- Jago Pearson, the DJ and producer Zulu, chats to Lucie Horton about his musical influences, Goldsmiths and his resistance to clubbing
The first time I met Jago I was drunk around mutual friends, and so I had slight reservations that meeting him in the cold, sober light of day might be a bit awkward. But my reservations were put to rest when he walked in smiling, and approached me like we were old friends.
Jago is a second year Media and Comms student, but he’s most well known as being the producer and DJ behind Zulu. His success is notable and his tribally African house sound is distinct amongst the ‘Au Seve’ copycats. Having released on Girls Music (Toddla T’s label), Zoo music (Monki’s Label), Enchufada (Buraka Som Sistema’s label), and played at Fabric, Village Underground, The Nest, Lux and Parklife, Jago’s had some success, and I get the feeling he’s in for a lot more.
One particularly inspiring moment that stands out for him is a night out in 2009 to The Bussey Building in Peckham where he saw James Blake DJ. ‘I remember going to that and it just being like whoa, it was a kind of a mind-fuck. Going there from the countryside, it’s so raw and like, a bit sketchy. I didn’t actually know then that Bussey Building was a totally legal space, I remember looking up and there were wires coming out the ceiling. I’d never seen anything like that before.’
But it wasn’t just the urban scenery that enthused him, after watching James Blake, Jago went home and listened to his music; ‘It was before ‘Limit to your Love’, it was when he was doing all his instrumentally stuff. I thought it was really cool. I think when people first start they need something to base an idea around otherwise you don’t really know where to begin. So I tried making music like that.’
Zulu’s sound is much more energetic than Blake’s, and has clearly undergone quite an evolution from that initial exposure. The song Fatherless by Breach, which he describes as sounding like ‘your in the middle of a tribal initiaition in West Africa’, helped Jago to ‘zone in on a particular sound’ A Tribal beat pulsates through the Zulu sound, and clearly initiated some of his unusual genre categories from ‘Zimbabwean Trance’ to ‘Tribal House’. But Jago doesn’t take it too seriously; ‘oh the genre thing was a bit of a joke… I think the whole thing is quite funny. I do take it seriously, but I grew up in South West England. I don’t have much of an affiliation with Africa.’
With dance music acts like Disclosure topping the charts I’m interested to see what Jago makes of electronic producers becoming more mainstream. ‘I don’t think people should say that because a certain sound gets bigger that it’s a negative thing. But at the same time I do think there are so many things at the moment which are just carbon copies of each other.’ But ultimately, he likes the way it keeps producers on their toes; ‘it’s healthy and it inspires you to find a new direction to set yourself apart.’
But for someone who spends a lot of his time making music to be played in clubs, ironically Jago doesn’t like clubbing. ‘I think as I’ve got older I don’t like being in places fucked out of my head at 5 in the morning,’ he says. Clubbing to him is like a busman’s holiday; he spends so much time making that type of music, when he goes out he wants to listen to something totally different. ‘I prefer listening to a record at home rather than hearing it in a club,’ he explains.
His decision to come to Goldsmiths is largely based on it’s location; ‘I only wanted to go to uni in London really because I find the heritage historically, socially, and especially musically, really interesting.’ But our notoriously arty, liberal university hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations; ‘I kind of had the image of everyone walking around campus with a synthesiser, some paint brushes, or a shark cut in half.’ He laughs. ‘There’s an aspect to it that’s really good. But it’s so true the idea; that concept, not SFG, but people being wanky to each other. Sometimes last year I really thought everyone should just cheer up and smile more. There’s a judgmental aspect, which is stupid really.’
So what’s in store for the future? ‘I’m working on a new song to release on Monki’s label (Radio 1 DJ) and we’ve made a tune that sounds a bit different, focusing less on the club side of things. It’s a lot more like an actual song,’ he tells me. Working on everything from disco to melodic tunes, he eventually aims to have a large body of work. Jago is as high-energy and humorous as the music he produces- definitely one Goldsmiths student to keep watching.