Jimmy Edgar has the funk in him. His new album, “Majenta”, stressed his deviation into electro and starts a new alliance with Scuba’s Hotflush label. We talk to the Detroit-born enfant terrible about spending youth in a dark place, having sex and having fun.
When most people hit fifteen, it heralds the arrival of the most frustrating year of their adolescence. Not quite an adult but no longer a child, the average fifteen-year-old's time is spent trying to balance the desire to stand out with the need to fit in (as well as trying to balance the desire to lose one's virginity with the need to isolate oneself as often as possible in order to masturbate). Your body is in a shifting state of awkward betrayal and your mind is too busy worrying about what people think of your trainers to help. Then there's learning to drink properly, which - what with it usually necessitating the consumption of various neon-hued alco-pops - tends to mean learning how to vomit in a wide spectrum of colours. On top of all that, you've still got to go to bloody school in the morning.
Jimmy Edgar was a lot better at being fifteen. At that tender age he found himself DJing to thousands of people at raves in his hometown of Detroit, alongside such luminaries of that city's famous techno scene as Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Sanderson, something he casually describes as a “weird stroke of chance”.
“We were scamming people to get studies when we were super young. It was the lifestyle, we were poor. My best friend in high school also had loads of music equipment from selling drugs and credit card fraud. His older brother got into selling lizards - or something with reptiles - he made loads of money and wanted to throw a rave. Basically he was kinda cheap and didn't wanna pay big artists at first, so we were playing for free at these ten thousand person parties. Then we started getting booked other places”.
His prodigious rise continued when he signed to Warp Records aged just eighteen and, like so many young people from that blighted and destitute city ( “its fortunes are basically non-existent” he glumly admits), he felt he had to split. He soon became a sort of cross-continental wandering minstrel, only with shiny beats and sex-soaked lyrics rather than, I dunno, a lute; yet he released just one album on Warp (2006's “Color Strip”) before leaving the label due to “creative differences”. Though he won't expand on just what those differences were ( “It's not fair for me to gossip”) he retains no bitterness, even speculating he may work with label again in the future, insisting “we had amazing times working together”.
After a brief stint at !K7, who released his “XXX” album in 2010, he has now settled at Scuba's Hotflush Recordings imprint, a label that made its name with dubstep but now appears to be diversifying. Edgar points to Hotflush's family atmosphere as the reason he chose them to release his new album: “I just really like Paul [Rose, aka Scuba], he is a cool guy and business minded. I like Scuba, Lando Kal, and Sepalcure. Plus they are some of my best mates. I like to be on a label with friends. Other labels can be really sterile, if you know what I mean”.
The album itself wears all of Edgar's usual influences on its sleeve, with plenty of Kraftwerk rhythms and Prince-style synth raunch (although Edgar also suggests T-Pain and the film “Heart Of Glass” by Werner Herzog as less obvious sources of inspiration). The title, “Majenta”, is a reference to Edgar's synaesthesia, which causes him to experience music as colour. It's a fascinating condition, the mechanics of which are difficult to grasp. So what exactly does it feel like?
“It's interesting that you ask what it feels like when most ask me what it looks like. It's definitely a feeling in the mind. I think it's funny that I discovered I was different not too long ago. It's almost as if I didn't realize what was going on because I didn't know I was different. I always had an affinity with colours, I just had no clue that when people think of numbers, or hear music/sounds that they don't see colours or shapes either. That's hard for me to imagine, not having it. It's very subtle but I think what made me start talking about it with other people is that I started seeing a new colour, which I call 'majenta'. I believe it's like magenta of the UV spectrum, which most cannot see.”
“It's hard to describe a new colour but try to imagine violet and white and silver blinking really fast, that's what it looks like, but a new colour. I suspect it has a lot to do with time speeding up and people becoming more spiritual and realizing they are eternal beings of creativity.”
Perhaps I'm just further down on the evolutionary scale, but I've been finding it pretty hard to harness my everlasting spirituality or see new shades of the spectrum. Bugger. Never mind, Edgar has another technique that might benefit those of us less gifted in that department: hypnosis.
"I am a very sexual person and open-minded. This doesn't mean I have a lot of sex necessarily"
“I've been doing that for almost 7 years now. I wanted to learn it because I was so sceptical of it, but I had a feeling it could really be done...so I set out learning it as if it was some kind of magic. Basically I learned the potential and how real it actually is. I was pretty blown away the first time I tried it. At a party with some friends I did two girls and both of them were great subjects. They both fell instantly under and one I fucked with pretty hard. I later apologized but she was unable to see anyone at the party. The strange part is she could hear us, which was my suggestion. She came out and was terrified. This totally convinced me. She said she felt like she was drugged for that time.”
Fucking with people is one thing, but songs like “Sex Drive” and “I Wanna Be Your STD” suggest that Edgar's pretty keen on actually fucking people too.
“I feel I have taken on sexuality in various ways in my life. I feel as though I should influence people to express themselves sexually. I am a very sexual person and open-minded. This doesn't mean I have a lot of sex necessarily, but it's less about me and more about what people feel when they listen. If you feel sexy, confident, maybe want to create love...then perfect.”
“What's the most satisfying response I've had to my music? I like hearing peoples' visual ideas to my music, like ‘when I hear this… I imagine…’. That is incredibly inspiring to hear people inspired. I get people saying they have sex to my music very often which is funny. I also like when young children like my music, maybe my friends' children. And I'm also grateful when people listen to my music to do visual art.”
Indeed Edgar, who is also an acclaimed fashion photographer, has inspired himself to create his own visual accompaniment to his music. For his latest tour he's created an elaborate stage lighting extravaganza, involving an LED display synchronised to the nearest millisecond of each rhythm. The idea seems to be to approximate a synaesthetic experience.
“It's an idea I always had because I consider myself a visual artist. I just wanted people to see colours synchronized with the music. No bullshit rave visuals, going through tunnels and space. Straight to the point. My music is quite minimal in a way so I wanted to express that visually. So, I think I’ve had this idea since I started making music. This year I finally realised the technology, even had to invent a few parts of the puzzle to make it work smoothly. I travel with an assistant now who assembled the performance, but it’s been created/programmed by me”.
"I always wanted to hear music as clean, tight and hard. Basically that's why I started making music"
He brings the same degree of accuracy to his music too. It may be minimal, but he's keen to stress that doesn't mean minimal effort has gone into it. So how does he achieve his clean, distinct sound?
“Very meticulously. I always wanted to hear music as clean, tight and hard. Basically that's why I started making music”.
No surprise then that he's ended up settling down in Berlin, the home of crisp electronics and minimal techno. Being surrounded by so many like-minded music makers affords many opportunities for collaboration, something Edgar's generally up for. Lately he's been working with another honorary Berliner, Emika, who produced a dazzling debut album on Ninja Tune last year. He recently refashioned her deep, dark single “3 Hours” into a sharp, funky bastardisation entitled “Hit Me”, but how did it come about and will there be more?
“We met in Berghain one night. We just liked each other and got on musically, so it was instant inspiration. Yes, we have some pretty amazing ideas for some music together. We will see, we are both very busy.”
Busy indeed. Edgar's got tour dates (some alongside Emika) lined up all over the world. Yet it's a world that he has some disdain for, as evidenced on the track “This One's For The Children” (as if any Jimmy Edgar track could ever be safe for children) where he states “We don't like television / We don't like new wave / We don't like celebrities / We just want what we crave”. So what does he prescribe for the remodelling of society in preparation for the New Age?
“Love each other. Stop making instruments of death for a fake sense of peace. Practice the 'law of consistency', teach our children everything we know and don't hold back. One more thing would be to release all available knowledge, which I assume would eradicate religion really quickly”.
Well, religion's days may be numbered, but retro-futuristic fuck-funk seems like it's here to stay. Jimmy Edgar was performing to giant crowds at the same age most people were lucky to score a fumble at the school disco, and is now seeing new colours when the spectrum visible to most people has been reduced solely to the red of their financial statements. Lord only knows where he'll be (or what he'll be seeing) in another ten years, but you imagine he's going to have a lot of fun on the journey.