Cover Story: Jamz Supernova

Chatting with Felicity Martin, Future Bounce label head Jamz Supernova discusses her life, her label, her philosophical approach to music and the effects of her recent trip to Colombia.

19 min
Jamz Supernova Cover Story
Feb 21, 2023
·
By
Felicity Martin

Jamz Supernova has been down the rabbit hole in preparation for her Saturday afternoon slot on BBC 6 Music. The presenter had been planning to give a nod to Trinidad carnival in the show, before clocking the amount of carnivals that were going on worldwide, from Brazil to Guadeloupe, Mardi Gras, Panama, Haiti and more – an explosion of celebrations all overlapping. “Yeah, my brain’s a bit… I’ve gone too far! It’s just a two-hour show,” she laughs over Zoom from her home in London.

This tendency to meticulously research her shows with an ultra-fine tooth comb – which in this case involved reaching out to friends partying in global reaches to get that on-the-ground knowledge of the music that was popping off – is key to Jamz’s success as a broadcaster, label owner and DJ. She’s one of those people for whom the word ‘tastemaker’ really fits, delivering that over the airwaves, through her A&Ring for her Future Bounce imprint, and in her adrenalized sets, which might include anything from a cut from Bristol’s GutterFunk label to an amapiano edit of “Mundian To Bach Ke” by Panjabi MC.

When we chat, Jamz has recently returned from a trip to Colombia, where she explored the Pacific side of the country with her partner, the producer Sam Interface and her one-year-old child, Forest. It was meant to be a holiday, but she spent it, naturally, with her ear to the ground (and carefully collecting a suitcase of vinyl to haul back with her). The areas she visited have the biggest concentration of Afro and indigenous people in the country, and “the music and culture there is so different to the image that people have of Colombia,” she says while reflecting on her time in the city of Quibdo. “The preservation of the culture from the African slaves, keeping that culture alive through stories and music, I found that really interesting,” she says.

The 20 days she spent in Latin America wasn’t enough – “I don’t think you could do it all in a lifetime” – but her sights are next on East Africa, more specifically Uganda, where she’s keen to explore the underground electronic scene that DJs like Kampire are part of. “They’ve got so many collectors and hubs and community-based projects out there. It’s just wherever the music takes me, really,” she says.

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Jamz, 32, born Jamilla Walters, grew up in New Cross. “Music was the way my family communicated and spent time – it still is,” she says. Family functions would revolve around music, “with sound system culture in mind, but in a very British way,” she explains, painting a typical scene of The Carpenters being played into Bob Marley into something like Chronixx. Figuring out the common threads between genres made an impact on her at a young age, and she notes that her DJing can take a similarly scattergun approach. At 14, she started going out to clubs, finding she could only get into places that played dancehall, which introduced her to the “quick mixing and juggling” aspect of things.

When she was slightly older, the raves she went to coincided with a fertile period for underground electronic music, with funky house and dubstep laying the groundwork for other strands of UK bass. That then opened up a portal to other forms of 4×4 music like minimal techno. “I like to think of it as a big map,” she says. “I’m lucky to have been exposed to so much.” What really made an impression on her – as well as the XFM in the car to school, Jamie Duggan mix CDs, LimeWire downloads and Linkin Park of her teenage years – was the idea of the DJ setting and controlling the vibe.

She wouldn’t begin to mix herself until she joined Reprezent Radio at 23, after her mentor there advised her that she’d start getting bookings – and being able to DJ was a must. He sold her his pair of decks and she taught herself the basics in her living room, mixing the same song. As a self-described perfectionist, at first Jamz struggled with the unpredictable nature of playing to crowds, “because everything has an ebb and a flow, and it’s got a swing to it”, but learnt to trust her instincts, keeping in mind something David Rodigan said about how some records just speak to you, presenting themselves to you when it’s their turn to be played. Surprisingly, she found pregnancy to be a helpful step in her DJing trajectory – “you’re not drinking, so you can’t hide behind anything!” – as well as 6 Music asking her to mix live on air each week. She’s on the verge of shaking that niggling element of self-doubt that still exists in her head, though. “I met a listener who was like, ‘You always talk down your mixes before you do them, they’re always really good – we like hearing you mix live!’”

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When Jamz was 17, all she wanted to do was be on the BBC. Specifically, on 1Xtra. She achieved that goal when she got a show on the station aged 24, having joined as an intern, and hanging up her headphones there after 12 years. It was in 2021 that she moved over to 6 Music, tapping into a whole new listener base that’s seen her gain a following that spans ages of 16 to 60, as proven by parties she’s thrown where there’s no one-size-fits-all Jamz fan. “It’s an audience that’s growing with me – on the one hand, there’s the listener that was there at the time for the stuff I’m playing, then there’s the [younger] listener where it’s like, I’m educating them.” Her show, she says, aims to hit that sweet spot between education and entertainment – “so I have to do my job of making sure I stay learning and wanting to make the best radio and not just turn up on a Saturday and hope for the best. I care a lot, as you can tell…”

Where some industry figures might shrug off their success as ‘right place, right time’ or suddenly find themselves at the top, Jamz doesn’t think about her trajectory like that. She talks about purposefully navigating her way into the BBC’s recording rooms, “whether that was waiting outside to get people’s emails or applying for work experience multiple times”. She had to really fight to be on air, she says. In a bid to demystify her journey and give others the helping hand that she’d have liked, Jamz distilled lessons on aspects of the industry into her DIY Handbook podcast series, tapping up Otegha Uwagba for a candid chat about money, or getting deep into the weeds of contracts with Conducta. She even recorded an episode with her partner about the occasionally tricky reality of being in a relationship with another music professional. A podcast about navigating motherhood when your livelihood relies on sweaty clubs and glitzy awards shows must surely be in the works.

For Jamz, being a label owner is something that should be taken seriously. “Some people don’t really care about the intricacies of who runs the label or the label that the artist is on,” she says. “But you know, getting [the artists on Future Bounce] a feature or a play or a premiere or seeing them go on that festival or whatever, it feels like a win – it feels just as good as a win as if it was for myself personally.” Scratcha DVA, whose ‘Siyobonga / Hard’ was released on the imprint, describes her as “one of a very small, small handful of Gs in this game. He adds that Jamz has been instrumental in the cycle of his work, “and I think it’s because there’s very few DJs and people in this ting who are gonna appreciate all my different moods and styles of production. She’s a proper gem in this music industry for us.” (Side note: it’s Future Bounce’s 5th birthday which the new vinyl release will coincide with this summer.)

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Her approach to finding music to play as a DJ goes back to that Rodigan sense of trusting your gut – “and really listening to it, you know if a song is good or not”, but for her label it’s slightly different. “There’s the ear of potential, like can you hear where this is going, does it need a little bit of development? Is this a longer-term project?” It was really important for her to work with women who produce, who, like her, might struggle with feelings of imposter syndrome and might want to take a little longer to send over tracks. “Every release from 2018 up until now, I can hear the label’s gotten better. The artists have, but the label in terms of sonics, too.” Bianca Oblivion, whose fierce fusion of baile funk and grime (“Bad Gyal“) was released on the label last year, Jamz describes as “really the future of dance music, I think – her name will keep on popping up.” Sola’s ‘Abide In U’, the latest release on the label, is a reflection of the jazz-inflected side of things, all rich production and fluttery drums courtesy of British drummer Moses Boyd.

Pulling together watertight releases from the likes of Lorenzo BITW, quest?onmarq and Murder He Wrote, the second installation of Future Bounce’s Club Series was created while Jamz was pregnant, having a baby and navigating motherhood. She was running the whole thing “like a crazy professor” from her living room, doing the PR, radio plugging, ingesting and uploading. At times she’d been quite literally flitting between breastfeeding and DJing (when she takes Forest to her sets, she says, she naps in the green room and seems to instinctively wake up during the last track). “It actually was really, really hard,” she says about running the label as a new mum, “but when I listened back to the whole thing – I just had the test presses back for the vinyl and I’m like, ‘This is really good club music that’s really strong and representative of me as a DJ’.” Gilles Peterson, who she just delivered a test pressing of Volume II to – and with whom she often exchanges gifts, like old magazines from the 2000s – gave her the seal of approval by instantly selecting four tracks.

Jamz might be a radio fanatic, but she’s not averse to the camera-led side of broadcasting. She’s a keen TV host and has presented live from Glastonbury 2022, and fronted documentaries like BBC3’s Is This The End of Clubbing? Moses Boyd and her teamed up on BBC Four show Jazz 625, a one-off celebration of the UK jazz explosion that looked at the grassroots movement that Jamz had a part to play in amplifying. Before wanting to be a radio host, she wanted to be a TV presenter, and her radio producer background meant she’s always been developing ideas. “I’ve never wanted to just be a talking head,” she says. People liked her and Moses as a double act, and she’s working on pitching something that sounds like a music version of Travel Man – a “very indulgent TV show that allows us to travel as friends, experiencing music and culture”.

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An avid music documentary fan – she mentions one about ‘70s Brixton band Cymande and God Said Give ‘Em Drum Machines, which looks at the Black origins of techno – Jamz sees documenting music culture as something of a “higher purpose”. “I’m sure some family members think I piss about all day, but when you watch these moments captured in time, you realise the power of music and what it can do for people,” she says. “It goes back to, what do I want to do with my platform? And for me, it’s telling stories. How do I tell the best stories through music?”

Centering herself is something that doesn’t come naturally to Jamz, but she’s working on taking herself out of her comfort zone this year. In April, she’s taking to Shoreditch’s Village Underground to throw the ‘Supernova X-Perience’, along with a mega selection of guests that are still under wraps, but looking at her bursting-at-the-seams contact book, you can pretty much guarantee it’ll have a gold standard line-up. “I’ve been running club nights for a long time, and I always built a line-up around everyone else, then inserted myself in there somewhere. But it was never about me, and I think there comes a time when you need to actually shout about yourself.” Even if that does mean having a few “anxiety dreams,” she adds, laughing. She’s working on a set “that feels like a live show,” she explains. “Like, I’m a DJ, I never gonna make music, I don’t want to make music. But I want to create that euphoria of dancing and I want to create moments within a set that make you lose your shit, basically.”

But before that is the 6 Music festival which takes place in Greater Manchester next month, her second year doing it as part of “the family,” she says. “I love that element – I remember last year with Craig Charles, Radcliffe & Maconie and Steve Lamacq all drinking downstairs in the hotel ‘til like 5am, so I want more of that – more team building,” she says with a smile.

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When Jamz broadcasts her carnival special on 6 Music, it’s a show celebrating the riotous holidays taking hold all over the world, informing listeners about the blocos and bandas in Rio carnival that play early ‘00s trance and brass band covers of Madonna. Jamz’s selection jumps from Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” to New Orleans brass bands, which she tops up with a half-hour mix of Soca bangers at the end (“if you stay moving at the end of this mix, I’m not your friend any more!”) Dissecting the sounds with a warm quality, she has that rare ability to translate music for both an audiophile and casual listening audience.

Talking about her show a week earlier, she talks about the “immense privilege to be on national radio”. “I’ll never take it for granted,” she says, “but I’ve always wanted it on my own terms as well. I’ve always had this headstrong-ness of, ‘This is who I am and this is what I play, and I won’t bend.’ And I think it’s finally kind of paid off. It’s got me to a place where now I’m on national radio on a Saturday afternoon, I programme the whole thing and there’s no playlist. I do it all myself. Not many people get that opportunity to do that at this level.”

Felicity Martin is a freelance journalist living in London. Find her on Twitter.

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