“There’s a problem with culture looking back and that’s bigger than just music,” writes London-based producer Junior XL over email. He’s discussing the spectres of UK garage and jungle that are scattered throughout his debut EP Fervour Wharf, released via TT (fka Tobago Tracks) on April 12. “I guess I have a big love for sounds that feel outside of time — like they could have been made years ago, or they could have been last week.” Junior XL continues, while also cautioning against the mechanistic sheen of much contemporary electronic music, which implies a nihilistic aestheticisation of self-destructive capitalism. “I’m skeptical of nostalgia but I’m also skeptical of (some kinds of) futurism, ‘cos they just feel accelerationist.”
Junior XL is one half of Lol K, whose EP Born Under a Bad Onewas released last year by Curl — including a music video collaboration with Rowdy SS that premiered on AQNB. That record mixed the trudging subs of bass music with atonal experimentalism, while Fervour Wharf is a cyclic record that crackles with breakbeats, vocal loops and hypnotic guitar riffs. They’re like a sonic representation of the start-stop exhausted delirium of the English capital in which the tracks were produced.
In the video for ‘It felt like moving forward, but you’ve been going around in circles’, premiering today on AQNB, the shaky, handheld footage of spring flowers is depicted against the architecture, cement and smog of London. Junior XL appears in the video mouthing the track’s looped vocal line in selfie footage, edited with familiar out-of-the-box filters. The video’s part organic, part technological feel is reminiscent of the fleeting mediated moments that blur with our everyday life. Walking in the city, we might be engrossed in our environment, then glance at an Instagram story from a friend miles away, with these instances melding indistinguishably into our memories. ‘It felt like moving forward, but you’ve been going around in circles’ is all high saturation, soft focus and ephemeral, like much of Junior XL’s music. Its haunting and somnambulistic repetition evokes that sense of lucidity when you’re half asleep on the underground but still acutely aware of your surroundings.
**There’s a strong use of cut-up vocals in Fervour Wharf — particularly in tracks ‘Even Though’ and ‘Stubborn’ — reminiscent of the vocal samples of 2-step garage. Is this something you’re consciously tapping into? How does the voice and the voice’s alteration through technology play into your music?
Junior XL: As I hear it, it’s all voices against drums. Even when it’s guitar or another instrument what sounds good to me is working it ‘til it sounds vocal and human. I think about the idea of voicing and phrasing a lot. Sometimes I get so excited in the studio by a vocal loop just going round and round, I suppose I like working that into a tune but keeping that energy of the loop
A big thing for this EP was the idea of stasis/being ‘stuck’, both as something negative like a cyclical thought you can’t escape but also as something potentially transformative.
**Can you tell us a little about the community of musicians you’re working with at the moment?
JX: Bianca Scout (who is on the EP) is a really sick artist I get inspiration from, and also a personal friend who’s linked with Curl. I learned a lot from seeing the Curl family play over the years, and the fact that it’s growing/moving all the time is super exciting. The music everyone is making is incredible and everybody is so nice and generous with each other. I can’t speak highly of them all enough! Most closely and frequently, I work with Chris Calderwood who is the other half of Lol K and that working relationship has been incredibly formative and sweet.
**The history of electronic dance music in the UK is tied to notions of cultural identity – I’m thinking how jungle for instance is both London-native and also a result of the global cultural fabric of the city. What are your thoughts on making music in the present fraught political climate of the UK, in the global and European hub for musicians that is London?
JX: I don’t feel like my music is a critical space in that way. It’s centred on emotions and non-verbal communication (I hope). The political choices I make in my personal life are very important to me though, so of course it crosses over — there are venues I wouldn’t play and institutions I wouldn’t work with.
**With Lol K and last year’s Born Under a Bad One EP, the mix of bass music, extended experimentalism and the collaboration with Rowdy SS had an interdisciplinary feeling that seemed well-suited to a digital context. For your solo Junior XL project, how do you imagine the context of the listener — do you think of this first as music for clubs, or for the online listener?
JX: I don’t think this is a club EP, though it is inspired by that space. It’s more like an afterparty or being on a journey, I think the next Junior release might be though… I’m making that now. With Lol K, we both had been working with dancers around the time of making the release, and that EP (Born Under a Bad One) was born out of long, improvised sessions between me and Chris, that we edited into songs. So when we had the chance to work with Rowdy for whom also improvisation is very important, it felt really exciting. Rowdy is another artist who has been incredibly inspiring for me.
**What can you tell us about the cover art for Fervour Wharf? For me it seems to add to this post-human organic-meets-technological feeling in the record’s sound.
JX: The artwork is by @um_destinyhalo__, who’s been a friend for a few years and I have always been enamoured with the work they make. I trusted that I would love what they made and I did! It was so perfect ‘cos it was also this ‘outside of time’ creation. It’s alien and seductive to me, while also feeling like some strange coincidence of the trash and the tide. We have always spoken about this mixing of man-made, ultramodern with organic, dirty matter. To me that’s how the music sounds too, not even consciously. I don’t think I could make anything else.**