Only 23 years old, New York's Nicolas Jaar is turning heads in the electronic-music world with his cerebral take on left-field house and experimental techno that makes frequent use of live instrumentation performed by Jaar himself. A 2012 graduate of Brown University, Jaar released his debut album, the atmospheric Space Is Only Noise, to widespread critical acclaim in 2011, and was recognized by Resident Advisor as the number-one live electronic-music act of both 2011 and 2012. We recently caught up with Jaar, who is on tour in Japan in advance of his return to Communikey this weekend.
Westword: You performed at the first Communikey Festival in 2008 when you were only eighteen years old. What was that experience like?
Nicolas Jaar: It was wonderful. It was actually one of the first few things that I ever did. My story with Communikey is a very beautiful story, because the first time I ever played live was at the Marcy [Hotel] in New York in the spring of 2008. And Kate Lesta, who runs Communikey, was there, and so she invited me to Communikey right after seeing me play for the first time. So she was really, really supportive at the very, very beginning of my career, and she is someone that I will forever be indebted to.
A lot has happened for you since then. What have been some of the highlights?
There's just one highlight, which is the fact that I feel like I have an audience and that people are listening. There's nothing more humbling and more amazing for any artist than to have people that you can touch. And, for me, that's been the most exciting thing. I just feel really lucky to be able to speak to people, to have an audience.
You're giving two performances at Communikey this year. Can you tell us what you have in store for each appearance?
One of the performances will be a very normal performance, which is just me playing my own songs by myself and playing some of my remixes and doing a performance around my music, the music that I've recorded in the past. The other performance is called "From Scratch." This is the second time I'm gonna do it.
The first time was at the MoMA PS1 space in New York. And what that consists of is bringing some collaborators from the Denver scene, like dancers and video artists, and some collaborators from New York come in, and we improvise inside of a space with these collaborators for five hours.
And so, what that means is that I'm gonna come in there with a blank slate, with nothing on my plate to play, and we will build, for five hours, a show, a performance. Obviously, there's gonna be some form of timetable, so the dancers will come in at a certain moment and the video will go from something to something else, but right now we have no idea. The idea is basically a bunch of collaborators inside a space, an audience, and we improvise everything.
Can you tell us a little about your label, Clown & Sunset?
It's a label that I started when I was a sophomore in college. I primarily started it to put out my own music and my friends' music, and it's going to have some more international acts, but to me it's a very personal project and something that has evolved very slowly, and I'm not really looking to turn it into a very big label or anything, it's more just something personal and intimate.
Your debut album, Space Is Only Noise, was widely cited as one of the best electronic-music albums of 2011, but there is quite a bit of live instrumentation on the record. Can you comment on that?
The idea for me was to make a record using mostly electronic equipment and to make it sound as organic as possible. It's music that I made for a period of three or four years. It was the first statement that I could make because before that, I had just done a couple of remixes and EPs, and so I really wanted to kind of explain to people the type of music I was interested in making and showing them. The live instrumentation is all done by me.
Do you have any plans to record another solo album?
Yes. It's in the works, and I'm also working on another album that will see light at some point, which is a collaboration with my guitar player [Dave Harrington], who's been collaborating with me when I play live with a band for the past two years, and that project is called DARKSIDE, and that will come out before my own full length.
Who are some artists that are currently inspiring you?
To tell you the truth, right now, my travels are influencing me the most. You know, right now, for example, I'm in Tokyo, and we just went to some museums yesterday. I think the most exciting thing right now for me coming out of school is traveling and seeing, I guess, the human side of things -- what people are like, not just ideas, and not just important artists, or this or that.
I'm enjoying seeing what different cultures are like, and how people operate in different places. This trip in Japan has been, for me, one of the most incredible trips, learning how different a culture can be, and that's really where I'm at right now. Coming out of school, you can kind of have a headache from all of these important figures that you're studying and know. I guess I'm excited about actual, real, living, breathing people that populate the world now, today.
Where have been some of your favorite places to perform?
The last tour that I did was last summer, at the end there in August and in September. We did a lot of dates in Eastern Europe, and there was something about Georgia, for example. There was a spirit there that was very exciting there. I really enjoyed playing in Georgia. Eastern Europe, for some reason, hit me as a very, very exciting place to share ideas.