Interview Khalid Azizuddin
Having spoken to him less than a year ago, albeit electronically, our tête-à-tête with Jacques Greene revolved mostly around genres – as we had so-cleverly (ha-ha) dubbed him ‘genre-fluid’. The man was intellectually rivetting; opinionated with a gift for expressing said opinions in ways that do not seem the least bit pretentious. After all, Greene would rather get turnt up to hyphy or play SADBOYS tunes than entertain the notion that house is an inherently ‘smarter’ genre. Of course then that we took the opportunity to speak to Greene again – IRL this time – when he came down to Kuala Lumpur for a show. So somewhere in between the hustle and bustle of Jalan Alor and his headlining slot at Nagaba KL, JUICE sat down with JG and his tucked in tracky bottoms.
How do you travel?
Activities depend on the place. If it’s around Europe or North America, I’m mainly looking to catch up with friends, so there’s a social dimension to it. Out in Asia, it’s the food; I live for Korean food, and Cambodian food is a recent favourite. I am going out with someone who has travelled extensively and since then I’m always on the lookout for new experiences. If I’m someplace new, the last place I want to be is the mall.
What do you think of their prevalence here then?
It’s not great, but at the same time I know how ridiculous it is for a white guy to come to Asia and be angry that things are not more ‘Asian’. But cultural exchange has occurred for hundreds of years and attempting to restrict it would be foolish.
Almost a year in since we last spoke about the scene, what do you make of its current state?
I feel that we should talk about streaming. My cheque recently came in for six months’ worth of play and I can just about get lunch, but when I opened Spotify, ‘Another Girl’ has been played 2.5 million times. What upsets me is that there is a lot of money being made, it’s just that most of it don’t reach the artiste. But I would never do a Thom Yorke and take my music off Spotify, I think that the democracy of having universal access to culture is awesome and essential. The kids are always right and anyone who says otherwise is on the wrong side of history. Hopefully over time, the economics will be figured out, but for now I live in NYC and can walk around the Lower East Side because I don’t have a day job and I’m incredibly grateful.
So the income comes from performing?
Absolutely. I can almost guarantee that no one coming to my show later has bought any records but them paying for tickets and buying a few drinks would mean that I can be here in Malaysia and also maybe even come back. Playing live is a by-product of releasing music and I approach it quite differently than I do my studio material. For example, I have this sampler/sequencer machine that I only use onstage and this gives the show a whole different feel. I have been doing a lot of that in Europe and North America and can hopefully, over time, bring that out here.
A few of your earlier singles are seen your calling card. Thoughts?
In Singapore, two different girls came up to the booth signalling for my new single ‘I 4 ME’, which – as an artiste – is incredibly validating when you have released prominent earlier materials. I don’t want to be like another Rolling Stones, with everyone just wanting to hear that one 30-year-old record.
We’ve spoken about this before, but from a different angle: You’ve been quite outspoken against genre pigeonholing and the tenuous conclusions that come with it, which are the mainstays of music journalism. Do you think there is any merit to it?
Criticism and journalism will always be necessary especially now that there is so much media out there. Part of my job is finding new music so I would feel bad at my job if I relied on Pitchfork too much, but some people have real jobs and they don’t have the time to listen 300 songs to find four they like. I’m really into movies but when I was a bit more of a novice there were a few critics I would take cues from. I think critics shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all – but if you find a few whose tastes align with yours, it can be quite invaluable. I do get quite bothered by superficial internet think pieces and clickbait, but it really just underlines the importance of editors in journalism.
Has your love of movies translated to creative control in your music videos?
I have always been deeply involved in all of them, either I came up with the concept or I produced some material. I have tried to relinquish a bit of creative control just because of time constraints. The last three or four videos have been directed by Melissa Matos from Montreal, but the concepts all came from conversations had between her and I. The idea behind the ‘I 4 Me’ video came from YouTube videos I was watching where all these guys who were wearing Air Max TNs would slowly and deliberately get into a pool. Search ‘Osiris Crush’ and you will find slow tracking shots of someone wearing those shoes, stepping on toys and my favourite; a pizza. It’s commodity fetishism and consumer culture taken to the far reaches and it’s led me to some interesting places.
Would you ever be tempted to release material closer to performance art rather obeying the more traditional considerations of music?
I have worked on something similar. A few years ago the Tate Modern had me curate a multi-format showcase in the South Tank and I worked with a fashion designer (Rad Hourani) who fused six hi-def cameras to a jacket. The images it captured of the crowd and space were then projected on the walls. It was trying to reverse the idea of a seen object and the direction of the gaze. I have always been interested in the theatrics of live performance and visuals. I hope to one day be capable of producing large-scale shows with elaborate staging and lighting. For a while I was actually considering having two interpretive dancers to act out a narrative throughout a show, maybe a breakup and its aftermath. I think the limits of presentation provide quite a lot of room to play around with and it’s something I enjoy thinking about.
Do you allow your music to be more sentimental than you naturally are?
I am incredibly sentimental. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t quite as volatile and I realise that it’s actually gotten worse over the years ever since I quit my day job. I’ve always prophesised about ending up as an unstable artiste (said in jest). I have had experience with mood swings, anxiety, and there would be times where the most incredible things would be happening and I would still feel horrible. But sometimes I have manic moments where I’m in love with everything I do and everyone I know. I feel intensely.
We’ve recently observed a tendency for international DJs to dumb down when they play in this region. Does location play any role in your shows?
It doesn’t. Last night in Cambodia I played a Yung Lean song who I guarantee you no one there had heard of, but part of me always wants to challenge the listener. My live show is no compromise at all, for example, there is a five-minute section with no percussion, just washes of melody. For a DJ set it’s a bit different, like tonight (Jacques Greene Does KL) there will be a lot of kids who are excited to see me for the first time, but there will be also some kids who are just there because it’s a club night. So my set has an emphasis on fun. But I never just go through the motions – so if I’m playing a techno record, it will be my favourite techno record. I’m engaged to a fault.
Because our last interview was severely lacking in throwaway questions: What’s your favourite colour?
Cement. Shades of slate grey.
Jacques Greene Does KL went down on Saturday 14 March ’15 at Nagaba KL.