drop throughout the year. For me, I’m a great believer that if something feels right you just do it there and then. I’ve been really inspired of late and making lots of music and it’s coincidence that all this has happened around the same time.
Going forward from 2015 and beyond what would you like to achieve within music?
The rest of the year is going to be about touring, I’ve put out so much music, I don’t want people to get sick of me (laughs). I definitely want to do a solo album, I feel like the time is right for that. Past that, my main thing is to produce for other people – for rappers and vocalists. It’d be cool to take the route Arca and Haxan Cloak have with their work for Bjork – obviously i’d like to produce for Bjork! But yeah, working with vocalists and producing albums. Me and Logos have a live show with Shaped Noise which is going to be cool. Me and Riko Dan have been working together. Also, I’d like to do an installation, an audio-visual installation. I’ve been delving down into a rabbit hole of experimental music and sound design for the past few years which has been the inspiration for that one. There’ll be more music from myself and Novelist as well. But there’s not much of a plan with what I do, I like things to happen organically.
Words: Josh Thomas & Christian Murphy
Photography: Alexander McBride Wilson