In the late 2000s, Los Angeles became a focal point of interest in the worldwide explosion of the so-called beat scene giving us the likes of Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke. A new generation of kids, most still in their teens, flocked to the sound like moths to a flame, drawn to the excitement surrounding hip hop's rejoining of its electronic roots. In many ways this was the first generation for whom the producer as artist was a valid idea, as normal as garage bands or DJs had been for their parents and older siblings. As the hype began to die down in the early 2010s, the lack of historical grounding in swathes of the movement led some to realize that, perhaps, there was more to be learned and explored.
For Jasper Patterson, a 24-year-old Venice, CA native who began his music career under the name Groundislava at the time, this realization has proven key to his growth. “I've always wanted to do my own thing, to not do it for anyone else. And perhaps the one time I didn't do that was with my debut.” His self-titled first album was released in 2011 in the wake of the beat scene's ascendancy. Co-released between Tall Corn Music and Friends of Friends, Patterson was also emerging as part of the Wedidit collective, a small group of like-minded friends that includes another young Californian producer who has grown away from his beat scene beginnings: Shlohmo. “Not that I'm not proud of the album, but I was working within certain boundaries,” Patterson explains from his California home. “I was just making music in my bedroom at the time and someone said ‘you're going to put an album out.’ So I thought ‘ok I should probably make it something people will like.’”
Within a year Patterson released a follow-up album, Feel Me. The indication that he was moving on from what many could have misconstrued as his roots became clear. The beats aesthetic was scrapped in favor of more machine-driven rhythms, and the melodies were more fleshed out, taking listeners in their warm embrace. “Today the minimum age for people releasing music has gotten even younger,” Patterson says. “For me at the time I didn't know I had an audience or even the potential for an audience outside of beats.”
Alongside a lack of knowing, Patterson acknowledges that his beginnings were also marked by a certain lack of confidence, a situation he felt was easy to fall into as his surrounding community at the time felt small. “As Wedidit grew and support came in, I realized that people wanted to hear a wider range of electronic music and not just super-local beat scene sounds,” he admits. “I got more comfortable understanding I could release anything I wanted, I didn't need to stay within any specific lines.”
This creative growth took further flight on Frozen Throne, Patterson's third album, released in September 2014. Where Feel Me was a move towards more dance music-friendly sounds, Frozen Throne went further with pop sensibilities and a concept centered on a science-fiction narrative. The inspiration for the album is the acclaimed Neuromancer novel by William Gibson, one of Patterson's favorite books. Gibson's dark, dystopian tale — a key inspiration for the Matrix trilogy — has always been a reference point for Patterson both musically and in terms of his overall aesthetic. The album was conceived as a sort of homage to it, drawing from the cyberpunk concepts the novel crystallized and cemented in popular culture.
To achieve his aim Patterson put himself well outside of his comfort zone, something he repeatedly refers to as necessary to his creative process. The album began with lyric-writing sessions alongside Rare Times, the primary vocalist on the project. From there Patterson decided to imbue the work with a cyberpunk theme. “I wanted to make a concept album based around storytelling. As we began writing songs and lyrics a story emerged and that in turn led me to write a short story which we then used as the basis for the lyrics that are on the album.”
Concept albums are never easy to pull off, the sort of creative endeavor that will divide your audience. Patterson is keenly aware of that, yet remains defiantly proud of the work. Frozen Throne also proved invigorating for the young artist. “I’d never written lyrics before and I co-wrote everything with Rare Times. Having this idea, this narrative already down and creating music and lyrics around it almost felt like translating something as opposed to writing something new.”
Frozen Throne also shines a light on Patterson's evolving melodic abilities, something he agrees is his strong suit. “As I progress it feels like that’s really what I can build albums around because it’s where I excel the most. When I was comfortable moving away from the beat scene and hip hop I realized the stuff I was good at wasn’t necessarily in line with those genres. I realized that if I wanted to make melodic music I should work outside of this hip hop instrumental zone.”
Growth always comes at a price, and for Patterson that has meant part of his audience misunderstanding where he came from. While rap played a part in his musical upbringing, electronic and dance music — from trance to Aphex Twin — was perhaps more influential in pushing him towards music making. “Now that I make more uptempo, dance music material, people think that I’m running away from my original sound,” Patterson admits with a joking tone. “But at the end of the day going into hip hop stuff was me deviating from what I knew. It's ironic. But since Frozen Throne I've gone back to writing material at a hip hop tempo and with instrumental formats. It feels good.”
Since his debut, much has been made of Patterson's affinity for nostalgia, in particular towards the '80s and retro video games, two things that precede his birth. So how does a twenty-something channel nostalgia for eras and intangible things they weren't around to experience in the first place? “Part of it is nostalgia for stuff that happened when I was young and aware and some of it is nostalgia for culture I’ve absorbed,” he admits. “Having nostalgia for things you weren’t around to experience. But I’m not really sure where the nostalgia comes from in that sense. When you immerse yourself so much into it, when you drown yourself in that culture you put yourself in it.”
Perhaps it's a case that Patterson's generation has nostalgia for things that existed in their lifetime but which were fading in the first decade of their lives. In turn the following generation is already entirely consumed by digital. “I feel like I grew up in a digital age, I didn’t see the transition. It happened when I was really young,” Patterson says. “That is also why people my age maybe have this weird nostalgia for analogue. We were at the cusp of missing a bunch of stuff, and so you feel like you want to still get to partake in some way.”
While his nostalgia may remain a conundrum for now, Patterson sees his ongoing progression clearly. After some heavy touring in the past year he's taking time to find new inspiration and challenges. One such challenge has seen him put in contact with artists outside his usual networks, people he refers to as talented artists and with whom he's been working in more traditional studios. As a result he hopes to perhaps unlock a new level to progress to. “I never want my music to be the same. All my albums should sound different, I don’t want to stagnate,” Patterson says decisively. “I know it makes some people uncomfortable, they might try to gauge me in terms of my whole discography and feel like they don’t understand where I fit. But to me that’s what is interesting.”