Jamz Supernova has been causing conversation for more than a minute and in so many different ways. Powered on from initially learning how to DJ through to her beginnings on Reprezent Radio, she went on to turn her talents from being part of the BBC’s ‘Xtra Talent’ towards hosting her own show on BBC 1Xtra. Driven to be more than just be a DJ, Jamz has become a certified critical voice in UK music, and within days of the launch of her new Studio Bounce series, we sit down in a Shoreditch bar to talk about what the future holds.
As the host of three weekly shows on the BBC, Jamz is in a unique position to play her own part in shaping the trends that filter out to wider audiences; as a specialist sound girl, she decides which tunes will make the cut be they Trap, Bass, Electro or Alternative R’n’B. I’m curious about how those choices are made – whether she’s a purist, or does she love crossing those defined lines that genre blending can sometimes blur? “The sound that was probably more niche two or three years ago is now the R’n’B sound, do you know what I mean?” – Jamz begins as we get underway talking about the trends she’s noticed in UK R’n’B this year. As someone who has quite literally built a noteworthy career based on her abilities as a selector it seems a good place to kick off. “In terms of the records that are actually mainstream records – Cashmere Cat produced Tory Lanez ‘Luv’ – I think that’s quite a big statement. I think those sort of forward thinking producers, they’re now making Pop. So I think that’s really come to the forefront this year.”
2016 has been quite a year with the UK music scene reaching new heights as R&B, Grime, Spoken Word have all been reinvigorated with artists like Ray Blk, SG Lewis and Nao among many emerging voices. “I love it. I love it, personally, I think it’s great. It makes it easier for me to push from a specialist perspective, it just keeps it fresh and interesting. Ray Blk has shown that. So, from the beginning of the year she’s been straight out the gate. I think she’s been an artist to watch, and I think what she embodies in terms of being a young black female making R’n’B – which has actually proven to be quite hard to break in the UK – she’s proven that it’s possible. I think that sort of DIY aspect has seemed really strong this year with artists really going for it and doing it themselves. Not needing labels. I think that’s been really key.”
The artists I’ve seen do well this year, clearly they’ve had a plan from the beginning of the year.
With our growing fascination for that DIY drive, Jamz is someone who’s not just fascinated but able to get to the heart of that DIY perspective regularly profiling leading creatives and giving them a platform to tell their stories as part of her ‘DIY Generation’ weekend segment. Is there a key component to becoming a DIY success story? “I think you have to know yourself. You have to really know what it is that you’re trying to achieve, and I think that if you look at it from an artist perspective, for example, people like Skepta and Ray Blk know what they are and what they’re trying to achieve. You can then apply it to your brand and your business. As long as you know that, then I think the next steps all fall into place a little bit more. Have a clear plan. Again, back to the artist – the artists I’ve seen do well this year clearly they’ve had a plan from the beginning of the year and I’ve been able to observe the roll out of music. They knew what they were doing, they knew this month they were dropping that video and that month they were dropping that record. I think that’s the success that keeps that momentum. That’s structure.”
It’s tempting to look beyond the power of conventional labels. This year has undoubtedly given a lot of independent artists belief they can make it on their own whatever their aspirations are but it’s also about striking a balance between whether you want that corporate support together with the trimmings of connections and finance, or whether you’re ready to dismiss it all – “I think that’s maybe where the misconception is with labels, they think that everybody wants to be a Beyonce, or everybody wants to be that kind of visible star and not everyone does. I think a lot more artists can feel quite happy to just do the music and not have their face shown. So I think if you know your aspirations – do you want to be a megastar like Beyonce that’s everywhere, in every paper? Or do you want to be more a James Blake or Frank Ocean?”
In the midst of all these new waves, I wonder if we should just be focusing on building personal brands, whether that’s through a network, as an artist or a label. Have we just reached a point where we’re better off on our own DIY track rather than waiting for a traditional companies to take notice and give us the platform? Jamz Supernova understands the network effect in a way that not many others do – “I do feel like it all does go into part of an ecosystem now. I think if you took one element out of there, I don’t think that one can exist without the other. And I always think of it in radio terms: Radio 1Xtra and Radio 1 can’t exist without Rinse, Rinse can’t exist without Radar – you need all different aspects to cover all the different parts. If you only had one type of station then it wouldn’t work. If you only had one type of artist, it wouldn’t work. I think they all go into it. [Artists should be] looking and thinking “alright, where do I need to place this?” Or as an artist “where does that sit? does it need to sit on a label?” – possibly not. Or “maybe I can set my own label up.” You might be one of those artists that wants to sit on a label. I think it’s a lot about sitting back and thinking “where do I fit into this ecosystem?” It goes back again to aspiration.”
It also goes back to being raised in South East London, coming from a mixed heritage of Jamaican, Irish and Cuban roots, when at only 25, Jamz is the embodiment of pushing the spectrum. And when we get back to Jamz aspirations, they all come with an unpretentious air – she’s happy to give long, detailed answers, she is a consummate professional with a genuine warmth, and she reflects it as she smiles back often. It’s the kind of sincerity that lets you know she really cares about the work she does – and it’s the sense where she makes you feel like you’re just two music lovers sitting down to talk business.
I don’t always think people understand the power of their own individual brand.
Too often the stereotypical image of women in any kind of business especially music is precluded with an assumption that there’s a prerequisite attitude of bitchiness and back handed compliments – in reality more and more women are regularly meeting to support each other and exchange knowledge with no drama. Recent efforts to increase the number of grassroots projects designed to give those who want to get a foothold in music a leg up, have led to a number of new initiatives including; Jamz’ FLEXX, a women in music networking group that meets quarterly; alongside songwriter Carla Marie Williams’ group Girl’s I Rate; and Julie Adenuga and Sian Anderson’s own mentoring and knowledge exchange platform in the form of One True Calling. Does wearing multiple hats, mean that when it comes to planning her shows, Jamz is constantly trying to strike the right balance of support for both male and female talents with genuine equality? “Sometimes, I have a section of the show and I’ll think I’ve got too many male heavy singles. I’ll be like, ‘I have to break it up a little bit’. I always think about that [balance], ‘cause otherwise I’m being oblivious.”
We talk more about being in the business of music and I explain a little from my own perspective, as an observer, that its really heartening to survey the landscape in 2016. It feels like we’re moving further forward from the days where there was just one Kanya King establishing one platform for all with the MOBO’s 21 years ago. Now, there’s a spectrum of women visibly leading the way, whether that’s as a photographer, label executive, radio DJ, presenter, writer, producer or artist – the spectrum of talent is widening. “What I feel like has made them so successful is they know how to create their own brand. Even though you have someone that might be a PR person, they’re not so much behind the scenes anymore. They’re their own brand as the PR, their business is what speaks volumes about what they’re doing and everything that they’re doing. From what they wear and where they’re going, that all ties into their overall brand. And I don’t always think people understand the power of their own individual brand. There were obviously women doing all this work behind the scenes over the years – maybe not as many and maybe not all our age range but I think that having [your] own brand makes it more enticing to an employee if everyone is talking “have you heard about this girl?” It makes them take notice.”
Future Bounce, Jamz own bi-monthly club residency adds yet another feather to her cap and alongside DJ bookings and radio work, it gives her a front line view of the music that works for audiences day in and day out. How then does she sift through what must be masses of content sent to her daily, “I spend probably a good day planning the show. So I go across all my favourite blogs, all my favourite playlists, I go through my emails then I start building the show like that. Often I send over a whole new playlist every week, so I’ll know that I’ve got way too many tracks for a three hour show with features as well, then I’ll go back and I’ll whittle it down to ‘what do I actually love?’ what do I like?’ And make sure the records that get taken to air are the ones that I love.”
I ask Jamz about the role of Future Bounce and its mission of supporting upcoming talent, and she has more aspirations to support artists who may not necessarily be able to tour the country by launching a Future Bounce Tour next year “I think if you know what kind of artist you want to be, I think that’s where we can help. Especially with the shows that we’re putting on. People want to see [artists] it’s just about knowing who to target. That’s our job as promoters to reach those people. Or even the people who might not have heard of them but like that kind of music – that’s kinda our job, to be that connect. Same with radio.”
For producers and DJ’s that Jamz believes in, its about nurturing talent and it’s why she began Studio Bounce in the first place, “I think it’s a case of giving producers time to create that back catalogue. And I think with something like Studio Bounce it’s more of a kind of celebrating that this is a craft. Something they’ve worked hard on, that they’ve learned themselves and I feel like there is such a big interest in people learning and wanting to learn how to produce. You’ve only got to type in ‘ableton’ to find how many hits these videos have. So for us it’s about making that a little bit more accessible for someone who has an interest in production.”
If there’s one overarching story for the year, it’s about the rise of the new creatives in the music industry. Creatives who are weaving various threads into their career, “The rise of the slashy!” she laughs in agreement, “it’s been very important. But that’s what I love about this industry – you can wear multiple hats and I think that’s important – it goes back to really creating your brand.”
Jamz next Future Bounce event is this Friday 2nd December at Birthdays, get your tickets here. Catch Jamz on BBC Radio 1Xtra – Tuesday Nights at 10pm with the ‘Future RnB’ show, and every Saturday and Sunday from 1pm. Watch the 1st episode of her ‘Studio Bounce’ series with SG LEWIS here.