FEATURE: The Tangled Imagination of Nicolas Jaar

Those into Aphex Twin‘s Drukqs or the music of minimalist classical composers Eric Satie might immediately feel at home with the music of Nicolas Jaar. But for those whose listening habits may not fall so far afield, there’s little to fear. As much the New York producer might deride popular music, there’s something undeniably accessible to the producer’s work. Last week, news surfaced that Jaar might be releasing new music soon, so we’ve taken the opportunity to reflect on his music thus far.

At only 26 and already eight years into his career, Jaar has turned out an impressive, albeit convoluted body of material. His tapering experimental music often sets itself above a more familiar undercarriage of deep house or hip-hop rhythms, occasionally peppered by his own rich vocal tones. Elastic timekeeping and evasive drum kicks signify the producers more conventional tracks. But other times tracks drift beatlessly, existing within alien sound worlds of ambient and neo-classical spontaneity.

The son of Alfredo Jaar, a Chilean-American multimedia artist and architect, it’s perhaps from his father that Jaar inherits an artistic temperament and his project hopping proclivities. Jaar may not be intentionally mysterious, but will often abandon projects and sounds shortly after adopting them, leaving fans endlessly guessing where and when he’ll traipse to next. These shifting trajectories might reflect a desire to subvert or reinterpret norms, but are also rooted in a deeply creative sense of self-exploration. Concurrently cerebral and intuitive, Jaar’s music, both solo and collaborative, often courses high-minded inspirations into a physical and intimate world of dance music.

Providing a steady musical output, Jaar has skirted away from a steady stream of albums. Instead he embraces the fluidity of electronic music. Mixes, weighty singles, remixes and collaborations form constituents parts of a labyrinthine output. Like his music itself his discography is organic. Rather than attempting to top or recreate safe-bet success, it fumbles, sidesteps and hesitates. It constantly shifts, enmeshed a constant state of renegotiation. It tells its own story.

Wolf + Lamb

Upon hearing Tiga‘s DJ Kicks mix in 2004, Jaar uncovered his curiosity for electronic music. After seeking out a local  record store a knowing clerk forwarded the would-be artist a copy of Chilean producer Ricardo Villalobos‘ Thé Au Harem D’Archimède. Jaar begun cutting his own tracks shortly after. It wasn’t long before the 17 year-old producer’s The Student caught the ear of NYC post-minimal house and techno label Wolf + Lamb; the track’s scraping beats and mutating piano fills exemplifies the experimentation and self-exploration which has since characterised Jaar’s career.

Jaar’s unconventional production perhaps nudged the label even more so than they influenced him. While Jaar has derided his work with Wolf + Lamb, these formative tracks are a perfect introduction to the producer’s sparing minimalism and subtle experimentation. Jaar may not hold single Significant Others, compilation El Bandido and 2010 single A Time For Us in very high regard, yet in hindsight, it was these are the works which cemented the fledgling producer’s reputation.

Clown & Sunset

Years after striking up an unlikely collaborative relationship with schoolmates Soul Keita and Nikita Quasim on an excursion to Mexico in 2004, Jaar co-founded the Clown and Sunset label with the pair in 2009. Working with his newly minted label, Jaar made contributions to a collaborative EP Democracy alongside Keita in 2009, and dropped single Russian Dolls in March 2010. Morphing between house and a kind of ethnic folk dance, the track marked an explorative precursor to his feted debut. He followed up with dubstep leaning Don’t Break My Love paired with the more beat driven Why Don’t You Save Me in 2011.

Jaar would also contribute John the Revelator and the theatrical Marquises to EPs Sunset of a Clown, Vol 1 and Sunset of a Clown, Vol 2 respectively. But the tripartite efforts of the label were not to last; the project was discontinued in August 2013 preceding the launch of Jaar’s new label Other People.

Love You Gotta Lose Again

Ever productive Jaar dropped EP, Love You Gotta Lose Again via Double Standard Records in 2010. Comprised of three tracks, WOUH, Love You Gotta Lose Again and Don’t Believe the Hype each cut incorporates infectiously chugging slow grooves. This heavier beat centric minimal house played a more conservative counterpoint to Jaar’s previous output on Clown and Sunset or Wolf + Lamb.

Marks & Angles 

Released by Circus Company, a Parisian label curating unconventional material falling within the dance-music spectrum, Jaar’s Marks and Angles EP comprises of tracks Marks & Angles. The former returns to John the Revelator’s gospel-tinged slant. In contrast, the melancholy of Angles downtempo funk proves even more infectious. Like his earliest works, Jaar tackles a more conventional sound, but like never before he excels. There’s a balance of oddness and infectious rhythm that testifies to the producer’s ability to contextualise a sense of otherness within a more conventional sound.

Don’t Break My Love 

Jaar has cropped up in more than few compilations, but for the first time he curated his own via Clowns and Sunset. Released as both a cube-like musical device and more conventionally, the LP places Jaar in completed creative control. With contributions form the label’s stable of artists, it also featured two original cuts from Jaar himself. This said the standout is Nicolas Jaar, Will Epstein, Dave Harrington, and Ian Sims‘ collaboration Ishmael. Seductive Stygian brass evocative of John Zorn slides across a seductive rhythmic pulses.


Perhaps the most highly regarded release from Clown and Sunset was 2011’s Darkside EP. The collaboration came about after Jaar connected with his touring guitarist Dave Harrington through their shared improvisations. With Jaar working with as one-half of Darkside, the duo went on to release Psychic in 2013. The fan response to the hypnotic electronic psychedelia of the debut LP hinted that the success of the duo might quickly eclipsed Jaar’s solo work, and is today regarded as one of the most triumphant releases in his career and in the genre as a whole. Despite touring extensively following the success of the album, the group folded in 2014, breaking hearts of thousands. Given that the conclusion of the project was cryptically stated in the duo’s own words as “coming to an end, for now,” it seems very likely that future collaborations could be on the cards.

Nico’s Bluewave Edits

Released July 2011, a number of unreleased remixes emerged as Nico’s Bluewave Edits via Wolf + Lamb’s offshoot, W+L Black. A somewhat tired revision of Missy Elliot’s Work It, is a reminder that these tracks throwback to the earlier era. Likely a quick cash in on Jaar’s success, the track is something which could have remained buried. The reworking of The Blow‘s Hey Boy shines brighter, but only the more radical reinterpretation of  Mike And The Censations’ soulful There’s Nothing I Can Do About It as What My Last Girl Put Me Through shows Jaar hit anything close to his usual stride.

Space is Only Noise 2011 LP

Cut at age 21 while attending Brown University, Jaar’s debut LP is a celebration of the improvisational and spontaneous, something which can resonate just as deeply as anything within the tighter strictures of more rigid genre formats. It was with this album that Jaar came into his own. The gradually growing buzz surrounding his work reached fever pitch following the album’s release, shrouding debut LP Space Is Only Noise. To this day the album still does the best job of showcasing the immensity of Jaar’s formidable talents. At the time it’s low-speed BPM and experimental piano fills went against the grain New York and Brooklyn scenes. Rhythmic and melodic lures are used sparingly.  As IDM existed as a response to hardcore techno, Jaar’s music sits against the 128 BPM fuelled techno popular at the time of his debut.

Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust channels the unlikely influence of Nick Cave, while Balance Her Within Your Eyes casts a serene soundscape. Spectres of the Future invokes the skipping beats, vinyl crackle of trip hop. the album easily remains the most accessible of Jaar’s works. The shear breadth of genres hopped, shows how formidable the full brunt of the producer’s creative focus can be. Touching on brilliance it’s remained his only album to date, leaving no shortage of demand for more. Following the release Jaar would later part ways with Circus Company. Shifting away from an album based approach, Jaar instead pursued a less conventional trajectory.

The Nymphs Series

Considering the erroneously numbered string of EPs known as Nymphs, argument can be made that the series can be considered to comprise an album of their very own. If not, at the very least a chapter in Jaar’s musical history. Separated over a course of a year, the releases proceed under a unifying philosophy of experimentation.

Nymphs III premiered the idea with the lengthy house experimentation of Swim and the piano led Mistress. Nymphs II followed on with the brilliant The Three Sides of Audrey and Why She’s All Alone Now and No One is Looking At U. Fight (Nymphs IV) melded glitch and levitational breakbeats into a single track of the same name. Nymphs I follows suite, with Why You Have to Save Me crescendoing into something which might resemble the artist’s most infectious dance track. There’s a distinctive sonic identity to the series. Whether Nymphs has concluded or will be contemporaneously ongoing alongside future albums remains unknown.


Pomegranates served as an alternate soundtrack to 1969 The Colour of Pomegranates, by avant-garde Russian director Sergei Parajanov. Upon viewing the film, Jaar became so fixated that he composed and synced his own soundtrack. Here the producer continues to play with the convention of the album format; Pomegranates deftly sidesteps the demand for a follow-up to Jaar’s debut EP yet Pomegranates might sit closer to a full-fledged album.

This said the conceptual slant and noise leanings distance the work from the broader appeal of Space is Only Noise. Yet for those with more experimental leanings this may represent be Jaar’s greatest work. The strictures of film scoring push the producer’s minimalism to the extreme, providing a creative impetus that establishes the LP as one of Jaar’s most compelling outings.

Garden of Eden weaves dense, ambient and experimental noise. Shimmering textures and pain fills permeate the mix and the better part of the album. Churning and roiling with sound, the album melds into a self-contained soundworld. Muse touches on his recurrent and self-professed affinity for Erik Satie. Barring Club Capital, there’s a rhythmic scarcity to the LP.


A host of remixes complement Jaar’s original works. With nearly two dozen ‘official’ remixes to his name, these reworkings are another wellspring of Jaar’s creativity. Tracks like Shlohmo’s Rained The Whole Time and Maceo Plex’s Gravy Train representing the apex of production nuance. There are also more straight ahead reworkings of bigger names like Architecture and Helsinki and Florence + The Machine. Jaar also worked with Grizzly Bear and Brian Eno, remixing works from their most recent albums for 2013’s record store day. For savvy fans there are a host of unofficial mixes floating around the ether of the web such as an uncredited remix of Kanye West’s Blood on the Leaves. Jaar is in turn, has included remixes of his own work on a number of his own releases and on compilation Nicolas Jaar – Remixes Vol. 1. 


While rock fans in the heyday of vinyl might have complained about the woes of tracking down obscure bootlegs, the confluence of cyberspace and electronic producers is infinitely more complex. The artefacts of Jaar’s music spreads ever outward. Best left to the die-hard fans, a little digging can reveal some compelling tracks. Jaar has continued on his obsession for film scores, producing the official soundtrack to 2015 French crime drama Dheepan. Jaar has also lent his production talents to tracks like DJ Sluggo‘s GHETTO and Dave Harrington‘s This There Was One Heart But a Thousand Thoughts.

Likening some of his efforts to feeling close to making an album itself, Jaar has also released a slew of mixes. These in themselves constitute densely entropic and experimental bodies of work, equally on par with Nicolas Jaar’s other works. His BBC mix bears all the artifice of an album; ambient background drones string together a fragmented soundscape calling on everything from Leonard Cohen to Twin Peaks, and ambient sounds lure the listener into a state of sublimation.

Conclusion + Future Works

Nicolas Jaar is in some ways a conduit, someone who sees a long traditional of unconventional music and rather than lodge it in stodgy academic context or leave it languishing in obscurity laces it into his own production. Seen things with new eyes, he takes the role of a rebellious equaliser, spurred by creativity and indifference to popular concerns. His music snakes through to the true ambits of the artist; reinterpreting reality in different ways and finding the beauty in small detail.

Showing no signs of approaching critical mass, what is striking about Jaar’s work is simply the quality. With moments touching on pure brilliance, Jaar continues to excel as he expands his purview and absorbs new musical ideas. Jaar puts a youthful face and maverick enthusiasm to the sounds of cult composers. Discarding stodgier elements with something contemporary, Jarr may reject pop, but only insofar the notion delimits a bigger picture of music. His music is accidental, off-kilter and mesmerically dark as often as it’s joyous, inviting and slickly constructed. Often it rejects limitation, but it can equally work within conventional taste. Jaar’s music is constantly challenging, changing and renegotiation of self.

Announcing the conclusion of the Other People subscriptions service, earlier this month Jaar debuted a mysterious internet radio, the Other People Network. While official channels have remained ambiguous to what the project will entail, what is known is that it contains 333 channels of continuous sound. This news is accompanied by hints at a new project dubbed Sirens. Whether this will again see the producer flirting with the more conventional album format and focused effort, sit closer to the Nymphs series or take off in an unforeseen direction music remains to bee seen. Whatever is in store it’s likely to be worth the wait.

Image: Hypetrack