Jumper madness: lessons from Andy Jenkinson

I think people can get a bit too, kind of, serious sometimes. You know ‘this note is so important’…Have some fun, it’s fine, you know, don’t worry about it. Don’t get too stressed.

Andy Jenkinson

I love when musicians know they’re not as important as The Geneva Convention.

Why are we always told art needs to come from pain? That musicians must treat each chord as their magnum opus, the culmination of suffering that comes from a lifetime of indentured servitude to the muse of tortured creativity? Must we sob instead of dance?

Andy Jenkinson, aka Ceephax Acid Crew, is one of the most slapdash musicians out of the UK. For more than 20 years, he’s crafted everything in his world himself. From tunes to outfits – it’s all him. It’s all Andy.

You reach peak authenticity when your art reflects your personality. Ceephax is living proof.

He uses old synths because he loves to. He collects jumpers because he loves to. He makes music because he loves to. He loves his craft more than you love yours, and that’s why I love him. We must not sob when we listen to Ceephax. No. We must dance.

This 10 minute interview with Mr. Jenkinson is a goldmine of advice for creative people. (Also includes a shot of him throwing a synthesizer into a basketball hoop. There’s a metaphor somewhere.)

“If you do everything yourself, it just makes everything pure”

Want more Andy? Yeah, I bet you do.

Here’s a tune played live from his studio.

Music and the Myth of Genres

Genres exist to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for.

Genres are like a map with labels, arrows, and a legend. Thanks to genres, we can expect a country song to sound this way and a jazz piece to sound that way.

But what about the bands that don’t easily fit into a genre? What do we do with them? What do we do with all the Mammal Hands, Radioheads, and Dirty Projectors?

One solution is that we can put a band like Mammal Hands into a subgenre. What kind of music do they play? They play jazz music. But they sometimes play their jazz music slowly. So we can put them into the “ambient jazz” subgenre. But once we start talking about subgenres, things get complicated.

Here’s a detail of the list of electronic music subgenres from Wikipedia.

Free Tekno? Bouncy Techno? Skweee? Intelligent dance music? Yeah, intelligent dance music. We can look no further than Richard D. James, the father figure of “intelligent” dance music, to understand how silly things get when we worry too much about categories. He says,

It’s basically saying ‘this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.’ It’s really nasty to everyone else’s music.

Richard D. James on Perfect Sound Forever

So what kind of music is Aphex Twin actually making, if it’s not what the Board of Genres says it is?

It’s music.

Richard D. James is making music.

Daniel Handler is writing novels.

And Sofia Coppola is directing movies.

Genres are categories. Categories make it easier for us to put things into boxes and bins so that it’s easier for us to find what we’re looking for. So what’s the problem, then?

The problem is that we rely on genres to tell us what we should look for.

Country music has a style that puts people like me off from listening to it. But Fleet Foxes is a band that you could sort of call a “country” band. But if someone were to tell me that it’s sort of like a “country” band, they’d convince me to listen to anything but.

And so this brings me to the idea of motifs. I can’t give you the textbook definition because I’m not classically trained in music. I’m trained in my own taste. I know what kind of music I like, and why. So a motif, to me, is a theme – kind of diction – expressed through the music no matter what genre. I like music that’s dramatic, powerful, simple in category, but technically complicated and difficult to appreciate. Kind of like a Dostoyevsky novel.

We like genres because they’re useful. Genres point us in a direction. But motifs are what bring our souls into an ephemeral trance when the players hit that orgasmic key and tempo change. A motif is how music invites our senses, in the words of Nietzsche, “to enjoy themselves.”

Genres organize.

Motifs materialize.

Always more than this

Your favorite song is more than a song. It’s an expression of who you are. It’s why you get defensive when somebody says they’d rather put their ears to a jackhammer. And yeah, you can share the same favorite song as somebody else.. But what the song means to either of you is the difference between chocolate and vanilla.

Your favorite song is your favorite song for reasons that are unique to you.

And what about your life?

Here’s a few what if scenarios.

What if your life was your favorite song? All the exciting chorus lines, all the downcast harmonies — what if you could learn to love it all?

What if your life is an expression of who you are?

And what would happen if these questions were no longer thought experiments, but practical standards?

You’re not here to merely live. You’re here to do something else.