Interviews

Jimmy Edgar: I Am Me

Musical wizard, fashion photographer, designer and visual artist Jimmy Edgar can hold deep conversations on a whole range of topics. His multifaceted musical style, which spans from everything techno to electro, from funk to house is filtered through the metaphysical prism of his fascination with the supernatural and meditation. Edgar is not a stranger to electronic music – he started experimenting with it at the age of 10 and by the age of 15 he was performing at Detroit raves alongside legendary trio of Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May. 2013 marked milestone in his career with launch of his label Ultramajic – which is also a design house where music and art combine to bring a unique multi-sensory reality.

PressPlay’s Nazira Kassenova had a chance to catch up with the artist a few weeks before his appearance at this year’s Parklife and a few days before his appearance at Movement Detroit to ask him questions about his life, music and art.

NK: Music was a big part in your life since you were very young. You’ve learnt how to play piano and drums, then you went on to making and playing electronic music. But how did you get into music in the first place? Was it inspired by Detroit surroundings? Or was it a natural, mutual attraction?

JE: I’m a drummer by heart. Piano is a percussion instrument anyways, but rhythm is what my music is all about. I remember hearing pure drum based music when I was a child and it gave me chills. Otherwise, I was hanging out in the record stores as a young kid, some of my older friends had some vintage drum machines too. Detroit radio was also amazing while I was growing up; all throughout the 90s it was really fresh.

NK: You’ve been on quite a journey through your musical career. You’ve experimented with numerous styles such as House, Funk, Techno and Electro. How would you describe your music today?

JE: I don’t like to so I generally don’t. If anything I say its R&B because the rhythm and the melodic content is derived from it. It’s just dance music.

NK: Your Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1 was out on the 10th of May. How did you choose what tracks to include and how well do you think it represents your current state of mind with regards to electronic music?

JE: I went through almost 4000 tracks over a few days and picked out 200-300 tracks. Then I got rid of all the stuff that wouldn’t mix well. I ended up with about 100 tracks and kept slimming it down. I wanted my mix to be cool, fresh, but reflective of my inspirations and leading into the modern sound of my label Ultramajic. As long as the tracks and mixes worked within that structure then it was in. I had the mix mastered as well, which I’ve only done once before and now I will do it every time.

NK: Your label, Ultramajic drew the attention of many. Despite being realized on successful labels such as Hotflush Recordings and Warp, you decided to start your own imprint. Did you do it to have an area of creative freedom where you can bring to life any projects you have?

JE: Maybe I just saw how record labels are run and I felt like I could do it myself and its proved to be able. I was mostly a bit frustrated with the branding and artwork of other labels. The labels I have worked with are fairly above average, for the most part but now I have my own to concentrate on. The whole Ultramajic team are taste makers and really into specific art and design so it makes for a good combination. We love to hybridize styles together and create new domains.

NK: You have moved between two key cities for music: Detroit and Berlin. Are there any striking differences between two? Can you call Berlin your new home or is your heart still with Detroit?

JE: Detroit will always be home. I have also lived in LA and NYC, and I love all these cities. I learned a lot in Berlin. It opened me up culturally, in way I would never expect. I feel like I got a real grasp on DJ culture, as its quite different in the US.

NK: Is there a certain process you follow when you make music? Do you think every aspect of a track through before you start creative process or is it just a rough idea in the beginning that just naturally develops into a finished track?

JE: The only process I follow with making music is to not have a process. This is why I use so much different kinds of equipment to make my ideas. I don’t waste time fucking around with music anymore, I feel quite efficient in the studio with what I want to do. Sometimes I use all analog, sometimes modular synths, sometimes I simply use a Macbook air and Jambox speakers. I normally just do whatever is in front of me. I feel like my ideas are good enough to capture with whatever tools so I don’t have this love affair with my music equipment like some other people do, it’s just a tool to make my ideas.

NK: You pay a lot of attention to visual side of your music performances and releases. Do you consider music to be an extension of your visual art or vice versa?

JE: One in the same, visual art was always my one true love but music happened for me very quickly. It’s all about the imagination though. Normally a symbol or visual representation is the first thing people are exposed to. This is really important for setting up the whole world vibe.

NK: With your strong visual support of your music are you trying to make listeners experience what you experience by having the neurological phenomenon, synaesthesia?

JE: Not really, it’s more of subconscious symbolism and visual association more than anything. I experience some sort of synaesthesia effects when I am working on my own stuff, but it’s a personal thing and more of a dialog with myself to help with references. We just like to bring visuals components together with a musical package because we feel it creates a fresh domain of knowing. If we can present something that looks cool while seeming mysterious or forbidden, then it creates a certain kind of allure.

NK: Together with being a musician you are a fashion photographer, designer and a visual artist. What’s your focus for the nearest future: art or music?

JE: Art and Music are one in the same for me. I do them both simultaneously, which creates the whole vibe.

Artwork by Jimmy, made with label partner, Pilar Zeta.

NK: I know that you’ve been practicing meditation in the last few years. How much did it influence your music and your personality? Can you say that you are on the path to be enlightened?

JE: I’m still not sure what enlightenment is, but I have some ideas what it could be and what it could create. So, in a sense, yes. Otherwise, I feel meditation is a great source of inspiration and its benefits are obvious. I believe everything we need is inside and this allows you to have a dialog with that area of yourself. This also works in dreams for me, you just have to ask yourself and be in touch with your needs, it’s easy as that. Once you trust yourself to have those answers then you will be presented with them. The hardest part about this is allowing it to happen.

NK: You’ve been interested in music shamanism. Would you consider electronic music a modern shamanic music? With repetitive motifs and a sort of trance it brings people in?

JE: I’ve drawn comparisons between dance music and shamanistic rituals or indigenous dancing before. I simply think the modern DJ sometimes acts as a sort of shaman, while getting people in a trance together to dance. The important part is people coming together and dancing. This act was very important in indigenous cultures and thought of to create the future. Techno music can act as a sort of drum sequence to initiate people. There are vast differences, but once we realize this point we can perfect this culture and remove the negativities from it.

NK: Meditation mainly came into your life at the point when you decided to leave drugs, right? As everyone can see it in no way stopped you from producing high quality music. However, a lot of people today cannot imagine listening or creating electronic music without drugs. What’s your opinion about it?

JE: They overlapped each other quite a bit and I am not sober, but I was pretty bad for a long time. I just didn’t feel it was inspiring me anymore, which was the only reason why I did it in the first place. I think if you feel you need drugs, for anything, then you have a serious problem much like I did.

NK: You have been always doing quite a lot of collaborations. Is there a dream collaboration you would like to do?

JE: Michael Jackson, too early? Haha

NK: Lastly, can you tell us who Jimmy Edgar is in 3 words?

JE: I am me.

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