“I grew up around organ music in church,” says Joscelin Dent-Pooley, “and you can’t do that in a Soundcloud release. I love spectacle”
Google Jerskin Fendrix and one of the first things you’ll see is a Guardian review of an opera he helped produce for the V&A. Delve a little deeper and you’ll find a series of bizarre, extremely well-executed music videos for a set of even stranger singles. Click through to the second page of search results and you’ll start seeing listings from shows at the Windmill in Brixton and a string of tour dates with the pub’s coveted alumni Black Midi. If you discover his Soundcloud you’ll see tracks that go back years. Try and find out anything about the musician beyond a vague association with south London’s new alternative scene and his name, though, and you’ll draw a blank. There are hints of the singer and producer everywhere when you know where to look, and yet each one seems designed to beg the question: who the fuck is Jerskin Fendrix?
As it turns out, Jerskin Fendrix isn’t the alter ego of some lofty academic or a disgruntled super producer, but is, in fact, Joscelin Dent-Pooley, an upper-middle-class former Cambridge student in his early twenties, now living in London. “People always talk about personas and having an identity on stage or whatever but I don’t think of it like that,” he tells me as we find a table in one of several branches of Costa below Canary Wharf. “It’s [just] a nice thing to hide behind. [Plus] it’s got the same number of letters in the first word as the second word, which is helpful.” Having been introduced to Fendrix via the video for ‘Swamp’, which features disturbingly close up shots of his beard and a scene involving baby hairless cats breastfeeding in high definition, I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed.
However, Dent-Pooley has his own unusual backstory, all be it one that’s more familiar in the annals of British culture than his music. Born in Birmingham, he was raised in Shropshire, far away from the scene where he’s begun to make his name of late. Growing up he learned violin and piano, attended boarding school and relied on the Internet for contact with the world beyond the countryside. His parents are academics and preachers, religious and studious, dedicated to large books and serious scholarship. “It was a weirdly monastic upbringing,” he explains, emphasising the contrast to his new life in south London. “It takes away some things. You’re not as tuned onto things as people are in the city. I’m still scared of traffic.”
His transformation into the musician sitting across the table began when he was in year ten at school. Boarding schools and country life do a good job of insulating privilege and sheltering its beneficiaries, but nothing stops the Internet. “When me and my friends were in, like, year ten or eleven, despite all being white middle-class dorks, we loved Odd Future,” he says, enthusing in the way that only those who have grown up alongside Tyler and Earl can. Discovering the hip hop collective changed the way he approached music, culture and everything around him. “We were obsessed,” he says. “I love rap in general but the sense of community, and having intertextuality and in-jokes between them in their music, was something that was so satisfying.”
Ironically it was while studying classical music at Cambridge that he learned to reconcile these two influences. There he fell in with a group of like-minded students and creatives, most notably the visual artist Peter Price, who now directs all of Fendrix’s music videos.