It is fair to say that Jody Barr has cut his own path through the turbulent seas of the dance music industry over the last few years. After popping up on Krankbrothers eponymous label back in 2015 with two thunderous EP’s of brutally fierce house music, he fostered his entrepreneurial spirit and quickly launched the label Portable Minds as a platform for his for his fierce take on house and techno. Fast forward to 2018 and after a selection of choice releases for the likes of James Zabiela’s Born Electric label, Barr finds himself not only championed by the legendary Sasha but finding a new home on his rather excellent label Last Night On Earth. Hot off the heels of this monstrous release I managed to drag him kicking and screaming from his studio; where it turns out he spends most of his days (and nights for that matter) for a chat about his rising reputation, his thoughts about the electronic music scene and some of the productions methods that have catapulted him on to some of the best labels out there.
I began by asking him about becoming the protégé of none other than Sasha and how he felt about now finding himself releasing on his label “It’s a dream, to be affiliated with that person who was your childhood hero later in life can be a rare thing. It’s certainly humbling and I feel very lucky for the platform he’s given me.” Indeed it seems Sasha had his eye on Barr’s music from his early days and this perhaps is down not just to his unique sound but also his approach to releasing in the industry, opting early on to form his own label. I asked him what persuaded him to go down this route rather than releasing through established labels initially and whether he would recommend this approach to new producers.
“It just felt right to me at the time I set it up… fear of rejection can be an overbearing factor at times. I didn’t want to just sit around worrying about whether people would listen to my music. It’s a nice feeling to release music exactly how its intended to sound without having to fit into what a label wants something sounds like. I love the idea of releasing when you want, with the visuals you want and PR it the way that fits you.”
Despite the hard work required, Barr is keen to recommend this path because of the artistic freedom it has provided him with and this perhaps partially explains why his music has such a distinctive feel. “For sure I would recommend it, obviously it has both pros and cons. Getting your music into the right hands can come at a cost and the same with creative label visuals and so on. I recommend doing some research prior to setting one up so you know what is involved.” The current state of play within the dance music scene seems to be something which has pushed Barr to take matters into his own hands. Not prepared to play the numbers game, he laments the power of social media to make or break careers “Your now heavily judged off your social media and numbers people see on a screen but it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s not just about music now, it’s about the overall package including who you are seen to be with or hanging out around.”
Indeed, whilst always forward thinking, Jody fondly recalls starting out on a pair of ‘dodgy Argos belt drives’ and cites the halcyon days of the nineties as having a huge influence. When I mention that he recently name-checked the Prodigy as an influence, he is quick to acknowledge the impact the era had on him. “A lot of my earlier gnarly synth stuff came from those earlier influences. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without a lot of the earlier nineties stuff.”
“Obviously, I was far too young to go clubbing in the nineties but it’s the most influential decade for me. Music and clubbing seemed so pure back then. It’s funny how everything moves in cycles, even the 90s fashion is back in.. I haven’t seen any Naf Naf bomber jackets about though… yet!”
Speaking of influences despite his production output being predominantly blistering house and techno, he reveals he has had a varied musical upbringing naming artists as varied as ‘Brian Ferry’ and ‘Level 42’as influences in his childhood home. He goes on to tell me his I-pod “consists of all sorts from James Brown to Burial to Pusha T” and that he tries “to avoid modern-day mainstream music as much as possible.” This resilience to current trends or fads seems to be a hallmark of his approach to both making and curating music.
As we move on to talk in more detail about his childhood it becomes clear that as he was growing up music rapidly became an obsession for Jody. “It was all I could relate to which meant many things came secondary to the music.” Not that much seems to have changed since then as he describes his current studio habits “I often get stuck in a nocturnal rut. Sleep through the days on my studio floor…blackout blinds have their perks!” I confide that I think I might end up divorced if I took up his nocturnal approach to production and he concedes that he has “some understanding people around him.”
Barr’s obsessive personality also stretches into his ever-expanding arsenal of analog synths although he is quick to dismiss notions of him being a purist “A lot of my music is made up from hardware, of course, but I wouldn’t consider myself an analog purist. There is some wicked software out there I use, I’m just embracing it all at the moment.” Nevertheless, being a synth nerd I have to ask which piece of gear he couldn’t live without. “My trusty Sequential Circuits Pro One. It’s hard to tame but boy what a synth!” When I push him further on the production techniques that have helped formulate the raw powerful sound he elaborates on a process that has been developed over some time as “hours and hours of layering my percussion in particular. Nothing is ever just one factory sample sound from some cheap sample pack and the same goes for claps, hats etc. Ten hi-hats all doing the same thing springs to mind! With drums that bang, your halfway there.” This meticulous eye for detail, heavyweight drums, and rigorous quality control have finally gained Barr the recognition his talent and relentless work ethic deserve. Not that he is taking anything for granted. We return full circle to his recent release on Last Night On Earth which he describes as “the best moment of my career so far” and chat about the current state of the dance music industry. He says he fears “creativity isn’t the main driver with youth culture anymore” and worries about “the cookie cutter antics” of some. Despite his concerns about the homogenization of music, he remains upbeat about the future.
“There is no denying streaming has put substantial pressure on the industry, especially label owners. Having said that, it’s ironic more often than not, I’ll check a tune on a streaming platform before I purchase it. Just like the Analog vs Digital argument, I’m learning to embrace it all. I hope one day there’s a way to make the two work so everyone can benefit.”
He ends by reaffirming his belief that “overall, the scene is certainly healthy for sure”, name checks ‘Shokh’ as a leftfield artist I should watch out for before he heads off (no doubt for another extended nocturnal session in the studio) promising an exciting reboot of his Portable Minds label this year amongst other things. Barr is clearly a passionate advocate of intelligent electronic music with rich emotional content and has a rock-solid belief in sticking with what he believes in. With committed producers of his caliber out there now garnering more and more attention, it’s hard to argue with his positive assertions about the future of the industry.