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by Alex Brzezicka

Embracing the magic of small things and minimal beats with Jessy Lanza's nourishing techno-pop.

Jessy Lanza features in our new series featuring creatives operating in the shadows: behind the decks, curtains and scenes. It’s time for the most exciting DJs, producers and directors to take the front seat they deserve. Right under the spotlight. 

In a video for her newest single ‘Seven 55’, featuring Hyperdub labelmate Loraine James, Jessy Lanza shows close-ups of people enjoying themselves at the funfair in Las Vegas. Away from the city’s glitz and glam, she spotlights the fleeting, simple moments of joy that we encounter when letting go of the overwhelming expectation of the big picture. Though, for Jessy, there’s no need to step away from it now. Especially fresh off of releasing a tape for one of, if not the most, important DJ-mix series ever, DJ-Kicks. Putting her mark next to legends like Scuba, Henrik Schwarz or Disclosure, Jessy Lanza joins the elite of beatmakers. And it was long overdue.

Debuting in 2013 with ‘Pull My Hair Back’, she swept the club scene away with ethereal techno-pop to nourish our souls. Ever since, she’s been making electro R&B fed on jazz upbringings and love for Missy Elliot, Timbaland and Japanese synth-pop of the 70s. No wonder that in exchange, critics got obsessed with Jessy, shortlisting her albums for Polaris Music Prize twice. In the seemingly stone-cold post-modernity, Jessy Lanza takes this contemporary mashup technique and adds the missing factor. Heart. It’s what makes her DJ-Kicks compilation stand out. Lanza got past, present and future influences clashing together when she carefully connects dots in her self-made universe. She slips through genres and soundscapes made by her friends and collaborations to leave us lost in that flowy feeling you’ll get in early morning hours, on the verge of day and night. Exhilarating.

Today, as she’s preparing for the US tour with Caribou, Jessy Lanza invites us to time travel with her. She lets us in on the person behind the DJ booth and shares what makes her really tick.

You’re taking part in the DJ-Kicks series, congrats on that. Can you tell us a bit more about the project?

It’s been in the works since 2017 is when !K7 first approached me to do one. It’s been five years of back and forth, finding the right time to do it. I’ve been thinking about the track list for a long time.

What’s your concept for the mix?

Connections were really important. Just including people that have been a big influence on me: friends from Hamilton in Canada, where I’m from, people who had a big influence and encouraged me to start DJing in the first place. It’s important to include people who had an impact on my development as an artist on the mix.

Have you got any favourite tracks?

I like the originals a lot and the collab with Loraine James is really special to me and also the original tracks with Taraval were really special because he lives in San Francisco too so we actually got to work on them together which especially now, it was really nice just to be in the studio with him and working on music. It’s been such a long… I’m sure it’s the same for you. You can relate. It’s just that you don’t see that many people.

What motivates you to keep going in the (post)pandemic times?

Keeping in touch with people, with friends. Even if it’s over zoom. The few people that I do get to see in person. Just maintaining those connections is definitely what keeps me inspired.

Back to DJ-Kicks, what’s the backstory behind the track you made with Lorraine James, ‘Seven 55’?

‘Seven 55’ was inspired by a friend. I was feeling really annoyed with him and his choices so I wrote a passive aggressive song. I don’t know if he is aware that it’s about him. Maybe one day it’ll come up.

The video for ‘Seven 55’ is breathtaking in its simplicity. It feels very voyeuristic to watch people enjoying themselves at the funfair. Can you walk us through the process of working on it?

We thought it would be fun to shoot it in Las Vegas because when I wrote the song I was thinking about this idea of expectations. Going into a relationship and what people expect from one another. Then going to Vegas, that really is this destination where people have really big expectations for what’s going to happen when I’m in Vegas. Like anything could happen. A lot of people can have a really bad time in Vegas or you could have an amazing time but you really have to make your time when you’re there because it is the nightmare unfolding around you. It depends.  You make what you take away from it. I thought it would be an appropriate place to shoot the video. Winston H. Case who made the video, he’s sitting right there, he pitched the idea to me. I think it worked out really well. It really complements the song.

The sonic stories you’re creating within your music, are very often of an ethereal, transcendent nature even though they also fit into the pop music box. How do you manage to capture this fleeting feeling and pack it neatly into song?

I don’t know. It’s tricky. It’s coming down to the deadline. I worked on that song for quite a while. It was really Loraine. I couldn’t finish it and I sent it to Loraine and asked her what she thought and she did a bunch of revisions with the vocals. It was really when she sent it back to me with all these vocal manipulations, she did a lot of weird sampling with my vocal. She just breathed new life into it and really helped me to finish but it really just came down to there’s a deadline. It’s tough to finish stuff.

Throughout your career, did you have more people like that who inspired you on the way?

Winston who does the videos, he’s a huge inspiration. He’s done all the visual elements. He art directed the DJ Kicks, the artwork, he did the video. People I work with at Hyperdub, like Scratcha DVA, Ikonica, Kode9. They’ve all been huge inspirations as well. Kode9 was actually the first person who really encouraged me to try at the beginning in the first place. He was always super approachable about it. I loved seeing him dj.

It’s amazing to be surrounded by the creative community but do you ever feel the need to take a break from it to rewind?

It definitely helps to have friends who are not on Instagram all the time looking at the same DJs and things that you are looking at. That’s why I like hanging out with my family because they couldn’t really care less about doing it. That’s a tough one to answer but I would say my family in Hamilton. It’s good to talk to them to stay grounded.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a new album but also focusing on shows. I’m going on tour in a couple of days in the US so that’s been great. I think I’ll be coming to Europe next year so it’s just thinking about being able to play live because it seems pretty guaranteed that’s going to happen. How to bring the music into a live context is something I’ve been thinking a lot about.

Can you spill a bit about the new album then?

I don’t know when it will come out. Hopefully next. It’s 75% done. I just had so much time to work on new music that I feel like I’m sitting on a lot of it. I’m very eager.

What direction are you heading in on the new album?

I had all this equipment set up to work on the tracks for the DJ Kicks so a lot of hardware drum machines, a lot less parts than my previous music. My last record ‘All The Time’ was very poppy and very polished with lots of synthesisers, lots of layers. The music moving forward, because I wasn’t able to bring a lot of my instruments with me, it’s going to be simpler. It’s the best way to put it, less parts which is cool. It was a challenge to work with less equipment because I’m in a much smaller space right now. Most of my equipment is in storage but it was a good challenge to work with what I have.

Since you’re about to go on tour now, when playing live you can access a special kind of power to move the crowd, let them release their emotions or escape the real world for a while. What does it feel like being able to do it?

It can be a bit. I used to feel very overwhelmed by that. I took it on like a responsibility which I don’t think was the most positive way to look at it but not playing for so long and now having it in front of me that I’ll be able to, it’s a magical thing. I have a more positive outlook. What I’m trying to say is that it used to make me very nervous about what you’re describing. Now, I feel like ‘fuck it’. I got the opportunity to do this. It’s really special so I’m very excited. I took it for granted for a long time. The pandemic really brought that into focus. You cannot take this for granted. This is a very special thing that is really important to people. You just need to embrace that it’s happening and that it’s special.

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