New York, Berlin & the Space Between: An Interview with JETS
Longtime friends Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum talk about jet-setting and their tantric techno project JETS.
Separation anxiety is something JETS (the duo of Jimmy Edgar and Travis Stewart) experience when they come back to the United States. The two electronic dignitaries have known each other for years, their friendship has spanned over a decade and many countries as they took numerous detours and pit-stops along the path to electronic music greatness.
As Machinedrum, Travis traveled from experimental hip-hop to dancefloor electro to hardcore-inspired footwork, earning a ton praise for his seminal 2011 album, Room(s),on Planet Mu. He then began collaborating with Braille (a.k.a. NYC producer Praveen Sharma) under the name Sepalcure–their debut on Scuba's hotly-tipped Hotflush label is something discerning heads will smang for years to come, on and off the dancefloor. Travis moved to techno mekka in 2011, where Detroit-bred Jimmy Edgar had already settled after the success of his XXX album for !K7. After Jimmy finished the lusty follow-up record, May 2012's Majenta (Hotflush), the two finally cranked out a collaboration they could call their own. Like a howling wolf in the night (or on Machinedrum's shoulders), JETS came calling with their first release, a self-titled EP on the Leisure System label.
While the twosome of Edgar and Stewart have already been busy at work with their own solo careers, JETS has skyrocketed them to create a constantly-evolving live show and has brought them Stateside more than ever. Funny, considering it was only a few years ago when both producers decided to jump ship to the EU because of somewhat lackluster appeal. Now, it seems like we're hungry for them more than ever. We spoke to JETS about how they feel about that shift in popularity, their lives before and after moving to Berlin and what they miss about New York, good and bad.
THUMP: I'm sure everyone is aware of who you guys are, however they might not be aware as to why you jumped ship to Berlin. Could you both talk about why you moved to Berlin from the States?
TRAVIS STEWART: I moved here due to more bookings, more lively crowds, and the general vibe that people "got it" more. It wasn't like I was received poorly in America, it was just that at the time (around two years back) brostep was at an all-time high, so I'd be hitting extremes: either smashing up a place or clearing floors entirely. Going over to Europe gave me a nice outlook and having peeps like Jimmy, Lando Kal and Scuba already there had gave me more thought as to moving over to Berlin. It took one week of staying here between shows in 2010 to convince me to move, which I did on a whim.
JIMMY EDGAR: Similarly to Travis, I moved here because I wanted to perform more. I had more offers and opportunities in Europe and my situation just changed with me being signed to !K7.What finally convinced me to stay put was signing with Hotflush to do an album; that kept me on the ground here, along with some other stuff. I really just got sick of taking the flights over to Europe and doing much of nothing in the U.S., the move here was out of pure strategy. The good news is that it's fucking cool here. I've got my circle of friends and my base, but I'm not here often enough to enjoy it fully! Berlin's a bit saturated and in the future I'd prefer to live in a more obscure place, but it was a nice move to make.
It's intriguing that you guys hadn't worked together before JETS, even though you met over a decade ago. How did you meet exactly and what led you to start JETS?
TRAVIS STEWART: We met through our old label, Merck. I heard Jimmy's demo that he sent to Gabe, the label manager. I think we first met at this party Infiltrate in Miami, which was run by Steve Castro. The party was an opposing force to the mainstream vibe of WMC at the time. It was showing off a lot of leftfield IDM and experimental stuff and was pretty successful. We got to experience some very unique time periods during this time when IDM was rising; playing together in Japan and sold-out shows. We were still trying to figure out how to play out to people and it made me realize that what I was doing could be a career.
JIMMY EDGAR: What Travis is saying is definitely true. When I met Travis and Gabe at Merck, I was just getting out of high school and we had just gotten the internet. Detroit was late for all that shit because of the funding and the nature of the city crumbling. I was searching Merck on WebCrawler and I wanted to meet people. I was really into obscure shit and when I met Travis, it was exciting. We followed such a similar path with our careers but we never really collaborated, we just traded tracks and toured together, just doing part of the same thing. It took us both living in Berlin to make things happen and cherish this collaboration.
Since you guys have lived in Berlin, it somehow makes you a lot more in-demand in America than before. How does it feel knowing the place you used to call home misses and wants you more each time you leave?
TRAVIS STEWART: It certainly feels weird, but I don't lament or regret it. I'm just excited about what's happening in the moment. In all fairness though, not all my shows in New York were bad! There's a reason I lived there for five years and when I come back, it's fucking great. The energy's always different and unique in comparison to before.
JIMMY EDGAR: It's a microcosm of the macrochasm; it's the same shit everywhere. For example, when I first signed to Warp, people were ripping me apart in Detroit for being signed to a label of that ilk. I moved to New York and suddenly they thought kindly of me. The same thing happened in Berlin when I moved from the States. There's a respect for anyone who leaves because the hometown struggles still carry weight, but when you keep coming back to Detroit or NYC from where we are now, people still respect you. I spent so many years experimenting and getting into my sound that I'm definitely not bitter about the past. I can draw conclusions as to how things were mild then and hotter now. This is the game we're playing; figuring out where we fit in our roles, who we work with and how they mesh with you in this crazy business.
You both lived in New York for a while. What are some of the things that NYC has got over Berlin?
TRAVIS STEWART: Berlin is a very international, diverse place, but there is a lot more fringe activity when it comes to fashion and personal statements. People are more compelled to stand out in NYC all the time because getting noticed is tough as fuck.
JIMMY EDGAR: Yet you don't see very many super-exotic people in Berlin. I miss that about New York. I miss the bums, the eccentrics and the "off" types. Also in New York, there's a shitload of "privileged" people as opposed to Berlin, who move here pretty much broke.
TRAVIS STEWART: If I didn't live in New York as long as I did, then Berlin would never be the same to me as it is now. The drive that I accumulated when living in New York would never have translated as well. Another thing is that the food's way better in New York, hands down. But it's cheaper here!
JIMMY EDGAR: There's no competition in Berlin, because people here are lazy [laughs]. We're here only to rest though, not much time to hang now. I miss New York, but I wouldn't go back there soon. This is my year to try some new spots and figure out my next move.
What's next for JETS?
JIMMY EDGAR: We got some shows in Europe and are coming to the States soon. We're gonna meet in Los Angeles, get into a Guitar Center, and make tunes right there. That's the only feasible option at this point.
TRAVIS STEWART: [belches]
Any advice for New Yorkers going to Berlin?
TRAVIS STEWART: Bring condoms. If you're not going to a Leisure System party at Berghain, go on Sunday afternoon. Avoid the crazy tourist traps of Saturday night and see some real Berlin shit. Make it tantric.
JIMMY EDGAR: I don't really know shit that's going on here. I just tell people to ask Ned from Little Big; he's easy to find if you look well enough. There's a great pastime of screaming on the streets at 3AM on Saturday, that's what people do outside my window. Don't forget to have your techno orgasm go inside of you.
Photos: Chris Leung