Jimmy Edgar Talks Magick, Studio Wizardry, and Hypnotic Power of EDM
As you read this, a lot of would-be Jimmy Edgar imitators are sitting in their bedroom studios scratching their heads and wondering why they can't sound like him. That's because nobody sounds like Jimmy Edgar except Jimmy Edgar himself.
From the start, his sound was so freethinking that the Detroit native was only 18 and producing his first tracks when he got tapped by the UK's legendary Warp Records -- a bastion of genre-defying sonic outlaws like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Boards of Canada.
But that's not to say Edgar's sound is inaccessibly cerebral, dance floor-clearing "IDM." Take Majenta, his latest long player on Hotflush -- a slab of deep sexed-up future funk, arousing mind, body and soul in equal measures.
Ahead of a headlining gig on Friday at the Electric Pickle with SAFE Miami, we here at Crossfade caught up with Jimmy Edgar to talk about the last album, his occult interests, and EDM as a form of meditation.
Crossfade: How did growing up in Detroit inform your work as a musician? Did you have any mentors or immediate sources of influence when you first started producing music there?
Jimmy Edgar: My mother was really into dance music since she was a dancer-slash-hairstylist. My parents had me when they were superyoung. My father was apparently working for The Clash and Kraftwerk, supposedly when they would come to Detroit. He was doing sound at a club called Trax for hair metal bands.
I didn't really have mentors except the guys at Record Time, who would suggest records or play me new stuff. Luckily, I lived right down the street, so I was there all the time. It was often I'd see Jay D, Derrick [May], and some other local DJs. Carlos Soufront, Godfather, and Mike Servito were big influences on me -- local DJs.
You were only 18 when you got signed to Warp Records -- a label that put you in the company of groundbreaking artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. Did you feel any pressure to live up to their reputations? How did your time with Warp impact the development of your sound?
It was weird when I got signed to them. I had never sent anything, but yet I wasn't surprised when they got at me. I just had that youthful confidence in myself, even though I had no idea what my music sounded like to other people, especially overseas. I was grateful and excited, but also had focus on what I wanted to do. We still have a fine relationship.
How did you approach the creative process on your last album Majenta? How did it differ from past production projects?
Majenta was finishing the bits after XXX that I liked. I was way more patient and willing to make the demos into good songs, which was different. Because before, I wouldn't give a demo of mine the time of day unless I had finished it all in a day or so. I felt that inspiration had changed and my idea of inspiration was different.
I also got into modular synths quite heavily. That changed everything: how I worked with sounds, how I made sounds, and what I thought was possible. I had used the ideas of digital manipulation with analog patching to create the sounds I always wanted. It made me realize how different harmonics and musicality can be with analog components. But not to say that digital is lesser, it's just different. I use both approaches just as much.
How did you hook up with Hotflush and why did you decide to release the LP with them? Is it fair to say that Hotflush is a stylistic heir of sorts for Warp, considering their mutual penchant for forward-thinking bass-centric intelligent dance music?
We had dinner with Sepalcure -- Travis [Stewart] (Machinedrum) and Praveen [Sharma] -- and Paul [Rose] (Scuba). What more can I say, except that Travis suggested I show them some stuff and Paul liked it. There probably wouldn't be a Hotflush if there wasn't a Warp, I could surmise. But these days, the idea of record labels is changing so fast that I think it's best if the artists with the most forward-thinking ideas do their own thing, like what Paul did. Which brings up the point of me starting a label again this year -- a more focused project.
How is life in Berlin for you? Has it been a positive transition for you creatively? What is a typical day there like for you?
I tend to try and look at everything as a learning experience. Berlin is great. I am using it to my potential. It's not my favorite city. I don't speak German. But I am able to work in Berlin. The club scene is amazing if you're into that. There are plenty of niches and little scenes going on. I'm happier there than I was in NYC. I do miss Detroit, but Detroit doesn't make sense for me.
You're a known practitioner of Transcendental Meditation. How did you get into it? What role, if any, does it play in your creativity and music writing?
I wouldn't claim to practice TM, though I know the techniques. Most people develop their own style after being a student, and I will always be a student. I found meditation after studying hypnosis and magick. I was on the search for what inspiration actually was, because I didn't buy the fact that you have to be a struggling depressed artist to be inspired. Well, I didn't want to, at least, because I had just came out of a drug binge when I lived in NYC. It's a very personal thing, meditation. I've gotten a lot of flack about it, so I don't talk about it unless really pried by someone genuinely interested.
Do you think electronic dance music, with its hypnotically repetitive beats, has the potential to provide people some of the same benefits as meditation?
Absolutely. Compare techno with indigenous people beating drums. Also, you will find the rhythms are very similar too. The repetition is very important in hypnosis and meditation. Look up the definition of "mantra" as well.
Your sound is anything but static, and it's transformed considerably over the years. Where do you see it headed in the future? Where do you feel your musical inspirations taking you next?
I don't know. Now that you mention it, I think I will explore more hypnotic-type work in dance music. But the difference will be that I will combine visuals more and more to get people into the spirit. I'm always on the hunt for new inspiration and working with modular synthesis keeps me thinking of harmonics, chords, and arrangement. So it's a perfect balance for me. The more and more I get into expensive studio equipment, the more I realize I need the shit equipment to not have so many limits. I like making music on $50 speakers.
You've had a notable sideline in fashion photography and have even shot promotional work for other musicians. What's been going on with your photography lately? Any new work we should keep an eye out for?
I lost the urge to do fashion stuff after I left NYC. The politics are shit, the people are irritating. [Laughs] I still like to take pictures of strange-looking people or awkward models, I'm just not into showing them much, because it's for personal reasons. I am, however, working on short films inspired by occult rituals and hypnosis -- though nothing will be shown until it's perfect. I'm funding it myself, so we will see what happens this year. It's more what I want to do instead of performing anyways.
What can we expect from you next on the production front? Any plans for a new LP soon?
I did over 30 remixes in 2012, which got a lot of attention. So I'm working on my own music this year and starting a new project to funnel all my projects. I think people will see a lot more of my work out there.
Thanks very much. I am excited to come back to Miami, it's one of my fave cities in America. It always reminded me of a tropical Detroit -- just look at the way people dance compared to Milwaukee or anywhere else in middle America. [Laughs]
Jimmy Edgar. With William Renuart and Diego Martinelli. Presented by SAFE. Friday, January 25. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.