INTERVIEW

Taking the great tape revival to a point of obsession.

Photography by Bart Pettman

Photography by Bart Pettman

TAKING THE GREAT TAPE REVIVAL TO THE POINT OF OBSESSION

I first encountered him early this year, angrily flinging drums stools on a stage set that looked like Henry Miller’s living room. Random encounters at gigs and festivals since have only served to enflame my curiosity, as his random mix of beats and loops grows ever wider and more complex. Speaking to this one-man whirling dervish (he’s called Jeff T Smith when not Juffage) in his adopted town of Leeds, I’m eager to find out what makes him tick… and then explode. As soon as we can get the Brudenell’s dog in residence, Charlie, to stop barking that is. “That dog has the best life, don’t you think?” says Jeff. “He can do whatever the fuck he wants, he just wanders around like he owns the place. He totally does.”

Juffage’s ‘hyperactive and technically accomplished displays’ have earned him increasing notoriety in the town he now calls home. Originally from Ohio, via a stint in Chicago, he moved here last year to do a Masters Degree in Sound Production at Leeds University. His passion for music started early on. “When I was about seven or eight I found this drum set in my Grandparents basement,” he says. “I played the shit out of that ‘til I was about thirteen. Before I could play I was making really crappy techno. Recording was the thing that really got me into music, the live stuff kind of developed after that.”

After the usual roundup of High School bands, his most serious outfit, Mammoths Melting Out Of The Ice, were in fact “so serious we just had to break up.” So he stuffed his mountain of gear into a station wagon and toured the States, before packing up and moving over here.

“I’m from Chicago,” he explains “so Leeds seems fucking tiny. I feel like I know everyone here, even though I’ve only been here for about a year now. People are talking about music here all the time, you just hear people walking around in the street talking about their band, so for that reason I feel like Leeds has a good barometer for weeding out the bullshit. If you’re a band from Leeds and you suck then you’re not going to get anywhere.”

The name Juffage was first scrawled onto his teenage techno mash-ups, now he has a different take on things. “If you’re a solo guy you can’t really break up with yourself. I’ve sort of come to terms with it, I’ve let myself become Juffage, I guess,” he shrugs.

Live, Jeff is a constant source of movement, wildly creating and deconstructing sounds, flitting between keys, drums, bass and loops. He says: “When you’re recording it’s always about tweaking reality to make you sound better than you really are. The good thing about playing live is if you drop the microphone and the loop has to go around one more time that just makes each show different. As long as you get the idea across people don’t really care if you fuck up.”

Ultimately the songs speak for themselves. The darkly twisted ramblings of ‘Requiescat’ has the makings of a one-man God Speed You Black Emperor!, for example, but there’s one song that always seems to render the crowd speechless – ‘Good God Morning’. It ends with him distributing tape machines around the crowd, surrounding them in waves of distortion, before suddenly bringing it all crashing down.

Tapes and recording have provided Jeff with a fascination that has gradually morphed and taken on a life of its own, y’see. Next month his obsession will take the shape of an installation at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, looping sounds around the walls in a never-ending system of cassette players.

“I would go to charity shops in search of tape players but often the only one there would be the one that the staff were listening to, so whenever I was able to find them I would buy one, it took me forever. After that I just saw them fucking everywhere. And people knew that I used them in my shows, so they started giving them to me. I’ve accumulated about twelve of these things now, so I’d like to just do a show where I play the boom boxes. I could have a whole set where I have drones and backing vocals on all these machines.”

His influences range from Dub Reggae to Chopin, to the techniques of bands like Do Make Say Think, Lightning Bolt and fellow solo artist Dosh. “And I like that guy Ariel Pink,” he adds “who recorded everything on a four-track, pressing the button with his toe. Now he records with a band I don’t like it as much. I liked it when it sounded like one guy, up in his room, really late on lots of drugs, it sounded like he was capturing a specific time”.

And that’s what really makes Juffage tick – specific times captured on tapes, and then played to people while he wrecks the place.

By Kate Parkin

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Originally published in issue 22 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2010

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