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Jakobin is changing up the equation between drums and bass

The Madagascan-born, Bristol-based DJ loves to pull listeners in unexpected directions with his idiosyncratic mix of styles

  • Words: Fraser Dahdouh | Photography: Leah De La Hunty
  • 19 May 2022

Madagascan-born DJ Jakobin has recently been turning out mixes that layer distorted pop vocals and melodies through a syncopated, rhythmic sound drawing widely from UK funky, reggaeton, amapiano, and baile funk. The influence of Bristol, where he now resides, shines through as the heavily-structured, sub-bass sounds of bassline and garage puncture the lighter landscapes of his recent influences.

He grew up around 9,000km from his birthplace in Stroud, Gloucestershire, and would often travel to nearby Bristol with his brother found affinity with the city's penchant for dark, weighty sounds, eventually moving there full-time to attend university. Global influence underpins his sound, from the garage, grime, bassline and R&B that dominates teenaged parties on these shores to the spectrum of deep and resonant to hard-hitting and explosive club music that emerges from nations such a South Africa, Nigeria and Brazil.

Now he's joining the dots between his wide range of influences, where's putting his own spin on diva classics or traversing genre-spanning mixes that pull listeners in unexpected directions.

We meet on a typically loud Sunday in Bristol. The traffic backing up through the intersection between Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft is caused by a sea of blue lights washing over Turbo Island. They cut through the pleasant atmosphere of the warm afternoon, so we head east to the legendary Star and Garter pub in St. Paul’s, where the reggae and homemade patties made a better home for conversation.

Our conversation covers why he moved away from the bassline sets that he had become known for and his hunt for a ‘sexier’ sound to build a more inclusive dancefloor. The musical journey that he’s been on over the last six years tells us about new undercurrents in the Bristol scene that he reckons are set to dominate the sound of UK music. Check out his Impact mix and Q&A below.

When did you start DJing and what drew you to it?

The first party I went to – I think it was one of my older brother’s friends – I remember seeing someone in charge of the decks and just thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve gotta do this’. It was a big party you know; it was one of the aspiring Project X parties where anyone and everyone from anywhere and everywhere was invited. But I saw this DJ in charge of the music and it was just so cool to me and I wanted to do it.

Did you like the music he was playing?

[Laughs] I don’t really remember what it was you know. But it was the idea of leading the music or the sound that really appealed to me.

How much has that evolved and how old were you when you started DJing?

I would probably say that I was always involved or interested in music. I’ve always been the go-to person for plugging my phone in and I thought – you know – I’m pretty good at this, I’ll give DJing a crack.

What were you playing back then?

I think it was mainly bassline back then, anything really heavy. You know, getting the party moving, seeing what the grittiest sound was, and a lot of the most popular tracks at the time.

A lot of those kinds of house parties back then, they would often be a combination of just those heavy and those popular tunes to keep the people flowing through the dancefloor, right?

Yeah [laughs]. It was often the most poppy or commercial tunes right next to these brutal, heavy tracks… you know, the mixes were probably terrible, but it was just what everyone wanted – two very different sides of the party.

A lot of the DJs that I’ve spoken to who started mixing around that age wind up playing for friends a lot of the time, selecting tracks to please people, I imagine it’s a very different experience to picking up a skill once you’ve developed your own tastes right? Did you feel like you’d achieved that desire to take people on your own musical journey that attracted you to DJing at that time?

No, no… back then I was very much playing to the crowd, tracks that I thought that they would like. Recently I’m really developing my own sound, what I like to put out there, you know I’m obviously still reading and reacting to the crowd but I’m not taking any requests if you get what I mean. It's what I like to play and if people don’t like it; fair enough.

When did you come to Bristol?

I came to Bristol at the start of Uni. I graduated a couple of years ago but my graduation is actually in a couple of weeks – pandemic's finally allowed it aye? Really, I came before that though, my brother took me here, people were playing bassline and gritty sounds, I was just discovering that stuff at the time and I really enjoyed it. Those three years, you know, 2016 to 2019, it was just the height of bassline and those dark sounds. Bristol was known for being that drum ‘n’ bass hub, a bit of a bassline hub as well. It still is obviously with bassline but jungle is back in a big way these days and there are rollers on every night.

Read this next: Nia Archives is leading jungle's new era

That sets the scene quite nicely, when was the first time that you played a club night?

I think it was Basement 45, I was still in my first year, I’d call that the start of my journey as a DJ. Not gonna lie, I can’t really remember the full line-up that night, we’ll say I mashed up the decks? Nah, I was doing a collaboration with my mate Kendrick, we started off wanting to make a night, he’s now gone on to bigger things in drum ‘n’ bass, but back then we founded the Bristol Bass Collective – I thought of the name actually – then we kind of realised we were clashing with the other ‘BBC’ night, Buckfast Boys Collective.

That takes us from playing with the decks at house parties to putting on proper nights, what did one of those nights sound like?

Honestly, it was all bassline. They were really heavy nights. And it stayed like that, every year that I was at Uni I was known for playing bassline, and I think that the time it changed was leaving Uni. I won’t say ‘growing up’, but yeah, it was that time of my life when I was being introduced to other genres. At the end of my third year abroad we started the UK funky and brought in some new genres. All of those gigs were in Bristol and the surrounding areas, I hosted a couple of events in Stroud.

What happened there?

I was good before the pandemic, I was doing Lengdems which was a night that I created, but obviously the pandemic hit and it's fallen off the radar, but I’ve got a project that I'm working on for next summer. I was playing the full UK bass sound, everything from speed garage to bassline. Around then I love to drop Flava D 'In the Dance', it was a big tune for me, so it showed up in quite a lot of my mixes. There are a couple of other artists so it was all Darkzy, Flava D, Notion – he’s a Bristol boy as well.

Who else was bringing you on in Bristol?

It was Eoin Fenton and there was Steffan Chelland, he was part of Buckfast Boys Club and that really got me on the circuit; there was Roshan from Dazed, we kind of moved into Blue Mountain, it was a good place to cut your teeth as a young DJ in room 2. I was introduced to the Bristol scene through that room in a way, I got to know a lot of other DJs and things started moving. I think my style changed a little at the time as I was really trying to earn the respect of the promoters that booked me, but my close friends were always there, supporting me, and also giving me really valuable feedback. For the first time, I had people I didn’t know coming up to me after my sets showing me love, that’s always such a great feeling as a DJ, it pushes you to go on really.

How has being unrepresented for this long affected you?

Well, I think that not being represented has really kept the pressure off to keep pushing tracks out and travel to play, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that but I’m not sure that I would have found the sound that I’m playing now had I been until this point.

You spent a year in France, when was that?

I did three years at UWE then a year abroad, in France, yeah… France was interesting. I really didn’t play out as much, I went to a lot of parties but they did it differently over there. I’ve gotta say, I really missed the music we were playing back home, when I first got there, it was just really generic sing-along tunes, it was filled with international students. Funnily, there was a guy I met from Manchester and he introduced me to the kind of music he was playing up there, Sammy Virji and a bit of techno, but when I was out there, that’s when the UK funky became something that I really support. I really liked the way the percussion melded with the 4x4 sound. The rhythmic vibe allowed everyone to dance and I saw an opportunity for that to make a more inclusive dancefloor.

Read this next: Why didn't UK funky break the mainstream?

Had you come to the limit of what you could do with the bass-forward sounds you’d been playing?

No, because the way that I would describe the journey to my sound now is that I started taking the heaviness, that real sub-bass, from that bassline – that was my Bristol sound – and the vocals, the percussion, those rich drums from UK funky and making a kind of baby [laughs].

But yeah, I didn’t really play much when I was out in France, I had a lot of time on my hands in the place that I’d never been, Bordeaux. I went to a couple of clubs there and the music was quite nice to be fair, baile funk, it was quite a niche scene. There was one event that I went to and they played reggaeton, that was the music and that’s what I was listening to, this element of reggaeton. There were a lot of Afro-diaspora people there, it was a student night and the turnout was always huge. It’s just a really sexy genre that everyone dances to and I’ve really enjoyed bringing in elements of that sound into my mixes. UK funky and reggaeton are similar in that way, the syncopation and some of the BPMs are quite similar.

And why was it that you wanted to bring that in?

I just wanted to explore the sexy sounds, it’s all good playing bassline and building a gritty atmosphere but reggaeton is the music that you dance sexy to.

What was the club scene like out there for you? Coming from Bristol where people get really pickled on a night out, I’m interested to hear what it was like in France and how you adapted to that?

Over there, in my experience, it was just drinking really and it changed the way people dance, it wasn’t really skanking music. It was more like moving the body, exploring the bodies, and getting intimate, the movements weren’t as hectic, there weren’t any gun fingers shaking around.

And you started producing when you were out there?

The most popular track I produced when I was out there, yeah, that kind of stemmed from the reggaeton I was listening to out there, that gave me an idea — I’ve always had that Whitney Houston track, 'It's Not Right But It's Okay', in the back of my mind, I really wanted to remix it. From there, I decided that I wanted to make more UK funky mixes, and my older brother really connected with me on these as he’s really into that UK funky sound. I really want to mention Club Djembe — their sound is something I’m really focussed on, at the moment, they’re killing it in Bristol and it’s really driving me to explore that intersection between reggaeton, UK funky, and baile funk. I think I first went to one of their nights with my brother, I’d kind of had one eye on them since their first party, but I really felt like ‘this is it’. I’ve played a couple of events with them now, most recently at Thekla; a club on a boat basically. Anyway, I just got searching on SoundCloud, I really like using it to find small artists that aren’t established. I began to discover this whole world of tracks, dubs, and remixes that I hadn’t known about before.

How is that reflected in how you built your Impact mix?

For this mix, I’ve been really keen to touch upon amapiano, which is a genre I was introduced to quite recently, which originates from the South African club scene – it’s just such a good vibe. It’s a lot slower, I think it's 110-115 BPM, so it’s a lot slower than the bassline that I used to listen to. But I think it’s interesting because the sub-bass seems to hit you a lot more, it's relatively random where it hits compared to other genres, which I really like about it.

Read this next: The beautiful chaos of Amapiano, South Africa's emerging house movement

As you’ve moved away from genres that conform to the structures of garage and bassline into these new forms of syncopated sound, what do you bring through from that experience, and have you found it a challenging shift?

The thing that has just stuck is the subs and an affinity for the quirkiness of the sounds and instrumentation used in bassline.

Your mix prominently features vocals, it seems to have been a growing theme in your more recent work — why are you incorporating them more? And why do other DJs shy away from using them as much?

I think it stems from wanting the audience members to sing along to the music and get involved with the set more, plus, I try to put a lot of remixes of well-known tunes in so that when it drops, it’s really unexpected.

Do you think of Bristol as being important to your sound?

Definitely, yeah, it's been the ground for me to explore my sound, and it has got so much going for it with all of the cultural diversity; there's always something to do at any time of night. It is just so inclusive of all of the people that are here and that just makes it a really great place for any DJ to perform and explore. There’s also a load of radio stations as well, SWU.FM – I played a set with those guys – then you’ve got 1020 Radio where I had my first radio set.

Read this next: Why you should be excited about Bristol's music scene

How did you cope during the pandemic? You didn’t have an agent at the time, the clubs closed and you couldn’t rely on those same institutions for practice and work, what did you do?

It gave me the opportunity to focus more on production, because obviously I wasn’t playing sets and I was really stressed as I was in my third year of Uni, doing my dissertation, working from home as they’d closed the libraries. I found my peace in listening to music, so I started listening to a much broader variety of tracks and genres to really explore what was out there. I also played some radio shows, the first one was for an Australian radio station, FBi Radio, someone brought me in on that. It was a way of getting your stuff promoted in a way, it brought a bit of excitement back to things because I couldn’t build sets for in-person events at the time.

I can imagine, the way that you’ve articulated it to me seems like that relationship with the crowd, with the dancefloor is really important to why you DJ, and to really see those reactions, how was it different for you?

There was quite a lot of pressure as it was an international radio set, you know, I changed what I selected a little bit. The person that approached me about this came to me through my Afrobeat sets, and self-produced Afro-style sets, but at the same time, I wanted to give some impression of the UK scene. I think I played some My Nu Leng as well as they’d been important to me early on and I wasn’t sure how familiar an international, Australian audience would be with their music.

What sounds are going to define the future of your music and are we going to see more influence on UK dance music from afrobeats?

I think amapiano is going to be a big genre coming into play, especially through summer. I would also like to add, that in my tracks there’s going to be a lot more hard-hitting percussion! I have a forthcoming release with Low Pitched Records which will really explore this. In particular, my mixes will definitely have a lot more R&B tracks that have been remixed into baile funk or UK funky, especially moving into the carnival/festival season. That and UK funky now seems to be taking a lot of influence from like soca, afrobeats, garage, etc. In the industry at large, it’s been clear that drill/UK rap and Afrobeats will create a hybrid genre, people like Pa Salieu and J Hus have been making that sort of vibe.

Check out Jakobin on SoundCloud

Fraser Dahdouh is a freelance writer

Tracklist:
Breath - Mina
Eminem Riddem - BAVR
Lit Like This - MXTT HXLL x RICHTANNER
LUV (Camtrao Edit)
Donda Chant (Amapiano Remix ) - ELEX X AKZ
BEST FRIEND RIDDIM ( JULES ‘AMAPIANO’ EDIT)
Say it right (AKZ-Amapiano Edit) - Nelly Furtado
Needed Me (Sorensen Ampiano Remix) - Rihanna
Would You Be There (Original Mix) - Hyalyte
F*ck All The Time (Hyalyte Edit) - Jeremih
Work (Pistols Edit) - Crux Pistols
What is Love (Gafacci Remix)
Walk Out Gyal ft. Mr Lez Keida (Murder He Wrote remix) - The Heatwave
Ambience - Melé
Body (Sorenses Gqom Remix) - Russ Millions & Tion Wayne
Roll With The Punches (Tenshu Remix) - Peverlist
TOAST (Jabari UKG remix) - KOFFEE
Back & Forth - DJ S.K.T
My Humps (Black Eyed Peas) - Douvelle19
Saw Riddim - Dwight & Sam
Fis-T Uk funky remix
Julio Bashmore - Au Swerve
Together - Murder He Wrote
My Way (Mixing Flavour Afro House Bootleg) - Fetty Wap
Meet Her Front Left - Mina
Doldrums - DJ Polo
Toolroom Knights -,Dismantle
French Fries - Senta
Manumission - Sylvere
Selecta Dub (Beastwang Spesh) - Ali McK & IYZ
Lighter VIP - Champion
Squash - Dismantle
Packs & Potions (Murder He Wrote Remix) - Hazey

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