If you haven’t yet heard Jimi Jules’ irreverent dance music, his latest album should serve as a fitting introduction to his extraordinary sound. Packed with personality, + is an eclectic collection that brings to mind the synth-laced extroversion of artists like DJ Koze and Modeselektor, who serve their productions with a wink, a nudge and a wry smile.
Released through the house music institution that is Innervisions, + forgoes the crisp and minimal stylings that typify the music of label heads Âme and Dixon, exploring instead a varied palette that stretches from exultant electro to moody deep house, with unexpected detours into dub techno and experimental hip-hop making for some of the album’s most arresting moments. We caught up with Jimi following the record’s release to hear more about his studio set-up, favourite plugins and how he keeps his electronic music feeling human.
Tell us about how you first got into music-making.
“I started playing the trumpet after my grandfather gave me one for my second or third birthday. I played in a lot of bands and orchestras, and had multiple different teachers weekly to improve my skills as a musician. When I was around 20, I did my BA and MA at the University of Art and Science in Zurich.
“Around the same time I realised I was more interested in experimenting with new sounds, producing and writing music than playing in a classical orchestra, a jazz combo or a random pop band. So luckily it was the inner punk that showed me the way to Rome.”
When and how would you say you became successful, or at least able to make a living from music?
“I’ve never had a normal day job, and I earned money through music from a very early age. I played in bands, arranged tunes for other bands and wrote music for different people, just to survive. Later on my best buddy, Prince Boogie, taught me how to DJ. So what is ‘successful'?! From my perspective, making a living from music doesn’t necessarily make you successful.
“It’s more about being happy with what you are doing and how you treat others on this journey called life. The feeling of success became more intense when I realised I was living the life I always dreamed of as a kid. Of course I’m happy to earn money as a musician, but working with people I always wanted to work with, whilst feeding my family and paying the bills makes me feel even better. What a life.”
What is your overall philosophy or approach when it comes to music (playing, recording, production)?
“Just do it. Be honest and respectful with your music, whilst having fun at all times. That is what’s most important for me.”
Talk to us about your most recent project - what makes this one special?
“My most recent project is my new album, +, out Innervisions. Working with Dixon, Trevor Jackson and the whole Innervisions team was definitely a dream for me. Besides having the most fun, I also learned so much.
“The whole project was very inspiring and special to me. Navigating everything during a pandemic, the whole team used all their strength and resources to help the project succeed.”
Tell us a little about your studio set-up and your most essential studio equipment.
“Besides my computer, the heart of my studio is a Universal Audio interface with many channels. A friend recently helped me move my studio around, setting up everything properly for the first time.
“However, sooner or later I jumped back to the chaotic way I was working before. For me, making music is more about having fun and letting accidents happen than being set up in a nice professional way. In my studio, everything is possible!”
What are your most used plugins?
“BazzISM: This is a kick synth plugin that’s really easy to use, from a German company called ISM. You can tweak every parameter to make sure that your kick is sounding the way you want.”
“UAD Space Echo RE-201: In my perspective It’s the best sounding Space Echo emulation, and I use it in every production for dubby delays or strange sounding rooms, etc. But honestly, since I bought a real 501 two years ago, I don’t use it that much.”
“UAD Lexicon 224: This is a wonderful sounding reverb, in my DAW It’s always set up on send 4, for long reverbs. Sometimes I also use it on vocals, but most of the time I like it in the background to give the tunes a bit more of an atmospheric feel.”
“UAD EMT 250: Most of the time I use this plugin on chords and pads to give them a bit more depth, with short delays or chorus. But I also like to play around with it while recording.”
“Sugar Bytes WOW: It’s a cheap, not so good-sounding filter plugin, but I like to work with it. The LFO and distortion works really well to muddy your sounds or to let certain frequencies shine in the mix.”
How do you usually start a track?
“It’s always different. Sometimes I start whistling a melody, sometimes I just tap on the microphone. Sometimes I jam on my horns and guitars and sometimes I stumble upon a funny voice-note of my kids. Sometimes I start with cutting some noise and sometimes - albeit rarely - I start with a gabba kick. There is more ‘sometimes' in my music than ‘usually'! [laughs]”
How do you know when a track is finished?
“A track is never finished, in my opinion. Like a drawing, a book or… life. It’s never perfect, there are just different days, moments and perspectives. At the end it’s just a decision to release or deliver, but you are always free to start working on a track again, even if it’s already released. In life we are always working on ourselves.”
Talk us through a production trick or process that defines your sound.
“I try not to use MIDI. I record most things with my two hands, even arpeggios. This method gives me a human feeling in our computer-music scene, which I like. Of course it can be a big struggle sometimes, because you need to decide if you are tweaking the cutoff, the ADSR or the FX pedals. In the end I always come up with some strange but simple ideas a lot faster than just programming things to perfection with the mouse.”
Have you been involved with any collaborations for this project?
“”Shakin” was actually made a few years ago with my dear friend Nathan Daisy, but unfortunately we never finished it. Fast forward a few years and Nathan called me to tell me that Dave Aju did a rap for it. I only knew Dave as an amazing producer, I didn’t know he was a vocalist too.
“Nathan then asked Aquarius Heaven to give the whole piece a raw second verse. In my opinion, this song was the missing piece in making the album more diverse. Some time later I was on my way to Hannes Biegers studio in Berlin, to mix my EP Ham The Monkey.
“While I was swiping Instagram in the cab I came across the account of Tugg the Drummer. His outstanding drumming skills and uniquely grainy drum sound impressed me so much I had to contact him about collaborating on a demo I did with talented singer Joy Tyson. Luckily he got back to me right away, and sent me the drum parts two days later. What a guy!”
What would you like to see developed in terms of studio technology and why?
“I would be super happy to finally have a proper working DAW and interface for phones and tablets. That would make things much easier. Imagine if you could change things without a computer. It’s 2022 and we've shot cars into space, so I feel like it's long overdue!”
What advice can you give to newcomers to music-making?
“Just go for it, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Have fun. Work hard and let the good things find you.”
What track by any other artist do you wish you had produced?
“Oh, there are too many. If I have to choose one it’s “Hikers Y”, by Matthew Dear. What a masterpiece.”
Jimi Jules new album + is out now on Innervisions.