Self-Portrait: Jelee

Amsterdam-based artist Jelee is right in saying that you don’t need the latest gear or software to make great music, as long as you put your soul into it — his warm, twinkling productions prove just that.

Blending a love of hip hop and sampling culture with elements of electronica and ambient, he creates organic jazz-tinged instrumentals, which he’s showcased through a string of EPs over the last two years. More recently he contributed a track to Carista’s Modern Intimacy Volume 1. compilation on United Identities, a soul-drenched exploration that caught our ear and left us eager to hear what else he had under his belt.

A lot, it turns out. He packs his original material mix with a whopping 33 tracks, that coasts through unreleased beats, edits and instrumentals, accompanied by an interview about his production approach and creative process.

Modern Intimacy Vol 1. is out now via United Identities.

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?

As a kid I didn’t play any instruments or something like that. So my first musical memory would be listening to music. And I remember listening to Michael Jackson as much as I could. You could call it an obsession. But I think that obsession learned me to look past someones hit songs and dive deeper into their less popular works and demos.

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

I did not have any musical upbringing. I don’t think anyone in my family can play an instrument at a decent level. Sometimes it felt kinda lonely when I started getting in to music, because I couldn’t really share it with anyone at home. But when I look back at that I’m almost glad that music was really my thing and not just something I picked up because everyone around me played an instrument. That made my connection to music a really personal and spiritual thing.

What led you into music production?

Before I was in to producing I started listening to a lot of different genres, and to a lot of hip hop. But for a really long time I didn’t really listen to what singers and rappers would say, so naturally I became more interested in the instrumental side of hip hop and the sampling culture.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?

My earlier work is heavily influenced by Flying Lotus, J Dilla and Nujabes. I really appreciate how those three producers combine live instrumentation with electronic production in their own respective ways. Lately I have been really inspired by Dub artist like Lee $cratch Perry and Augustus Pablo. I like how they made a lot of new sounds back in the days with the shittiest gear. It was a reminder to myself that I don’t need to have the newest computer and VST’s to make great music, as long as I put my soul in it.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio?

If I want to make music I want to make music. I while back when I woke up I turned on my computer and started on a new project. A few hours later I felt funny and realised I skipped my breakfast. I think creating art is a ritual in itself.

Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

Well, I want my tracks to be a experience for the listener. I try to create a little world or story through my sounds, and not just make a beat or a song.

Are you the type of producer to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?

There are no mistakes, only happy accidents. I love Bob Ross. I used to produce really fast, sometimes starting and completing several projects in one day. But lately I have started being more and more nitpicky about how everything sounds. But I try to balance it out and not be nitpicky to the point that I won’t release anything. However, almost all the songs in this mix are more on the impulsive side.

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track?

When I start on a track I start on a track. There is no structure that I follow everytime. All the tracks that I have released so far are the results of projects that I have been working on for several months, with very long breaks in between. But every once in a while I like to go back to some older drafts with a fresh ear and add new stuff and change the entire song.

How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

Everything what I made used to be sample based, since I started out with beatmaking. And beatmaking and samping are kinda married when you look at it from a Hip Hop perspective. But as I got deeper in to production I started experimenting more with adding my own chords and melodies, and in that era I made a lot of “sample fusion” projects, not reliant on samples, but using the samples as a texture or an instrument. But a lot of my latest work is completely free of samples. However some sampling techniques are still hearable on how I process some of my sounds or vocals. So even when I don’t use samples my work will always use samping.

What’s the most important bits of kit that make a Jelee track?

Almost all my drumsounds are recorded by me, either from vinyl or they are found sounds. I love using coins and keys as percussion. And a lot of the synths I use are stock sounds from Ableton or my Vermona Mono Lancet, a lesser known but really powerful monophonic synthesizer. And I like to use unconventional apps. I have this production app on Nintendo Switch, and I run that through a Monotron Delay by Korg, really great and small analog synthesizer, to get some nice sounds and effects. I always end up adding some quirky elements to my music.

This mix is comprised of 100% original Jelee material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

Bongo’s Song is a very special song made for my plushie lion. The song has a reggae esque sound to it and it I think it is my first track with that kind of sound. It felt really natural to dedicate my first song to a Lion.

Another track that is really special to me is the instrumental that starts 52:29. I think this is one of the first track I made with Adwoa-Rose, that same girl who sings on my track Diaspora. She sung on this track as the last part of her graduation performance for music school. Sadly we don’t have a recording of that, I might record the songs from that performance with her. But I am really glad that I got to work on Diaspora with her and finally have our first released tune.

Anything on the horizon for you? Any releases we should know about?

I don’t have anything coming up at this moment. But I am working on several projects with some people, as well as two albums of my own. The first album is gonna be a beat tape, influenced by retro video games, old machinery and hip hop, and I would like to keep the other project silent for now. Some tracks in this mix are gonna end up in one of the projects I’m working on.

Tracklist (All tracks are made in 2020 or 2019 unless its noted)
Koto For Trash (00:00)
More Than That (01:21)
Untitled (02:24)
Nicole Croisille – Live for Live – Jelee Remix (03:44)
Untitled – (06:55)
Nobuo Uematsu – Costa Del Sol (Final Fantasy VII) Lofi Edit (07:30)
Spectrum (Edit) (09:14)
Janet Jackson – I Get Lonely – Footwork Edit – 2018 (11:11)
Pharrell Williams – Gush – Footwork Edit (11:36)
Bongo’s Song (15:36)
Untitled (17:59)
Skittle Samba (19:18)
Quicksilver – 2018 (21:08)
Keep My Energy Close To Me feat. Mawar (23:29)
From The East (25:17)
Stupid Jazz (27:39)
Untitled – 2018 (29:11)
Untitled (29:40)
Untitled (31:28)
For More Bounce (33:03)
Furst (34:53)
Late (37:41)
Boy (40:01)
Untitled feat. TheMawarExpirience (42:08)
Zip (44:31)
Hall (45:34)
Bass Practice – September (47:50)
Styx (49:33)
Luap – 2017 (51:20)
Instrumental feat. Adwoa Rose – 2017 (52:29)
Flight (54:10)
Untitled (58:46)

Modern Intimacy Vol 1. is out now via United Identities.

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