Jazz and prog are hot… I have noticed. Go to any hip underground club and there will be some cute band trying to sound like a jazz-fusion band from the 70’s, which is kind of an interesting, but also a curious development, having grown up in that era myself. In the end everything comes around and it’s never a bad thing to hear those brooding, sultry sounds, especially with summer approaching, but it is somewhat odd: jazz and indie, if not opposites, were quite unrelated until recently.
But suddenly up pops this small London-based niche from under my radar: a scene that blends jazz/bossa beautifully with a lo-fi, bedroom indie sound: nocturnal, moody and eerie with dashes of hip-hop and psychedelia. It is a genre that is hard to define, and easily thrown into the chillwave/lo-fi/dreampop hipster vault. But this sounds subtly different to my ears: it reminds me mostly of the very earliest, “indie” sophistipop bands: the budding sounds of Aztec Camera, Orange Juice and Everything but the Girl and Style Council. Bands in the post-punk era, that did not want to be a gimmicky synth-pop band and started broadening their musical horizons by listening to, jazz and soul and were carefully trying out a fresh sound. As we all know, that “new jazz sound” swept the music industry by the mid-80’s and, by then, the crisp guileless sound was being replaced by an overproduced, ultra-smooth sound with overdoses of brass.
I guess that we have come to an age in which eclectic is more or less the standard, but having seen indie (a term hard to define in itself) develop throughout the 80’s, and especially the 90’s and onwards: it was generally mainly guitar-pop-rock based. With the exception of trip-hop, indie mostly steered clear of lush saxophones and overt jazz, but it looks like the youngsters are getting fed up with the umpteenth indie guitar riff, and have started looking for inspiration on a broader scale, once again.
The development of the current “Blue Note Indie” sound, as I now christen this particular niche (although I have heard “Jazzy Lo-Fi” or “Bluewave”), starts with the musician Archy Marshall aka King Krule who started recording under the moniker Zoo Kid in 2010, blending indie, jazz, hip-hop and punk. King Krule, and his peers Jamie Isaac, Cosmo Pyke, and latest pack-offspring Puma Blue, all come from multicultural South-London and were trained at the The BRIT School for Performing Arts in Croydon, which can be considered the cradle of the Blue Note Indie sound that layers the intrepid spirit of indie effortlessly with bare jazz tones and other aforementioned musical “accents”.
Blue Note Indie is a drowned, almost hallucinogenic sound that conjures up images of being in a deserted metro at night, after a feverish night out…suddenly suspended, stationary, looking at the distorted, fleeting images of neon reflecting windows. It’s like listening to jazz from the bottom of your glass. Like a bubblebath under water. It’s urban. It’s the grime and magic of London. It’s fragility and rawness at once. The velvet, often dissonant, semi-acoustic guitar sound is sustained by warpy, delay effects, silky smooth sax and hushed cymbals. Utterly mesmerising. No wonder this sounds has caught on and is slowly growing disciples from outside London.
I have tried to capture the Blue Note Indie vibe in small Spotify Playlist, keeping it pure and away from other associated names in dreampop/chilwave/lo-fi.
Enjoy the Summer!