"The universe is all about creativity, it's all about learning, it's all about knowledge," Jimmy Edgar ventures when we sit down to talk about Ultramajic, the label and visual aesthetic that he’s conjured up with Machinedrum (aka Travis Stewart) and artist and designer Pilar Zeta. It’s something, certainly, that his life has embodied.
A multi-instrumentalist producer and DJ, he’s also a visual artist, a graphic designer and a certified hypnotist with training in neurolinguistics. While posing for photos for this feature he swaps stories of his time as a fashion photographer in New York, shooting covers on improbably expensive cameras. Later still, when we settle in a cafe around the corner from Fabric, for whom he recently recorded ‘FABRICLIVE 79’, he lists some of the childhood jobs he did for money while living in his hometown of Detroit; among them, working in a mortuary, and two summers as a stone mason.
These days he’s living in LA, and Hollywood no less.
“I know,” he says dryly when we can’t help but express surprise, the 32-year-old having moved there after five years in Berlin. As America’s love affair with dance music moves into its next phase, however, it makes sense to be back on his native side of the Atlantic. And besides, Edgar's instinct has never been to stay still.
Launched in 2013, Ultramajic updates the house-verging-on-techno music of his youth into modern, minimalist, robotic jack tracks. Home to a roster of largely anonymous, exclusive artists (see box out), such as Chambray and Crystal Bandito, as well as established names including Danny Daze, it’s also a global platform to focus the various energies of Edgar and Stewart.
Working together as JETS, a project directed more towards song-writing than the rest of the label, their solo projects are on a pure, sinewy, dancefloor flex. Working mainly under his own name, Edgar has released brutally tough stompers such as the pineal purifying ‘Decalcify’, as well as resurrecting Creepy Autograph, an alias he launched in the late ‘90s to make sinister Detroit electro.
Stewart, meanwhile, has largely left his footwork expertise at the door and joined the house game under the moniker of Aden, adding his rich production techniques — from finely tuned R&B vocals to rising, ravey synths — to a series of pumped party starters, like on his most recent ‘Tanz’ EP.
It’s a long way from the glitchy, experimental hip-hop that both started out making on Merck, the Miami label for whom an 18-year-old Edgar recorded ‘My Mines I’, his 2002 debut album under the name Kristuit Salu vs. Morris Nightingale, and to whom Machinedrum contributed another five long-players.
While Edgar was then shaped by distant gazing at European artists, the internet giving him a window on things like Jan Jelinek’s warm, fuzzy “loop-finding-jazz-records” album on ~scape, Ultramajic is powered by more localised influences from the same period.
“One of the first records I ever bought was Robert Armani 'Ambulance',” Edgar replies about the galloping, acerbic, Dance Mania classic, when we enquire about Ultramajic’s obvious nod to the celebrated Chicago label. He speaks in the kind of slow, measured voice you can imagine putting someone into a trance, something he admits to doing at a party after he’d first studied hypnosis out of scepticism that it could actually work.
Citing DJ Deeon as another artist who turned him onto Chicago’s tough, lewd house sound, the raw power made sense against the backdrop of Detroit radio, which played “ghetto-tech music, a lot of electro”.
“I was completely obsessed with Ectomorph and Dopplereffekt,” he says on two acts united by Gerald Donald, also a founding member of cult Underground Resistance act Drexciya. “That to me is the Detroit sound. But when you combine that with 4/4 music, then you get the Chicago, Relief Records, Green Velvet sound.” It’s also, at essence, the sound of Ultramajic.
For a (909) crash course in the label’s part in this continuum, head for Edgar’s Rinse FM mixes, where you can hear plenty of the label’s artists alongside rare vinyl tracks. Aside from the crackle of well-played records, Edgar has faded the edges further on these by recording the whole mix to tape, providing the unconscious pleasure of a saturated high end, then slowing it down so his voiceovers have an otherworldly, distended, nostalgic quality.
If it sounds like a lost transmission from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, then that’s precisely the effect, Edgar reminiscing about watching The New Dance Show with his mother — two topics that illuminate the Ultramajic story further.
Chances are you’ve seen footage from The New Dance Show stolen for a YouTube video by a modern day act. A TV show, which launched in Detroit in 1988, its premise was simple. Play the latest dance tracks in front of an audience, dressed in their finest, to pull their best moves to. Unlike today, the emphasis isn’t on the DJ, rarely seen onscreen. It’s about the crowd.
"New Dance Show was just a way for local people to show off their best moves and their best fashion,” says Edgar — his own sartorial choices often looking like he’s about to step through the screen and join the audience — on why it still has such appeal, even to those discovering it for the first time.
“I think culture has changed a lot, where if you're being a show-off, you're really looked down upon for being unique. I feel that's kind of a lost art. I do believe people generally do want to be accepted and be alike, and that's cool, too.
But I think there's really something to be said for this culture. It had a lot of influence from gay culture in the '80s. Most of the people there were dancers and it was a gay scene. That's the origins [of house music]. I just really respect how confident people were and how much of an attitude they had.
Something like The New Dance Show would never work today. There are too many people trying to be sexy and moody, it's not about having as much fun as you can. The New Dance Show really embodied that.”
ETERNALLY OPEN MIND
This sense of standing out is embodied by Ultramajic too, albeit in a more oblique way. From the label’s name to its artwork, the results of Edgar’s creative partnership with Zeta, who he met in Berlin, Ultramajic radiates a connection to esoteric ideas and imagery.
From the use of sacred geometry to various borrowed mystical symbols, there’s plenty to be read into the label’s visual identity if you know how to interpret the signs. Beyond just giving Ultramajic a powerful and instantly recognisable look, showcased on the Ultramajic Tumblr, it provides a window into Edgar’s take on the world.
An openly dedicated meditator, when we meet he’s wearing a Mineral Science Technology amulet — something he says may, or may not, protect from the radiation of mobile phones. It’s the kind of ‘alternative’ belief that might once have seen Edgar cast as an oddball.
Yet as quantum physics destabilises the traditional Newtonian view of the universe, and psychedelic drugs are again being sought by science — as well as a generation of new kids — to cast light on the nature of consciousness, he’s beginning to look like an artist at the forefront of what famous psychonaut Terrence McKenna labelled the “archaic revival”.
It’s not that Edgar is a true believer, but he has an eternally open mind, not dismissing the experiences of others out of hand. Referencing the idea of a Holographic Universe with “6D Hologram” shout outs, he tells us, “It's kind of a joke,” then adds, “But if I can think of life as a hologram. I find that kinda fun.” He talks about friends who’ve had “legit” experiences with gnomes and fairies, and discusses the use of ritual magic, something informing the label name.
“I feel there's a truth in there which is very interesting about affecting your reality, but me, personally, I'm more into meditation.” These views chime with the new age spiritualism that is seeping into the minds — and social media feeds — of anyone under 30. They’re also an indicator of the kind of endless curiosity that’s kept pushing Edgar’s artistic endeavours.
It appears a case of nature and nurture. His mother was a believer in UFOs.
“She's really into that stuff, she had her own experiences,” he explains. “That's just how I grew up. It's always been there." When Edgar developed an imaginary friend as a child, she didn’t try to discourage him. “My mum sort of knew, but she didn't tell me what I was doing was weird or wrong. So, she'd be like, go clean your room and have your friend help you. So he'd come, wave his hand, and all these diamonds would appear on my wall. That was totally normal for me.
"A lot of things I experienced when I was young, I thought everyone experienced it,” he says later. “Some people don't dream in colour. Things like this are really bizarre to me.” It was only when he started talking about his innate connection between music and colour in interviews that he also realised that he might have synesthaesia, too. “I always felt that music was a visual art-form. I don't know why.”
It was a different group of believers, however, at the St Thomas Baptist church, close to Seven Mile on the Outer Perimeter of Detroit, who nurtured his musical aspirations on the piano. "It was less a church and more a burned-down building where a bunch of people congregated around a piano,” he recalls.
“I mean, one guy in a robe and a bible. It was so basic. I'd just go there and the musicians were amazing. You'd learn a bunch of songs about God and about Jesus (laughs)! Obviously, I ignored that part; I didn't care because the music was so good. Gospel music is, you know, it's where house is from, it's where R&B is from."
Despite Detroit being where techno is from, though, its legacy held less sway with a teenage Edgar. Part of the first generation raised with the internet, he was more enamoured with the junglistic sounds of Remarc when he was younger. At this same time he was hanging out with Seth Troxler in downtown Detroit, their other school friends brainwashed into believing it was too dangerous.
“Nobody really liked techno because techno was not cool around the time that I started making music in the late '90s, especially around my friends,” says Edgar, who was hanging around with a crowd 10 years older than him. “I was always trying to make money doing stuff, so another thing I did was making hip-hop for people.
“I briefly met J Dilla a few times record shopping, Guilty Simpson and stuff, but never really got to work with them professionally. At that time I was trying to do something different and I wasn't necessarily into the real underground hip-hop from Detroit. I'm a white kid coming from a different background. I didn't really understand it till later.”
It was Warp Records who gave him a way out of the city, which Edgar says he didn’t appreciate for its legacy until he’d left and could see it from afar. Putting out the first two albums under his own name, 2004’s ‘Bounce, Make, Model’ and 2005’s ‘Color Strip’, the label got in touch after somehow obtaining a CD of 10-second tracks and random sound experiments.
Out of the blue, Edgar originally thought it was joke, letting the email languish in his inbox before a friend convinced him it was real. “To make a long story short, they didn't know anything about me, how old I was, where I was from, what I looked like. Now that I look back on it I'm like, 'Wow, they really signed me because of my music'.”
Their three-album deal never came to full fruition, however, as Edgar's love of hip-hop quickly morphed into a highly sexualised version of electro-funk, producing brilliantly distinctive tracks such as the stuttering, hyper-edited ‘I Wanna Be Your STD’.
There was a five year break till his next album, 2010’s even more explicitly sex-and-drum-machine-orientated ‘XXX’ on K7!. By now he’d moved to New York and “got into weird song-writing... I got really hardcore into drugs in New York”. By this, he means heroin. It’s a period he talks openly about in person, but doesn’t want to dwell on.
"I falsely thought it would be easy to get off of, which sent me straight to hell for about six years. It's extremely addictive, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone," he chuckles wryly now, kicking his addiction finally using the psychedelic African plant Iboga.
His last album ‘Majenta’, released in 2012 on Hotflush, was, in retrospect it seems, setting the ground for Ultramajic and for Edgar fully taking control of his life, both personally and artistically. A repeating image on the album cover heads off into infinity, echoing the kind of cosmic awareness Edgar is now channelling, while the strobing video to ‘LET YRSELF BE’, which he directed, reads like a manifesto, filled with flashing messages of positivity and conscious intention, as well as spiritual iconography.
That he started Ultramajic with Stewart is not simply down to their shared musical history, either. “Travis comes from a lineage of shamans, like legit, his family,” Edgar tells us. “He has a Native American side to him. He also has a side to him that's in touch with healing. I've seen him do it, it's his own thing. I really respect this and am constantly trying to get him to go for it and research it.”
There’s also a yin yang synergy in the studio, tying together their work as JETS. “I have this really erratic energy, I'll just come in and change everything and get something new going. I'm always generating energy. Travis takes that energy generation and kind of transmutes it into something workable. He'll come in with a lot of patience. I'll get bored really quick and throw everything away and keep one part.”
‘The Chants’, the first track to premiere from their debut Ultramajic EP, following a couple for Leisure Systems, is everything you’d hope for. With slinky smooth beats riding booming sub, and female vocals cut into organic rhythmic elements, the mid-section drops into intense bass pressure — a sure hit, it seems, for the festival size crowds Edgar now spins for, like at Detroit’s Movement, an event he also played back when it was the free Detroit Electronic Music Festival.
It’s DJing, says Edgar, after years of touring a live show he was never fully happy with, that has helped strip back his own music to a more direct, rhythmic sound. “"I did that sound and feel like I mastered it in my own way,” he says, reflecting on the elaborate, futuristic R&B he was previously known for. “I don't feel I need to prove myself anymore. Those kind of tracks, I have hundreds of them on my computer. I did it and I'm over it. For me concentrating on DJing, which I find much more fun, has influenced my music.”
Like everything that Edgar does, this also resonates with deeper beliefs that he has about the world. “Traditionally in indigenous cultures it's about working out your demons,” he says, when we talk about the DJ being like a ‘malfunctioning” shaman leading the dancefloor, “it's about manifesting something, it's a ritual.
I think that club goers don't necessarily understand this. I find women understand it a lot more than men do in general. 'I just want to go out and dance. I just want to forget all my problems'. Men put up walls. A lot of men are afraid to let loose dancing.”
If the reality of some clubs is now the antithesis of The New Dance Show, and the promise of freedom to be yourself that it seemed to offer, then he name-checks Panorama Bar as a place where this uninhibited spirit is still alive. “Part of it was the gay scene there. Another part of it was that there are no phones, no photos, you can just get fucked up and dance and listen to music and nobody is looking at you. They’re kind of onto something there.”
Barely even drinking now, and married, after the sexcapades suggested on his past albums, Edgar seems to be hitting his stride creatively having conquered a number of personal demons. “A lot of my early music is extremely egocentric,” he says at one point. “I've really changed these last few years.”
He tells us that he has a ton of new music, but there are no plans for an immediate release. “I need the complete package,” he says, outlining that he wants the next incarnation of his live show to leap straight to the level he’s always wanted. Linking visuals and music in an improvisable way, the reality of this is currently being delayed by expense and format considerations.
“Just releasing an album these days is not really good enough,” he admits. “It's so easily over-looked if you don't have the right package, especially with dance music because there are no lyrics. I'm not really working with vocals that much.”
Four albums in, Edgar has a surety about waiting until the time is right. It’s precisely the situation with another collaborative project he’s had running away in the background for some time. “I highly, highly admire Sophie so much,” he tells us on the UK artist, who’s released on Numbers and is part of headline-generating act QT.
“To be honest, he's one of my idols. He's got such an intuitive way of making music. He doesn't come from a background of music, but he will sit there and tune things for hours to get the right kind of melody. He likes a lot of cheesy melodies, but he has some stuff that I have in my possession where the melodies are so beautiful.
“Something I admire about him is that he'll work on a track until it's a complete work of art. It will just show through. He hasn't released a lot of music, but what he has is exactly what he wanted. I preach a lot these days about artist integrity and he is just a shining example of that.”
Sitting on 30 or 40 of Sophie’s tracks, and with an EP long feted for Ultramajic, both share a perfectionism and lack of free time that makes any shelf date for their work together impossible to predict. They do have a name for their duo, though, which is so long “it's ridiculous,” grins Edgar. “That's about all I can say right now. There is some stuff that he's involved with that's coming out soon. He's got side projects that people don't know about, but it very much has the sound.”
For now, Ultramajic is at the forefront. After including some exclusive label tracks on his Fabric mix, such as his Truncate co-production ‘Submission’, Edgar is looking to release these. Then there’s an extension of the label’s inseparable visual side, which has already seen Edgar and Zeta exhibiting work in LA.
“Part of the Ultramajic experience needs to be more encompassing, not just a dance party,” he tell us when we turn to his long-term plan. “We're heading that way. I love DJing, but I'd much rather take the party experience in a whole new way.”
What this means, he’s not entirely worked out yet. But Ultramajic has taught him the value of self-awareness and true focus in building something with a solid foundation. “Time and time again, with each release, I'm finding that if we don't do what we love, then it doesn't really work as well as we planned. It's amazing that the more you go on this journey, the more you realise if you're not 100% genuine, it doesn't fly anymore.”
Edgar is definitely flying right now, and it doesn’t matter if anyone thinks it is with the fairies. Ultramajic isn’t just a record label, it’s a distillation of art and ideas that’s vibrating with the energy of a generation for whom spirituality and dancing have some innate connection again. It’s currently an imperfect interface, as Edgar himself admits. But if anyone can keep pushing it forward into a higher dimension, it’s this wizard from Detroit.
The artists that make up the label in Jimmy's words
“Pilar and I met at a Russian karaoke place on my birthday almost four years ago. We’ve been working together on artwork exclusively since then. She really inspired me to put focus into everything design and not settle for second best, ever. We do all of the Ultramajic visual work together. I first knew of her work from Visionquest.”
“Exclusive to Ultramajic, he’s one of our artists from the Berlin techno scene. We met in Berlin at a candy shop.”
“I met Danny Daze about seven years ago in Miami. We had mutual friends in both Detroit and Miami. We share a mutual love for underground electro. We’ve been doing B2B sets this year all over. He has a new release for us coming out this spring/summer. His music brings big energy and power.”
“Another new artist as well, and exclusive to Ultramajic. We met in Detroit. The music can do the talking.”
“It’s Machinedrum and I. Our first release on Ultramajic will come out the 11th May. It features Jamie Lidell, who’s been a long-time friend. It’s a chance for us to work on more song-type music, as opposed to straight dance tracks.”
“One of the reasons why I started Ultramajic was to put out Aden. He doesn’t like to talk about himself so we keep it focused on his style, something that we bred together as a label collective.”
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