Introducing: The Nu Jazz Lad
Illustration by Esme Blegvad
Your Boyfriend. He's started wearing that weird small beanie that sits at the top of his head, leaving his ears exposed and thus performing no real function (although now you think about it, he’s probably using it to hide his fast-expanding bald spot). There is a 68 percent statistical chance that his name is either Alex or Jake, and a 43 percent chance that he used to skate, or at least pretend to in an effort to attract girls. After achieving moderate success with this tactic, he has ditched the skateboard but kept the tiny hat and tan Dickies.
I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re nodding in recognition with the above, there’s a strong possibility that Your Boyfriend is into jazz now.
This isn't the jazz your parents put on when they’re trying to reignite their waning sex lives. In case you've been checked out of popular culture for the last year, or been living in north London, some news: there is a youthful jazz resurgence happening in south-east London. Instead of anxiety-inducing bee sting noises, this is jazz rooted in the sounds that makes London the greatest musical city in the world. There are the saxophones and trumpets traditionally associated with the art form, but they are woven in with elements of funk, soul, grime, hip-hop and even drum'n'bass.
The new jazz has its grounding in classical jazz, but it breaks out of rigid frameworks to create a new, exciting sound liberated from the strict musical orthodoxy of its forebears; what's important here is freedom of expression and musical collaboration.
New jazz musicians include artists like Theon Cross, a composer who plays tuba in the award-winning Sons of Kemet, but who can also be found playing the instrument at Kano shows. And new jazz fans are a very specific type. The Nu Jazz Lad, like, say, Your Boyfriend, is the guy down the pub using Cross as proof of how "jazz is becoming the alternative music of the 21st century" – a take he's stolen from a Guardian article (his mates have all also read the article, but are nice enough not to call him out on his shit).
If he's a younger iteration of this type, he’s studying graphic design at Camberwell. If he’s an older version, he studied graphic design at Camberwell, but still hangs out at the same pubs because they remind him of when he was a student and he had all his hair. There he is now, not a care in the world: sipping on a £6.80 IPA, making appreciative head movements to the new Oscar Jerome tune, texting his mates to see if they’re up for going to The Stormbird later. You know this guy. You’re dating him.
It's important to note that the Nu Jazz Lad is distinct from those weird young people who are into Actual Jazz – the ones who wear porkpie hats and a general air of condescension and involuntary celibacy. Where the Actual Jazz boy goes to Ronnie Scott’s in a waistcoat and laments that he wasn’t around during the Prohibition era, the Nu Jazz Lad can be found at Ghost Notes in Peckham, tapping his foot to Ezra Collective.
He does not have a problem getting laid; his shoe-string-belt-tied Dickies and cross-body bag are magnets for female attention at Monday night karaoke at Canavan's. He went to Steamdown at Buster Mantis once, but there was too much actual dancing happening and he felt unwelcome. Mind you, he might give it another go now that Ghost Notes has closed – something he decried in a 12-part Twitter thread about the venue’s significance in the Peckham scene during the whole year that it was around.
At this point you might be wondering where the Nu Jazz Lad came from. The scene has only really existed for a couple of years – what was he listening to before? We’ve already established that it wasn’t Actual Jazz. He doesn’t even know who John Coltrane is. The Nu Jazz Lad was likely radicalised by one of London’s leaders of ~world music~: Floating Points, Gilles Peterson or Four Tet. He’s been to the latter’s Brixton Academy show at least four times, and tells people he was at XOYO when the master crate-digger dropped Moses Boyd’s previously almost unheard "Rye Lane Shuffle" and everyone lost their shit. He wasn’t, but he saw it on Four Tet’s Instagram story and spent the next ten days in the DJ's DMs asking for it, before going into record shops to ask the dude behind the counter if they have any Moses Boyd in yet, despite knowing full well there wouldn’t be a release for another few months. He thinks this makes the record shop staff respect him – especially that cute girl who works there. Unfortunately, they all think he’s a dickhead – especially that cute girl who works there.
Much like his heroes, Gilles Peterson and Bradley Zero, the Nu Jazz Lad loves vinyl. He dreams of one day having his own show on Balamii or Worldwide FM, but for now you can find him at Peckham Springs playing obscure Gambian records to six people who are mostly ignoring him. He thinks about how Rhythm Section had humble roots at Canavan's; his NTS breakfast show will surely come. He used to live in Camberwell, then Peckham, but now he’s been priced out of SE15 like the rest of us and lives up the road in Forest Hill. If he ever leaves the grassy slopes of south-east London, it is to go to east London either to catch a show at Café Oto or Total Refreshment Rooms.
He’s also partial to a chilled Sunday evening spent eating sushi and listening to some "outernational sounds" at Brilliant Corners. You might have seen him in the smoking area for the sold-out Puma Blue show at Scala last year: rollie in one hand, £5.50 can of Red Stripe in the other, exposed ears red from the cold, and telling the girl he came with about how he ended things with his last girlfriend because of "artistic differences" (they were both high on pingers at Dimensions watching Sadar Bahar, when she told him she was sick of listening to Sunday morning breakfast music and went to find the tent where Nina Kraviz was playing. He broke up with her as soon as they landed at Stansted).
Other mainstays of his chat include long, coked-up conversations about how jazz is the new punk, based mostly on the fact that Sons of Kemet named their new album Your Queen Is a Reptile – "Bruv, they’re like our generation’s Sex Pistols." He largely ignores the women in the scene, because duh, but he thinks "Poppy Ajudha is bae". He is impressed by Crack magazine's decision to put Shabaka Hutchings on the cover for their January edition, and let them know by quote-tweeting the image with the caption "long-overdue" and a clap emoji at least eight shades darker than his own hands.
Much has been made of subcultures being dead in our post-everything age of nothingness, but if you dig deep enough you will find that they are still among us. The rich white boys playing "ethnicky jazz to parade [their] snazz" The Dead Kennedys warned us about just live in Peckham now.