Johnny Jewel in 10 easy steps Johnny Jewel, the Italians Do It Better producer behind Desire, Chromatics and Glass Candy, explained.
Following a long, long wait, Italians Do It Better are getting set to release a follow up to their essential – and recently remastered – ‘After Dark’ compilation. The first ‘After Dark’ served as a label sampler, an introduction to IDIB’s artists and aesthetic. The follow-up, simply-named ‘After Dark 2’, serves to show where they are now, and it couldn’t come at a better time, with a huge surge of interest in IDIB following the inclusion of some of its artists on Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ soundtrack last year.
The vision behind these tracks belonged to one man: Johnny Jewel. His style blends everything from classic rock and punk to mutant and italo disco, and his involvement with acts including Desire, Chromatics and Glass Candy are glossy, pitch-black and cinematically atmospheric, and just plain cool. To celebrate the forthcoming release of ‘After Dark 2’, we’ve charted ten tracks that give you the lowdown on one of the most distinctive producers in the western hemisphere.
- Mike Simonetti & Johnny Jewel – ‘Albuterol’ mix (2010)
To talk about Johnny Jewel it may be best to start not with his own music, but with other people’s. The ‘Albuterol’ mix, recorded with IDIB partner-in-crime Mike Simonetti, does a good job of summarising what Jewel’s productions are about: analogue synths, throbbing basslines, vintage rock and oddball cover versions. The music included in the mix is camp but not cheesy, and the presentation is slick and stylish – even the vinyl crackle seems like a mark of considered sound design, adding a layer of raw grittiness to the whole affair.
- Glass Candy – Miss Broadway (2006)
I’ve never understood describing a cover version as either better or worse than the original, because it implies that any two versions of a song can’t both exist harmoniously. But Glass Candy’s take on Belle Epoque’s 1977 disco hit Miss Broadway is without doubt the version of the song, an update that revels in the studio shine that current production techniques can afford. Modern day disco has never been this good – the strings, Ida No’s vocal, the sax and the synth flourishes are some of the shiniest and sexiest recorded, whilst the IDIB sleeve it’s housed in is surely a contender for one of the best ever. This was the first thing that introduced me to the wonderful world of IDIB and perhaps the greatest thing Jewel has ever touched.
- Chromatics – Running Up That Hill (2007)
Cover versions have become something of an artform with Johnny Jewel – aside from the aforementioned Belle Epoque remake, Glass Candy have also done takes on Kraftwerk’s Computer World and James “Sugarboy” Crawford’s oft-reworked Iko Iko. Chromatics, on the other hand, opened their new album with a cover of Neil Young’s Into The Black, whilst their debut album ‘Night Drive’ features a cover of Kate Bush’s classic Running Up That Hill. It’s obviously pretty bold to cover a record so highly regarded by, well, everybody, but Chromatics’ take on it is a worthy version, a faithful update gone through the sheen machine which, sometimes, is all a cover really needs.
- Twenty Six – Unbound (1996)
Back in 1996, Jewel released ‘This Skin Is Rust’, a droning instrumental post-rock album, under the name Twenty Six. The record was recorded in a basement in Humble, Texas, between 1994 and 1995, and found its release on Bobby J, an avant-garde label founded by Todd W. Ledford, who went on to start Olde English Spelling Bee. The album was reissued earlier this year, whilst Unbound is available to hear on Youtube. Despite a decade-long gap between this release and Jewel’s resurgence with Glass Candy, it demonstrates the same dark cinematics that he is known for today, albeit in a fairly more obtuse form.
- Glass Candy – Love Love Love (2002)
In their early days, Glass Candy were a punk band, but guitarist Johnny Jewel had always wanted to take them into more dancey territory. They released their first album, ‘Love Love Love’, on Mike Simonetti’s long-established punk label Troubleman Unlimited. Love Love Love, the ace title cut from that record, sits at a crossroad between these two styles, coming at around the time of New York’s dance punk explosion. As Glass Candy developed as a band, their sound became more outwardly disco, and Simonetti felt that Troubleman was not the right home for them. As such, he and Jewel decided to set up a new outlet to put out Glass Candy and other dance releases, and as such, IDIB was formed.
- Mike Simonetti & Johnny Jewel – Hollywood Seven (2011)
Appearing at the end of the Albuterol mix under the name Disconet Dilemma, Hollywood Seven is a disco re-edit of nigh-on perfection, proving so popular that it ended up getting pressed to vinyl. Far from a simple bootleg press, the release was a true labour of love – containing four different versions of the track discovered from various different record bins over the world, including – bizarrely – a hi-NRG version with German lyrics. It’s a piece of overblown and camp but not kitsch disco that has the potential to make a club explode.
- Desire – Under Your Spell (2009)
Johnny Jewel was originally drafted in to score ‘Drive’, and although his score was eventually scrapped by the studio, two of his tracks made it onto the soundtrack in the form of Chromatics’ Tick Of The Clock and Desire’s excellent Under Your Spell. To be honest, I didn’t really like the film – it was all hollow mood, vacant reference points and empty gloss – and to me, it seemed more like director Nicolas Winding Refn was exploring Jewel’s fascinations with midnight drives and after dark seediness rather than his own. Still, the film looked the perfect match for Jewel’s sonics, and it’s hard to imagine Desire’s Under Your Spell receiving a more fitting visual aesthetic.
- Farah – Law Of Life (2007)
So far, we haven’t given enough credit to the vocalists that Jewel works with, yet they’re essential to his output, with a particular type of female voice seeming to compliment his own musical palette in ways that can’t be articulated. In the case of Law Of Life, seven-and-a-half minutes of sultry repetition can become insanely pleasurable purely due to Farah’s vocal – just check that language switch-up in the middle! Farah’s only other single, Gay Boy, shows off a different, somewhat sad and nostalgic stylistic, and is basically just as good.
- Symmetry – Over The Edge (2011)
Symmetry’s ‘Themes From An Imaginary Film’ isn’t the rejected soundtrack to ‘Drive’ as many suspected, but it’s easy to see why you might think it is given the imagery of the record sleeve down and, well, its concept – atmospheric soundtrack work to films that haven’t been made yet. At over two hours, the record is pretty hard to digest, but it’s often worth it. Moody, atmospheric and often grandiose, it demonstrates a genuine appreciation for the film scoring craft that puts it leagues ahead of a million horror synth acts whose only point of reference seems to be the odd John Carpenter number.
- Chromatics – A Matter Of Time (2012)
A Matter Of Time is a slice of sheer darkness from Chromatics’ newest album, the most recent big release to Johnny Jewel’s credit. It’s a step up in style, utilising a guitar and rock template more than the earlier disco pop one, but it’s certainly not a radical departure in Jewel’s usual technique – what ‘Kill For Love’ showcases more than anything is just how much this technique has been refined in the five years between Chromatics albums.