Jaymie Silk: “To Say That Art is Apolitical is a Lie”
Jaymie Silk: “To Say That Art is Apolitical is a Lie”January 28, 2021
Famed boxer Jack Johnson, the first African American to become world heavyweight boxing champion of the world, once said, “If it seems like you are playing around and not practicing, that’s when you know you really love it.” Emulating Johnson’s passion in the ring with his intensity for the studio, Paris-based DJ/producer, vocalist, and musician Jaymie Silk is out to fight the good fight with raw rhythms, seductive sounds, and a potent message.
Jack Johnson’s infamy has served as the inspiration behind Jaymie Silk’s latest EP, The Legend Of Jack Johnson, out now on Bristol-based imprint Shall Not Fade. Recounting the life of the boxer through early 20th-century radio broadcasts, jazz progressions, guitar melodies, and stout breakbeat and 808 drum patterns, the artist brings to life the story of a man “who represents freedom and emancipation.” The piercing message behind the theme of this special five-track release is that 100 years after Jack Johnson first stepped foot in the ring, the issues of racism and civil strife that he aimed to combat are still at large.
A French-Canadian citizen with a father from West Africa and a mother hailing from southern Italy, Jaymie Silk’s Afro-European roots are a cornerstone of his music. Blending house, techno, footwork, and UK bass in with his signature tribal percussions and unique drum-led stylizations, have caught the attention of labels like Fool’s Gold, Boukan Records, Knightwerk Records, Moonshine Collective, Frite Nite, Trekkie Trax, and more. Last year alone, Jaymie Silk released a total of four albums on his The Silk Hour imprint, along with his three-part Diasporave EP series on Pelican Fly.
After kicking off 2021 with The Legend Of Jack Johnson, we caught up with Jaymie to learn more about his background, his transition from hip hop to electronic music, Canada’s ballroom scene, addressing the direst of social issues through his music, and his plans for the future. He also provided us with an exclusive hour-long mix filled with club edits, acid, soul, breaks, classic house riffs, and more. Check it out in the player above and learn more about Jaymie Silk via our interview below.
Growing up, what were some early shows and/or records that helped shape your desire to produce music?
It’s funny because I remember the first show I went to when I was 18/19 years old. Growing up in a small town in France, I always saw access to concerts of important artists as a privilege for a certain socio-economic category. I grew up in France, listening to a lot of my father’s vinyl. From black music from Motown to Bob Marley, but also French singers.
I have always seen music as emotion. Ottis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire, Ella Fitzgerald, The Sound of Motown, it was really magical for me. Since there were almost zero black people on TV, listening to them gave me access to a world that society didn’t want to show me.
What rappers have you produced for, and what inspired your transition from making beats to creating electronic music? What did that epiphany look like, and how did you go about making the change?
Some of the notable names were Yowda from Maybach Music, Blood Money (R.I.P), a cousin of Chief Keef, and French rappers like Espiiem, Kamnouze or Gato Da Bato.
It was boring as an artist who always wanted to express himself in music. Do you know the names of the beatmakers of the last five rap songs you’ve listened to recently? I needed to express myself. And Dave Luxe, AKA Young Luxenberg, who I met when I lived in Montreal, was doing Jersey remixes of rap songs, I didn’t even know what Jersey Club was. Growing up in France in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, electronic music was totally white music. It was while living in Canada that I realized that historically it was a culture that had been whitewashed and that it wasn’t just what we were offered in the mainstream media in Europe. That’s where it all started.
Who were some electronic artists that were inspiring to you around the time of this transition? How has their work helped inform your personal production journey?
I wouldn’t say they are artists in particular. I left the rap scene because I didn’t want to belong to a definite genre; I wanted to have more freedom to express myself., and that’s something that electronic music allows. From the soul influence that is part of the soundtrack of the Ballroom scene, 909 techno drums, to the jersey remixes, to my African roots or the music from Salento where my mother comes from, with music that has rhythms, instruments, sometimes very close to Arabic or Andalusian sounds, that is all that makes Jaymie Silk. It’s as if when I discovered electronic music, there was finally a form of music that told me: you can do whatever you want, there are no rules.
We’d love to learn a little bit more about the Montreal ballroom scene. How did you first get involved with hot music, and what is it about ballroom culture that first captured your imagination?
Many people are now familiar with the ballroom culture thanks to the exploitation that has been made with the voguing, whether in advertising or singers. And among the DJ scene it is that famous crash sound that is in vogue beats. For me, it’s about the history of ballroom. It was to find a community of black people and people of color from marginalized communities that don’t depend on people. I don’t understand how you can pretend to make art for nothing. To say that art is apolitical is a lie — that is already a statement in itself.
Funny thing is, when I left the rap scene and was more into making electronic music, Amazon Wayne was looking to develop the Ballroom scene in Montreal, that’s where it all started. As a guest of the scene, I officiated as a DJ, while doing my music on the side. The energy of the Ballroom scene is unique: the audacity, the creativity, the sense of community. Without the ballroom scene in Montreal and Toronto, there would be no Jaymie Silk as there is today.
I don’t think anyone can really understand without having been to a ball, let alone belonging to this community. I can describe the taste of strawberry, but if you’ve never tasted it…
Tell us about your latest EP for Shall Not Fade. What does the legend of Jack Johnson mean to you?
A black man, who was the first to be able to fight against white men for the title of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. In an America where black men were hanged, interracial love was forbidden, Europe had its colonies around the world, human zoos in Paris, Berlin… A man who represents freedom, emancipation. But at the same time, the symbol of freedom in a capitalist world where social success and money blurs your differences. You symbolize hope without being able to take everyone with you — being alone — and if you fall, people remember you’re not part of the good/the white side of the system.
Apart from the fact that this question of self-affirmation has been an integral part of my music since my first project when Kieran from Shall Not Fade contacted me to release an EP in early 2020, it was an evidence. And the events concerning racism issues this year, in society and in the music world, proves that 100 years after the Legend of Jack Johnson, it is still an issue today.
How did you first get linked up with Kieran from Shall Not Fade, and what are some favorite tracks off the label from this past year?
You have to keep in mind that I don’t come from the world of electronic music. It always surprises people, but I’m expected to know everything about music and to know all the labels and artists. When I got an email from Kieran this year, I had no idea what Shall Not Fade was.
And it came in a year when I really wanted to be more critical of the labels I would be working with. So I dug into their discography and found it to be super qualitative. I’ve released at least seven projects in 2020, and when I’m in the creative phase I don’t really listen to music, but I would say “Give Ya” by Morenight, “To Get My Shit Together” by Felipe Gordon, “The Spirit” by Laurence Guy, and obviously, my track “Cyberpunk,” are amongst my favorite tracks released by SNF this year.
How did you come up with the concept behind your music video for “Brain Dead?” The messaging behind the video — which is poignant, sobering, and artfully done — addresses numerous issues within our modern-day society. Are there one or two in particular that speak to you the loudest?
“They don’t love me for my history, they just wanna steal my melody.”
I think this sentence in the chorus tells everything. Especially living now in France, where since I was a child I have seen people get offended to look good in public but in the end, continue to maintain the same patterns. I have seen it, even more, this year where it was mostly English and American media who talked a lot about racism in electronic music, cultural appropriation, and exploitation. With Adrien Cronet who directed the video and John from 4.44 tv, both from Belgium, we really wanted to put in images of the daily oppression suffered by marginalized minorities. Cheap labor in Africa, the Uighur camps, the murders of transgender people, the racism of Western societies, hyperconsumption, and more.
In the end, all that is retained is the incoherence of behaviors. And this incoherence leads to hypocritical behavior. Between those who use social causes to exist and only maintain the problems instead of participating in the solutions and the labels and media that tokenize artists while closing their eyes to the subject, it is this incoherence and hypocrisy that tires me daily.
What can we expect to see from Jaymie Silk in 2021? What are your hopes and plans for the New Year?
Who knows if we will be able to play live? I really hope so. In the meantime, I’m really going to take it to another level musically. As I took advantage of the confinements of the year 2020 to learn how to play bass and perfect other skills …. I’m really going to have to learn how to relax.
I am very excited for my first vinyl The Legend Of Jack Johnson with Shall Not Fade on January 15th, a remix for Nina Las Vegas on February 5th, an album in April and … 2021 will tell you.
That’s my mindset in general, I expect absolutely nothing. Make it till you make it. I prefer to think about the future. More music where I sing and play live instruments. When I visualize what I want to do musically, my mind is already in 2022.