With a short but robust tapestry of high-calibre releases catalogued as Jay Glass Dubs, Dimitris Papadatos’ latest album showcases some of his most introspective and conceptual work to date. Steeped in the physical and emotional trauma of heartbreak, liner notes play with the idea of Soma representing the body of a snake – it slithers among the debris of 21st century music, sporadically absorbing and discarding paraphernalia from across the sonic spectrum. The result speaks for itself.
Across 14 distinguished tracks, JGD’s complex, nuanced musical DNA is synonymous with the baroque and abstract sonic compositions found within. While still emblematic of the expected stripped-back-dub philosophy, it’s elegantly interwoven with life-affirming melodies of profound beauty the likes of which we’ve never seen from the Athens native. Each track feels entirely different, playing an integral part to the overarching narrative that oscillates between a home listen and something completely other.
Out now on Berceuse Heroique, we caught up with Papadatos to talk Soma, finding catharsis in music, politics and more.
Hey, Dimitris. Are you in Athens?
Yes, I’m in Athens right now.
I had a feeling you’d relocated?
Well, I’m mostly in Athens but seriously considering moving to Cyprus.
What’s taking you there?
Well, my girlfriend is there.
Yeah. We have a beautiful house there and we have a large space we can turn into a studio. The situation in Greece is very difficult at the moment. It’s definitely a better option for me. Also, the music scene though smaller is very interesting and vibrant. For example, Maria Spivak who participates in my record lives and works there.
When you’re in the UK do you find yourself in Bristol more than London?
Well, Bristol is so much more chill than London, it’s easier to be a bum there, and I also think I prefer the crowd in Bristol.
In what way?
The levels of crowd participation are just way more life affirming as people actually dance or make noise. It’s much more fun for me. London can feel a little bit uptight.
I agree. There’s a definitely a dance floor culture which discourages the act of ‘letting go’. I think it’s emblematic of its ‘cocaine-capitalist’ culture.
Yeah in Bristol everybody’s blazed. None of this capitalist bullshit that you’re referring to.
An obvious comparison is Berlin, and when you’re visiting or living there it’s easy to think: ‘wow, this is what dance music’s all about and the way it should be listened to’.
It’s about that, of course, but it’s been taken away from us right now so it has to be a political thing, which is also a good thing of course. I’m not saying politically correct. I don’t like this. I like political.
On the topics of mobilising forces and politics movements, the most recent wave of BLM has been very interesting hasn’t it?
It was due to happen and I think it’s amazing that it’s happening. It should have happened already. I really admire the current transparency and the strength on display. It means a lot for the black community to feel empowered, but it’s sad we are not at a point where the community doesn’t feel empowered with all the amazing black artists in the world who are constantly being overlooked.
And you know, in the ’90s it never mattered when we were partying whether the music we were listening to was made by a black artist, a woman, a man etc. We were partying without caring, but I actually think that’s a problem because you miss the political connotations the music has. If you’re listening to Underground Resistance or Drexciya, for example, when you’re 17/18 you might not care about the politics, but it’s great now that kids listening know what it means and what these people were doing. It has a profound political effect. I’m just afraid these conversations are going to become sterile.
What do you mean by ‘sterile’?
Well, these conversations are mainly happening from white people. It would be nice to have more people of colour dominating these discussions like De Forest Brown Jnr. who’s a really inspiring and amazing writer. He touches on so many subjects from the point of view of a black person in terms of music.
I think that dance music has opportunity to become a really inspiring movement, right now.
On the topic of dance music… I find with your music is that there’s a much welcomed layer of ambiguity as to whether it is actually dance music or not?
I agree with you. I don’t think I make dance music per se. I don’t make make music with the intention of making people dance. I approach music in more of a song approach. I wanted the new album to be a double LP that you could either listen to at home or in the club. I want to cover both territories as I feel connected to both. My mood changes a lot so I’m never writing music in the same frame of mind so I like to cover a lot of bases. I’m never in the same frame of mind or spirit. I think Soma is making this apparent to the audience that I like having one foot on pop music and one foot on dance music and it still sounds like the same person who’s done it.
I think that most electronic dance music, right now, is conservative in terms of most labels asking for a 12” to include 2 bangers and a roller. This isn’t me. My experience, even before Jay Glass Dubs was with bands and working in the studio with rock albums and pop music. This is my background. I wanted to apply this background to my methodology and to what Jay Glass Dubs is right now.
Would you say this has been the way you’ve approached Jay Glass Dubs since your first album on Hylé Tapes?
I think if you listen to my music in general, you can actually hear that. None of my records are actually the same. I change what I do all the time. I don’t want to get bored.
How much has your sound been influenced by the labels you work with?
I’ve developed friendships with the labels that I work with. Miles (from Bokeh Versions), for example, is one of my best friends, and also Giz from Berceuse Heroique, and Alessio from Ecstatic. I think that developing a friendship invites an element of trust. I know if I have something that they will like I will give it to them and not bother them with something that they won’t.
With Berceuse Heroique, for example, releasing Soma was risky for both of us because it sounds very different to anything previously released by the label. However, it brings new people to the label who wouldn’t have otherwise listened to other releases on the label, whilst also exposing people to my music who might not have otherwise listened to it. So I never really think of labels when I work. I just do the music. I think of the personalities rather than the labels. I want to do it without the pressure of a big brand behind me.
How did you end up meeting Miles from Bokeh Version?
He actually approached me after my first tape on Hylé Tapes and wanted to make an album together, which is what you know as Glacial Dancehall, and later, New Teeth For An Old Country. We developed a relationship of trust and experimentation. I needed a vocalist so I asked him to put me in touch with Leslie Winer, as I was a huge fan of hers and pretty nervous about approaching her myself. This led to us releasing YMFEES together, and eventually, Epitaph.
Similarly with Giz, who I’ve known since we were 20 years old, as we’re both from Athens. Despite it taking us almost 15 years to work together, he’s actually one of the people I talk to in Athens about my work as he gets it 100%.
Can you talk about why you chose the vocalists who you you worked with on Soma?
Well, it all starts with understanding the voice in terms of me understanding the properties and abilities of a certain voice. I gave all three singers a very skeletal beat, general vibe and asked them improvise on the vocals and vocal melodies, and the results exceeded all of my expectations.
In the case of Jasmine, for example, I love [Young Echo trio] Jabu. I was always loved how Jasmine’s voice had an eerie feel to it and reminded me a lot of singers like Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins, or Trish Keenan from Broadcast. She has this really captivating voice which worked amazingly in ‘Shape’.
It was a little different with Yorgia Karydi because she lives close by in Athens. I have a recording of her voice from an improv on ‘Michelle’ by The Beatles that we used on the song ‘Barked’. Her voice is so distinct and adds so much to the song, I had to include her in the credits. It’s a very specific ‘Lalalala’ effect.
This is interesting as I saw her credited as the vocalist but found it hard to trace which components of the song the vocals were contained in.
Exactly, and I really believe in giving credit where credits due.
There’s something quite amazing about listening to you talking about the difference ways you approach music composition in. Would you say you’ve had a ‘traditional’ journey into music?
There was always music in my house. For example, my mum would listen to Leonard Cohen a lot, or my Dad would listen to a lot ’70s rock like The Who. I went from that to punk when I was a teenager, and then into dub music which is where I began making connections in my head between all these different genres. Then when I was about 19/20, I found myself interested in Autechre, Drexciya, Arovane and all that early 00s brain dance stuff. I think my journey’s been fairly linear.
Did you play when you were younger?
Of course. I was in a teenage band that would play Mogwai covers, and things like that. But like, when I was in the Greek Army doing my conscription, I had my laptop with Fruity Loops making shitty gabber.
Ah, the gabber renaissance!
Yeah, gabber’s coming back unfortunately… I don’t get it!
Speaking of another huge dub enthusiast, were figures like Andrew Weatherall influential in bringing all these genres together conceptually that made sense for you?
Of course. However, I wasn’t very familiar with the music he was making, but I understand the impact he had. Again, I’ve never really listened to stuff like Basic Channel, and all these different things people like compare my music to. I have an innocent approach to music, so when people say that your music sounds like this and that… I’m not influenced by these things if I haven’t listened to certain artists.
Do you find these comparisons frustrating?
No, not really, it’s honouring if people find connections between my music and other people’s that you’re not aware of. Good recommendations can come of it too, and most of the time I like it. But it would be nice if people applied a bit more thought into this these things.
I want people to find similarities between things in my music that are not so obvious e.g. folk music or bands like Broadcast, or old school hip-hop; I used to listen to a lot of hip-hop. From my point of view these influences are far more important, but then people filter their own experiences and influences which are very honouring.
Who wrote the promo text for Soma? Was it you or somebody from the label?
It’s written by one of my favourite contemporary writers in Greece who specialises in small texts, and also happens to be the drummer for a hardcore band called Marvo Gala. We’ve been hanging out recently and I really wanted him to write something from his own point of view using his linguistic flare.
Can you explain a bit more about this ‘snake slithering through the debris of 21st century music’ he references?
He sees the album as a magnet that passes through different musical residues, and while some stick to the body, others slide away. So, in his view, my music passes through all these different genres and contains whilst leaving some out.
How come the focus on 21st century, specifically?
Because he’s young, haha.
That clears it up. It’s a beautiful metaphor! Are you telling a story with Soma?
Absolutely. All my albums are a form of storytelling. They are also hugely connected to my personal life. For example, I was going through a traumatic breakup with my ex-partner while I was working on Soma. I was enduring the trauma of this whilst enduring a pretty stressful living situation. This album made me realise that I can actually make music without having preconceptions in my head about what the music should be, e.g. too serious, dark, or academic. I started to think about the music more with my body in mind, I guess, which was a result of me being sexually active again after being dormant. So it’s all connected to the body.
Hence the name Soma?
Yeah. If you take my previous albums, like Epitaph, which contains songs, they have enabled a process to connect ideas together that lead to the making of Soma. I feel like Epitaph is actually where I found my sound, and then it started to develop from there. It’s like a reverse process from death to life again, you know? Or a process or recomposition from Epitaph to Soma.
I would agree. I’ve given Soma a lot of play throughs. It deserves a lot of attention, it’s challenging I feel… Like a David Foster Wallace novel.
And I feel like in comparison with Epitaph, which is quiet and industrial, Soma is much more positive and uplifting in essence.
Definitely! But I would say it’s positive in terms of acceptance, you know. There is a trauma in there as well which finalises everything. The song names all mean something as well, they symbolise something quite personal. It’s all about the therapy and returning to the very basic core of music.
We’re doing a video with three songs: ‘The Wrong Frame’, ‘Apple, Sliced’, and ‘Dots On Nails’, and it was shot by one of my best friends who also did the album artwork. It starts with one of my best friends who’s an actor – 3 single shots of a walk in Athens, and it was a very specific walk that I used to do when I was making the album, leaving from my pervious house and coming here. It was a mundane walk that I used to do. After a year when I broke up with my ex-partner, it was really hard for me to return to this street. It was hurtful. The walk was cathartic, it was all about therapy.
The composition of the album starts very dramatic, but the final 2 tracks follow a pagan celebratory mood. This is why I really admire what Ioannis wrote about the body of a snake moving.
Do you have any radically different concepts or ideas upcoming for Jay Glass Dubs?
I have something ready, but I think it’s a good time to take some time off from releasing any Jay Glass Dubs music any time soon. I’m going to focus on working on some other musicians for a while.
It doesn’t seem like you’re short of ideas!
Haha yeah. I think it’s good to shake things up and give them a new context from time to time. We’re definitely doing another Not Glass with Not Waving. But what I have in mind for my new project is to go somewhere towards This Mortal Coil, like a free jazz band, making concept albums. But we’ll see what happens, I hope it happens.
So you don’t have too much anxiety or concerns about what the future holds?
I have concerns but no anxiety.
About what specifically?
Well I’m concerned about the current state of the Earth and our role in its demise. I think the way we did it, we have to undo it in the same way. Every person’s initiative really matters now. I’m trying my best to do the best so I cannot stress. Because ‘we generally’ live in a society, right?
I think that people are beginning to understand the issues at hand and the consequences of their actions and mistakes affect lives immediately. I truly believe in humanity’s sense of survival in the form of a collective mindpriv. I think that right now what is most important is to save this fucking planet. You know, the classic lockdown concerns of ‘are people going to buy my music’, ‘am I going to be recording’ etc. are not really what matters. I have to recycle, eat healthier, take care of the environment when I can, take less flights. We have to adapt. People think that they’re larger than they are, we are nothing in the universe but a pinhead. For me, saving Earth is no. 1.
It begins as private initiative and through paradigm it becomes a collective behaviour. For example, if you don’t recycle, maybe your neighbour won’t recycle. These simple things lead to a collective behaviour which have a political impact.It’s similar to what’s happening with the “revolutionary” non-mask wearing after lockdown and with a virus pretty much on a killing spree. Is this quasi-political approach that people are deciding to follow more important than saving a life, for example? How is that humanitarian? How is anything else than a bullshit selfish act? It’s conspiracy theory bullshit.
Let’s focus on something more important like saving each other. We can organise, communicate and assembly. Remember that Moondog song, what about rat rights, what about bear rights, what about plant lives…? It’s like that…
Soma is out now on Berceuse Heroique | Pre-order here