"If history's taught us anything, it's that there are periods of boom and there are periods of bust. We're living through a very nasty bout of the latter, pushed on us by the most evil people out there. I think it's more important than ever to hold on to the idea that things could erupt any minute."
Jack Latham, known to the world as Jam City, is talking down the phone to me from his new home, just outside of East Croydon. That geographical position seems apt, almost. From his early explorations of the notional limits of club music and club constructions to last year's woozily psychedelic, psychically bruised LP Dream a Garden, the Night Slugs man has always seemed like an artist with an acute awareness of the ramifications that the idea — and the reality — of places and spaces have on artistic output. This move to the dismal hinterlands of an increasingly dismal city makes a strange kind of sense. His upcoming remix EP Earthly Versions, which we'll get to properly later, is a kind of haunted, spectral take on the liminal spaces of both music and the city.
Since 2010, Latham's been one of the most intriguing producers in the UK and beyond. His 2012 debut album Classical Curves has since become, well, classic. It's singular blend of avant garde angularity and shimmering, effervescent, melody soaked, club music innovation became the benchmark for the post-Night Slugs generation.
That generation, broadly speaking, is one that's lost, one that's been abandoned, neglected, forgotten by the powers that be. We're the generation who were told to believe that opportunities were endless before the crushing weight of fiscal reality hit them square in the face and left them scrambling for service jobs and box rooms in shitty parts of shitty cities. Latham's music seems, to me at least, to arise as a direct response to a social climate many of us have been thrust into without our consent. As now happens with any conversation between two people who live in London, our talk turned to London's death. I wondered if the death we speak of — a murder we blame readily and easily on the fuckfaced phantom that is gentrification — is an actuality rather than an easily swallowable narrative cooked up by writers like myself.
His response took us back to the summer of 2011 and the riots that looked set, for a night or so, to rip the city apart. Riots, we can never forget, sparked by the "lawful killing" of Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan police. "Things erupted then. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to sustain the demands and changes we want for the city. The thing is, though, we can never give up. We can never truly say London is dead. Of course right now it feels strangulated and it's difficult to make a living if you're creative or don't have money behind you," he begins. "Estate agents should be sleeping with one eye open. I'm serious. People can only be pushed so far. I'm not saying that I can predict the future but I try and believe in a kind of cyclical nature in things to give myself a sense of optimism."
If we think of Latham's music as Jam City as music that's born of time and place and people and space, Earthly Versions — with its dubbed out textures, its "Moments in Love" meets metropolitan malaise atmospherics, its cracked veneers and its wanders through the banal playgrounds built by the rich on the remains and ruins of estates and social housing projects — is an EP fuelled by psychogeographical energies and innate sensations that come from residing in and reflecting on the state of play in the nation's capital in 2015. It's music for those of us who reject the narrative pushed by Time Out or The Evening Standard, for those of us who would happily consign the Boris Bike and every twee fucking thing it stands for to the dustbin of history in a heartbeat. That vision, that version of London isn't, Latham says, "impervious to the rage of all the people they've displaced. You can't extinguish those flames flames forever. London, and any other city in the west, is unstable. We're in a bubble. All bubbles burst."
It's all too easy to take a London-centric view of the world and believe that a few more Primarks and a few less clubs is the harbinger of cultural annihilation. There is, believe it or not, a world north of Watford and south of Croydon. Next week sees Latham host another of his Earthly parties at Basing House. This time around, 75% of the profit on ticket sales is going directly to Medecins Sans Frontiere's migrant displacement crisis work. Latham shrugs off the idea that there's something "special" about artists engaging directly with schemes that aid the world around them. "It's not necessarily the responsibility of artists to help; it's a responsibility for people in general. We happen to be in the business of putting on parties so that's the perfect time to engage people. You sit and think, what can I do? What can I actually do? I can't donate much of my own money because I don't have a lot of it. But I can do this."
The 'this' that he's done is putting together a night of top talent that shies away from the hegemonic pressures of clubland's addiction to house and techno, in favour of showcasing DJs who dare to do different. Alongside fellow Night Slugs cohort Girl Unit, and Brixton based club producer Kamixlo, is the BBC AZN Network — a trio of DJs who've been smashing the airwaves and dancefloors of London this year. Comprised of Manara, "Papaya Lipgloss" man Sweyn J, and Radar's very own shock-jock Tuvshin Bolor (aka 2SHIN), the trio are as likely to run through Bhangra tunes as they are bashment. Latham's known them for a decent amount of time, and their booking exemplifies the familial approach that the Earthly parties — known for their commitment to exploring the unearthly powers that slow music has over dancers in club spaces — have taken since their inception a few years back.
"I've known Manara since I was a teenager and I'm always happy that I can put on a party and book friends of mine. I've actually had to cut down the amount of people I want to book because I'm in a position where I'm lucky enough to know lots of people whose work inspires me. With the BBC AZN Network guys I think there's a common thread between the Earthly "sound", as it were, and what they do."
As well as a sonic link between them, there's a conceptual one at play also. The BBC AZN Network crew are formerly residents at Body Party, a club night held in the Miranda Bar at London's Ace Hotel, that aims to promote a safe clubbing space. The upcoming Earthly night is attempting the same thing, with its list of what it does and doesn't tolerate:
EARTHLY DOES NOT TOLERATE:
AGGRESSIVE LEERY BOYS
THE ALIENATED AND SLEEPLESS
DREAMING ON THE FLOOR
THOSE THAT DON'T FEEL NORMAL
"The idea that a club could ever truly be a safe space is, sadly, a utopian one," Latham says. "I don't know how you do that because the politics of policing a dancefloor are really, really complicated. You can put warnings on a flyer but things might still happen in the club," he says sadly. "I think, though, that it's worthwhile being explicit and letting people know what you stand for. I've had to deal with female friends of mine being harassed in clubs and, sadly, we're all familiar with the situation."
Latham, then, acknowledges the difficulty of maintaining a safe space but acknowledges the importance of the idea as pivotal to discourse around the future of clubbing. Clubbing will die the death the naysayers already say it has if clubs don't become as inclusive as they should be. Clubbing is communality. Clubbing is a place of acceptance. Well, nearly. "If you went to Eton," Latham tells me, "you can't go to Earthly." And that's that.
Jam City's Earthly Versions EP is out on the 2nd of October via Night Slugs
The Oscillate Wildly & Jam City Present: Earthly V1 party takes place on the 8th of October. Head here for more information.