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Album Of The Week

Cool Memories: Jam City Presents EFM
Alex Niven , May 25th, 2023 08:47

After a brief pastoral interlude, Jack Lathan returns to the urban nightscape with an album of wall-to-wall bangers, finds Alex Niven

In a time that feels more scarily somnolent than tangibly tragic we find elation where we can. The world of money and men slides on downwards but summer is immovable, proof of a turning world and the hope of desertion. Gardens and front-rooms of flats in Withington and Walthamstow become spaces outside the hemmed-in syllabi of Sunak and Starmer, as we see again that escapism is not or not only about escape – that joy can be metamorphic. Somewhere in these islands of rain and wonky comradeship echoes of certain modern electronic fables ring out – ‘Holiday’, ‘Alphabet City’, ‘Pump Up the Volume’, ‘Flowers’ – tiny reminders of the stubborn, unending locomotion of youth, yearning and city-love that is the beat.

Jack Latham has long been a champion of the dancefloor as a potential site of resistance – a believer in the utopic potential of electronic music to bring us together and set us free. On his latest album, Jam City Presents EFM, he pays the distilled essence of the genre an almost implausibly ecstatic, heartfelt tribute. If, as Latham once maintained, “there is an amazing, emancipatory quality in dreaming and imagining things, asking impossible questions”, this is an album that takes his provocative experiments in musical dreaming and gives them an urgent front-of-speaker focus.

While 2015’s Dream a Garden and 2020’s Pillowland saw Latham digress from the lapidary minimalism of his 2012 Night Slugs debut Classical Curves (through engagements with layered guitar and synth textures, bedroom-pop arcana and critiques of pornography by bell hooks), Jam City Presents EFM is in every sense a return to the centre of things. Indeed, if those previous efforts had something of the pastoral about them, from Dream a Garden’s vaguely folk-horror-ish psychedelia to Pillowland’s lockdown retreat into the domestic, Latham’s latest offering is strikingly urban and communal in orientation – an album, perhaps, for a time when people are re-learning just how transformative social gathering can be.

In the album’s publicity materials he has spoken of it as a Proustian attempt to recapture teenage escapades in the Liquid & Envy nightclub in Redhill, nights spent “shivering in the rain soaked car park, a group of girls from my school share a lighter with the local bikers in their leathers; Harley, Honda, Yamaha.” But delving deeper into such lyric apologias we see that it is really the deterritorialised, Baudrillardian version of urban America to be found in suburban Surrey – rather than Surrey itself – that is the real creative stimulus. As Latham describes this utopic space (which might, in a sense, have been anywhere), “it felt like you’d walked into Studio 54 or something. There’s a mural of the Manhattan skyline preposterously splashed over the bar, neon everywhere and the floors are sticky with cheap champagne.”

And so we are thrust, in Jam City Presents EFM, into a sort of sci-fi rendering of downtown New York or Chicago or L.A. – a place where all of the most sophisticated, most euphoric anthems in dance music history can be heard during what Latham has described as a hedonic midnight car ride (somewhat recalling the premise of Paul Morley’s 2004 postmodern history of pop, Words and Music, in which a fictional Kylie Minogue does something very similar while ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ plays in the background). Perhaps the time Latham spent living in hyperreal California in the late 2010s is a key influence here – as, surely, are his readings of Samuel R. Delaney’s essay anthology Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, John Rechy’s epic trawl around LA in the 1983 novel Bodies and Souls, and multiple biographies of Paradise Garage and the heroic age of US urban club culture.

Whatever the source, Jam City Presents EFM ultimately reveals itself as something like an upbeat musical Blade Runner – an album of shimmering surfaces, sticky-sweet lyric refrains and unstoppable robotic momentum. ‘Times Square’, one of many collaborations here with the vocalist Aidan, makes this implied backdrop explicit through its title, lyrics and classic Detroit techno sample. But for the most part, these are tracks in which intellectual subtleties take a backseat to an impassioned, civic-minded quest for dancefloor unity.

In other words – and I’m afraid there is no other way to put this – this is an album of bangers. ‘Touch Me’ – on which Aidan’s vocals play-off sinuously with those of Manchester singer-songwriter Clara La San – rides in on a groove that is equal parts Balearic anthem and imperial-phase Madonna. On ‘Reface’, even the trademark extravagantly filtered vocals and sonic effects (theorised by critics like Adam Harper and Dan Barrow as quirks of a new accelerationist sub-genre called ‘distroid’) can’t hide the fact that it is broadly channelling the vibe of a Radio 1 Essential Mix circa 2003 (in a good way). Even more gloriously, the drum track in ‘Wild N Sweet’ recalls nothing so much as Gala’s ‘Freed from Desire’, a startling – and not unwelcome – moment in the oeuvre of an artist with a reputation for apocalyptic sonic brutalism. You can almost taste the cheap champagne at Liquid & Envy.

In a recent interview with Crack, Latham describes the background to Jam City Presents EFM as “tracking down stories of … the dancers and bouncers and people doing drugs with the mafia [at legendary nightclubs] … I started thinking it would be cool to approach writing a club record with those narratives in mind. The people who were never memorialised.”

Such democratic impulses appear to have spurred him on to create his most confident, joyous and accessible album – an art-for-art’s-sake blowout that is nonetheless replete with radical political potential. Summer is coming, and it’s time for the forgotten, the marginalised and the simply depressed to come together to discover the “amazing, emancipatory quality in dreaming and imagining things”. Jam City Presents EFM is their soundtrack.