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Mastering Time: An interview with JLIN


Jlin has always felt like an artist out of time. Ever since her first tracks found their way onto the internet at the turn of the decade, the producer from Gary Indiana has stood out from her peers in footwork and juke. In the years since sheís continued to expand the pallete and the possibilities of electronic music with each successive release, culminating in Autobiography, the score she composed for Wayne Macgregorís ballet of the same name.†

As one of the most consistently innovative artists in the game, it was an honour to chat with her ahead of her show at SonarLab on Friday 19th July, about her approach to playing live, her longstanding collaboration with Holly Herndon and her early morning work schedule that would put most artists to shame.

Hi Jlin itís really early (8:30 am) so thanks for thanks for connecting at this time.

Well actually this morning my day started at about 3:30

Oh wow.†

Yeah, because I like Iím creative in the morning so I like to write in the morning. Iím working on a a commission right now and Iím really in the zone.

Do you have strict working hours, like, do you treat it like an office job?

Iím strict with it but honestly I get up earlier so I donít feel like Iím doing office hours!† As matter of fact my first break is at eight oíclock so I like that Iím already in the zone by the time everybody else is opening their eyes. But on the weekends, I get up later, like 5 or 6 Am.

Youíre making me feel really lazy.

Haha. This is just what works best for me. Itís not for everyone.

So, weíve been following your career for a few years now, and weíd love to know if you remember what year you first played.†

Yeah, I remember. The first time I played was by night. And it was pretty crazy. I was overwhelmed. Because at that time, I was going through a lot of stress. And† being surrounded by so many people at one time, kind of was pulling on me. Now itís like íNo, of course notí. But yeah. Then, it was like íoh, oh, boyí.

That was in 2016 right?

Yeah. Iíd never really seen what a festival in Barcelona was like, that amount of people. I was like, íWhoa, at Sůnar go they go up!í.† But you know, itís more intimidating for me when Iím in a crowd of less people than I am with more people. Because the more people there are, I start feeling like Iím in a room by myself. Because I always feel like nobodyís paying attention. But when the crowd is smaller, I always feel like íOh, damní. As a matter of fact, the entire time I was playing that set I distinctly remember I felt like I was in my bedroom. When I was a kid when I used to have the teddy bears set up by my bed pretending they were the crowd. And thatís how I felt then.

You mention íplaying for yourselfí, which is interesting as your music can be a deeply personal experience when youíre listening to the albums, but at the same time you play these big sets where everyoneís dancing. Do you play more for yourself or for other people?†

Itís an experience for us both. Not because [the crowd is] there. But because Iím very vulnerable. And theyíre vulnerable too, whether they know it or not. Because they donít know what to expect. I mean, if youíve seen me play before, itís kind of like, okay, I I know what Iíve heard you play, but you donít know what Iím going to do. You know what Iím saying? So itís just kind of like, weíre both in there sharing an experience. And I like that because itís the human experience. I mean, something crazy as hell might happen. Like, Iíve been in situations, like youíre watching somebody play that you really like, and then all of a sudden a computer dies, youíre like damn! you know? Itís just real. Like, it ainít just no facade where everything looks good and shiny and perfect,

Do you test tracks out live? Or are your productions and your live performance completely separate?

That really depends on the show and what mood Iím in. I mean, there are times I have played everything I like.† Recently, I just played everything out, like, I was doing all of the drum parts [from the records]. And then there are times when I just Iím like, you know, Iím gonna let this play because Iím trying to accomplish something else. So it just depends on how I feel.† What I do live is not completely, completely different. The song is the same but I perform it differently in the sense that I may be breaking the basslines. I may be reading the percussion section, or I might be doing both, you know, just depending on what mood Iím in.

†For me. I love to write, I love to be vulnerable in my music. And i like it when people listen back and build on their own experience of the track versus coming to watch me do it. Donít get me wrong,† I love that people support me and come my shows. And Iím always be appreciative that of course, thatís not what Iím saying. Iím saying that when they do listen to it on their own, itís their personal experience now, versus just mine when I made it. I really I think thatís important.

Youíve always been known for creating sounds from scratch, rather than using other peoples records and manipulating them, which is kind of the standard footwork template. What made you start doing this instead of what everyone else was doing?†

Because I have a voice. And I have a sound and I wanted to discover what that was. Because I knew it was there. I always knew it was there. And then my mom validated this by asking me íWhat do you sound like?í And it was my duty to find out what that was. Of course every genre musically, is a constant evolution, whether itís footwork, whether itís jazz, whether itís, you know, bluegrass, whatever. I want to discover me how far I can evolve, I want to go to infinity, I want to master time, I donít want time to master me. Thatís a conscious decision that I made.

That makes sense actually, because every time I see you play, it feels like a constant progression.

Yeah, it should be a constant progression. You know, I love that. And itís funny. Holly, Herndon always tells me every time she sees me, íItís not a sprint, itís a marathoní. Three years ago, my life got kind of hectic. And I was always on the road, I was always working, I was saying yes to every show. Then it† just got to a point where I got up, and everybody kept saying, you know, slow down, you donít want to burn out. And then I did last year, I burned out. My last show of the year was supposed to be in Portugal. And I was in Indonesia at the time. And I couldnít do it. I could not make myself get on the plane. I contacted my management. I said íI canít do thisí. You know you have to be cognizant of what you do.†

What really interests me is how you listen. Itís like, the sounds that you choose to incorporate at each point in each track seem really well thought out.

Iím very cognizant about what I put into the atmosphere when I create as well. I think thatís, I think thatís step one. Iím real conscious about that. I donít just put shit in the air. You know, I donít just put some random something out because it sounds good. There is a reason. You know, thereís an intention behind it. There is, you know, Iím just not out here like, Oh, yeah, this sounds hot. Let me put that outí. Now, donít get me wrong. Iíve had moments in the studio. Everybody does. You have a moment. I mean, especially when we call it what we call happy accidents, where itís like, Oh, damn, that is hype!†

I was wondering, when youíre writing, when youíre composing, do you see it? Some people see it as a visual structural thing? Right. So they see the lines in the program and they, they, you know, youíre seeing it in your head as a sequencer. But again, with you, itís not that I sort of feel that itís more like an instinctive thing†

Iím not a technical composer, or producer in any shape, form or capacity. So when people ask me tech questions, I† usually kind of giggle on the inside, because Iím like, Iím the wrong person to ask this. Iím inuititive. To me thatís what music creation is. When I create, Iím just the vessel that itís coming through, know what Iím saying? Thatís why I donít want people asking me íYeah, can you teach me a master class?í I tell them no, because I havenít mastered anything. Iím still evolving. You constantly keep growing. And you constantly keep evolving. And you make mistakes along the way,† moments where just your balance is completely thrown off. Like that is important. Because thatís what makes you not just as an artist, but as a person. And that personal experience is what creates the music.

Life is a learning process...

Absolutely. And I donít think anybody has mastered anything. Honestly, I donít. I think that you have some people who have more experience than others, but not ímastersí. I consider myself probably one of the most down to earth people. Iím silly as hell. Goofy. Iím still growing, Iím still immature and in† a lot of ways Iím just trying to get this shit, right. Like, you know, like, in, right, in the sense of not right, like, itís a right and wrong way. But Iím just trying to be an example to the next person thatís coming through.† Like I say to people all the time; íIím lucky if I get 2† bars on a bad day.í Cuz somebodyís gotta be real. A lot of times, you know, youíre looking at a YouTube video, thinking íDamn, this is geniusí. What they didnít show you was the edits. . And itís like, iím going to tell you that. íYeah, I was in the studio all day for 30 hours for something that came up to 30 secondsí. Because thatís real. You can identify with that, because thatís where you are right now. This ainít just plug and play. You really got to work at this and work at this. And you know, you could be the best of the best, but you still gotta work it.

Itís about showing the reality behind the perfect instagram picture.†

Oh, my God right? Please stop telling these kids... stop presenting this, like, perfect face to the world.†

This is actually my next question. One of the themes weíre looking at at Sůnar is about the next 30 years of the internet. So how has the internet shaped you as a creator and a person?†

Yeah, like a lot. Yeah, definitely. When† I came into Myspace, I never thought I was going to be a musician. I really was just on Myspace. And I remember during that era I was just listening. A DJ friend† happened to send me a cracked version of FL Studio. So, you know, I was like íI wonder what can this do?í I remember I couldnít get it to make a sound for the whole first week. YouTube was just kind of popping off, so I got on YouTube to see you know how you make this work. I started at the end of 2007. I worked and worked and worked at and I started to develop the skill. I wouldnít say I was good. But I started understanding what I was doing. In† 2009 Erotic Heat was made and it was different. I was scared to put it out. But I did it anyway. So I throw it out there and people was like, íYo, I never heard nothing like thisí. So I was just like, íOkayí, and then I got approached by Planet Mu and you know the rest is history.

Do you think that could happen now? I mean the rise of nationalism as opposed to globalism and the way that corporate interests control the internetÖ It kind of feels like weíre going backwards.†

It doesnít faze me at all, because I feel like you cant stop something thatís for somebody. It may pause you for a second, but it wonít stop. Iím person that believes in the infinity. So, you know, the ones that supposed to hear will and the ones that wonít they wonít. You know, and thatís okay, thatís life. Iím not Iím not operating in the light of fear. Iím operating in the line of creativity. So I canít itís not my business.†

But even if this means the creative opportunities arenít there anymore for like people coming up behind you?†

Okay, let me let me let me double back for a second. Because for me, I meet people every day on the net. And people that also depend on you as a person, because I make myself very approachable. So if you see me on the street, or you see me in public, or you see me on the net, you can hit me up. Like, you create your own space. That ainít just technology. Where you got to start first is by being a human being.

Going back to music, last year at Sůnar+D, Princeís sound technician Susan Rogers was speaking, and she said the future of music would be ítonalityí as opposed to írhythmí. I was wondering what you saw the future of music as sounding like†

I think music like it goes back to life. Music can go into any direction. Itís an infinite. Such an infinite subject. How many times have we watched music join the entire world together? It happens every day: I may not understand what youíre saying, but we like the same song. Itís what weíre about. Itís a universal language. So I feel like it can go in so many different directions. Like, for example, when I hear, you know,† a dance track to play in the club, Iím like, well, who says it just has to play in the club? It could be a movie. It could be a ballet, it could be a fashion show. Could be be an art museum. I think itís in our nature to put a limit on things , because we like to have control, but it doesnít have to be like that.†

So itís not just about what that music sounds like. Itís also about what you can do with it.†

Yeah, exactly. What can you do with it? Okay, I make this music, I have this gift. And this applies to you as it could apply to everyone. But itís like, instead of thinking just in one little box, you, think about how you can apply it to something completely different.† When you reach a space you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. You have to be willing to not be complacent. You have to be willing to not be in a space where people like this one type of track. Whereís the duality? Whereís the versatility?

Talking of versatility, youíve just done a ballet with Wayne Macgregor (which totally blew me away) and youíre also working with Holly Herndon on her latest project. What was the experience of working with AI like?

Firstly, working with Holly is always a joy. Because with Holly do things on whims. Thereís never been a project that she and I have worked on where we sat down and planned it out.. We just in the lab and experimenting, and like, íAh, thatís coolí. Then it evolves into something. And thatís the way she and I have always worked. Weíve been friends 10 years now. When we came to work† with Spawn, it was just natural. Even though itís an AI, it didnít feel artificial,† Everybody loves to ask, deep questions. But here you got two people who love being around each other, and they create something. Thatís what happened.

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