“I think that was a lyrical attempt to ‘out’ Jam, basically,” says Planningtorock, once known as ‘Janine’ Rostron but on the verge of making her Jam moniker legal. After years of being referred to as such by friends, the Bolton-raised, Berlin-based producer is making it official via deed poll, thus bringing those things closest to her into the public sphere. That begins with the genderless nickname-cum-forename and ends with the personal-as-political agenda of her latest album, All Love’s Legal, out on her own Human Level label, on February 10 next year. That’s a record that features such unsubtle track titles like ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’ and ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, the latter’s prancing, off-beat disco motion repeatedly disrupted by the laboured thud of hollow keys, while a nasal, androgynous voice stammers, ‘Jam’s the name, j-j-j-jam roll is my game!’
‘Human Drama’ is more explicit. Released as a single on December 9 with remixes by Perera Elsewhere and Paula Temple, that track features lyrical statements like, “gimme a human drama /and understand that gender’s just a game/ give me human drama /all sexuality is not the same”, through the capricious frolic of plucked orchestral strings and a crooked, synthesised organ line. But Rostron hasn’t always been so blunt. W, Planningtorock’s second release, out via DFA in 2011, was a weird and wonky dive into vocal manipulations and prosthetic face-masks where the cross-disciplinary artist –who also works with video –clearly messed with gender paradigms without ever expressly saying so. Instead, those ideas were left obscured and bleeding through the trumpeting march of ‘Doorway’, the rhythmic battering of ‘I Am Your Man’ coming the closest to candour, while the subtext of ‘Janine’ (“it’s such a joke, what he asked me to do” ), alongside ‘Jam’ (“Jammy’s a diva, he’s got funny tastes”) setting us up for what would become the central point of All Love’s Legal.
Then, it was “real’ confusing”. Now, it doesn’t have to be because the message is simple. Jam Rostron is an electronic producer that’s “maybe identified as a woman” and preoccupied with gender politics and “post-colonial, transnational feminism”. If her call to “degenderise all intellect” in ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’ doesn’t make it clear enough, then maybe the fact Rostron is legally changing her name to make up for the English language’s inconceivable lack of a gender-neutral singular pronoun to get her point across will: “It’s really easy. You just get a solicitor and sign a form and that’s it. But, yeah, it’s going to be in my passport.”
When we last spoke in 2011, you mentioned you wanted to avoid being patronising by getting too explicit, politically. What made you change tack?
Jam Rostron: Lots of things. I think the biggest was the fact that somehow what I was doing in my music wasn’t connecting to my real life; it do wasn’t doing what I hoped it would it do. That’s more on a lyrical, topical level. Also, just working out what it means to communicate ideas that are, maybe, unpopular in some circles and finding a way to do that, rather than being evasive, or if I want to be nicer to myself, poetic [laughs].
In reference to songs like ‘Beyond Binary Binds’, how hard is it to be able to express these ideas to a wider public who probably still think within these binaries?
JR: To be honest, I made this record for myself and my friends. I can’t imagine what it must be like to make music for people I don’t know and these are issues that are really a big part of my life. Thinking about other people, or the public, that’s in a way something that I just let happen and I don’t contemplate that much. When I do think about it, I just hope that some sharing, exchange and possibly interesting feedback can come out of it. Especially when you start to tour, or you start to play these songs live, these things can happen. But in relation to the press, for example, that’s something I do think about because a lot of music journalists are not necessarily thinking about this at all, these sorts of issues and, with the politics of how the press is, I’m wanting to maybe talk to journalists who maybe have a vested interest in these topics.
Do you ever think about preaching to the converted? Like, how can you effect change by only sharing these ideas with people who are having the same experience?
JR: I find it interesting that, when I’m in Berlin and I’m with my friends, I’m in this bubble of support and I start to think everywhere’s like this [laughs]. Then I start travelling and it’s one shock after the other. I’ve been DJ-ing quite a bit and you get into certain parties, you experience sexual politics right there and it’s disturbing, it freaks you out.
Deciding not to go through certain filters, that in a way kind of sabotage you, I think it’s very important. I don’t think I’m only performing or playing to people that ‘get it’ because there are a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily get it immediately, that maybe don’t know.
As you say, there are people who don’t get it. That’s especially when the media tends to be dominated by a specific demographic that has no idea.
JR: No idea and no interest. Because if you’re a straight white dude you have the whole male entitlement scenario or privilege where it’s just like, ‘well, it’s nothing to do with my life, so why engage with it?’ Not to say all people are like that but you would and do get that in music journalism.
It even happens on an ‘underground’ level, record labels not even realising how biased their rosters are.
JR: I know. It’s astounding! Human Level is defined as a label that’s interested in supporting and releasing queer producers, or people that identify themselves as women, and somebody said to me, ‘why are you only making a women-only label?’ Nobody makes a fuss that there are so many male-only labels and they say, ‘well, that’s not deliberate’, and I’m like, ‘hell it is!’ It’s totally deliberate. So you’re saying that these people are not making decisions? They’re making decisions. They’re deciding not to look and listen to these other producers.
I suppose when there are so few avenues for certain ‘types’ of people who don’t have the same opportunities as others, you have a responsibility to make those opportunities more available to them when you can.
JR: I want to work with transnational feminists. I want to work with transnational feminist musicians on stage with me because I want everything that I do to inform me, to help me and to evolve this language around these issues that affect my life so much. Someone said to me, ‘you can’t. You cant work with just feminists,’ and I thought, ‘well, why not?’ [laughs] This idea that it’s completely not cool, it’s not done. That was a friend and they were like, ‘yeah, I don’t know why not. I don’t know why I said that’. [laughs]
Have you been using ‘Jam’ for some time already?
JR: Yeah I have. In fact, apart from the idea of just wanting a name that wasn’t gender-defined, it would really alienate me when people would call me ‘Janine’ because no-one calls me Janine, no one really ever has. It was a bit weird after a time so, yeah, it’s good to clarify that.
Did your family call you Jam?
JR: Actually my family have other names for me. Not offensive ones. Not like ‘cunt’ or anything [laughs].
In the lyrics of ‘Misogyny Drop Dead’, when you mention ‘jam roll’ as your ‘game’: how is jam roll the game? It makes me think about the ‘jelly roll’ motif in blues music, which has some highly masculine, sexualised connotations.
JR: Right, that’s interesting. I suppose it’s, in a way, a very territorial term and saying that we’re operating within a game and whose game and what game. The end bit of that track, that feeling the voice gives at the time is quite, not menacing but I know what you mean, it can be, it’s quite dominant and I really like that feeling [laughs]. Dominating a game, basically. Oh god.
Says the one who’s anti-hierarchy.
JR: Yeah I’m not anti-hierarchical as long as I’m in charge of all the games [laughs]. No, I really like this idea of talking about hierarchy. I have this idea of operating more horizontally. At the moment I’m working on preparations for another video shoot on ‘Human Drama’. I’m working with a few people, Imogen [Heath] is the director of photography, Alexa [Vachon] and a few other friends, and we have so much fun and the reason we have so much fun is, first of all, because they’re amazing at what they do, very talented, and the second is they don’t need hierarchies to work hard. We all work together and, it’s clear that I’m the director of the video and stuff but I don’t have to be an arsehole or anything. We’re all in the same boat and we get a lot done. It’s just that feeling of completely getting away from any form of hierarchy.
Do you ever think about how these boundaries that you’re pushing against will always be there and they will always be restrictive?
JR: Rather than trying to compete or operate within this structure that’s there, I’m actually looking in a very different direction. I want to create something else, with other people that are thinking a different way. That’s another thing that I learnt from touring and the last record. It’s like banging your head against a wall. That’s one reason I decided to release this record completely independently on Human Level, to have that clarity and not to have to go through any of these compromising filters that just confuse and dilute what you’re trying to do. **
Planningtorock’s ‘Human Drama’ is out now on Human Level. All Love’s Legal is released February 10, 2014.