Oh, the great south London swell of the early to mid 2010s. Setting aside the yearly influx of Goldsmiths students and slow trickle of creatives priced out of east London, the cultural relevance of that time belongs to the area’s local musicians. In coffee table books or documentaries or holograms or whatever medium the future chooses to document things in, there will be – among others – a few names: King Krule, Jerkcurb, MC Pinty, Sub Luna City. And somewhere between them all stands Jamie Isaac, one more star in the sky of south London constellations.
Though slamming the above names into a page together could be read as begging it, it’s just facts – they’re from the same area, all mates, all involved in each other’s music. Jamie Isaac and King Krule even lived together at some point. Back then, they were in youth’s golden period – the tailend of your teens, when you’re just getting into smoking weed, discovering music, film. The two musicians were young and on the same journey together, moving from hip-hop records then into the jazz songs they sampled, quickly becoming enveloped in the worlds of Chet Baker and Paul Desmond.
The south London scene, as it’s so called, has since grown. Initially however, before the new generation of guitar bands moved in, there were the originators – people like Isaac and Krule who bonded over a shared love of weed, hip-hop and jazz; teenagers who happened to be of the same age, in the same place, at the same time. But that was almost a decade ago, this is now. The foundation has long been laid, records have been released, the history written. And so to the present: the release of Isaac’s second album, (04:30) Idler, this June; and his latest single and video “Maybe” (which we’re premiering below).
For those who might not know, Isaac is a professionally trained pianist. He started playing aged seven, on a shitty piano at his nan’s house in Norwood, south London. A government grant presented him with the opportunity of formal education, which he took up – four years in classical, three in jazz. “After a while classical is so rigid and there’s no room for improvisation. You can’t test your skills or musical brain,” he says. At the time, Isaac was playing because he wanted to score films. While his friends were out playing football, he was inside, turning the sound down on the television and playing along. Then, around the age of 12, his aunt gave him a copy of Logic. “From then on I would try and recreate old R&B tracks like Bobby Valentino’s ‘Slow Down’”, he says, laughing. “I remember that so clearly because the only sound I really had on [Logic] was this harp sound.”
Following a string of EPs and mixtapes, in 2016 he released his debut album Couch Baby. At the time we described it as “the quintessential ‘sitting at home and smoking weed with your friends’ record.” It still is. But (04: 30) Idler moves on from that world, slightly out the haze of a living room and onto the pavements. “My music will never be something you’ll put on at a party. It’s music you listen to when you have your headphones in and you’re by yourself,” explains Isaac. “With this record I wanted it to be a direct carry-on [from the scenario of the last] – to get up out your seat, move and travel a bit. I wanted it to suit really well for being on the bus, or in your Uber, or walking down the street.”
Writing sessions took place in Los Angeles – “I wanted to be in the sun and it be dry as fuck and see if that made a difference, and I think it’s made the record sound a bit more summery” – and London, where the album was recorded. This time around he also brought other producers into the fold – people like Ryan Hemsworth, GRADES, Paul White and Royce Wood Junior – while retaining his original sound. Lead single “Wings” dropped in March and parlays the kicked-back and blissed out tone Isaac is known for, while also turning things up a notch, bringing the beat forward a little, getting things moving – like he said, as though the listener is on a journey somewhere.
“Maybe” comes from the same planet as “Wings” but musically, it’s a little darker. Isaac is a fan of David Lynch, and older movies by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, and that’s an aesthetic that comes across in the video. Shot in the Brasserie Zédel in London’s Soho among a couple of other locations. Isaac “wanted it to be a lonely and an almost Brewster’s Millions scenario; in a nice hotel, by yourself, walking around – just being a bit surreal.” If you haven’t already done so, watch it above. Yes, there’s a dumb adage that a writer will describe an artist as creating their own world, but some really good ones do. This one is Jamie Isaac’s.
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