When Jockstrap released their single ‘50/50’ back in November, misty-eyed ravers were full of praise. “I’ve been collecting, listening and loving techno/acid/trance for 30 years,” one YouTube commenter wrote. “This, though, is one of the freshest tracks I’ve heard for ages.”
That’s the rub with Jockstrap. If you too were introduced to Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye’s music via ‘50/50’, you could easily think that the duo are burgeoning stars of the DJ world. But, in truth, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama-educated pair make future-facing, diverse music that can’t be pigeonholed easily. We’ll give it a go, though: deconstructed experimental folk-pop that’s funnelled through a post-dubstep and warped electronic style of production. “We’ll leave it to the [headline] of this article,” Ellery says regarding the band’s own stance, suggesting that defining their sound holds relatively little importance for them.
Singer, musician and songwriter Ellery (who is also in Black Country, New Road) and producer, musician and songwriter Skye, both 24, are speaking to NME a couple of weeks before the release of their first album, ‘I Love You Jennifer B’. A bewildering yet brilliant collection of experimental pop music, it should easily rank among the strongest debuts of 2022. Each song is so different from the last that ‘I Love You…’ feels more like a jukebox of arresting sounds, spanning orchestral pop, Bhangra-influenced happy hardcore and dialled-down disco, to name just a few. “It’s [our] first time putting out an album, so we’ve been experimenting,” Skye explains. “We’ve got so many different sounds on it.”
The upbeat dancefloor menace of ‘50/50’, for instance, is a world away from the late-night romantic stroll depicted in the balladic ‘Concrete Over Water’. Such extreme sonic variety could tempt some listeners to abandon ship, but Skye thinks “‘50/50′, for us, has only been a good thing. We’ve not noticed any particularly bad backlash from that”.
Instead, Skye feels that committed Jockstrap fans – who have already been treated to four EPs since 2018 – are the type of listeners who are “interested in being surprised and [are] the ones that stick around for all the songs”.
‘I Love You Jennifer B’ won’t alienate embedded fans of the pair’s earlier work, such as ‘Love Is The Key To The City’ (2018) and ‘Wicked City’ (2020). On those two EPs, Ellery’s wistful vocals and timeless melodies – influenced by her classical violin training and jazz composition degree – anchored Skye’s unfettered production technique. The duo, who met at Guildhall in 2016 where Skye was studying electronic composition, have loosely stuck to that formula on their new album, but everything sounds bigger, denser and more eccentric overall.
While Jockstrap aren’t hyper-focused on categorising their music, their lyrics veer between the poetic and the surreal. Take ‘The City’ from ‘Wicked City’, which contorts an urban love story (“I’ve loved in sheets with it on my mind”) into a baffling, fucked-up tale about an incestous relationship between a monster and a beaver. What’s been lyricist Ellery’s approach on ‘I Love You Jennifer B’, then?
“Lyrically, there’s not really much of a concept… we don’t have a very specific concept for this [album] and we didn’t really for the EPs, either,” she says. “We treat songs quite individually: we don’t tend to see them all as a body of work while we’re making them, so maybe that’s a theme. Some songs are not attached to any heightened, emotional feelings. Some are just throwaway, which I’ve never really done before, and some are concerning a fictional character.”
‘Angst’, however, hears the singer illustrate – per a press release – “horrible states of anxiety”, so the album isn’t without its rawer, autobiographical moments. Ellery adds that she hopes that the way she and Skye come together to make music in itself can be the concept: “We do like to go with our instinct and intuition.”
Usually, the Penzance-raised Ellery writes a demo and sends it to the London-born, East Midlands-raised Skye (a trained pianist) to twist and deconstruct at whim, and then the pair may regroup in Skye’s bedroom for fine-tuning. But, in recent years, Skye has contributed more to writing the central melodies, such as at the end of ‘The City’.
NME puts it to the pair that such accessible hooks might help draw in more listeners, but Jockstrap don’t purposefully architecture things that way. Skye explains, somewhat surprisingly, that it’s instead a by-product of “trying to make pop music, but I always just can’t”.
“And when I say can’t, I literally mean like I’m trying to make something sound like pop and I don’t have the tools to do it,” he adds, though he’s quick to clarify that it’s his frame of mind that he’s trying to refresh constantly. “For me, it’s definitely not trying to push away from [pop], but is just trying to get there. Obviously [we’re] not going to make something that sounds like someone else too much, but I think we’re both very much inspired by big pop music.”
Does Skye feel under pressure to keep Jockstrap’s production exciting with each new release? “It’s the mentality that I want to keep fresh,” he responds. “It’s not necessarily that I want to always do the opposite of what I’ve done previously. There’s something in making sounds that I haven’t heard before, and my favourite musicians growing up [he’s previously cited Skrillex and Flux Pavilion], I think, tried to do that. Eventually, [when] making extremely bombastic sounds becomes too normal, I think I’d quite like to make really normal-sounding music.
“I just want to do something that feels exciting. I guess for this album, I’ve just been trying to make sounds that I haven’t really…” he trails off. “I wanted to [bridge] the gap in the music world that I wanted to hear… that I feel isn’t out there for me to listen to.”
Jockstrap will head out on a UK and North American tour this autumn that will see them being “busier on stage” with more instruments – in recent years, the duo have slimmed their live set-up down to just the two of them after formerly having three backing musicians. It’s an exciting time for the pair, who can now call themselves full-time musicians.
“We made sure that we would be able to support ourselves during this time,” concludes Ellery. It’s every musician’s dream, right? “Yeah,” she answers. “We’re really lucky.”
Jockstrap’s debut album ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ is out on September 9 via Rough Trade Records