JETS interview: "Cosmic soul brothers." Ahead of their UK live debut, Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar tell the story of how the universe brought them together to collaborate.
Jimmy Edgar is Jimmy Edgar, Creepy Autograph, Her Bad Habit, Kristuit Salu, Michaux, Morris Nightingale, Noir Friction and Xdistrict. Travis Stewart is Machinedrum, Neon Black, Syndrone, Tstewart, and one half of H8, Sepalcure and Dream Continuum. Between the two of them, that’s fifteen different aliases – and that’s before mentioning the occasional collaborations that the two of them are known for. As for the amount of releases they’ve have cooked up in total, that’s anyone’s guess.
It certainly wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Jimmy Edgar and Travis Stewart are prolific. Throughout their careers, the two have been happy to flit between different aliases in order to experiment with different musical styles, and the sheer quantity of material and the rapidity of its release can be dizzying. One constant remains throughout, though: the music is always, without fail, of astounding quality. It’s this consistent high standard that has made their collaborative project, JETS, such an enticing prospect.
Both Jimmy and Travis have known each other for a long, long time, but it wasn’t until late October last year, on the ‘JETS’ EP (previewed below), that they released a record together. Both live in Berlin nowadays, but with their individual projects and live shows, it’s almost impossible to find a moment where the two of them are together. “Our schedules are so hectic,” Travis tells me during a rare moment of downtime, “It seems that for every month that I’m back in Berlin, Jimmy’s gone.” This appears to be one of those months: Jimmy is away, having travelled from South America to Miami to San Francisco this past week. With constant movement and crossed timezones, getting the two to sit down to talk at the same time is definitely no easy feat.
The duo have always been very close yet very far. Despite their geographical differences – Jimmy hails from Detroit, whilst Travis is from North Carolina, some 600 miles further South – their earliest music had a shared home in the form of Merck, the influential (now defunct) experimental electronic label. “There was a demo by Jimmy that was sent to Merck Records that I received.” Travis says, “Gabe, who was running Merck, couldn’t really handle the amount of demos he was getting in – this was 2001, so it was all CD-Rs, and tapes, stuff like that. So I tried to take the load off him, and I was going through all the demos and there was this double disk by Jimmy that had all this crazy electronic stuff.” The demo showed off Jimmy’s versatility, containing everything from hip hop to minimal techno, electro to ghettotech. It caught the ears of Travis, who convinced Merck to sign it.
“I actually didn’t know that Travis was the one who listened to it until a few years ago.” Jimmy tells me, speaking from San Francisco. By 2002, Merck had kickstarted the careers of both parties – Travis had released two albums under both his Machinedrum and Syndrone alter egos, whilst Jimmy’s debut, ‘My Mine’s I’, came out as the split-personality Kristuit Salu vs. Morris Nightingale. It was in Miami later that year that Jimmy met Travis for the first time – both names appeared on the bill for an anti-Winter Music Conference party called Infiltrate.
Kristuit Salu vs. Morris Nightingale – êthno-cen (from the album ‘My Mine’s I’)
“I thought he was a total weirdo when I first met him.” Jimmy says, “Being from Detroit, you don’t meet a lot of goofy, funny Southern kids. Up in the north we’re all kind of tough and hotheaded – we don’t really make jokes, we’re all really dark.” Despite these first impressions, the two obviously ended up becoming good friends, and toured together in Japan in 2002. “We had no idea what the fuck we were doing. We were kids, you know?” Amazingly, it was their first time touring. Neither of them had yet reached 20 years old, and neither had played a show outside of the United States – “besides Canada, which doesn’t really count”.
“Me and Travis knew that we were cosmic soul brothers in music, but there was no way we could’ve got anything done because we were just so caught up in the rat race of New York and just trying to pay our rent.” – Jimmy Edgar
It wasn’t until a few years down the line that their paths crossed again. Both found themselves living in New York. Jimmy, by this point, was releasing music under his own name through experimental institution Warp Records, and was also busy with his photography. Travis, meanwhile, was playing at parties around the city and trying to get a record label off the ground. Neither of them found much time to see each other, let alone work together. “In New York, it was really hard to see projects through unless they had some kind of budget attached and made it worth your time,” Travis says, “It’s so expensive to live there, you’re just constantly trying to figure out how to translate your art into money – which isn’t necessarily the best motivating factor.” Jimmy echoes this sentiment. “Me and Travis knew that we were cosmic soul brothers in music, but there was no way we could’ve got anything done because we were just so caught up in the rat race of New York and just trying to pay our rent.”
JETS Boiler Room set, December 2012
“We were just making it for fun, there was no real idea of releasing any of it…It was more like: ‘hey, we’re here, let’s make some music.’” – Jimmy Edgar
Still, the two did end up working with each other, producing for the same set of singers, songwriters and producers – a group that included the likes of Jesse Boykins III and Theopilus London. It was through this work that they decided to make music together, laying down a few sketches in the studio. These were sketches that would eventually find their way onto the debut JETS release. Neither of them took the collaboration too seriously at first, though. “We were just making it for fun, there was no real idea of releasing any of it.” Jimmy says, “It was more like: ‘hey, we’re here, let’s make some music.’”
It took a move away from New York to get the tracks finished. When Jimmy relocated to Berlin, the city proved to be a lot more relaxed, affording him the time to work on his own music, on his own terms. Travis followed soon after. “I sort of convinced Travis that moving to Berlin would be a good thing, because I think he was deciding on some other things. And he just decided to come and try it out and he really liked it. And you know, probably part of the reason was that we could work on music and develop our studio together.” By this point the sketches from their earlier studio sessions were a few years old, and they were eager to finish them off. Or, as Travis puts it: “we both decided it was about damn time, basically.”
JETS – Sin Love With U
The music on the ‘JETS’ EP is a manic blend of styles, with dancefloor tracks like the rapidfire Meu and the hacked-to-pieces Lock Lock Key Key to the slower, sun-kissed Sin Love With U. They’re odd and unlike anything else out there – trying to assign a genre to them is impossible. The only immediate reference point that springs to mind is the individual artists themselves. The major basis of their creative relationship is trust: they know each other well enough to understand how the other person works. The two are catalysts for one another, and it shows – on the ‘JETS’ EP it’s impossible to tell who did what. There were times when even they couldn’t tell. “The things that people have guessed that Travis did were most likely me,” Jimmy says, “And the things that people would think I was doing were actually Travis.”
“We don’t have any super thought out plan, but that’s kind of how we like it.” – Machinedrum
Right now, the focus is on the JETS live show, which straddles the line between improvisational explorations and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a huge party. A set in Berlin’s megaclub Berghain saw Jimmy bringing a modular synth to the party, the two improvising over stripped-down JETS tracks for two hours. Another saw them play in the Presidential Suite of the W Hotel in Leicester Square for the Boiler Room, a set which erupted into a gigantic pillow fight. Next, they’ll be playing at XOYO, in London, this Friday night (8th February). The two want to make it larger – Jimmy mentions a visual element that he wants to introduce based off of the one used on tours for his most recent album, ‘Majenta’.
Machinedrum live at Dimensions 2012
They’ve also mentioned in the past a desire to take JETS slightly further than conventional releases – they talked about soundtracking films and installations in an interview with FACT TV, although Travis seems a bit hesitant when I bring this up. “The drunk interview, yeah.” I ask if he meant it. “It’s too early at this stage. I even think saying what I said on FACT was a bit too early. You can hear it in the inflection of my voice – that’s a very easy way to tell if I’m drunk or not. If I’m talking like this – like [adopts slurred voice] nananannana – then you know I’m probably gonna start slipping up a little bit.” He goes on to clarify – the next time that he and Jimmy work together they want to do something a little different to just putting out another standard EP. Having been releasing the amount of music they have for around 13 years now, you might understand why.
But neither of them are really thinking too far ahead. “Me and Travis are both serious about JETS at this point because we’ve discovered that we really love working together. So there’s definitely JETS in the future, but we’re just taking it slow, we’re going with the flow…we both have our own shit going on, so if the time comes and the music’s right, then we’ll do it.” As Travis puts it, “we don’t have any super thought out plan, but that’s kind of how we like it.”