Thirty years on and records cut during house and techno’s foundational period still enthrall. Their sonic palate, formed as much out of necessity as of choice, were the by-product of recycled vinyl, secondhand gear, and 1980s DIY recording methods. Many musicians entranced with era take the grayscale route and zero in on the raw unpolished edge that drives so many early tracks. Jupiter Jax, on the other hand, paints in technicolor.
Visions, his debut album, radiates warmth. These are jams for a bright future, not a dystopia. Wiggling acid bass lines, dreamy vocals, intricate drum patterns and the occasional digi flute weave together in harmony. Featuring contributions from Xosar, Mykle Anthony and Virgo’s Merwyn Sanders, Visions may echo the warehouses of the midwest, but its heart is speeding down a coastal highway. It should be no surprise then that this meticulous producer by night is Rudi Agius, Ph.D. by day. We were eager to learn more about the scientist behind the vibes so we beamed over a few questions. In the process we learned a bit about computational models, the Maltese club scene, and the creative power of curiosity.
Malta sits at the crossroads of many different cultures, what are some of your earliest musical memories from there? I think they have to be my father playing the piano. That is definitely one sound that has reverberated throughout the house since as far as I can remember. Naturally, I started taking piano lessons which then opened the door towards synthesizers and eventually electronic music.
Mind telling us a bit about your work in computational biology? It sounds nuts! Computational biology I guess is us trying to create computational models of systems and events that happen in our bodies. These models can then be used to address problems like discovering and designing new drugs or even understanding how cancer cells move about. My research is particular centered on the actual event of say, a protein drug finding its target in our bodies. In most cases, not necessarily in all, you would like a drug to hold on to its target as strongly as possible. The less time it stays on its target, the more time it has to tag onto other unwanted targets, which leads to potentially bad side effects and also a less effective drug in general. So I worked on developing A.I. algorithms which can predict the time a protein drug spends attached to its target. Because if we can predict that, then we can apply mutations to a drug to make it stick more and more and more… to its target which results in a better drug. So yeah, it is kind of nuts, but also more fun than it sounds. Or at least for me it is!
Is there any overlap between your scientific and production work? Lots of discipline we’re guessing! I think one overlap which I value strongly is that you can do both of them at any time of the day you want! No 8am to 5am crap like that. But I think the real parallel is that both are effectively a search for the unknown. You have to be a curious person in a way. With research you’re at the edge of discovery and creating new knowledge. As a result of your research, some new knowledge about something, now exists in the world. Similarly with music, you’re creating something which didn’t exist before. So I guess the parallel is scientific curiosity with musical curiosity if there exists a term as such. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that anything you’re creating is necessarily highly significant or impactful as one would wish it to be, but you can safely say it didn’t exist before! Discipline in the sense of hard-work definitely comes into play. I think unless you’re exceptionally talented or a genius, anything you want to succeed in, has to be done obsessively and consistently.
You recently brought Space Dimension Controller out to the island. Do you throw events often? Ever find yourself in the lab the morning after one? Me and my cousin used to throw a bunch of parties in Malta under the name of Squadron since we were like 16 years old. We were hooked onto the whole scene going on in Holland at that time with Bunker/Crème/Viewlexx etc. So most of the parties revolved around those artists. I stopped once I moved to London to pursue my studies, but since I’m back for a while in Malta now, I decided to do something. In fact, the reason I brought SDC over, besides his amazing music, is the fact that his DJ sets remind me a lot of the sets we used to hear in the parties we did. They’re always very vibrant, non-monotone and touch upon different genres.
How is underground music received in Malta? There is this one club called ‘Liquid’ where pretty much all of the ‘underground’ parties by different promoters take place. Or at least, that’s where some of the few parties in Malta happen where the word ‘underground’ doesn’t have to be explicitly stated as a gimmick when promoting the party. But yeah, the scene revolves around this club, and although it can be a little bit biased towards techno, it is very healthy and everyone pretty much knows each other. Like we have this online calendar where we inform each other what dates we have confirmed for an event so that there are no clashes between promoters. You have to keep in mind that promoters are effectively catering for a very small group of people here. So if two events happen a day apart, both are affected, as most of the people would not afford to go to both events. The plus side of this specific/limited crowd however is that you don’t have random people stumbling upon the club. The people who are there, are there specifically for the music and for that specific night. So you are playing to a very targeted crowd and they tend to be much more into it. It is also five minutess away from where I live (not that anywhere is too far in Malta), which is quite handy when I want to just pop in and out to listen to someone specific.
What draws you to classic Chicago house sounds? You really know your stuff! What about that place and time speaks to you? I think there are many things. Firstly, what really draws me, and this can be also said about most of the Detroit techno coming out at that time, is that all of that music comes from a place where music was not yet highly genre specific. So with Chicago house you could have anything from a crazy 707/303 track to something full of lush strings and melodies. This contrasts greatly with how formulated certain music genres have now become. Also, since music was less reachable, and electronic club music was at its infancy, producers then, had very much less influences to compare to or get inspiration from. In a way I think this led to more creative and freaky stuff. Another special thing about that time is that someone who was not necessarily trained as a classical musician, was now suddenly making music with some Roland drum machine and a cheap synth. You could say music making was accessible for the non-musician, and again this lended itself to more interesting pieces of music. I guess it is the same thing happening in recent years with all the freely available software. If you were making music in the 90s or even early 00s, you had to invest, you had to buy gear, you had to be serious about it. Now you can have everything on your laptop for very cheap and making music is highly accessible. So again, whatever your background, you can meddle with music. Which is great, as this again lends itself to all this freaky and amazing stuff you hear all the time from new producers.
How did the collaboration with Merwyn Sanders from Virgo come about? Was it thrilling to work with a legend? Well first off, I’m a big fan of the whole Virgo Four/Jungle Wonz/N.A.D vibe, some of the tracks they made are timeless classics in my opinion. The collaboration came about when I was talking with Stephen Breaux (Sir Stephen, also on 100% SILK), who was helping me find a vocalist for ‘The Light’. He introduced me to him, Merwyn loved the track, and that is how that happened. Yeah it was kind of surreal in a way, I would have never ever thought that one day I would have Merywn himself doing vocals on one of my tracks. He is also a very lovely person to work with! So all in all it was an amazing experience.
Visions came bundled with Visitors, a cassette of additional tracks. What is their relationship to one another? Both Visions and Visitors come from the same mindset and most of the tracks were made during my 4 years in London when I was doing my studies there. Also a bunch of similar gear was used on both of them, mostly the Korg DW-8000 and Roland Juno-60. So I guess it makes sense to have them together, as I’m guessing if you like ‘Visions’, you would be somewhat into ‘Visitors’ too I guess, or vice-versa. In general, I like music which cannot be easily labelled into something, so hopefully it is something I managed to achieve with both of them. Both Visions and Visitors touch upon different styles of music, but all are linked together with some ethereal atmosphere. So I guess you can say they are my ethereal take on different genres of music.
Are there any promising Maltese producers that we should keep an eye on? The island is bubbling with talent right now, seems like everyone is doing great music! It would be unfair for me to mention any person in particular, but I think you will be hearing more and more from producers from Malta in the coming years!
When you’re not in the studio or the lab where might we find you on a day off? This question made me realize how boring I am, as I’m only in either one of those two places. And that also includes weekends!
Jupiter Jax’s Visions is out now on 100% Silk.