The Teklife, Australian-born, Brooklyn-based footwork producer and painter creates a new world of psychedelic shades for the frenetic dance genre, finds Daniel Jones.
It’s not often you feel the urge to use words like ‘luscious’ when listening to the frequently skeletal genre known as footwork, but then there’s nothing typical about Alexander Shaw… or his alter-ego Lil Jabba. Though an affiliate of Chicago’s celebrated Teklife crew (representing DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn, among others), the Australia-born producer’s work more closely resembles a strange and artistic neighbor of juke—liquid and spiritual where the latter is sparse, militant. There’s an organic flavor to Shaw’s work that speaks of his love of nature as well as his passion for painting. At a time where so much music tries to be post- and future, primitive languages sometimes feel fresher than anything else.
After two years of digital releases and limited cassette singles, Shaw has finally released his first full-length Scales. Comprised of previously released and newly remastered material as well as several new tracks, it’s a trippy, frantic yet oftentimes meditative collection that, despite the stretches of time between each track’s release, feels perfectly coherent as a whole. Electronic Beats wanted to find out more about Jabba’s primal world of sound, so we got in touch with the Brooklyn-based Shaw and he shared his story—all while continuing to mix new beats.
It feels like the tracks on Scales evoke nature in a very reverent way, like a mythical soundtrack. Is there a story behind the album as a whole?
It’s the soundtrack of a myth that’s taken years to form; it’s my myth, and it’s a journey. If you listen carefully you can kind of guess the order in which the tracks were created. I’m proud of my growth over time and I was very excited for Local Action to release a sort of Jabbian epic, an album that describes me throughout the past few years .
Many of the tracks have a very organic feel, meatier compared to the skeletal structures of a lot of footwork music. What non-musical influences did you draw from?
I spend an enormous amount of time in my studio, which acts as my spiritual center, I paint in there as well as make tracks. So I’d say my paintings influence my music greatly and vice versa. I love murky sounds so the cavern and the swamp are influential for their sound quality and their semblance to my studio.
There’s a lot of musique concrète and psychedelic vibes in your work as well. Do you see more cross-genre permutations happening in the tek scene?
There are some new changes in style that I am excited to see develop. Stylistically, footwork evolves very rapidly. You see a lot of drum and bass breaks permeating into the tracks these days, and more interesting synths.
You mentioned spirituality. I know you have a lot of interest in churches because you’re always posting Facebook photos of sculptures and art from the Renaissance period. Are you spiritual/religious at all, or is that more an aesthetic influence?
I’m definitely spiritual, but it’s more about the connection humans have to each other, the synergy. I’m not really concerned about a higher power, but I am a firm believer in Nature’s power and reason. I’m a big fan of gothic architecture, though.
Have you ever painted something to go with a song, or vice-versa?
Definitely. In fact, my senior thesis show featured a 12-minute soundtrack that I composed in response to three paintings I had in the show. I do want to make an album that’s completely based around a painting or multiple paintings with a print available. My newer paintings are better for that type of multimedia. I want to do an exhibition where I break it all down and create a totally immersive world: paintings, music, sculpture, plant life, jungle mist and everything.
Like an installation/live show?
So all the art you post, is that in a similar style to your own paintings?
Right now I’ve moved away from really baroque narrative paintings to a more subdued, abstract, rich approach. Right now I’m working on a series of three 9’x6′ paintings. The one I’m most fond of depicts a kind of psychedelic jungle, a few figures (along with a million hallucinogenic faces and critters) stand amongst the brush, canopy light seeps in and lights them, a wooden fetish doll alien is the centerpiece in it. They’re all painted in a stricter color palette too, nearly pure red, pure green and pure yellow respectively. Rasta, mon!
Are you into Rastafarianism?
No, it’s just a pleasant coincidence. I’m very into Jamaican music, though. I’ve been a big rock steady head for a long time.
Is that what you listen to when you paint?
Have you done production for anyone other than yourself?
I’m hesitant to do remixes or anything but I’ve made a few rap beats for some of my friends in the neighborhood.
Are vocals something you’d want to work more with?
I want to work with vocalists, and I’ve got some new work that hopefully will have some interesting vocalists on board. I’m more of a composer myself rather than a vocalist or performer, mainly.
You definitely have a unique style among footwork composers; looser, more intricate and meditative.
I try to make a very evocative environment to surround my melodies. My work rate is different. I guess I just dwell on the little details these days, and thus everything is going a bit slower production-wise.
How many layers are in an average Jabba track?
As many bats as a cave has. This track I’m working on called “GroTTo AnTheM” has at least 45 instruments in it. Matter of fact, I’ve been sitting here working on this sucker for almost 14 hours, and I haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday.
Does this kind of restriction sharpen your work?
Practice makes perfect!
So will JabbaLand be a reality soon? Are you going on tour?
Honestly I don’t have time right now, but I really want to tour. Maybe in a few months, though. I have a few secret projects I need to finish first!~
Lil Jabba’s Scales is out now via Local Action.
Published July 23, 2013. Words by Daniel Jones.