Published Nov 11, 2015"In a nutshell, it sounds like electronic music, but it's not. It doesn't sound like jazz, but it is," Nerve's Jojo Mayer tells Exclaim! from his home in New York.
It's a statement that really rings true when you fully understand the process behind Nerve's recordings. Upon hearing their latest independent album Ghosts of Tomorrow, one could easily mistake them for a purely digital act, such is the smokescreen of their drum and bass grooves, dubstep flutters and minimal house vibes.
Their sound is deceiving, impressively so. Nerve live and breathe like a jazz band, operating on the principles of improvisation and straight-up jamming, just in an electronic sphere. Their live shows, which are often completely improvised, are the creative foundries where their recordings first take shape. So, in a complete reverse of operations, their live performances (which are all recorded by Mayer) directly influence their releases.
"Basically, what we try to do artistically is to abandon the notion of perfection and we replace it with the notion of clarity," Mayer explains. "So, we're only aiming for clarity. We're not making perfect records anymore. We're only trying to get our point across."
That point — Nerve's entire ethos — is that 21st century music is stagnant. They see popular culture as being in a holding pattern, merely regurgitating the ideas of the last two decades and failing to acquire its own identity.
"If you look at the gap between 'Jailhouse Rock' by Elvis Presley, and Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze,' it was only nine years," Mayer notes. "Looking back nine years from today, what has happened? Not much. I'm not saying that Bruno Mars isn't talented, because he is, and Lady Gaga too, she's talented, but they are in a position where at some point we had the likes of James Brown or Prince or Michael Jackson or David Bowie."
While Mayer does have the utmost respect for certain popular entities like Kendrick Lamar and James Blake, he still feels that popular culture doesn't reflect any cultural movements, which is a fire that Nerve are hoping to ignite.
"In a time where music and art, more and more become surface reproduction, and just a commodity, we're trying to create music that serves as a medium of self-expression," says Mayer. "We're trying to open a dialogue with the times that we live in. We're trying to recalibrate people's perception a little bit, or somehow un-brainwash them from the assault of the times we live in, and give them a bit of hope in their entity as human beings, and their potential for being creative and authentic."
This zeal for progress and innovation, started as a reverse-engineering of drum & bass back in the '90s. Inspired by the radicalness of the genre at the time, Mayer wanted to be part of the scene and began his own club night in New York called Prohibited Beatz. As a drummer by trade, it was only natural that Mayer eventually started by playing real-time beats over jungle rhythms. This brought an entirely different energy to drum & bass, and added the danger of improvisation, something that was vastly missing from the movement.
"It started as a platform where I just tried different things. It was cross-pollination really — colliding DJs with live musicians and visual artists into a big messy, organic, type of party that took on critical mass really quickly. By the late '90s it was one actually of the strongholds of subculture in NYC."
A decade-and-a-half later, Nerve are unique — an old method, attempting to capture the present, while questioning the future. It's a conglomerate of styles — almost everything familiar in an unfamiliar setting. They may not change the musical template, but they might at least open up the dialogue on its possibilities.