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Nicolas Jaar

Jul 15, 2017

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I only recently stumbled onto Nicolas Jaar as a recommended artist on my Spotify. His approach to house and other club music is so unique and experimental, I really fell in love with it, despite it being a genre I’m usually not very interested in. He’s an American-born Chilean composer. He’s got a really interesting discography, starting with his dance-club EP’s early on, then moving on to  stranger and more experimental music on his recent albums. He’s done a few soundtracks, most notably his album, Pomegranites, an alternative soundtrack to the 1969 avant-garde Soviet film, The Colour of Pomegranites, and the original score for Dheepan, a French drama that won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. His newest album, Sirens, is an experimental electronic project influenced by the history and political problems of his mother country, Chile. I was really interested to see how this would translate live. I was not disappointed.

Nicolas performed without an opening act, say for a 30 foot LED bar suspended from the ceiling and some smoke machines that periodically sprayed smoke. Nothing happened until his arrival over 1.5 hours after doors opened, so the audience gleefully cheered every time the smoke machine hazed up the room in anticipation for his arrival. I have never seen a group of people so jazzed for a smoke machine. When he finally did come, he walked up on stage pretty undramatically after the buildup, didn’t say anything, and just started playing.

His music has lately taken on a more experimental noise and drone oriented form compared to his earlier more popular dance songs that bring in the crowds, which makes for an interesting live show. A lot of people came in expecting a dance show and that’s not what they initially got. The first half of the show was mostly improvised ambient drone and noise music. The set started with textured high- end sounds that danced through live mix, shrieking through the droning bass. The vibe was grimy, industrial, and post-apocalyptic, with strange distorted noises jumping in and out of the live mix with intention. On occasion, Nicholas's indecipherable and ominous distorted spoken-word vocals would come in through the drones like a lost radio transmission. Sometimes he would speak in Spanish, and other times English, though it was difficult to tell which was which. He moved from track to track seamlessly, improvising the entire set.

His improvisation is one of the most interesting things about his live performances. He’s not like some producer DJ’s that just play a playlist of their songs and pretend to fiddle on some knobs, every concert is live remixed and completely different. When he does play his album songs, he mostly just touches on them for a second, deconstructing and reconstructing the instrumental motifs before moving onto the next radically different musical idea. When you go to a Nicolas Jaar concert, you never really know exactly what to expect, but you know it’s going to be unconventional and exciting.

As the show progressed, however, he moved to his dancier electronic club mixes. Once the beat hit and the unst-unst-unst-ingcommenced, the ambient vibe completely changed and everyone danced. The latter half of the show was cheerier, brighter, and more fun than the more sonically interesting first half.

Nicolas Jaar has very modest stage presence. He didn’t say or do much on stage, say for a “thank you” to the audience. He let his music talk for him.The only exception was his amazingly dramatic improvised saxophone solo about halfway through the show, where he created looped drones with the saxophone and shredded over them. Oh and the lights as well; that LED bar really put in work. At one point it changed color and spun around a bit, that was cool.

I have got to say, I left the concert with my heart-pounding, and the tinnitus in my ears shrieking gleefully (protect your ears kids!).  If you like weird experimental and ambient drone/club music, or just want to go to an interesting show in general, check him out.


Vishnu Namboodiripad