Tender lyrics that twist your heart in new directions. Understated piano. Chilly blue synths that erupt in shades of vermillion, cerise and emerald. You’ll know a Jakwob production when you hear one. The young London beatsmith is quickly carving a niche in bittersweet club tracks, mixing up subtle tones of dubstep, electro and breakbeat, but also classical piano, folk and orchestral soundscapes.
Last year’s ‘Fade EP’ – which has had over 1million listens on Soundcloud and made the Radio 1 B-list – set the agenda for Jakwob 2.0. It has a haunting piano loop, diamond-sharp vocals, an evocative break beat, and a rare emotional quality that can sear through any sound system. “It covers a lot of what I want to do with my music but it was so hard to get there,” he says. “It took three years to figure out how.”
As a teenager, James Edward Jacob played drums in metal bands until he discovered the power of bass at clubs in Leicester. He became Jakwob and, off the back of a string of successful remixes, was pegged to be the next dubstep DJ to break through into the mainstream. But Jakwob was never one to be pigeonholed. “I try not to play the game,” he says. “I don’t mind being the ugly duckling doing my own thing. I’m not fussed about being involved in any scene.”
It’s why he feels so at home on Shy FX’s groundbreaking UK dance label Digital Soundboy, joining the ranks of future luminaries like Breakage, Dismantle and B. Traits. There, he’s forging a fresh path for electronic music in 2014, starting with the smokier, deeper depths of his forthcoming single, ‘Somebody New’. “It’s not a scene; it’s more a family,” he explains. It’s finally somewhere that shares his vision for electronic music, too. “They’re making all sorts of music instead of trying to push one type of sound, like deep house or drum’n’bass or whatever.”
Shy FX acted as Jakwob’s mentor and ‘Somebody New’s’ executive producer, Breakage helped to add its atmosphere and Stuart Hawkes, who has worked with Disclosure and Rudimental, was on mastering duties. “We spent ages in the studio going over each bit,” remembers Jakwob. “Some people wouldn’t hear the difference but Shy takes good care of the records; he has a kind of scientific approach. He didn’t want any photos in there in case one showed his out board!”
Jakwob is less secretive about the method behind his music. The Guardian once described his production style as “as chilled out as possible with the occasional kick in the balls”. These days Jakwob would rephrase that to: “as engaging, exciting and physically moving as possible.” So far, it’s working. “Even when I do remixes, people tell me that it’s got them through tough times,” he says. “That’s what I want to get out of this. I want people to say ‘I listen to your record all the time and it helps me,’ not ‘I got so fucked up at your rave’.” People are far more emotionally connected with dance music these days.”
At times, however, they can connect a bit too much. “Someone burst into tears at one of my shows!” he remembers. “Only about five people came because it hadn’t been promoted, but one of them was a crying girl who like couldn’t believe she’d met me.” He pauses and, typically modest adds: “It’s funny, I’m not exactly a poster boy.”
Perhaps it’s time Jakwob gave himself some more credit. At just 24-years-old, he is already production polymath. Alongside making club tracks and touring his multi-bass DJ sets around the world, he has remixed the biggest names in pop – from Lily Allen to Lana Del Rey – helped rising starlet Kyla La Grange harness a new sound, and composed orchestral music for Hollywood film trailers. In Fleetwood Mac’s studio, no less.
“That was absolutely mad,” he says. “I went to LA last year and I recorded some music for some film trailers at The Village – a 23-piece orchestra played all my synthesized parts live; it was an amazing experience.” His compositions, he says, aims to combine the contemporary and classical, inspired by producers like Jónsi from Sigur Rós, The Chemical Brothers, William Orbit and Jon Hopkins. He can’t say exactly which films those are yet, though he does confide that they are “pretty big”.
Jakwob’s delicate technique can also be heard on Kyla La Grange’s new album, which he has almost exclusively produced. Its first single, ‘Cut Your Teeth’, is out in March. “We met at SXSW (South By South West Festival in Texas. She was in the crowd at one of my shows and recognised what I was about. She wanted to do something more electronic and I love working with new British singers. We listened to everything she was into – new dance music, classic rock, old blues and soul music. And I showed her stuff like Burial. Helping to understand someone else’s goal and helping them reach it is half the fun.”
That eclecticism is rife throughout his other productions, too: he is influenced by everything from minimalist classical composers to world folk music. “I sampled a Peruvian working women’s choir on a song that I did with Kano and it resonates with people in a much deeper way,” he says, describing ‘Please’, a song on his 2012 free album ‘The Prize’, which has stacked up over 300,000 downloads to date.
Right now, Jakwob is busy working on his debut solo album, feeding his hunger for collaboration and preparing to shake up the dancefloor with his releases on Digital Soundboy. Meanwhile, his remixes continue to keep his fans on their toes – recently, stars as diverse as soul singer Laura Mvula and heavy metallers Bring Me The Horizon benefited from Jakwob’s Midas touch. 2014 will be the year he turns the airwaves gold.