Five Minutes at MUTEK with Nicolas Jaar

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As always, this year's edition of MUTEK offered a potentially overwhelming number of shows, parties, workshops, panel discussions, and more. Amidst all the activity, XLR8R also wanted to take the time to sit down with a few of our favorite artists, both to get their impressions of the festival and to check in about what's happening with their music. Fresh off his college graduation, Nicolas Jaar was one of the festival's stars in 2012, and here he talks about his history with MUTEK, a run-in with Ricardo Villalobos early in his career, the appeal of his music, his forthcoming new album, and why he loves making mixes.

XLR8R: Is this the first time that you're playing at MUTEK?
Nicolas Jaar: No. The first time, I was invited to play at MUTEK Mexico. I was, like, 18 and a freshman in college. That spring, I played [in Montreal], not at Piknic, but next to Piknic at that tiny, tiny stage. I played at the same time as Ricardo [Villalobos], and Ricardo was playing very fast, and not very good music—I was not enjoying it too much. And my music, sometimes it's atmospheric and doesn't have a beat, so whenever it was atmospheric, you would hear Ricardo blasting. For me, it was so beautiful because it was the first time that I was playing a serious festival, but every single time that I tried to do something different, Ricardo was there, [saying] "let's go back to 125 [bpm]." So that was the second time. The third time, I was supposed to play at Piknic, but it got rained out and I played at Métropolis. The fourth time, I went to Chile and headlined MUTEK Chile, and this [year] is the fifth time.

So you have a long history with MUTEK.
It's very beautiful. I like these people, and what they do here [in Montreal] is much better than what they do in Mexico and Chile, but the spirit is everywhere.

In the past year or so since your album came out, it's been embraced by lots of different kinds of music fans. The music isn't house or techno, but it's been celebrated by that world, and it's not really "indie," but it's received accolades from that crowd as well. What about your music makes it have such a broad appeal?
[Long pause]

Maybe you don't think about that.
No, I don't think about that, but I'm forced to think about it during interviews. I think the fact that it was celebrated, or even listened to, by the house and techno world is because of my EPs before, my relationship with Resident Advisor, and the fact that I played in clubs before the album came out, and did tours where I played in clubs. I played at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., and played my slow music and people would boo me. I got booed once in Italy during my song "Time for Us," which goes slower. That shit was happening to me, but I was still playing clubs and still getting booked. So I think that's where it comes from, it was a bigger context of what I was doing. [People from the house and techno world] knew about me, so they heard the album.

The indie thing, I think it's just that this type of music, in a larger scheme—like Oneohtrix Point Never, I don't understand how that's music that's so celebrated. I think it's amazing, I love him so much, I love his music. I'm just saying, that shit, 10 years ago, I don't know, it just seems strange to me, to see even [an artist like] Julia Holter be so celebrated. Because it's not easy, and it's not beat based, necessarily. So I think we're living in a wonderful time, where I think music that's trying to push some form of boundary, like the two [artists] I just mentioned, gets some form of recognition. I think it's probably the internet that did that, and other things. So I don't think [my music has] broad appeal, necessarily. It's more that the music world has grown a consciousness, to a certain extent, of all the things happening at the same time.

Are you working on a new album?
Yeah, of course. I have a third of it. Also, about the second album, I'm doing Darkside at the same time, with Dave [Harrington]. I really like Darkside, it's fun, and that [album] is coming out, probably in November. I'm going to let that come out, and keep on working, because I want the second album to be special, like 10 times more special—and better—than the first one. So, I want to give it time. I don't care if it's two years [between albums].

Where do you see it going musically?
What it's been, the third that I have, is strange. It's very baroque, and kind of church-y. But not in an R&B way, like a choir way. It's like a really weird Grizzly Bear, but not. Right now, I'm very much in a [mode of] taking that church, and filling it with a jungle. And you take that church, and put it in [the year] 2300. It's kind of future-jungle-church, it's strange.

Jungle like the jungle in Africa, right?
Jungle like the Amazon, not jungle like drum & bass.

Are you still in school?
I graduated a week ago.

How did you manage to finish your degree while doing all of your music?
It was hard. It was hard at the end. I used to say, "Oh no, it goes together." It did, until I had to finish my thesis. I did, and it had to be good, because I wanted to get honors. I wanted my parents to feel like they fucking paid for something. I'd feel like shit if it was like, "Hey I just did this music thing on the side." At the very end, it was hard. But it's done, and it's all good.

So now that you're done with school, are you going to be living in New York again?
Yes. Living in New York and trying to work on... I think the live thing is really important for me. I really love it. I think the improvisation thing is something I want really to work on. I did this thing at PS1 where I played for five hours straight. I want to do that more. I want to do it alone, and with people, and I want to find ways to make people understand that I'm making everything on the spot, that there's nothing on the computer. I want to make it as crazy as possible, in terms of you're seeing something be born. I'm really interested in that inception idea.

Are you aware how popular your XLR8R podcast is?

It was the most popular thing on our website last year, and continues to get a lot of traffic.
All my podcast mixes, usually, it's just like "let's make an album now." They are albums in a way. The XLR8R one, since I know you guys are a little more... I wasn't going to do the same thing I did for the Essential Mix, I'll put it like that. For the XLR8R thing, I wanted to do something that was more beat based. But that's great, that's great to hear. I love doing mixes, and I would do so many more, but I like also [releasing one] every year, one at a time. So last year was the XLR8R mix, this year, around the same time I think, the Essential Mix came out. I like that. It's kind of like making an album every year.