The Bristol artist talks about freedom, self-confidence, and the real story behind his “breakthrough”.
There are a lot of things that seem to keep us from being ourselves.
In a world where the rules are clearly delineated and cliches are the only way to have a safe conversation, it’s easy to become an alien in a person’s suit, trying to fit in and bargain with life for some recognition or meaning.
The struggle with the pressure to be perfect becomes more real than ever.
And most of the time this fight leaves you with nothing but exhaustion and the unhealthy obsession to protect yourself from the hostile world by being perfect, by being absolutely the best. Perfection is anything but human, that’s why it could never go hand in hand with art.
Being free to express yourself, being an artist, being human is all about being vulnerable, about moving, growing, making mistakes, learning, connecting with others and sharing with them.
So I talked about this to one of our favorite artists, Pessimist a.k.a. Kristian Jabs, who turns out to be one of the most open, optimistic, and fun persons out there.
This interview is an attempt to inspire people, who are all artists in a way, to get a bit more real, more honest and humble, less insecure, and less scared about who we really are. To be more than just a name, more than just an image on social media, to be free.
P: There’s something weird about the way you’ve been promoted or introduced in the media.
K: What do you mean? Expand on it.
P: Talking about your music career, people were saying you stepped outside the line. Or that to follow your sound you had to take a huge risk, or that you broke into drum’n’bass scene. Were you not just…being yourself, or am I missing something?
K: When was that? I can’t remember.
P: A couple of years ago? You’ve also been called a drum’n’bass producer, a producer who managed to bridge dub and techno and stuff. This is not coming from you, is it?
K: No, I never said I was a drum’n’bass producer.
P: Looks like everyone’s re-writing the same press release, you know.
K: But that’s what all these media companies do, they read the press release and then they just slightly change it. They would mention the same buzz words.
P: Have you ever considered yourself a drum’n’bass producer?
K: I think my roots are drum’n’bass, because since 2010 I was writing drum’n’bass but I was never like..I mean I used to have a residency at Renegade Hardware. It’s like drum’n’bassy drum’n’bass, so in a way I am. But that’s what I always used to say, when I would write music with my friends as Ruffhouse, because I used to write music with two other guys. I used to say that we were not drum’n’bass producers, we were musicians, we were more than just being called “a drum’n’bass producer”. There’s a whole lot of people who’s biggest ambition is to put out music on Metalheadz. I’m way more ambitious than that, I want to be respected as a musician, not as a drum’n’bass producer. So I do find it irritating when people call me like that, but at the same time I understand that people need these words to sell your music. Drum’n’bass was a dirty word for a long time. You probably know, that jungle and stuff have become so popular again, so trendy. People like to use this phrase “drum’n’bass producer” because they think that it could help to understand where my music is coming from. It’s for them to know my roots, maybe. And maybe that might appeal to people if they call my music drum’n’bass.
I want to be respected as a musician
P: But it’s not.
K: No, its’ not, it’s not techno or drum’n’bass, it’s just music.
P: It’s music, I mean it’s good music or bad music.
K: Yes, exactly. Kiran’s guilty pleasure is drum’n’bass (Kiran Sande of Blackest Ever Black record label), that’s his original love, and he was excited to be finally releasing a drum’n’bass record, which wasn’t drum’n’bass really, but a record which had roots in drum’n’bass. It never really bothered me that much to be honest. I don’t care what people write about music, I think that people that understand music well, they don’t care what someone else had said about that. Maybe some people that jump on the bandwagon might care what some person or journalist has written about it. The way I’ve always listened to music, I’ve never found music through a blog. I’ve found it through friendship, just by listening to music, not by reading about it. Then if you want to do some more research into the artist, then yeah, I might look up an interview or something like that. An Interview is the best way to learn about an artist. Because you can see their own words about it. But music is subjective, why would anyone tell you if it’s good or not? Do you know what I mean?
They think you wake up and literally, consciously try to bridge two genres. Although you might be influenced by these. But it’s a natural feel. I was never trying to do it. There are ambient bits, there’s more to it. And drum’n’bass tunes are not techno tunes, they are new style drum’n’bass tunes. Since I’ve started releasing music on my own label it all keeps being called drum’n’bass but it’s not, not a single one of these tracks I released on my label was drum’n’bass. It’s all like slow 100 bpm downwards music. It’s all being categorized as drum’n’bass. Just because I made music like drum’n’bass before, when I was 18, does it have to keep being called drum’n’bass? Even though It’s clearly not, you have to be an idiot to think it is. But, like I said, at the same time I don’t care. People that know, they don’t have to call it something.
P: Is that why you started releasing music on Pessimist Productions and is this what you mean by NO FUSS label? You don’t say anything, you don’t categorize, you don’t write press releases. Does it mean “just listen to it and make up your mind”?
K: That’s exactly what it means. There’s no big artwork. No concept. The last record we did, the Boreal Massif thing, had a concept to it, but the concept wasn’t really about the music still, so we separate it. But I don’t want the label to have this concept. You know how some labels have these silly ideas about something that is not even related to music. I mean if it’s got a point, cool, I get it. Like, say, for example, we said Vatican Shadow, all of that’s got a relevant and meaningful political point. But sometimes it’s so meaningless, like, what does it even have to do with music? I didn’t want to have a label like that. I wanted a label where I literally could just put out music. Originally I was gonna do a white label and just put on stamps, just keep it simple. Don’t say anything about that. Don’t need to write some press releases, let people make up their minds about it. So yes, that’s sort of what I mean by “no fuss”.
P: Ok, so that’s why you started to release on Pessimist Productions.
K: I just wanted to release whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to.
P: Without like…
K: Without having to please someone else, even though I’ve been surrounded recently by labels willing to release most of the stuff I have been giving them. Because they would really believe in me. But at the same time I don’t want anyone to say “Ok cool, that’s good, we can have maybe two techno tracks and two drum’n’bass tracks on the EP”. I don’t want that. I wanna write whatever I write in the studio. And then make up my mind about how I am going to put it out. Just complete freedom. This was the main reason to start my label. Not that I was in a bad position before I started it, I was in a worse position around six years ago or something like that. When I was releasing on these d’n’b labels that were really narrow-minded and not interested in anything that was slightly different. I just wanted total freedom.
P: Do you think this freedom is essential, crucial to being an artist?
K: Probably. I mean for me it is, but it depends on your personality. There are plenty of really good artists, signed to major independent labels, who probably don’t have 100 percent freedom because a lot of these bigger labels would have a bit more of a say about what tracks would be picked for the album and whatnot. But for me, my personality, I don’t want some person who runs a label telling me about my music. I don’t want anyone telling me “Oh, I don’t know about that bit”. I am not comparing myself to some kind of a great artist. I mean if you were an artist doing a painting, you wouldn’t have this guy in a suit standing next to you and telling you “Maybe you should change this bit?”. And that’s great to have my own label now because if I want to do some EP’s for other labels, I’m still not desperate to do it with them. There are many artists who are so desperate to do it, they literally bend over backward for these people. But now I am like “I don’t care, I am gonna do it myself”.
P: Yes, I know a lot of amazing musicians who would go to their fav labels, and if they don’t get a release, they would get depressed and insecure. The industry taught you that your music has to be pre-approved by a cool label, before even reaching the real audience, people who just enjoy listening to music. I mean it’s horrible, that, in a way, your freedom is being taken away from you…
K: Don’t I think it’s horrible? It’s insecurity and lack of confidence. I never idolized record labels. Obviously there are iconic record labels and stuff, but I think, especially in dance music, people give too much credit to record labels rather than artists, which is really a stupid thing. So there’s a lot of insecurity with a lot of artists. Maybe they don’t have a strong-minded group of friends, or how do I put it. I don’t think my music is the best, but I listen to it and I enjoy it. If a record label didn’t like it or didn’t accept my music, my reaction would be like “Fuck it!”. It might sound quite arrogant but…
P: That’s not arrogant. You have the necessity to do it, to express yourself, so how can anyone approve or disapprove of this, how can anyone say that this is the right way to express yourself and this is not quite…
K: Yes, exactly. Luckily Blackest ever Black accepted my music. And my friend Nick, who runs UVB, also always believed in me. And I’ve also done stuff with Simon from Kryptic Minds and he is also the same as Nick and Kiran. So I haven’t experienced this problem for quite a while now. But I have friends, really close friends, who are so talented and technically skilled but lacking confidence about their music and have terrible writer’s blocks and are very insecure about their music. A lot of it just comes down to your personality. I am not very confident about going out there and meeting people, but I am confident about expressing myself musically. You know, sometimes you are talking to people in music and a lot of them are like “I am trying to get this signed to this or to that.” But who gives a fuck? But, at the same time, I can understand that if you are not an established artist and you need to get your music out there, to get it to people, you need to get it signed somewhere.
K: Yes, but not everyone has the confidence to make a self-release or is able to do a self-release. Do you know what I mean? I am lucky to be able to do it because Kiran does it for me, distributing with the Low company, as well as getting it all pressed. It costs thousands of pounds, so there are barriers to self-releasing. You can do it digitally though. I think this whole culture of record labels is dying.
P: Yes, that actually was my next question.
K: There’s no such thing as big record labels, no label’s gonna make you big for the sake of it. And I think there’s so much pretentious music being released at the moment. Maybe I am a bit out of date now or something, but a lot of music is really pretentious and people think that they should like it because it is supposed to be cool, because of the image of the artist and stuff. But it’s characterless and shallow sounding, and experimental just for the sake of experimental, with no depth to it.
P: And now with the digital media you can write a review every single day, there’s too much information and maybe people are confused and don’t know what really deserves attention anymore.
K: Everything gets attention nowadays, yes, that’s true.
P: I don’t know you well, but I think you are quite hard-working, so you were not breaking through or something, you just gradually were working to it, it’s development
K: Yes, exactly it’s development, natural progression. I didn’t break through and didn’t rely on anyone else to break through. It’s mainly my work. It’s just one day I released something on BEB, which was considered trendy, and they called it a breakthrough. It wasn’t very much different to what I have been doing before. I have been self-employed on mainly just music for about a year now and I write fuck loads of music now. I started this new alias that I am not gonna talk about too much. I wrote an album in 6 days, that’s how I write music, I do it quickly. But it’s all hard work. It’s not that you do an EP and then pay someone to do a PR company to call it a break through. I didn’t even realize this until a few months ago, that you can pay for it. You don’t even have to be credible to get coverage, you just pay.
P: Yes, paid content killed everything.
K: Yes, exactly. I mean it helps to have some sort of a PR campaign. I did it all myself for my latest release. With Boreal Massif it was helpful because it’s a new name and it gave it a bit of a boost.
P: So you’ve been working to it for about 10 years now?
K: Yes, I started making music on my computer when I was 15 and I have been releasing music for ten years, but a lot of the stuff I have been releasing back then… I won’t even listen to it now, it’s awful.
P: What did you study? Have you been studying music?
K: Yes, I did study music technology in college, so I got a little bit of an understanding.
P: What’s that?
K: It’s more like computer-based music, how’s the sound traveling, the science of it
P: Do they actually teach you music?
K: No, not musical theory. I did that at school but I don’t remember much of it. I also went to University to study music technology as well, but I dropped out. There’s no point. In the music industry it didn’t make much sense. You don’t go to BEB and be like “I have got a degree in music technology, is it alright to get signed now?”. I realized it was pointless.
P: Ten years is quite a long time, what has been driving you all these ten years? Your passion? Your ambitions?…
K: Yes, passion for making music. Wanting to make music.
P: You didn’t have expectations?
K: Well, obviously I wanted to be successful, everyone does. But that’s not the driving force of what I do. But you can see it’s the main driving force of a lot of people. I was always saying if I can make my living just from working in a studio, if I can do djing, If I am here in Mexico City, it’s great! But I don’t get my kick out of djing and playing other people’s music. I get my kick of making my own music, not to put down djing, it’s completely an artform. It’s not for me being in front of a crowd of people. I buzz of being on my own in a studio. I’ve made so many different types of music now, and when someone makes different kinds of music, I think, it means they are not just doing it to get more famous or bigger. Cause you get people who just make one type of music and…
P: They are building a brand.
K: Yes! It’s so boring! I like to keep it interesting and switch up and express myself.
P: I think that if you really enjoy making music, as an artist you should be tempted to work on something new. That’s what happened with Boreal Massif. You can’t always stay…(I am trying to find the right word).
K: …In this rigid little place, yes, absolutely. And I see it very often in drum’n’bass industry, it’s a bit sad, because all these super talented musicians, super technical, way more advanced than some people making techno music, in my opinion, but they are so into making the same kind of music for their whole life. One particular style, one particular speed, this is very weird.
P: That’s what separates craftsmen from artists, I think.
K: Yes, true! It’s like a fucking science, it’s not artful anymore. It’s a very good analogy, you have craftsmen and you have artists. Some of the most pioneering musicians, they created a style, and other people, craftsmen, perfected it and got even better at it than those who created it. I met someone the other day, he is not releasing music now, and I asked “Why?”. And he was like “I am a perfectionist”, bla bla. There’s so much emphasis on it, you are wasting all of your time not on expressing yourself and showing your art because of being so technically perfect. My music is not perfect, but I can make an album in 5 days. It doesn’t have to be perfect, no one cares about this apart from music geeks, and I am not making music for them. I make music for people who want to listen to good music, at home or in a club, whatever. I understand if people want to make their music perfect, but I’d rather express myself in a given moment and then move on to something different.
P: Do you like Boymerang?
K: Legend!!!! The drum’n’bass guy from the 90s!
P: The thing is he has been making all kinds of music, he had so many projects. For me it was like the first lesson on what art really was. I was loving everything he was doing. And I think that this is probably the way it is supposed to be.
K: Yes, I think that’s the way to be, not everyone is like that, not everyone is that artistic, especially in electronic music.
P: And also it’s healthier for your ego not to stick to a project or a name, it gives you a certain freedom.
K: I agree. It’s not about you, it’s about the music. It’s so nice not to be just your name, to be free! Boreal Massif got so separated from it, but still some people would talk about “drum’n’bass influences” and stuff, so annoying!
P: Boreal Massif is very beautiful and not dark at all!
K: But people would still call it dark! It is really beautiful I think. But yes, a lot of music I was making was dark, I mean not dark, moody maybe. I am sort of moving away from that. Not that I am not interested in that, I still like moody music, I just don’t want to be known as some… “dark lord”. Some fucking Nosferatu, you know?
P: You escaped at the right moment, you know! It could have stuck to you forever!
K: Haha, yeah, for sure, definitely! Do it while you are young huh? Don’t wanna be 40 and still making dark music haha! I am not actually a depressive person. The name is Pessimist, but I am not a pessimist, it’s like a slight joke, you know.
P: Yes, I got that!
K: I don’t want to be making depressing music, just because people expect you to be making dark music or a certain kind of music. It’s not me. That’s also a problem of people with being pigeonholed. They start making music others expect them to be making.
We go outside for a cigarette and continue the conversation outside.
P: We All Have An Impact (Even Hippies Do), it’s super fun this title! But seriously, what was the idea behind it? (Boreal Massif’s “We All Have An Impact” was released on Pessimist Productions in October 2019).
K: A lot of people class themselves as hippies, and it’s cool to be vegan and stuff but when it comes to green living, which is good to do such a thing, you would still have an impact. It doesn’t matter how you live, you might be vegan or whatever and still have an impact by traveling to Vietnam. Me and my mate we wanted to write an album that incorporated real life nature sounds, we both got a bit of love for the outdoors and walking, the coast, the woods. We met in Cornwall, a rural part of England. Also I have been working for the TV industry making animal documentaries. It’s quite important for me, animals, and the fact that we are trashing the world. I am not perfect either, I do things that might be harmful to the environment like ordering Uber Eats or an Uber, no one is perfect.
Sophie joins us on the bench right by the entrance to the Yu Yu bar and suggests that we should drink some mezcal. I am obviously down, so I ask Kristian if he likes mezcal. “Never tried it!” he answers. Say no more. In a few minutes the three of us chink our glasses.
We all agree it’s nicer than tequila.
K: People in art or music are not talking about this, it was nice to release something which had some meaning
P: Like Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement?
K: Yes, exactly, I love the first ones, it’s quite dark, I am a fan of his (Dominick Fernow) and Low Jack’s too!
(Here I should probably mention that a bit earlier we have been talking about artists we find very honest and inspiring, and both agreed that Dominick Fernow was definitely one of them).
P: Have you been thinking you might be called a hater by people who wouldn’t see this “even hippies do” bit not as a funny one?
K: Haha! I am probably more of a hippie than a lot of people who call themselves hippies. I like to wind people up, it’s humor, you know. I was brought up by someone who was an actual hippie, who wouldn’t take a car, but walk 10 miles to the next town. It has a lot to do with my childhood, and I’ve seen a lot of people who would call themselves hippies but with no moral values that represent that movement from the 60s, snorting cocaine and dressing up like hippies.
P: Yes and forests and people die to provide this cocaine.
K: Yes, exactly.
I suddenly remember my childhood trauma, when I learned about the Dodo extinction story. The idea that entire species can be wiped out from our planet as a result of our own consumption scared me to death. It inevitably made me brood for days on how much my own life was worth.
P: One moment it was there and then it just vanished, and humanity just moved on. I mean it wasn’t such a big thing. Or what do you think?
K: Humans are quite selfish things really, in general. There are so many endangered species. There’s gonna be a million different dodos soon. It’s happening right now, all over the world. I just feel like there is a lack of compassion within especially the western culture. And the funny thing with this climate change is that people, who are causing it most, are from the western world. And people, who are feeling it most, are in the third world. We don’t feel it in the western world, we might get some flash floods, but we don’t get the worst. The irony is that those, who are causing it the most, are affected less.
It’s time to go for dinner.
It’s Mutek time so Mexico City is buzzing with shows.
P: You said you have been working for the TV industry and making your own music at the same time. How did these two realities coexist, in the sense that you had to make music at work and then come back home and work on your own music?
K: The harsh thing is that people have to have a job apart from making music. It was difficult.
P: Were you stressed?
K: I was always tired, no matter what job you do it’s mentally and physically draining you. I have been trying to write music in the evenings. Before I started that job I wasn’t writing that much music and starting that job helped me to be able to make music even when I am not in a perfect state to do it. I was forced to do it and I was forced to make different kinds of music at work, so it helped me…
P: To be disciplined?
K: Yes, exactly, to be disciplined.
P: So instead of getting depressed you got disciplined? Now that deserves some respect!
K: Haha, yes. But sometimes I would just get home and couldn’t do anything. I just wanted to get out and have a drink.
P: Were you not hating your job?
K: By the end yes, I was. When I just started it was good because before I was having only shit jobs, like working in a hotel for example, something I was not interested in. So at first it was good, it was music-related. But it’s difficult to do music for someone else, I want to do what I want to do, I have no ambition to do a film score or accompany a video, I wanna do pure music.
P: But would you like to soundtrack a movie, like to collaborate for real, to be free to do it the way you want to?
K: My choice is stand-alone music and I am not a film geek. I like Shane Meadows, but I don’t know if my music would fit his stuff, haha. I like listening to music on its own. I like horror films, I like Hitchcock and soundtracks to his movies because of the tension the music builds. And Clint Eastwood films, and spaghetti westerns. And also this guy, what was his name…? Morricone?
P: Ennio Morricone! Yes, I like his soundtracks, he also did the Godfather one, it’s really good!
K: Yes, that was a cool thing! But I don’t like that some good musicians just stop releasing their music once they get into a film only because it pays better.
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