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Recognise: Zora Jones

Zora Jones_by_Sabina Bösch
Zora Jones_by_Sabina Bösch

Zora Jones delivers shape-shifting hour of experimental club music for the Recognise series, and talks to Rob McCallum about her new album 'Ten Billion Angels', and the rich audiovisual world of Fractal Fantasy

 

It’s autumn 2022, and Zora Jones is in the booth at Virtua, Fractal Fantasy’s nightclub.  The walls running around the edge of the room project animations by Nicolas Sassoon and ⌀⌀⌀⌀, as Jones’ ‘Virtua Theme’ booms from the club’s spatial sound system. The space itself is a blank canvas for artists who wish to display works in the audiovisual platform’s creative universe.

Except the club isn’t built yet. In 2020 it exists only in a digital form on the Fractal Fantasy website, as a blueprint for a physical space that Jones intends to build alongside her partner — and Fractal Fantasy co-founder — Sinjin Hawke. Fans can take a virtual walk around Virtua which, instead of being entirely focused on entertainment, is described by the duo as a place to “foster communal experiences and distil pop culture”.

“It’s a creative space more than anything,” Jones enthuses. “A club can be all types of different things. What we were trying to achieve is what we think is the ideal version of what a club can be: a blank canvas for really meaningful interaction. And also think about every detail of the club being geared towards being able to really experience the thing. For example by removing the bar” — Virtua features a number of vending machines to reduce queuing — “we’re minimising those types of interactions, which stop you being on the dancefloor and mean you miss really beautiful experiences.”

Jones explains that Virtua will be used for installations and exhibitions, and will feature studio spaces for creatives that work in the audiovisual sphere that circulates Fractal Fantasy. “We're going to start building temporary installations of a similar space to do some testing of the blueprint that we have,” she explains. “And from there we'll see what we can adjust, what we can do better, and what improvements can be made to make it a permanent thing.”

Zora_feature_pic_Sabina Bösch
Zora_feature_pic_Sabina Bösch

As part of her work through Fractal Fantasy, Jones is perhaps best known for the amorphous, experimental club sounds she produces, which exist on the bleeding edge of electronic music. A perfect embodiment of the post-genre world artist’s now exist in, her music presents motifs of footwork, tri-state club music, trap, crunk, R&G, drill and more, but with a non-linear quality that sees her recordings shift and contort without ever settling in one place.

When Jones speaks to DJ Mag, she’s at her home in Montreal, just a few weeks after the release of her debut album, ‘Ten Billion Angels’. She’s been in the city since last September, after living nomadically for a few years as she toured the Fractal Fantasy A/V live show with Hawke. “We were planning on coming back to Europe again this summer,” she explains. “But that's obviously not happening now, so I guess we have moved here,” she laughs.

She describes the album as an “exploration of human emotion” and ‘Ten Billion Angels’ is doubtlessly a hugely emotive record. “I'm a very emotional person,” she explains. “That very much transitions into my music. I never sit down and think, ‘I’m going to make a sad track because I haven’t done one in a while’. It's more that I work from the inside and think about what something makes me feel and then flow with that. It might be how a certain sample, melody or drum pattern makes me feel. In that sense I create tracks with quite different emotions.”

In the press release for the album Jones says that “making music helps me handle the stress that comes from navigating an industry driven by social media addiction, clout chasing, and people taking advantage of each other. It centres me and lets me focus on the beauty in my life: health, friends, love, nature, fans.” Recorded over a four year period that saw her mainly on the road touring, Jones found time to lay the foundations for the album in airports, hotel rooms, Airbnbs, and on friend’s couches.

“I don’t work in the studio that much,” she says of the process of recording the album. “I learned to make music on my laptop with headphones, so I’m really blessed to be able to create super minimally. I don’t need a lot of hardware. That makes me super flexible, because I can just do my thing wherever I am. I can have an idea while I’m at the airport, open my laptop and go. But I took my time with it because I wanted my first album to be a really good representation of my sound. That is something you can do with albums more than EPs. You can really showcase your musical world.” 

 

One of the key elements of ‘Ten Billion Angels’ is Jones’ voice. Despite being central to the album, it possesses an otherworldly quality that somehow makes it feel distant at the same time. It’s a continuation of her explorations in using voice as a melodic instrument that are found on her debut EP — the seven-track ‘100 Ladies’ that landed in 2015 — which saw Jones record 100 tracks in order to find her musical identity. On ‘Ten Billion Angels’, she delves further into the sonic palette she explored in that process. “The album is just a more evolved form of myself,” she explains. “I want to create new things. I'm not super interested in creating things that I’ve already heard. I get really excited about hearing things from other people I've never heard before.”

As with any project that lands via Fractal Fantasy, the visual element of ‘Ten Billion Angels’ is as central to the release as the music. The album launched with visuals inspired by 3D tentacle porn, with Jones mentioning she was fascinated by the online communities revolving around it. She was compelled to explore this visually, and to create her own version. To deliver the final product, she worked with her friend, a 3D animator called Louis From Montreal. “I really learned how to animate and really get my fingers into it,” she enthuses. “That is what we do with every Fractal Fantasy project. We create parts of it ourselves because you can only explain to somebody so much of what you want to create. At a certain point you have to do it yourself to fulfil the vision that you have.”

She says she was motivated after seeing how obsessive the creators were with their craft. “I found it super interesting how meticulous they are with creating this very specific visual. It takes a lot of expertise and a lot of time to create the vision that they have. I love that they have this fantasy, and they need to see this so badly that they need to make it, because it doesn’t exist. I found that a very pure motivation to making art, and creating in general. To me that is the ideal way to create: that you want to hear or see something that doesn’t exist so bad that you need to make it. That’s really what inspired me a lot.”

Jones has dropped two other releases this year. Her ‘Official Remixes’ EP that landed in April, featuring a collection of old reworks of music by Murlo, Florentino, and DJ Jayhood, amongst others, as well as an edit of Selena Gomez’ ‘Look At Her Now’. So does she see parallels between what she is doing as an artist and the pop superstar? “Sure!” she enthuses. “I don't think club music is necessarily that far from... it can be popular music. I'm not sure why it’s not. I know a lot of artists that make music that I think could be in the Top 40. Easily. For that track I was just like, ‘Wow! She made such a sick club track. That is super dope!’ It could have been made by one of my friends. There are a lot of parallels. Pop culture is inspired by our culture and vice versa.”

Zora_feature_pic_Sabina Bösch
Zora_feature_pic_Sabina Bösch

Before speaking to DJ Mag, Jones spent her day working on admin for forthcoming releases on Fractal Fantasy, the audiovisual platform she set up with Sinjin Hawke seven years ago. Recent additions include the latest in their Pointclouds mix series, the audiovisual synthesis of their Liquid Entropy Browser, and Virtua.

“It's a platform to be able to execute what we want to do, and present things that we are inspired by,” she explains. “Whether that be code experiments, or installations, a live show, a visual synth, fashion... it can be whatever we want it to be. It’s a vessel to help us to get our creations and ideas out there. We try to see what technology is available that we can push further in a different direction.”

Jones and Hawke have also used the platform to release music by artists that push a similar forward-thinking approach to experimental club music, including Martyn Bootyspoon and Xzavier Stone. Fractal Fantasy gives their art a place to exist away from the ever-accelerating social media timelines that swallow content as quickly as they perpetuate the sharing of it. “Music is obviously a big part of it, but it is not only music,” she smiles. “We always wanted it to be completely open format. With a label it’s a pretty rigid setup. You release music, you release a music video... it is nice for us to have our own space on the web that’s not tied to any other platform, in a space that we can control.

“People feel like their Instagram is a project, but I don't know if that is going to be true in 50 years. Music hopefully will be, or projects that you create. So it’s important for us to  remember that social media is this thing that we use to communicate and get our word out, but it’s not the centre of life. It’s great in a lot of senses. It lets musicians be very independent. In a sense it democratised certain processes in the music industry. But, at the same time, they can be so evil.

“The way some of them are designed is to keep you addicted and focused on your phone. That’s horrible! Why would you create such an app? I’m looking forward to having social media pop up in the next few months that is open source. That’s made by its users. That would be really cool as that could be a little more democratised, rather than this thing that we are the slave of. Calling all coders!” 

Below, you can hear Zora Jones’ Recognise mix: An hour-long trip into her experimental sonic universe, and the vivid world of Fractal Fantasy. “We can’t make it to the club but we can still dance as much as we want!,” she tells us. “Grab your bestie and let lose to this mix in your bedroom!" 

Tracklist: 

Zora Jones ‘Paranoid’
Selena Gomez ‘Look At Her Now (Zora Jones Bootleg)’
Lava Dome ‘After Cryonics’
Syringe ‘I Don't Like U (Sinjin Hawke & Zora Jones Bootleg)
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Zubotnik ‘Formatv’
Teyana Taylor & Quavo ‘Words Dont Express (Neana Bootleg)
Funkysteps ‘Bizzaro’
Sinjin Hawke ‘Blank Spaces’
Ckrono ‘Shinobi Funk’
Famous Eno & Magugu ‘Big Don (Kapital Riddim)’
Drippin ‘Domewerk’
Ollie Macfarlane ‘Rain Theme (Ceeda Remix)’
Divoli S'vere ‘The Children Are Staring (Boomclap Edit)’
Hi Tom ‘Riddim For Mechs’
Martyn Bootyspoon ‘Buss Down (Xzavier Stone Remix)’
WRACK ‘Gaile’
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DJ Baba ‘Back To Me’
Zora Jones ‘Cease Fire’
Erica Banks ft. Beatking ‘Toot That’
A.G. ‘Apprehension (Edit)
Backroad GEE ‘Commando & Steve (Edit)’
Dva x Badness ‘Drumtrack (Sinjin Hawke Edit)’
Dj Schreach & Tre Oh Fie ‘Break It On Down’
Z-RO ‘I Hate U (Chopped & Screwed)’

Revisit Recognise features with UNIIQU3 and Badsista

Photos: Sabina Bösch

Rob McCallum is DJ Mag’s digital editor. Follow him on Twitter here.

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