Building Beats

Electro-architect Jega designs a geometrically precise pleasure dome

ue the song "Last Night" by the Strokes, a band with a jangly hard-driving punky sound everyone says is so New York -- sneering latter-day Lou Reeds. Immediately follow it in the randomizer with electronic artist Jega. The Manchester native's dark, rapid-fire cut "D.M.C." rips through the previous track's guts like an explosion in a nail factory, making the Strokes sound like a cuddly party band -- posing latter-day Monkees.

While much of rock and roll is built on a foundation of smoke and mirrors, there's so little conceit to electronica that the work of artists like Jega unmasks snarly rock stars almost without trying. There are no spotlights trained on the DJ, no screaming fans who follow every facial tic, just geeky programmers in a dark nightclub massaging their machines.

But then Jega is no rock-music nihilist, either. He's not out to destroy the lyrics of Bono, or expose Belle & Sebastian, with the harsh light of truth. He's merely on his own happily spaced-out trip, endlessly losing himself in his musical creations like a teenager on a marathon PlayStation session. "Yeah, right! We're all introverts, too busy tweaking to notice anything or anybody else," says Jega about the idea of a regular social hour with his fellow electronica mates.

Jega plots music mathematically
Jega plots music mathematically

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Not to be confused with Jenga (that forehead-slapping, mostly annoying parlor game of wood blocks), Jega is one Dylan Nathan, a Manchester, England-based artist with close personal ties to the pioneers of the post-acid house-electronica movement that grew up out of the United Kingdom over the past decade. An architecture-school classmate of Aphex Twin's Richard D. James and u-Ziq's Mike Paradinas, Jega originally was encouraged by Paradinas to purchase the requisite gear and start creating tracks.

While most musicians actually come from a background of music, Jega, like other electronic artists, feels blessed not to have been subjected to any finger-slapping piano teacher. "It's definitely for the better," he says of his lack of formal music education. "I mean, all those institutions, rules -- what part do they play in my world? I don't need their approval to make music, nor do I want to reinforce any of their paradigms. I see music as a media that can be pushed so far, much further than visual/motion arts. I still stick to a linear song narrative. I use that stuff, slip into it, samples and styles. But I just use it; I'm not limited by it."

Jega's initial efforts were released on the Skam label in 1996 as the Jega EP, establishing him as a strongly original artist, with his darkly melodic brood of songs, heavy on the breakbeats, both industrial and minimal in effect. Songs such as "Norton Midgate" sound like early video games that have broken out of the television screen to take on lives of their own.

In 1998 Jega came out with his first full-length release, Spectrum, also the first release on Paradinas's brand-new Planet Mu label. Quirky and eclectic, the CD shifts from high to low beats per minute, veering from slow-motion Matrix-like time warps into unexpected directions. "I don't like sitting still too long. There is always that temptation to repeat songs or sounds that worked before," Jega says of his restless creating. "But I need to push it all the time. I enjoy the process as much as the product. Recently I've been getting heavily into 3D. I think that stuff feeds my music. I guess now it's all the same -- still mouse-clicking sitting in front of a monitor."

Jega's electronic range has continued to expand since he signed with New York's Matador Records. His 2000 release, Geometry, is a return to the darker mood of his earlier EPs, with his signature compact rhythms and time-twisted beats. The angular style is more filled out, carefully constructed sounds that build inside your head. "Geometry was me sculpting every sound, quite distilled, designed, processed," he explains. "I'm always trying to push a new concept/idea. Most of the time I fall flat into a brick wall, but sometime it can be awesome. Inertia on Geometry is a random, [although] tweaked, of course, algorithm. It could play forever, chords and all, constantly evolving harmonies."

 
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