Jitterbug’s music is as personal as it gets. When the UK house producer, who goes simply by the initials ‘JB’ in real life, started to look for an outlet to release his music on, he decided to target some of his favourite labels. In the end, he only sent his demos to two of them, one of which was Uzuri, the then-London-based imprint run by Lerato.
“The other label came back quickly and sounded interested, but then went quiet on me,” JB explains, struggling to be heard above the din of the police helicopter doing the rounds over the south London street where he lives.
“I didn’t know Lerato at the time and I didn’t hear back from her for ages. Then out of the blue I got a MySpace message saying that she really liked the tracks. I sent a message back saying ‘thanks mate’, not knowing that she’s female and she replied with ‘hey, I’m a woman!'”
Fast-forward five years and Jitterbug is one of the key artists on the acclaimed label. Although Lerato has since moved to Berlin, they maintain a close working relationship, with Uzuri affording JB a large amount of artistic freedom. “She does my bookings [through the Uzuri agency] and I have a lot of input into the artwork and direction of each release,” he explains, adding that “there are a lot of labels sniffing around, but I’d rather do it on my own terms.”
Given that he has only released three solo EPs in five years with a fourth on the way, all of which have appeared on Uzuri, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that JB is the master of his own destiny.
Each Jitterbug release is broadly reflective of JB’s tastes as a DJ. A self-confessed Chicago and Detroit obsessive, he cites the second wave of music from those cities as playing a key role in his own productions. Listen closely to Jitterbug’s latest release, the ‘Workers’ six-tracker, and you’ll hear the ghetto stomp of Dancemania nestling beside Sneak’s disco loops, Relief’s tracky grooves and the hard funk of DJ Rush and DJ Skull. Even JB’s stage name is derived from the Detroit party organisers called ‘The Jits’ (Jitterbugs), whose events are documented in the deceased author Dan Sicko’s seminal Detroit tome, Techno Rebels. “It’s just a name, but it fits. I don’t mind admitting that most of my favourite house and techno music is from the US — there’s just a difference in the production. You can hear a lot of the Detroit and Chicago influences coming through without trying to ape them too much,” JB says.
While Jitterbug’s records bring a fresh perspective on mid-'90s tropes, he is releasing music in the middle of what feels like a reissue epidemic. Hardly a week goes by without a classic or long-forgotten record from the vaults of Detroit, Chicago or New York getting re-released, or some new producer trying their hand at copying one of the classics. What does JB make of this phenomenon — is it important for a new generation to re-discover the past or is it a sign of creative bankruptcy that old records and sounds are to the forefront?
“It’s a weird one, I’m very split on it. It feels a bit like overkill and when I’m preparing for a gig, I see that a lot of the records that I play have been repressed,” he says. “At the same time, there are a lot of records that need to be repressed, but at the moment I’m looking at all my £1 techno records to see what everyone else hasn’t played! To be honest though, I am very much influenced by the second wave of Chicago and I’m dreading that they will start to repress all that stuff,” he laughs.
Whatever about re-releasing old material, what about new producers more or less copying classic records — surely it’s not a sign of health for contemporary electronic music?
“It is what it is — I prefer the original raw Chicago sound,” says JB. “You could look at these records and it seems like there aren’t any new ideas out there, but then there are a lot of great producers. You’ve got the London guys making great post-dubstep stuff, there’s people like Hieroglyphic Being doing borderline unlistenable music. He’s a huge inspiration on me, his music is very uncompromising, and I just got his album, ‘Eat My Fuck’.Then there are the UK guys like [John] Heckle and [Mark] Forshaw. It’s just about digging up great music, finding the gems in the rough,” he believes.
TOO MUCH MUSIC
While he is positive about many of his contemporaries and through Uzuri has got to know like-minded artists that are “scattered all over the place” like Lerosa — “our paths have crossed a few times” and Anton Zap — “a lovely guy, who deserves far more recognition. I played for him in Russia” — JB is less complementary about those producers who put out as many records as possible to raise their profile.
“I’d hate if I put out all of my productions because half of the tracks I make are no good. I’d never send anything out unless I was 100% positive about it and really wanted to release it, but you can tell that there are producers who are shopping every track from their hard drive,” he says, adding that this is only part of the problem. “There’s also too much music being released at the moment. It’s nice to look back at your discography and feel that even if it’s flawed, that it gives you a sense of pride. Other labels have been looking for records from me, but they’re the kind that put out a record every month and I’d just end up as another notch in their catalogue,” JB feels.
Uzuri would appear to operate in reverse. In operation since 2007, Jitterbug’s new release, ‘Workers’, is only the label’s twentieth release. This unhurried approach has yielded results, and the EP is Jitterbug’s strongest to date, spanning the range of sounds that JB is inspired by. Speaking about the clattering, drummy rhythm of ‘Jus Drums’, JB says: “‘DJ tool’ has become a dirty phrase, but this is exactly what it is.
I’m a hyperactive, quick-fire DJ, and when I pack records for a gig, I’m looking for one, say a Dancemania release, that has three tracks on it that won’t leave the decks. ‘Jus Drums’ was recorded in a similar manner to my DJing, recorded and sequenced live in one take”.
Remaining on the subject of the release’s dancefloor sound, both the bass-heavy ‘Sweet Tooth’ and the angular rhythms of ‘Surge’ are heads-down affairs, with the former containing a sample that JB admits could “get me in a lot of trouble”. Sampling also plays a central role in ‘Ache 4 U’. An anthem in waiting, it sees Jitterbug lower the tempo, adding some luscious strings and smoky female vocals for an R&B-style house jam.
JB says that he based it around a sample that he remains tight-lipped about. “It’s quite summery and it came about because I found a killer sample. As soon as I had it, I was able to base the whole track around it. It’s an old school approach and I’m not going to say what I sampled!”
Would he consider writing another track like ‘Ache 4 U’? “It depends if I can find another good sample, we’ll see. What I like about ‘Workers’ is that it shows a different side to me, that I’m not just about banging techno,” he answers.
Despite this, JB is reluctant to play live, despite the best efforts of Lerato to persuade him otherwise, and does not see himself working as a remixer. “I’m my own worst critic, so it would be problematic,” he says. However, after releasing just four records in five years — he has also put out two collaborative EPs with his friend and like-mind Scott Ferguson as JBSF on Ferguson’s Ferrispark label — he feels that there may be scope for a Jitterbug album. “The music I’m releasing is tracky, but I’m also recording some Afro stuff. I’m not so sure that dance albums really work, so it would have to be a project worth doing,” JB says, adding that “if you’re working a day job there’s never enough time in the day to read a book or make music.”
Jitterbug’s track record of doing music on his own unhurried terms suggests it may be a while yet for that elusive debut album, but when it drops, it’ll be worth the wait.
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