Music Beyond Time: A Conversation With Breakthrough Artist JASSS

Music Beyond Time: A Conversation With Breakthrough Artist JASSS

From the release of her debut LP, Weightless, to countless appearances at major festivals and internationally-acclaimed clubs, the last year has been a significant one for the rising Spain-born, Berlin-based JASSS. Her sets and compositions have become renowned for effortlessly blending different strains of techno, electro, EBM and breakbeats along with more leftfield influences.

She’s now channeling her creativity into a project beyond the sphere of DJing and production. This year’s Unsound Krakow—whose artistic director and co-creator we interviewed in a recent feature—marks the premiere of her new A/V show, Steam, prepared together with German visual artist Theresa Baumgartner. Telekom Electronic Beats Poland talked to the artist ahead of the performance to learn about its visual and musical underpinnings, her guiding personal philosophies and her feelings about self-marketing in the wake of her accelerating success.

For those attending Unsound Krakow, JASSS’s performance of Steam will happen tonight at Hotel Forum. For more information, click here. To read the original interview in Polish, head to Electronic Beats Poland here.

We’re having this conversation just before your performnace at Unsound Festival Kraków. Could you tell us more about your audiovisual performance with Theresa Baumgartner?

This is a completely different piece that I’m doing with her. The idea of working with a visual artist is to just basically make the whole thing more like an experience and not just like a normal concert. It’s quite abstract. It’s based on the mutual impressions of our work. It’s much more of an immersive experience than the show that I normally do. It’s just a different feeling.

Are you inspired by visual arts?

I am very inspired by cinema and sometimes also visual arts. I like cinema because I am inspired by narrative. I especially like non-linear narratives—when there is no beginning and no end.

With beginnings and endings, you’re aiming for an end. And in the end, it’s like you get what you want. Or in the end, you get the conclusion. It’s almost like I’m trying to avoid that. But without the linear narrative and the end I can apply “happy changes”. I believe in sensations rather than concrete specific scenarios.

Everybody goes through different phases. For me, it’s just like having different filters that you put in your lens when you look at life. Everybody’s lens has a different color or texture, which I find very interesting. That’s the beauty of individuals.

It’s curious because with Weightless it feels like there is a narrative, but it’s more like postmodern literature. It maybe sends signals or signs and then you make your own narrative out of it.

Yes. I mean, it’s a reflection of the way I experience time. Past and future don’t exist. It’s just like with the concept of a beginning and end, it makes no sense. It’s a continuous experience.

How do you translate this philosophy to your DJ sets? Do you?

Not at all! DJing is a completely other experience. People tend to trivialize escapism and joy. I‘m not a big fan of escapism, because it’s a form of procrastination. But I do think that everybody needs a break!

In the press, a very specific emphasis has been put on the influences you draw from African and jazz music. Could you speak to that? Do you draw influences from those genres?

I‘m definitely influenced by that, but I‘m also influenced by Britney Spears [laughs]. I think it’s because I talk a lot about my parents in those interviews. Growing up, my father used to record shows off Radio 3, and some of the evening programs were focused on African music. As for jazz, I like classics like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, or people like Stańko. It’s related more to a mood. These are of course well known musicians. I don’t often dig deeper than that, and many of those interviews make it sound like I have a huge collection at my house, which I don’t. I’m not a collector.

But this kind of music has a way of getting in the back of your head. Some of it has stayed with me forever, like Miles Davis‘ “Tutu”. It sounds super ’80s, and there’s this dreaminess to it. Actually, it was the first record that I heard Tomasz Stańko on. His way of playing is long and very melancholic. But it’s stayed with me forever because I resonate with that. Maybe, in my life, the color of my filter is very similar to that color.

I can definitely hear that in your music. And what do you like the most about electro, which is a really important part of your DJ sets?

The energy! It has that bouncy quality, everything is a little rubbery. The snares are hollow, direct and not that verbal. That’s why I’m not so inclined to the macho side of EBM. In general, it has a sort of masculine energy that’s very aggressive and direct. I still like some parts of it. I guess electro is different because of the energy that your body understands immediately. It’s interesting because the rhythm is not that complicated, but there is something special about it.

Some of your musical upbringing traces back to hardcore and heavy music, right?

Yeah. When I was a teenager I had friends in bands but they didn’t really go anywhere. It was still a beautiful thing to experience. I also sat for a couple of years on this one friend’s couch and just listened to all the stuff he had on his computer. We used to sit in this really small room listening to a lot of things like thrash and death metal. Then I discovered slower music that had the same energy and then eventually I discovered Scorn. It blew my mind completely.

That’s basically an electronic doom metal band.

Yeah, Scorn is amazing!

Is this where the heavier side of your music comes from?

Yeah, that definitely comes from there. I’m using these kinds of apocalyptic sounds, and they have this grandiosity to them that symbolize different things. I’m definitely not a minimalistic artist! (laughs)

Moving to more industry-oriented issues: ‘Weightless’ dropped more-or-less on your own terms. You’ve been critical against the “media circuses” that surround releases and also social media in general. Could you speak to that?

I participate in social media, but only a little bit. I mostly use Facebook as a tool to communicate with people. I think that it’s a very dangerous and at the same time wonderful tool. Obviously, a lot of people are using these platforms to create career opportunities—in and outside of the music business. But I’m not sure if we’re ready to use it. Social media triggers some really dark parts of the human mind.

Sometimes I see discussions in my feed, and I definitely do not participate in them. First of all, I don’t know what to say. And second of all, I don’t know if any of us is fully aware of what we’re doing when we do things. In real life, things have some consequences. On the Internet, things have almost the same consequences as in real life. But I don’t know to what extent people understand that.

Opinions change all the time. I don’t feel the need to publicly express my opinion. In a way, you could call me old school and I would rather share my opinions with my friends or the people that specifically asked me for them in a personal situation or in a worthwhile encounter where I feel like my opinion is actually relevant. And I always try to make sure that this person understands that this is just my opinion. I do have very firm stances on feminism, sexism, homophobia, racism, etc. But I don’t know if social media is the right channel for discussion.

I know what you mean. There is a huge divide in the Polish club scene because of discussions in social media about sexism. People were just going at it, relentlessly.

I’m not trying to judge people. Because I’m not better than them, either. I don’t think that a rant on social media is the correct way to perform what I truly believe in. I don’t think rants have a positive impact. They divide people, and I don’t believe in dividing people. I do not like bullying in any case.

Music can be a very ego-driven field of work. How do you temper that ego trip?

We’re all humans so we’re filled with insecurities. And there are two ways that those insecurities come out—this is coming from my own experience and also from the experience of a lot of people that I know: “I am amazing!” And: “I am nothing.” So I’m always saying to myself: “You’re just doing stuff and that’s it. You’re privileged enough to be able to do it for money. And to do it for other people. And those other people appreciate it.” That is absolutely amazing. That’s a mission accomplished already. For me, success is just to be able to dedicate yourself to what you do with all the stress that it brings.

Read more: Take a tour through noisy electro and heavy techno with this brutal mix from JASSS