RIGHTLY or wrongly, jazz has long had a reputation for being inaccessible, fusty and, well, a bit dull. However, in recent years it has undergone a Queer Eye-style transformation, and is one of the most happening scenes in London today, with a flowering network of young musicians, ensembles, collectives, DJs, producers, record labels and parties, reimagining jazz as the soundtrack to basement clubs and balmy festivals, with artists capable of selling out 1,000-capacity gigs.
Of course, there’s no such thing as overnight success and the London jazz scene has been bubbling away for years, increasingly garnering attention with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings-led bands Sons Of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming both nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2018 and 2016 respectively and SEED Ensemble nominated for 2019’s award. In 2018, Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label showcased ‘London’s bright-burning young jazz scene’ with the We Out Here compilation.
All-conquering American rap royalty Kendrick Lamar’s whole-hearted embracing of jazz and work with Kamasi Washington has helped polish jazz’s lustre, so perhaps it’s no surprise that jazz is at the heart of influential, club culture-championing, music broadcasting platform Boiler Room’s festival, which sees four underground scenes — jazz, rap bass and club — celebrated on consecutive nights.
Jazz opens the festival on Wednesday, reflecting how the new wave and its makers have been shaped by sounds birthed in the capital — including grime, dubstep, UK garage and jungle, as well as house, techno (check Yussef Kamal’s Strings Of Light track) and Afrobeat.
As an in-demand DJ and founder of the Rhythm Section label and parties, Bradley Zero has witnessed jazz’s steady infiltration of underground clubs first hand. He’s also been bitten by the bug: Rhythm Section has released records with artists from the scene (Henry Wu, Neue Grafik and saxophonist Nubya Garcia, who sold out Village Underground in March) and invited them to perform at the Rhythm Section’s residency at the Jazz Cafe, plus their Peckham parties.
Bradley is curating a stage on the opening jazz night and feels open-minded attitudes have eased jazz’s entry into underground music spaces, where its spellbinding live musicianship has helped energise dancefloors. ‘If you go back 20 or 30 years, the underground music scene was quite tribal — you were a junglist or a house head, an emo-kid or a goth or a rocker, or into hip-hop. That doesn’t seem to exist now. It’s wide open and that’s reflected in Rhythm Section and what we put out, whether it’s R&B, dub techno, neo soul or jazz-influenced stuff.
‘Also, people are ready for it. The jazz musicians came together with the world of DJing and electronic music at the right time. They were coming to our parties and open to collaborating with producers and DJs. It feels like two worlds have come together and that’s a nice thing — there’s enough momentum to call it a scene.’
Bradley’s excited to be giving a platform to international talent like Sir E.U from Washington DC, who he describes as the ‘Sun Ra of rap’, and the ‘jazzy hip-hop vibe’ of Brién, from Belfast collective Soft Boy Records. He explains the jazz renaissance is ‘happening globally’, and gushes about similar, vibrant scenes in cities like Johannesburg, Melbourne and Chicago cross-pollinating with London.
‘Jazz is an attitude, it’s rebellion,’ he enthuses. ‘For the pioneers, it was absolutely about mastering the art form and then abandoning the rules… it was rebel music played by outsiders who were not welcome in the mainstream. It has got its bite back.’
Three to see at Boiler Room Festival
Linn da Quebrada
The singer, rapper and performer from a Sao Paulo favela identifies as trans and is courageously standing tall as LGBT+ communities in Brazil face increasing hostility. The self-described ‘gender terrorist’ makes thrilling dance music fusing funk carioca, samba, hip-hop and trap, while her music videos celebrate Brazilian queer performers. She plays a headline show at Somerset House and the award-winning documentary about her, Bixa Travesty, will also be screened. Thursday, Somerset House
Afropop is soaring and 19-year-old Rema is Nigeria’s breakout star with debut single Iron Man featuring on Barack Obama’s summer 2019 playlist. Dumebi, Rema’s biggest hit, is summer pop perfection and with a breezy, catchy sound blending Afropop, trap, hip-hop, dancehall and Bollywood-style melodies, the charismatic young man is a pop star with global appeal in the making. He is playing his first ever UK show. Thursday, Bussey Building
In 2006, when dubstep was king of London’s underground clubs, one of the scene’s architects, DJ and producer Mala founded the Deep Medi record label. Thirteen years on, it’s as relevant as ever thanks to his championing of forward-thinking bass music. Here, Deep Medi teams up with the handcrafted Sheffield sound system Sinai for a celebration of sounds spanning decades, from roots reggae and dub to jungle, drum’n’bass and dubstep. October 11, Bussey Building
■ Wednesday to Oct 12, various venues, festival.boilerroom.tv