If you stopped me walking to class my sophomore year of high school, played me a Nicolas Jaar track and informed me that some day I’d seriously enjoy it, I’d no doubt brush you off as a lunatic from the future. In the last few years, this forever-growing world of electronic artists, dreamy instrumentals and super bass has drawn press like moths to the flame, us included. As tastes continue to fracture across the audiences, new artists creep up every day, filling in the holes of the vast soundscape that is electronic music. Unfortunately, due to non-descript genre tags and the sheer size of the scene, some artists have trouble breaking through the synth-born din. Fortunately, Nicolas Jaar is not one of those artists, and his Saturday night performance at Metro was proof of his distinction and talent.
No artist is allowed to release a record in the 21st century without being immediately categorized, and as a result, talents like Nicolas Jaar get filed under genres like “post-dubstep” (I can’t believe I got Leo to write that!). And it’s not surprising, he shares many of the same themes as those producers, most notably in his midnight basslines and a general leaning towards melancholy. That said, Jaar’s music is attractive precisely because of the way it differs from typical p-d: compositional complexity, stylistic diversity and just plain funk.
Reflecting on his live performance, it was impossible to not take note of how much equipment he had in his Central Command Center on stage. Hidden behind stacks of synths, keyboards, samplers, drum machines, laptops and microphone apparatuses; Jaar emerged and immediately started laying down some weightless, spacey loops. Like an idiot, I feared the show would just exist only in the upper region of the sonic-spectrum after only a few minutes. Then came the bass. Unlike the emoting thunder of James Blake or the chest collapsing power of Bassnectar, Jaar’s bass, while not as rattling, is full of poise and direction, and functions as a means of commanding ears and bodies to move in sync. When he says groove, we could only ask “how hard?”
Unlike many of his peers, who tend to progressively layer the elements of theirs songs until the listener finds himself somewhere between overwhelmed and drowned, Jaar takes a more symphonic approach to his music. Parts both predictable and unpredictable commence at times both expected and unexpected, providing for a consistently engaging listen. “Colomb,” the second track off Jaar’s debut Space Is Only Noise, is a particularly good example of his fluctuating style. Jaar explores his psychedelic side in more detail on the collaborative Darkside EP, but in his solo work, his genre digressions occur subtly, allowing for brief shifts in mood without disrupting a song’s overall character.
Jaar also personifies the freedom a talented electronic artist can and should enjoy. Unburdened by specific genre conventions, he mixes established electronic sounds like house, trip hop and garage with world, jazz and funk affectations. In fact, in Jaar’s meta-compositions, the genres themselves appear as compositional elements. In no song is this clearer than on “Specters of the Future,” when jazzy piano and vocals dive in an out over a more traditional dubstep beat. There’s also “Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust” that showcases his far-reaching sounds with psychedelic slivers of guitar and strings over a funk-laden groove.
Live, Jaar is able to rectify all these differences in sound, ultimately producing a cohesive performance. Every piece felt like a breath of fresh, bass-heavy air, while never feeling like he was reaching for more than he could handle. Immersed in his enveloping sounds, it was clear Jaar is one of those great talents that exist only for the joy of progressing their craft. The room could have been empty and he probably would have enjoyed himself just the same.
The practice of unending classifying and categorizing of new music can get pretty tiresome, and while the term “post-dubstep” is a comical concept, the word “post-” actually carries significant meaning when removed from its overuse. Content only when he’s uprooting and mashing sounds from across the world, Jaar’s music exists for the future, not the past. He’s part of a long lineage of artists who have seen what sounds there are, and have the talent to create what can be. And if you’re not content experiencing that greatness in a crowded club, then give Space Is Only Noise a spin on a twilight drive or a late-night mind wandering. A good soundsystem is a must.
L. V. Lopez and Peter Lillis are Co-Editor and Assistant Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist, respectively. Although they met for the first time last month, they feel as though they’ve known each other their entire lives. Well, maybe that’s going too far, but you get the point. For more photos, check out our Tumblr.