Just A Gent: “I started making club music when I was 13”

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Well before he could legally enter clubs, Jacob Grant was making the music that got played in them.

The Maitland-bred producer started putting out tracks as Just A Gent in 2013 when he was smack bang in the middle of his teens. It didn’t take long for him to blow up: in the space of a couple of years, he won a triple j Unearthed competition, caught the ear of international talent agents, had his music featured in an Ultra Music Festival recap video, got to remix the likes of Alison Wonderland and Peking Duk and even got noticed by Skrillex. While most people his age were enjoying their school holidays, Jacob was completing his first tour of Australia and New Zealand.

But as big as things started for Just A Gent, 2016 is poised to end even larger. After two years of relentless work, earlier this year Grant dropped his debut EP Stories To Tell, which packed singled like the Lanks collaboration Heavy As A Heartbreak and the Odesza-inspired Loaded.

Next week, Just A Gent will be showing off that new music at the 5 Seeds IRL Party, a free gig in Sydney where he shares the bill with Basenji and Luke Million. Before the party happens, JULES LEFEVRE grabbed Jacob for a quick chat.

Stories To Tell has been out for a couple months now. How did feel to finally share that with the world?
I was obviously relieved. It’s been good. I wanted to put out an album or a piece of music with multiple tracks out for a while – it feels really good to finally have it out and it’s been well received everyone seems to really like it. I’m pretty proud of it.

Are you the kind of person that listens back to songs and goes “damn, I wish I could have changed that.” Are you a perfectionist?
Yeah, 100 percent. But I try to just deal with anything I hear – it’s mostly just things in the mix where I think, “damn that could be quieter”, but it’s okay. It happens.

Is there a particular track where it’s been like that where you’re like “ah damn, okay I’ll change that now”?
The track Phenomenon has been in the works for two years pretty much and I’ve never been happy with the mix of it  – I’m still not happy with it, but it’s at the point where I’m okay with it. Every time I hear it I cringe a little.

I guess you have the luxury of mixing it differently in your sets every night.
Exactly, yeah, and I definitely do that. I have multiple versions of the track, which is cool because I can play them and try to figure out if people like that version better – the punters definitely can’t really tell, but I can.

You’ve played some massive sets this year, such as Splendour. You’re obviously used to playing all different kinds of venues – how do you change your set to reflect the environment you’re in?
Generally I have a folder of tracks to play that I know always do well, and then the rest are sorted into level folders. Like, intensity level of ten, if it’s a hardcore dubstep crowd or whatever. Then I’ve sort of got levels depending on what the vibe is. I’ve got a bunch of tracks in there I sort of just pick from and they’re for different crowds, because not every crowd is the same. It’s easy to pull from the relevant list for a crowd that’s either super chill or super intense. That’s how I do it.

What are your favourite tracks to mix into your set at the moment?
At the moment I’ve been playing GTA’s rework of a Zelda track, Saria’s Theme. It goes hard. I’ve done a radio edit of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing the Name Of and I’ve been opening my set with that. Everyone loves that.

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How do you determine what songs to put in? Is it just the tracks you’re vibing on, or is there a particular thing you look for?
No, it’s definitely just what I’m vibing on. I try and do some mash-ups before a show and mix a couple of tracks people know with some super unknown tracks – because there’s so many good producers that no one knows about and I want to be able to push them as much as I can. When I drop those tracks people are like, “holy crap that was an insane remix” and I’m like, “that actually wasn’t a remix that was this kid on SoundCloud.” I think it’s cool to get people engaged that way as well.

What are your favourite tracks of 2016 and who are your favourite artists of 2016?
My favourite artist of 2016 is this kid called Isqa. I have no idea where he’s from, I think Europe somewhere. He does some crazy sounds. My favourite track I’ve been vibing is…god, there’s so many I don’t even know.

“I started making club music when I was 13, so I definitely hadn’t stepped foot in a club then”

You started making music before you could actually go clubbing. Are you much of a clubber now?
Well yeah, I started making club music when I was 13, so I definitely hadn’t stepped foot in a club then. I watched videos of people in clubs, but when I turned 16 I had already been touring for pretty much two years. Now the Newcastle club scene is pretty good – it’s got two solid clubs so it’s cool because we get a rotation of like mostly artists that come from Australia. It’s no Sydney, but it’s big enough to get on the map.

So the first time you were sort of in clubs, you were actually behind the decks?
Yeah, the first club I ever went to was probably the Courtyard Party at Ivy when I was 16. It was pretty hectic. It was definitely an experience. I pretty much spewed before the show, but after that I went on for ten minutes I felt all right, and I knew I wanted to keep doing it.

What’s been your gig highlight of the year?
Splendour was heaps of fun. On my American tour I played some really fun dates. In Boston and San Francisco I played really small shows – like a 100 capacity room – but in Boston we had like 100 hardcore fans. Every track I played they knew every word and every sound they were singing along to every track. It was pretty epic, but that and Splendour was really fun. So probably those two.

Do you have a set way that you work – do you tend to start with the topline or the beat?
I sort of make a drop, or like the chorus main section and then I sort of build around that. That’s pretty much what I do actually. Even if I have a vocal I sort of have the vocal building to a drop, and the drop is what I always mix first and then I work everything else around it.

You’ve collaborated with some great vocalists. How do you know when you want to call someone in to sing on a track? What is that process like?
It’s sort of random. With Lanks, he had three tracks up on triple j Unearthed and I loved all three so I was like this is it, this is an easy one. But I never expected to make a track like Heavy as a Heartbreak – I wanted something like super chill and laid back. When he was keen to work on that track it was sort of a shock, but it worked out pretty well.

Melissa Ramsey actually works with a talent agency and they sent me a topline that she wrote and said “do you vibe this?” I said, “it’s sick”, and then I made a track around that and she really liked it. So the first time I ever heard her, was when I heard that topline.

What’s next for the rest of 2016 and beyond?
I’ve got this tour coming up that I’m doing now – called Just a Tour – and then I’ve got a couple festival dates at the end of December. I’m playing Southbound Falls in Lorne and hopefully we can get some new music out pretty soon, which would be nice.

Just A Gent is playing at the 5 Seeds IRL Party at the Oxford Arts Factory on Tuesday, November 22. It’s free, so head here to RSVP.

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