Jlin – Footwork producer Jerrilynn Patton on art, scoring her first ballet and choosing to take the “hard as hell” route

Creating something shouldn’t ever be easy

It’s actually quite hard to tell you what Jlin sounds like. The alias of producer Jerrilynn Patton, her music isn’t something that you can easily label.

Originally grounded in footwork, the combative dance scene that swept through Chicago in the late ’90s, Jlin’s sound has quickly transcended anything you could care to call a genre. Since arriving on the scene in 2008, Patton has become one of the most intriguing artists working in electronica, building a name for herself via her own remarkably prolific output as well as remixes and collaborations with the likes of Max Richter, Bjork and Factory Floor.

Even though she hails from Gary, Indiana – a city that was once known for producing the Jackson Five but is now often held up as a poster-child for white flight and the midwestern Rust Belt – Patton staunchly refuses to be defined by any sense of place or belonging. With her albums ‘Dark Energy’ and ‘Black Origami’ enjoying widespread critical acclaim, Jlin has cemented her place as one of dance music’s most forward-thinking and exciting artists.

Musically, Patton takes an almost Nietzschean approach to techno. Her compositions strip dance music almost back to its component parts revealing the darkness underneath. Songs like ‘Nyakinyua Rise’ and ‘Enigma’ turn the tense, aggressiveness of juke and footwork in on itself. As we speak over the phone on a dreary Monday afternoon, the idea of ‘collision’ is a concept that seems to keep cropping up, and thinking back, it’s actually a pretty apt description of Jlin’s whole sonic philosophy. Like a nuclear reactor, she takes minimalised drums, paper-thin synth lines and warped vocals and pressurises them into something that is deeply introspective. So much so, that an hour spent with the producer’s back catalogue often feels more like a vision quest or a fever dream than listening to a dance record.

Look underneath the soundclash and dissonance, though, and you’ll find a clear love of dance, not only as an aesthetic art form but as a way of spiritual and emotional expression. Jlin may not want to want to make dance music in a traditional sense, but her sound has nevertheless retained a clear, propulsive energy. ‘Black Origami’ might have seen her work drift toward ever more unconventional places, but there remains this strong, undeniable motive force underpinning everything.

Her latest work, ‘Autobiography’, delves into this aspect of her music in a way that no one has ever seen before, Jlin included. A collaboration between Patton and Stockport-born choreographer Wayne McGregor, her remorseless, pulsating soundtrack is a meditation on the very idea of human movement. Designed to accompany McGregor’s frenetic dance-style, it is wild, frantic, deeply personal and oftentimes weirdly spiritual. All of which kind of sums up what Jlin is about these days.

“I’ve only just experienced downtown Chicago”

Everybody always says I’m from Chicago, probably because people tend to associate me with footwork and they just assume that I live there. Actually, I still live in Indiana and I had never actually experienced Chicago properly until a few months ago when my girlfriend came to visit.

She’d never been in the States before, so I went and never told a soul; I didn’t want people to know I was there. It was OK, although I think I was enjoying the fact that my girlfriend was in the US and was getting to meet my family. I don’t think it would have mattered where we were.

“I don’t think where you’re from affects your music”

It’s actually funny when people try to size you up before they even meet you. People are always like, ‘Jlin has a hard sound – that must be because she worked in a steel mill.’ I’m like, ‘no, I had this sound before I worked in a steel mill.’

I’ve always thought that music comes from the core of yourself, not from where you are. I reject the idea that being in a certain space means that you create in a certain way because I’m bigger than any place that I’m in. My mind can be anywhere, right? I get that people need to reference things, but that way of thinking is just about boxing people in. I refuse to be boxed in by anyone.

“I didn’t know I was going to compose music for a ballet”

Working on ‘Autobiography’ has been a life-changing experience. I’d always wanted to go to a ballet, but it was never something my friends were ever into. After all, it’s not like you can walk down the street and happen across it.

I had no idea that the first one I’d go to would be the one I composed the music for. It has just been a totally different experience to what I’ve been doing up to now. There are so many aspects that collide together, like space, movement and sound. I would say it’s a rare art, a beautiful art, but yeah, not one that you can find easily.

Seriously though, if you’re blessed to ever get the chance to see one, you should definitely take it.

“Even though Autobiography is Wayne’s ballet, it’s still very personal to me”

I first met Wayne back in 2016. He was in the process of prepping for Autobiography and Unsound Productions pitched my work to him. He realised that my music worked well with it so we met up face-to-face and as soon as we saw each other, I knew that our energies just matched. We both had these huge grins on our faces. I knew what he was about and he instantly knew what I was about.

Working with him has been a real learning experience for me. Wayne gave me the freedom to go as far and wide as I wanted to. I think the reason he did that is that he knows that if you trust someone and let them go, then you usually get the best results.

Even though it’s his performance, it was more personal to me than my first two albums put together. It has allowed me to find out things about myself that I didn’t know before, both musically, creatively and personally.

“Ballet and footwork are totally different things”

Although they’re both based in dance, footwork and ballet come at it from completely different directions, so they don’t really have all that much in common. I definitely wasn’t thinking about my footwork days when I was writing for ‘Autobiography’ – I can tell you that!

I love movement. Not just ballet per say, but all dance. I’ve always been attracted to contemporary dance – I like the way that someone can nod their head, blink their eyes or hold their hands and it can tell a story. I like the way it can be as soft as it is harsh and as harsh as it is soft.

“But all the arts are in the same family”

The media likes to categorise things so that they can have some control over things, but art doesn’t come from different places. Everybody is creative in some way, whether they realise and tap into it or they don’t.

Me and Wayne are from the same world in so far that we both create, and I think it’s the same with all artists. One always influences the next so that it creates this constant interweaving of influences that all talk to each other. You’ve gotta be willing to open up and be open, and not just come at it from one point of view and nothing else. I like the way Jay-Z said it – “the arts are cousins and they should never have been separated.”

“It should never be easy to create something, and I hate people who make out that it is”

I really hate that bullshit thing that producers do on YouTube where they make out that they created this track in, like, two minutes. It’s like, stop telling artists that there’s something wrong with you if you can’t make a symphony in four and half minutes. Cut the shit – no one can lay something down in that time. If you can, that probably explains why four out of five songs on the radio that sound exactly the same are written by the same producer.

I’m like, if this took you only two minutes to lay down, then where’s the quality? Creating something shouldn’t ever be easy. I mean, the other day I heard this statement that has kind of stuck with me – ‘it’s easy to die, but hard as hell to live.’ I think music is the same – copying and being trendy is easy, but being authentic and original is hard as hell.

“You’ve got to embrace your failures”

Your failures are often more important than your successes. I’m still learning this myself, but I think the way we look at failure is all wrong. The only time you’re messing up is when you’re stagnating – like you’ve made a conscious decision to stop. If you want to make anything, you’ve got to be unafraid of fucking up from time to time.

Photos by Madhumita Nandi