I caught up with radio 1Xtra extraordinaire Jamz supernova after her explosive set at Manchester’s Parklife festival to find out how she juggles being a radio presenter on one of the most prestigious music platforms in the UK, hyping up the rave at her ‘Future Bounce’ club nights where she is hostess / DJ and also finding the time as a supreme talent spotter who provides artists’ a place to showcase their unique talents, all in weeks work! Find out about Jamz journey from growing up in south London and the steps she took to reach the milestones which have seen her cement her place as one of the most respected and celebrated Dj’s on BBC radio 1 Xtra.
UK RnB, Cam: Hi Jamz that set was sick! Oh My dayz. So I know you are from South London but which area exactly? Peckham? (Jamz DJ’d at Peckham rye festival a few weeks before this interview)
Jamz: No, well I grew up in New cross and Deptford and that was my entry into southeast London, and now I live nearer Crystal Palace, but Deptford and New cross was where I spent my childhood.
UK RnB: Oh yeah I know that area my auntie lives there! So I know you were influenced by New jack swing in the 1990’s but what other genres of music did your mum and dad play in the house?
Jamz: Well my mum and dad were very much into their New jack swing. When my mum got with my step dad he was a big musical influence and he listened to XFM radio and the bands Catatonia and R.E.M. The first raves I was able to get into were dancehall raves, back in New Cross there was a little club called ‘Le fez’ and when we finished our GCSE’s that’s where we all went. I only started getting into electronic music when I started working at 1 Xtra.
UK RnB: You’ve mentioned you had a wide range of influence, mainly from your mum and step dad, what is your background and heritage?
Jamz: My mum’s Jamaican and Irish and my dad’s Jamaican and Cuban
UK RnB: oooohhh pepper pepper!! Aye yie yie!
*Jamz laughs* Jamz: Yep exactly fiery very fiery. We can all be nutcases at times and then we need to drink some Guinness and all is calm.
UK RnB: I know the feeling! I’m aware that you had your first taste of DJ-ing at your local youth club at the age of 10. What I’d like to know is how does a 10 year old have that kind of confidence to think – ok lemme do this, let’s give this a go. What were you thinking at that time?
Jamz: That was just like a festival, I just had a little trial, I didn’t get to 10 and go out and buy decks and set up all the equipment. I actually wish I had done that. I didn’t start DJ-ing until quite a lot later and I thought I missed the boat to begin with because I didn’t start DJ-ing until I was 23, when I was 10 and tried it out, that was a little taster of it, but I was scared to be honest.
UK RnB: So after you had that taste of DJ-ing as a child you were still unsure if it was something you wanted to pursue?
Jamz: Yeah I think music had always been my thing and talking about music was my thing, when I got to 22 or 23 I thought to myself, you know what you just got to do this, just go for it. I started working on radio before I started DJ-ing, I got in to DJ-ing a lot later.
UK RnB: Speaking of your radio work, I know that 1Xtra found you via radio Reprezent (107.3 FM) but how did the gig at Reprezent come about? Did they find you or did you approach them?
Jamz: I was on another station, like a proper old man’s station in Sydenham (South east London) (I can’t help but laugh at Jamz description of the station) seriously though old men were the only other people on the station and my friend who I met through radio said to me “What you doin there? You should come to Reprezent because that’s where young people are” so I was like ok cool; I went to the station, did a pilot show and that was it.
UK RnB: I love that. What valuable lessons did you learn at Reprezent radio and what valuable lessons have you learned so far at Radio 1 Xtra?
Jamz: I would definitely say when I was at Reprezent that was my playground of trial and error where I found my voice and discovered who I am. I learned how to be me and talk as me on the radio and not try to be someone else.
UK RnB: Does that mean at first you tended to put on a radio personality and a typical ‘radio presenter voice?’ (Memories of comedian Mo Gillingham’s ‘Magic FM’ DJ begin to surface in my mind.)
Jamz: Yeah yeah exactly that and then when I went to 1xtra I thought I was ready and sometimes you do think you’re ready with these things and I thought I was, but at 1Xtra I learned a whole new style of broadcast. I’d been working at the BBC for a long time in production but actually presenting a show live on air was completely different, but I think again it’s just that continuation of being yourself and being comfortable with who you are.
UK RnB: You mentioned you worked in production at the BBC before you had the opportunity to host your own show. How long have you worked at 1Xtra in total?
Jamz: I’ve been there 7 years now so I was 19 when I first started working there.
UK RnB: Wow Wooowwwwww only 19! You’ve achieved A LOT at such a young age already, that’s incredible.
As well as production and hosting your own show I know you frequently deputise for fellow radio 1 and 1Xtra Dj’s Toddla T, Benji B and Sian Anderson. I’ve been thinking about this and wondering does it ever get competitive between you all? At the end of the week do you all sit together and say “Oh look at how many listeners I gained this week” is it a case of “The DJ with the fewest listeners has to get the rounds in tonight” (Jamz manager, the lovely Helena looks very bemused at this point by my vivid imagination)
Jamz: *Starts to chuckle* no no, I’ve never seen that competitive side of it and because I’ve been there for so long now I know a lot of the DJ’s behind the scenes and there isn’t that competitiveness, I would say everyone is ambitious but I kinda feel like everyone is very much a family, a very dysfunctional family but we are a family all the same. If someone’s doing sick it’s only gonna egg you on to want to do better yourself and I think that’s important. But as for listenership we don’t really focus on that it’s more about the music and I’ll congratulate people’s success; for instance Semtex, I know Sem’s got a very high listenership and for someone that’s been doing this for more than 10 years I am proud of him. At 1Xtra we know each other on air, off air we all have that family bond.
UK RnB: What’s great about that is say if Sian (‘Grime Boss lion lady’ Anderson) has a fire track, she will be able to give you the heads up on a new release and vice versa?
Jamz: Yeah yeah that happens and even on my weekend shows I like to support my specialist brothers and sisters.
UK RnB: I like that there’s a family vibe, it’s very important. Which show apart from your own show do you rate? Which show would you make an effort to tune into on your days off?
Jamz: Definitely Toddla (T) I produced the show for a few years and it’s still the one show that I’ll always go back to and listen in on and I’ll check the track listing, I’ll ask him to give me songs as well.
UK RnB: It’s great that you are close even though you are going in different directions. Tell me a bit about ‘Future Bounce’ what can the raver expect to hear at one of your Future Bounce’ club nights?
Jamz: Future Bounce was the name of my radio show when I was at Reprezent radio, when I got to 1Xtra I realised that I’d have to revamp what future Bounce meant, so essentially it’s a music platform and we put on club nights for it, we also have sound cloud and mix cloud playlists but the club nights tend to be forward thinking in electronic music; one club night might be focused on future R&B music, we had a forward thinking funky house night recently and invited DJ Rosca to play who’s a legend, we also gave a slot to a guy from Lisbon called DJ Dodger who makes afro junkie, but it’s the new wave of it. It’s all about exploring all the different umbrellas of forward thinking electronic music.
UK RnB: How often do your ‘Future Bounce’ club nights take place? Is it once a week or once a month? Are there any plans to tour it abroad?
Jamz: The club nights are bi monthly, we are going to have a break over summer and then we’ll come back and tour, we’re concentrating on the UK first so we’re gonna do Brighton, Manchester, London and Bristol.
UK RnB: Yaaayyy I can go to a future Bounce night, I’d love to check it out.
Jamz: Yeah definitely make sure you come down
UK RnB: You have a lot of strings to your bow, you play at festivals, you have your radio show and you have your club nights. What differing elements do you consider for a radio show and a club night?
Jamz: Well for the radio show it’s very much just if I like the music. The radio show is down tempo and I try and stick within what the radio show represents, it can be R&B vibes or electronic beats and it doesn’t really matter how big an artist is , it’s about whether I like it and enjoy it; I do take into consideration that there are a lot of artists from that scene that we have supported earlier and we have to continue giving support to artists like your Bryson Tiller’s etc. and we will factor that In but mostly it’s just down to my personal taste.
UK RnB: I have noticed that your show has a good balance between the artists that everybody knows and also the more obscure artists who are up and coming.
Jamz: Yeah defo, and for the club nights I like rowdy music, so it’s the polar opposite of what I’d choose to play on my radio shows. If something wants to make me dance then I will play it. I’ve also started throwing in old school records, so it might be an old garage or house track and the crowd goes off which is a good feeling because I think – I like this record I’m gonna include it and see if it’s appreciated.
UK RnB: The other week I was browsing around on my ipod and I clicked on the R&B chart and I expected soulful tracks but it was more dance tracks such as Calvin Harris, Zayn Malik etc. who make great music but in my opinion those tracks don’t fall into the category of R&B. In your opinion do you think R&B has lost its identity within mainstream music?
Jamz: No I wouldn’t say so. RnB IS mainstream music. What we might have thought of as R&B in the 1990’s with artists like Aaliyah, Mary J Blige; a lot of that has not infiltrated into the mainstream sound and that’s what’s exciting about the future of the RnB movement because it’s people making and promoting their music via the internet and reclaiming the sound. I don’t think RnB has lost its identity but it is a massive, massive genre and it’s just more mainstream now; because the genre is SO big what’s happened is sub genres have formed within the genre and that’s what’s exciting.
UK R&B: So for you is there a difference between R ‘&’B and R ‘n’ B? I was speaking to someone the other day who seemed to think there is a big difference between the two?
Jamz: If you you wanna get technical I would probably say R&B is more the Motown sound, rhythm and blues and RnB is the current sound we are hearing, if you want to get technical, but I don’t care as long as it’s good music.
UK RnB: Yeah I agree that’s what counts. You have been called a trail blazer when it comes to discovering new talent, what makes you think ‘This person has something special?’
Jamz: It’s just a vibe man, I got used to picking out tracks when I used to produce shows, I like the tone of people’s voices, I listen for the sound and for me the lyrics come after but I do want to know it’s a well written song. I generally don’t like it when I know the chorus is going to sound a certain way, like when the song is building up and then you get to a big singer / songwriter chorus that can put me off.
UK RnB: Do you prefer a more quirky sound?
Jamz: Yeah well because I listen to music all the time if it’s something that perks my ears up and I think – oh this is different, this is really lit, it will hold my interest.
UK RnB: Yeah I listened to the artists Ruby Francis and Alyss after hearing them on your show and as you know I’m more of a Grime girl but the tracks you played hooked me in so much I thought – I now need to hear these albums and they are great pieces of work.
Jamz: Both of those artists have taken a sound and they’ve twisted it and put their identity on the sound. Alyss has got all the components I mentioned, she’s got the tone, she’s got the production, she sounds different and she writes well so she is a perfect example of those traits coming together.
UK RnB: What are your views on the RnB genre today compared to say 5 – 10 years ago?
Jamz: Well I think maybe a little bit over 5 years ago it had lost its way a little bit and people were questioning whether RnB was dead. I noticed this was at a time artists like Usher and Kelly Rowland started to release euro dance records but it gave birth to a whole new underground sub-genre and it was at that time I started going on blogs and I discovered a whole new sound and I think it was around 5 years ago when the new birth of future R&B took place and artists like Solange began to carve their own lane. It’s extremely exciting and it’s always going to keep on evolving, at the moment I think the scene is in its prime, I mean the stuff I play on the radio is not mainstream and there’s an abundance of new music.
UK RnB: I know you are a party girl *Jamz laughs in her trademark husky slightly dirty laugh* I’m sure you will be whining up and skanking out before you leave the festival today so I would like to know which JAMZ make you go off like a SUPERNOVA on the dance floor? (Jamz manager looks at me like – Oh no you did NOT and laughs. Cheesy but I had to!)
Jamz: ha ha ha ha I like that one! Hmmmm what makes me go off… in all honesty I just like dirty dirty beats with a filthy bass, music which rattles through you and you can feel it vibrating in your chest. Yeah is HAS to be proper dirty. (For anyone who’s read my other pieces you know I’m in FULL agreement with this. Big dirtee stinking BASS!)
UK RnB: Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years and what do you hope to achieve? You’ve already done SO much, what’s next?
Jamz: In 5 years I’d like to continue growing the radio shows that I already have and keep building, I also want to break new artists and help give them a platform. DJ-ing wise I want to carry on playing all the festivals, getting more slots but not just in the UK but also internationally, I’d love to keep touring and do what I’m doing right now but more of it.
UK RnB: What advice would you give to people who have a pure passion for music and want to do something but they are not sure where to start?
Jamz: I’d say, start, but do it small. Try and find a local station you can jump on, wherever it is or start a radio show in your bedroom which you record into a mic you bought for 30 quid and save the recording onto your lap top, learn how to DJ but I think what is key is to start small and also remain persistent. I’d also advise people to enjoy the journey, when I was a little bit younger and before I got my show, I wanted everything straight away so I spent a lot of anxious years of wanting it all quickly and not actually enjoying the journey. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and just live the experience and enjoy yourself and when I started to do that, that’s when I got the show.
UK RnB: That’s great advice, I think I’ll take some of that myself! Would you say that there is an imbalance between men and women within the RnB and/or electronic genre, at times I feel it in Grime and I wonder if this ever comes up in the RnB world?
Jamz: In some ways it’s equally balanced but I would like to hear a more even split of up and coming artists. When I’m looking at artists to play on my show I keep in mind I don’t want to play too many men in a row or too many women and I try and keep it equal. I do think there is an imbalance but I don’t think it’s as much of a problem like we see in other genres, there’s a lot of big name female artists who are established in RnB but in terms of the early stages of an artists’ career there are more boys; I think that’s down to the fact boys are more persistent, they will put their tracks on soundcloud and throw it in your face and say “Have a listen. Please play this” and they are not afraid to send their material to blog sites which is why we tend to see 1 in every 4 artists is a new girl. I would definitely like to see more females in the early stages of their career coming through but overall I don’t think there is a massive imbalance.
UK RnB: I’m glad to hear that and I can send over some female singers doing their thing in Manchester we have some talented singers. So what’s your favourite song and favourite album at the moment?
Jamz: Fav album at the moment has got to be SZA “Ctrl” she’s an artist signed to Kendrick Lamar’s record label. Errrmmmm fav song right now, it’s not out yet but I enjoy playing it out, it’s a song called ‘Squatty’ and it samples an Outkast track, I love watching people go off to it and I think when everyone hears it it’s going to be big.
UK RnB: Annndddd that’s a wrap! Thank you so much for sparing me your time for a chat. I really appreciate it, you can have a skank now! *Jamz and her manager explain they will be on a train back down south in an hour to head to their next musical adventure. We all hug and say our goodbyes* as they head off I can hear the no nonsense patois of Stefflon Don which made me grin proudly, at Park life’s decision to put two equally strong women from differing genres back to back on their line-up. Park life weren’t playin’! Nice touch.
You can hear Jamz Supernova live every Tuesdays from 10pm – 1am on Radio 1 xtra and also every Saturday and Sunday from 1pm.