- Giovanna Maselli talks to Nicolas Jaar about labels, literary roots and why he’d take a record over a cd any day
in this Port exclusive, shot by Samantha Casolari
Labeling Nicolas Jaar is near impossible. Raised between New York and Santiago, Chile, and living in hotel rooms since his recent graduation from Brown University this spring, just like his home, his music doesn’t like to settle in one place for long. The 22 year old makes his own genre, expanding his electronic beats with experimental sounds that one moment seem influenced by Ethiopian jazz, the next, hip hop and reggae. With two records set for release next year through his own music label Clown & Sunset, Nicolas sat down with Port in the West Village to talk about why he dislikes being categorized and how literature and music have more than one thing in common.Although you’re still a young artist, you have been making music for over 8 years. How do you think it has developed over time?
I think my music has changed a lot, but I think it has also changed nothing. I can show you the first track I made and you’d say yes, that’s Nico’s track and it totally makes sense, and you wouldn’t necessarily say oh, he made it when he was 14 years old.
I think everything gets more complex; your feelings get more complex, that’s the only thing I can see that happened [to my music]. When you are a baby, things are as simple as they can be and as complex as they can be.And then slowly, the more you grow, things get less simple and a little less complex — but then your state of being is really in the middle of everything being a little complex and grey. I think that now there are more veils in my music, because they probably say more about me, or maybe not… who knows.
The sounds you make are hard to categorize, but you also voluntarily avoid classifying your music. Why?
I see that all labels and genres make everything flat; I don’t want to help something that is making everything be flat. I want to not be part of this.
- The unusual way you present your work is quite in line with your music. How did you come up with the idea of making a prism instead of a CD? Were you deliberately trying to make something different?
It just literally started with: I have these 12 songs that I really like. What would be the best shape and look for these songs? Oh. This cube with two headphones jacks so two people can listen to it at the same time. Ok, let’s try and make it happen.
It’s not a big gesture…I just realized that I don’t really like cds and I don’t think that people really want to buy cds . People are more excited about records. Who do you know that still buys cds and has a cd collection? It seems archaic to me.I just wanted to create something that could have the music stand on its own like a cd, but that would also comment on the music. The shape of the prism and the texture of the prism comment on the music itself — cds don’t do that. Cds are all the same; you just change the sleeves and the covers.
.Previous: Nicolas wears sweatshirt RAF SIMONS
Trousers HIGHLANDRight: Nicolas wears cotton shirt PIERRE CARDIN
Trousers ALEXANDER WANG
- Can’t the same reasoning also be applied to records?
Yes, but a record sounds amazing and there is a physicality to it because the grooves are literally inside. You see the music and then you put it on. You take the needle and you press play and you see the song moving around. And if you have a record player, you need an amp, and you need the speakers, and you probably have a record collection.Records are also big; they are works of art. It’s not a tiny CD with a sleeve with a book — they’re heavy. I don’t see the point of cds really…
You studied Comparative Literature at Brown. How do you feel it has influenced your work?
At first I got to Brown and I wanted to be a writer of short stories, but studying writing meant reading all these stories that I found really boring. I didn’t want to do that at my time at Brown. So I to Comparative Literature where I realized I would be reading philosophy and cultural theory, and literary theory… things that blew my mind, and were so wonderful to read.
I realized even though I don’t want to teach Comparative Literature necessarily, this is what I want to inspire me. Literary theory for me is not just literary theory: it’s philosophy, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of thinking. That’s very exciting for me — it’s powerful to read people’s thoughts.
“I see that all labels and genres make everything flat… I want to not be part of this”
.Styling Kathryn Typaldos
Nicolas wears sweatshirt
and Cotton shirt
PIERRE CARDIN Trousers ALEXANDER WANG
Your father is a filmmaker and your music is very cinematic. Are you interested in exploring this field more in the future?
I’m really interested in culture as a whole and in creating culture. Music is one of the things I really love, the thing that I do professionally, but I’ve always done graphic design, I’ve always done film. I’ve almost done as much film as I’ve done music, you know? I’ve just not showed it to anyone. When I make music it has such imagery for me, color, that it wants me to create film for it. It’s just stuff that I do on the side, it will see the light of the day someday and that will happen. My parents are in the world of culture, my mother makes mirrors, my father is an artist. What I do is where I grew up. I have been lucky to have that.
Subscribe to Port Magazine annually and receive each issue to your door.Get PORT in print