Letter #38

Good morning / afternoon / evening everyone,

I hope you’ve had a lovely week. We’ve had more snow in the UK than I think we’ve had for years, which has meant lots of time spent on slow trains, staring out of the window. I’ve tried to put the tape together this week to reflect that – it starts contemplative, and hopefully will gently thaw you out. Don’t worry though, the temperature  quickly climbs to tropical ❤️.

🌪 TL;DR section 🌪
Stuff to do: watch Op de Bank’s interview with Gilles Peterson; read anything by Ben Ratliff; listen to Kirk Degiorgio’s Afrofuturism show on Red Bull Radio; buy The Story of The Faceread about the tyranny of convenience on the NY Times.
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📚 The notes 📚
I’ve also spent a lot of this week frustrated. In last week’s letter, I talked about the tension between commitment and evolution, and I’m annoyed. First, because it was an interesting thought, but I think it was badly articulated. Second, I can’t get the stupid thought out of my head now.

One of my friends (thanks Ciarán), sent me a link to a brilliant Gilles Peterson 6 Music show (here), and that sent me down the rabbit hole. Then I found this excellent interview with Peterson from Op de Bank, and at around the thirty minute mark, he hits on what I was talking about last week. He’s asked about his commitment to jazz, and talks about DJs that he was playing with in the late 80s going to Ibiza for the first time. He’d been playing jazz in the back rooms, while they’d been playing soul – until Ibiza…

“Everyone came back from Ibiza, and this thing called acid house just exploded. And I was a little bit frustrated that I’d been too conservative. Maybe I’d been a bit too boring. I was stood on the edge watching it all happen, and I realised then that I didn’t want to be on the edge – I didn’t want to feel like I’m not moving forwards. You’ve always got to keep pushing the boundaries, and never settle into the comfort zone.

It was comforting, in a way, to know that someone who’d spend years by that point feeling left behind, feeling the pinch of comfort, and using that to push himself forwards. It kind of validated what I’d written about last week. I’ve started reading The Jazz Ear by Ben Ratliff (who’s my new favourite writer, if you hadn’t guessed). It’s a collection of intimate interviews with great jazz players, and despite being halfway through, the same theme is emerging; tension between moving forwards, and landing something important. 

A friend of mine (hey Adah!), shared a brilliant article this week that also touched on the same area. A group of researchers have found an accurate model for how innovations occur. It’s built from Kauffman’s theory of the ‘adjacent possible’, and takes into account power laws, complexity, and a lot of maths. What was really interesting is that they’ve managed to validate the theory of the ‘adjacent possible’, which until now had been unproven, but widely believed. The theory is pretty simple; the more we’re exposed to that we’re unfamiliar with, the faster we develop. It’s how vaccines work (cells are exposed to viral cells). It’s how ideas work (we find parallels in non-connected areas to create new things in another area). And I think it’s how taste works too (the more we hear, the greater propensity we have towards that same sound). You can track your own tastes back, and I’m sure there’ll be a connective thread between everything. This got me thinking more about how you can be fully committed to an idea, but by exposing more people to it, it evolves. It becomes enveloped into a culture, and then the actors in that culture move it forwards. The UK jazz scene isn’t controlled by anyone, but some people make it more palatable and give it a sense of familiarity that enables it to become established, at which point ownership spreads, and it’s evolution becomes natural. Some of this harks back to what I was talking about in Letter #32, where I spoke about the idea that new ‘things’ that become popular have a blend of newness and familiarity.

Weird, right? 

So, all of this was whirling around my head, and then I read an article in FADER, on Jai Paul. For those that are unfamiliar, Jai Paul is a bit of an enigma. He has two official singles (the first of which is on this week’s tape), and not much more. He’s only ever done one interview, and remains almost completely anonymous. A few years ago, an album appeared on Bandcampthat claimed to be his debut, and the electronic music world went crackers. It turned out to be either a hoax, or a hack, but either way it was pulled down. If anything, this added even more to the myth of Jai Paul. 

Some of the more obscure forums are still alight with rumours, but while the two singles have seen some success, Paul’s impact outside of electronic music circles is pretty minimal. His impact within them though, was massive. Within the electric music culture, Paul was driving demand by choking supply. He was, in many ways, denying people of the evolution his music promised.

I started thinking that that cultural evolution could be driven in two ways; either by taking what’s already there and shining a light on it (Gilles Peterson), which then draws more people into the culture to help develop it. Or, by sitting on the edges and adding something innovative, but showing little commitment to the existing culture (Jai Paul, Burial, Banksy). The former brings new people in and drives innovation together, whereas the latter becomes about sparks of genius that inspire the whole culture to think differently. 

Maybe we need both, a bit like bonfires and fireworks. 

On that note, I hope you’ve thawed out, and as always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ♥️ .

See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day

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