Jamz Supernova

On graft, learning on the job, Reprezent Radio, BBC 1Xtra, Future Bounce, A&R, South London and her new puppy, Ché.

(All photos submitted by Jamz Supernova)

Jamz Supernova is entirely self-made. From every DJ booking to every radio show, every club night to every record on her Future Bounce label; all of it stems from years of hard work, belief and perseverance, the majority of it neither seen nor documented.

When COVID-19 first struck in March, Jamz was returning from a trip to Johannesburg, where she’d been working with local female creatives on a trip with the British Council, simultaneously building another network to feed back into the borderless, global ethos that underpins her Future Bounce brand. With the prospect of losing the vast majority of her DJ income on the horizon, the pandemic posed another hurdle — perhaps the biggest of her career so far. “It’s been a weird, weird time in lots of ways, but it’s allowed me to spend my time looking at different projects”, she says assuredly, “and assess what I want and what I’d like to do going forward. It’s been a good time for reflection in that sense and because I’m a busy body, I’ll always fill my time anyway, so it’s been a case of swapping things out and focusing on what I can control. I don’t have any idea when I’ll be out gigging again, so I’m doing what I can.”

Busy body is an understatement. Independently self-taught as a DJ, broadcaster, A&R and even journalist — she recently penned a long-read on the UK’s relationship with South African house music for Bandcamp — her passion for music has been life-long. Born in Walsall just outside of Birmingham to parents of Irish, Jamaican and Cuban heritage, she moved to South London shortly after she was born and has remained ever since, moving between Catford, New Cross Gate, Sydenham and Penge, where she now lives with her partner and puppy, Ché. “He’s made me so happy, he’s given me routine … you can’t be sad around a puppy”, she says, panning the camera round to see Ché staring longingly Jamz’s way. “Just watching him grow over the last few months has been really nice.” 

“My parents met at drama school when they were 17”, she continues as we start to discuss her childhood, “and they split up when I was young and both went onto have other families. I’d spend every other weekend at my dad’s house and my dad became a Jehovah’s Witness shortly after they split, so I was between two very different households. Being at my mum’s … she was very liberal, I could swear, well swear in context … where as my dad was different, I’d have to ask to go to the shop and stuff like that, it was quite bizarre. Both of them were really creative people though. My dad was an actor … he did small stuff in The Bill for a while but it was mostly theatre … and he did that until I was about 10 and traveled quite a bit. My mum has always worked in education as a drama teacher and I guess both of them have always supported me in whatever I’ve chosen to do. You know you hear about some parents putting their insecurities on their children, they didn’t do that at all. They always said I could do anything, be anything … and always enhanced whatever me and my brother were doing and tried to help us be the best we could be.”

“You know you hear about some parents putting their insecurities on their children, they didn’t do that at all. They always said I could do anything, be anything.”

Football was also a big part of Jamz’ teenage life. She’d often play with her older brother, before signing up to play Sunday league. Could she have ever made it as a professional, I wondered. “I played until I was about 16 but I think if I got into a bigger team, I would definitely have continued”, she says with a smile. “I was a defender, a right back actually and I used to think I was really good but never got past any of the trials I went for. I played for a team called Kent Magpies in the Kent league and to be honest, I loved it.”

“Music too was a big part of both sides of my family”, she continues. “It’s just what we did. We played each other music, we swapped CDs … my dad used to be one of the people that would go to WH Smith’s or HMV, buy a CD, come back and tape it, and then take it back. My uncle would always bring CDs over to my mum’s house too and everyone would always have a big system. I’d just sit there and take it all in so I guess music for me, like it didn’t feel like a case of getting into it … it was just always there. It probably makes sense of everything I do now, you know.” 

As for the music she was exposed to, it varied depending on whoever was bringing CDs home. “My dad was more into new jack swing and neo soul, where as my mum was into a lot more 90s stuff … SWV, 702 and stuff like that. When she met my stepdad Will, she also got into a lot more indie music and bands like Oasis, Blur, Catatonia … a lot of Brit pop basically. There was also a big Caribbean influence as well, so there was a lot going on for me musically.”

Inspired by the music of her upbringing, it led Jamz to apply for a course at The BRIT School in Croydon after finishing her GCSEs. “I couldn’t sing or anything like that”, she says, “but I could play piano … well I could only play Alicia Keys but I wasn’t sure I could get in just playing that. I went to the open day with a friend who sang and wanted to apply herself. When I got there, I found out they also offered media as a course so I was like ‘ok, sick, I’m gonna go for this’. I got in and spent my two college years there. It was such an eye-opener because I am an academic person … I gave my GCSEs everything, I had mind-maps all over my room … but I think I was just tired at the end of it all. You put all that work in, you get your results and then what? It didn’t feed me, where as being hands-on at The BRIT School, I could see the work that I was doing, it meant something.”

“I gave my GCSEs everything, I had mind-maps all over my room … but I think I was just tired at the end of it all. You put all that work in, you get your results and then what? It didn’t feed me, where as being hands-on at The BRIT School, I could see the work that I was doing, it meant something.”

“I’d always listened to radio, I used to listen to Dr Fox do the chart show which I’d tape every weekend”, Jamz continues,  “and then I discovered local pirate stations, I always listened to Choice FM in the car … and then I got given a Freeview box, which is where I discovered 1Xtra. I knew from 15, maybe 16, I knew that I wanted to do something in radio so when I got to BRIT School and they had their own radio studio it was like, ‘this is it’. They had a station called BRIT FM and I just threw myself into it and did as much as I could. When I left, I didn’t feel the need to go to university because I’d already done so much. For example, I oversaw this broadcast in Croydon town centre back in 2009 when I was 19 and Katy B was a guest, she performed live for us and I was producing it, sorting the levels, running around and just making sure everything ran smoothly. I remember meeting CJ Beatz there, who was her DJ at the time, and he pulled me aside and said to me, ‘I bet I’m gonna see you at the BBC within a year’. And he was right, I made it within a year.”

Jamz had also landed a job as a teaching assistant at the school her mum taught at to make ends meet — “I’d recommend it to anyone, it’s the perfect job because you can use the holidays to pursue whatever else you want to do” — which afforded her the time to continue her broadcast work, as well as attend events, network and connect. “I remember one time though”, she says laughing into the camera, “I’d been up all night and woke up after a few hours sleep and called my mum like, ‘mum, I don’t think I’m gonna make it in today’ and she was like ‘this is my name you’re ruining, you better get your arse in right now!’.”

During the school holidays, Jamz found herself heading out on as many work experience placements as she could, even earning the chance to attend the Edinburgh Festival via a scheme run by The Guardian. She subsequently applied for a slew of runner jobs and found herself moving between Channel 4, MTV, Freshly Squeezed and a number of other production companies, racking up hours of valuable experience. The holy grail? “During that whole time, I was always applying for the BBC”, she reflects, “but I never got a reply. That was until I’d been a part of this crazy presenting competition that Nokia ran. They were looking for presenters, so the idea was you had to film a short clip of yourself presenting something, send it in and they’d pick out a winner. I got down to the final six, which meant I got to go to Los Angeles, Cannes, Barcelona, Austria to present… these things don’t happen anymore, do you know what I mean? I remember we had to blog our experiences as well, it was all crazy. Off the back of that, I finally got a reply from 1Xtra. When I found out I’d got an interview, I was just coming back from LA as part of this Nokia competition, so I had to ask them if I could come in the following day. I think I just sort of sauntered in thinking I was hot shit because I was gonna make it as a presenter, even though this was work experience for a producer role. I just had this confidence … I don’t know where it came from, but it got me the job and I started a two month placement that summer. When I first got there, they asked me ‘do you want to be on air or in production?’ and I replied ‘on air’. They said to me, ‘right, we’ll see if you still feel the same at the end of your work experience’, so they asked me again and my answer was the same. I actually loved the production work though and I seemed to be quite good at it, so I came back to work as a production assistant once my work experience ended and stayed working behind-the-scenes at 1Xtra for five years.”

“I think I just sort of sauntered in thinking I was hot shit because I was gonna make it as a presenter, even though this was work experience for a producer role. I just had this confidence … I don’t know where it came from, but it got me the job and I started this two month placement that summer.”

Coincidentally, Jamz had also been offered a slot on burgeoning youth station, Reprezent Radio, in the same week she was offered work experience by 1Xtra — an important proving ground for many who have gone onto enjoy broadcasting careers elsewhere, including Scully, Joe Walker, Sherelle and previous Polymer interviewee, Naina. “What I would do was take everything I was learning at 1Xtra and implement it in my own shows on Reprezent”, she explains. “They actually offered me a drive time show and I knew I couldn’t turn it down because I knew I’d be such a better broadcaster by the end of it. The problem was, I still needed to work because I lived on my own, so what I would do was work at 1Xtra from 8am until 4pm, head over to Reprezent to do the drive time show from 5pm until 7pm and then go back to 1Xtra and do another shift, from 8pm until 2am … and do it all over again the next day. I did that for 9 months … I’d even sleep in the toilets at the BBC! But I thought to myself, I’ll never need to work this hard again.”

“..what I would do was work at 1Xtra from 8am until 4pm, head over to Reprezent to do the drive time show from 5pm until 7pm and then go back to 1Xtra and do another shift, from 8pm until 2am … and do it all over again the next day. I did that for 9 months … I’d even sleep in the toilets at the BBC!”

With such a brutal work schedule, time for honing her skills as a selector was limited — when did she have the time to discover new music? “That’s one of the benefits of being at the BBC”, she explains with a smile, “I always had access to this endless catalogue of tunes and DJs were always bringing new music into the building as well. In terms of discovering new music for myself, I mean … that’s my downtime. I love spending time online finding music, so I’d get home and just trawl through Soundcloud and play tracks.”

“I didn’t actually start DJing until I was about 22, 23 I’d say”, Jamz continues, “and I always thought I’d missed my chance because I hadn’t been DJing in my bedroom since I was a teenager. It was stupid really but, as I’m sure Naina would have mentioned, I had a great mentor at Reprezent in Gavin. He’s been a really close, guidance councillor ever since really … he even sold me his decks! They were Pioneer CDJ1000 MK 1’s and the market price back then would have been about £800 and he sold me to them for £400 … and I paid in instalments. Once I got them home, I’d spend every spare evening just practicing as much as I could.”

As a DJ, Jamz was aware that her sets wouldn’t always reflect the Soundcloud-era RnB and down-tempo electronics of her radio shows; “I’ve always thought of my broadcast career and my DJ career as quite separate”, she affirms. Inspired by a deep-rooted love of percussion, Jamz’ DJ sets are often colourful, hi-energy and at times, explosive. “I learned to DJ mixing house music but percussion has always driven me. I actually only learned to DJ RnB and hip-hop stuff three or four years ago because dance music was my passion, it’s what I’d dedicated my time to behind the decks. I don’t know if I had the words for it back then, but I guess what I love to play is electronic music from the black diaspora. I remember when I first discovered Branko’s label, Enchufada, I was like ‘ah, this is so cool, this music feels familiar’ … essentially it was music from the black diaspora, but merged with a European influence.”

During her time juggling working behind-the-scenes at 1Xtra and hosting the drive time show at Reprezent, Jamz was also submitting demos to various heads of music at the BBC. “I sent demos every year for five years”, she says bullishly, “and I remember crying in the meeting after being told I wasn’t quite good enough the first year I sent a demo in because I really thought I had it, even though I was only 21 and didn’t really have much experience. The second year, they replied with pretty much he same feedback and then in the third year the feedback was that I was getting better, but nobody outside the station really knew who I was. It was probably during that time that I came off drive time at Reprezent and took on a specialist show instead. I really started to knuckle down and focus on what I wanted to play and what I wanted to rep for, so I found myself deep in the Soundcloud era stuff that was blowing up at the time. I’d put my shows straight up on my own Soundcloud within hours of them broadcasting on Reprezent and I did that for two years straight, which saw my Soundcloud really start to grow. In the fourth year of sending in demo applications at 1Xtra, they could see I was starting to build a profile but I still wasn’t quite what they were looking for.”

“By the fifth year, I’d actually started producing Toddla T’s show and was having a really great time”, she continues. “He would just let me do whatever I wanted to do … like it was hip-hop month one time and I suggested we make a mini documentary live on air and he was like ‘yeah, lets do it!’ … we did loads of crazy stuff. He saw how hard I was working too, so he’d bring me in on his shows and I’d start warming up for him, even if we were in Jamaica or whatever and I was out there working as a producer. It meant that by that fifth year, I didn’t really feel like I needed a show because my Soundcloud was popping, I had a show that I loved on Reprezent and I was getting to DJ quite a lot anyway … and of course that’s then when they decided to offer me a show! But I didn’t find out for a while that they’d made that decision. I remember one day, all of a sudden, I was told I was being taken off Toddla’s show and I was distraught, I was really upset. They’d told him but they hadn’t told me that part of the reason why I was being taken off was that they were going to offer me my own show and he couldn’t tell me for ages. I ended up getting a call from the head of the station’s PA about two months later saying he wanted to see me tomorrow and I came off the phone, looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘I’ve got a show’ … I just knew.” The relief and the joy was palpable. “I think I was a bit overwhelmed to be honest”, Jamz reflects, “but I’ll always remember those five years. I know now that I can do anything. I don’t know how long it’ll take but I know I’ll get there eventually.”

Jamz’s 1Xtra show began in 2015, where she continues to broadcast every Tuesday night to this day, after originally starting out with a daytime slot at weekends. It didn’t herald a sudden deluge in DJ bookings — “my bookings actually tailed off a bit initially” — nor a sudden explosion of social media likes or follows, but it gave her confidence and purpose. “It actually meant I really had to start building my identity away from the radio fro the first time”, she explains. “Because my DJ sets were so different to the stuff people knew me for on 1Xtra, it did take me that much longer to really establish myself … and that’s why I started to run my own club nights.”

Housed at the now long-since closed Birthdays in Dalston, Jamz began programming her Future Bounce club nights in 2016, purely to showcase the music she wanted to play; “I thought, if I’m not getting booked or booked on line-ups I’d like to be billed on, then I’m gonna book them myself”, she explains. Roska, Branko, Starslinger, Big Dope P and Swindle were just some of the early names to play Future Bounce nights, nodding to Jamz’s curatorial skills for the first time. “Now I get booked alongside DJs like that”, she says firmly, “so I think it’s just about planting seeds in people’s heads.” Wherever Jamz sees a problem, she finds her own solutions — time and time again.

“I thought, if I’m not getting booked or booked on line-ups I’d like to be billed on, then I’m gonna book them myself.”

The club nights would lead to the Future Bounce brand — originally the name she gave to her specialist show on Reprezent — to grow exponentially over the next few years. Intent on maintaining momentum after joining 1Xtra, Jamz had initially trialed a host of different ideas, from a Soundcloud page to host mixes — “we had one from Masego which is still online somewhere I think” — to playlists, to even a YouTube channel; “I tried it for a month and realised that it wasn’t really for me”, she admits, “but then came the club nights and they made a lot more sense.” 

So, where did the label fit in? “I’d always been told, ‘oh you should start a label’ by loads of different people but I always felt like I didn’t know enough about it”, Jamz explains. “I’d always felt unsure of it, but one day I came across an artist that I really liked and went to a distributor to secure some money for them. I had a good relationship with a guy heading up the company and he said to me he’d much rather give me the money to start my own label rather than just help one artist. That was my golden ticket … you can’t really turn that down really. I started it with my manager at the time, who had worked with Chase & Status on their MTA label and also used to produce Trevor Nelson’s show on 1Xtra on Saturday nights. We had this mutual, kinda linear experience of coming up together so with her experience of running labels and my own vision for the A&R side of things, it worked really well.”

Launched in January 2019 with the release of Ted Jasper’s ‘One Day’ EP, Future Bounce — functioning around striking a balance between multi-genre development artists and more immediate, club-focused output — has since released 15 records, including a new monthly club series that kicked off in March. “It’s a boutique label I suppose”, Jamz explains, “and I do look to Branko’s label Enchufada and maybe labels like XL Records as inspirations, but for us it’s always been a launchpad. I come across music so much and there are so many artists that I think are sick that not enough people know about. I see my job being head of the label as being a big megaphone, someone to shout about it all. So far, it’s far exceeded my expectations.”

“I do look to Branko’s label Enchufada and maybe labels like XL Records as inspirations, but for us it’s (Future Bounce) always been a launchpad. I come across music so much and there are so many artists that I think are sick that not enough people know about. I see my job being head of the label as being a big megaphone, someone to shout about it all.”

With her brand fully established and 1Xtra show — a goldmine for new sounds lifted from across a huge cross-section of scenes — now five years deep, talk quickly turns to legacies. “I really believe that it will be a big part of my legacy”, Jamz says warmly. “Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, especially around Giles Peterson’s story and the people that were around him, you know the sort of Talking Loud days … I feel like that’s what Future Bounce could be.”

If she continues to unearth gems like Melle Brown, Swsh and Sola, then there’s no reason why not, either. “Signing Melle Brown was my first, real A&R experience”, Jamz recalls, smiling. “She had no music readied at the time but I’d DJ’d with her and she’d played a few of her own tracks that I was vibing to. I really wanted to sign a female producer too and I felt like it could be her off the bat, you know. She didn’t really have any new music on the cards, so I booked her a load of studio time, worked on finding vocalists and helped her bring a record to life. She ended up being played on every radio station, every BBC station, from 6Music to BBC R1 to BBC R2 to 1Xtra … Rebecca Judd and even Elton John on Apple Music. It really built her profile and helped shine a light on the label as well.” So successful was her debut EP, ‘Intersection’, that Jamz commissioned a follow-up Remix EP, featuring thoughtful edits from the likes of Digital Mozart, KG and Scuffed Recordings’ co-head, High Class Filter.

And then came Swsh – “we flew to Berlin to meet with COLORS and secured them a session, which changed Swsh’s life and raised the profile of the label, which was incredible” — who released their track ‘How You Feel’ on Future Bounce last July, and more recently, Sola. “The most exciting artist I’m working with at the moment that I want to work with long-term is Sola”, Jamz affirms. “We put her ‘Mami Wata’ EP out recently after I’d put a call out looking for new club stuff. I had played some of her music on 1Xtra before but the tracks she sent over in response weren’t for the club in my mind … but I still thought it was cool. She’d actually been given some funding but was looking for a label to help her release her music, so I got onboard and managed the whole campaign for her. The music was already there …. I mean, I helped with the mix downs and stuff like that … but everything else was all her. She’s one of those artists that everyone should want to be like right now. The concepts, the vision for her music, the videos, the artwork … she handles it all. My job has been to build a team around her and manage how we release it. What’s exciting now is that she feels like she’s ready to get in the studio with other artists, so I’m already thinking about how to A&R the next project we work on. She’s a real class act though … there are a lot of singers who I think are great, but if they didn’t sign with Future Bounce, I could find another just as similar. That isn’t the same for Sola. The way she writes, the way she looks, the way she carries herself … she’s just really unique. She could be my FKA Twigs, for sure.”

Having already worked herself to the bone for over a decade, even as our conversation winds down in anticipation of a virtual BBC Introducing panel she’s about to join, Jamz’s hunger to continue breaking new ground is extraordinary. Just talking about the next record, the next radio show, the next milestone seems to energise her. “I’ve had to wear so many different hats”, she says, “and mostly out of necessity, whether it be being my own PR or promoting my own club nights. But mostly, I’m just a nerd and I get a kick out this stuff. Even now, if I see one of our Future Bounce records getting a review in Mixmag or whatever, I love it … it’s such a buzz. For me, all of the work I do never feels disconnected or like I’m wasting my time in the wrong areas though. I can see how it all fits together, how everything influences everything else.”

“For me, all of the work I do never feels disconnected or like I’m wasting my time in the wrong areas though. I can see how it all fits together, how everything influences everything else.”

That said, as she reflects on the last few months, in which she also covered 6Music shows for Giles Peterson shows for the first time — “they were the highlight of my radio career so far, they pushed me, they challenged me and affirmed to me that I am actually a good broadcaster” — there is one lesson she’s learned recently that sticks out more than most. “I know I do a lot but I really have started to learn to say no”, Jamz concludes. “I’ve been really, really thinking about the consequences and the impact of the decisions I make. Is it gonna push the needle, is this thing gonna help my career going forward? I had flashbacks during lockdown of a time when I’d had a car accident and broken my leg but still wanted to gig. I went all the way to the Netherlands to play Eurosonic which should have even a great gig, but I was in so much pain that I played poorly … and we had to catch the train there. It was awful, I cleared the room and I never got booked again. There was definitely a lesson in that for me so from now on, I’ll be prioritising better and approaching opportunities thinking about what I can give to them and hopefully, what I can gain from them too.”

You can tune into Jamz Supernova live on BBC 1Xtra every Tuesday from 9pm GMT.

You can dig into the Future Bounce label discography via Bandcamp here:

https://futurebounce.bandcamp.com/

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