Last week, a certain London DJ named Joker played a certain Chicago venue called The Keep, for an incredible night of music thrown by Chicago's own Notion Presents. If you don’t know, Joker is a bombshell dubstep (etc.) machine and The Keep is one tiny-ass venue right by the river in west Lakeview. Nestled between warehouses, 1000 degrees inside, no re-entry to be found and rumors of missed flights flying, the show was a dichotomous slow-cooker recipe for potential success or failure. But resounding success was what we got, and there were some key surprises; chief among those was Jade Cicada.
His name is Skyler Golden and he hails from Lenox, Massachusetts. Performing as Jade Cicada, his name references a symbol of rebirth and resurrection, and the hard, durable stone the insect replicas were carved from. Nor does he like to associate his face with his work as Jade Cicada. It's an apt way to conceive of his music; bursting with life, very heavy, and not easily identifiable. A producer electronic music, he went to Berklee School of Music, studying advanced Jazz Theory and Sound Design. You can hear intricacy and detail in his music, a crispness buzzing with electricity in a way not tied to his genre. And it's not clear what genre that is in the first place, with a little something for everybody. At times unapologetically psychedelic, Tipper is probably the closest comparison I can find and damn good company to keep (as you'll see in the interview, Tipper also put Jade Cicada on in a big way).
You may have seen him bumming on the couch in the basement of The Keep before the show, just one dude among the many dehydrated concert-goers pluming smoke. But 1:00AM came fast, and it was at that point we realized that couch guy was here for work, not play. On came Jade Cicada. There were no more smoke breaks after that; a couple songs in and he's eliciting raised eyebrows, realization that there's no leaving the crowd setting in. The show was rocking Funktion 1's, way past top of the line speakers and certainly rare to see at a house party. They're the speakers that today back up Chicago House legends, lining Smartbar's nooks and crannies. Quote, music tech fanboy with the funniest line of the night - "It's more than just a speaker". Hyperbole, but Jade Cicada sounded amazing.
His set was a swarm, loud and subtle with a million parts to it; he lives by his name, bringing a cacophonous hive of stimuli, visually and sonically. But point being, look elsewhere for stereotypes of EDM. It's the crucial balance that DJ's are constantly trying to find - avoiding the emptiness of robotic chaos, finding humanity in the noise and giving the people something to move to. Jade Cicada strikes this chord perfectly, bringing complex music that's nimble, reading the audience's mood and pivoting towards them on a dime. Because of this, he keeps the crowd, hook, line and sinker. If you get the chance to see him throw down, you'll find yourself falling deeper and deeper into his maelstrom with every track.
Jade Cicada just surpassed 6000 Soundcloud followers and his fanbase will continue to grow organically, word of mouth press spreading from the raucous displays he brings with every performance. Count on this to ramp up as he travels the summer festival circuit. But what's in the mind of this very talented artist? We caught up with Jade Cicada to find out a little more about the artist who's giving the most dedicated concert-goers whiplash.
For the uninitiated, who is Jade Cicada?
My name is Skyler, and I’m just your average bedroom producer trying to stay sane by making weird sounds.
How has your journey been as an artist? Where did it begin, and how did you get here?
I’ve been around music my whole life. My father was a pianist and vocalist, so I was always surrounded by that. The journey has been all over the place. Studied classical clarinet for years and was quite proficient at it. Ended up quitting that and discovered hip hop, so I started producing beats for my friends to rap on. Eventually I got accepted to Berklee College of Music and started focusing more on electronic music and sound design. I’ve been producing on and off (I’ve taken a number of pretty long breaks from producing) for something like 8 years now. I think it’s safe to say that the only reason I’m “here” is because of the huge opportunities Dave Tipper gave me. I’ve opened for him 4 times, and the last one must’ve resonated with people because suddenly I’m getting booked across the country. Obviously my skills as a producer have something to do with my success, but I know plenty of lesser known producers who deserve the attention far more than I do. I guess I just got lucky.
Your music is difficult to place in a specific genre of electronic music. Is that deliberate, and how would you describe your sound? Any influences?
I would describe my sound as a series of failed attempts to sound like the artists I look up to. However, those failures just end up sounding like me, so I’m OK with that. I have many influences ranging from classical composers like Mozart, Chopin, Bach, to Jazz like Art Blakey, Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard, to modern electronic producers like Tipper, Noisia, KOAN Sound to name a few. I should add that 90's hip hop producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock were the ones who inspired me to give music production a shot in the first place.
What’s the significance between Wonky Llama vs. Jade Cicada?
Wonky Llama is a collaboration between myself and good friend who goes by the alias Schmoop. He’s a young producer from Texas who I’ve known for 4 or 5 years. It started off by me teaching him how to produce in Ableton, then he got really good so we were like, "collab bro"? So yeah, that’s how Wonky Llama started. We have a ton of half-assed works-in-progress sitting around but we’re always messing around with them, starting new ideas, etc. We plan on putting out a full album some time in the future.
Are there any other artists you've enjoyed collaborating with, or would like to work with in the future?
I’m really more of a solo producer, but rarely I’ll collab with friends. The only electronic music producers I’ve collaborated with (besides from Wonky Llama), is a good friend from college who goes by the alias Smigonaut, and another good friend from my hometown who goes by the alias Accreate. There are a ton of big producers I’d love to collaborate with, but I know it’ll never happen. But more realistically, there are some collabs planned with Space Jesus and Mickman.
How was your first time playing in Chicago? Any other shows coming up?
Chicago was dope! Solid vibes all around. Only downside is I’m pretty sure I got sick from that gig. It was like 120 degrees in that room, literally got soaked the second I walked in. As far as future shows go (ones that have been announced), I’ll be playing Wormhole Wednesday in Oakland on this Wednesday 6/22, The Pirate Party Festival, Farm Festival, Stilldream Festival, and Great North Festival.
For the live music fans out there, what can they expect from a Jade Cicada show, and what's your favorite aspect of performing live?
I definitely prefer being in the studio compared to being on stage. Fans can expect me to be silent vocally and not move around much. I’m not the type of person to get all hyped and jump around to my own tracks. By this time I’ve heard the tracks thousands of times and I can’t fake being into my own music. That being said, my favorite aspect of performing live is just making everyone who came out to see me happy, and hopefully making their lives a little brighter. Currently my live setup is extremely basic. I’m basically just using Ableton as 2 decks playing full tracks and transitioning between tracks, changing tempo, using FX to make things slightly more interesting, occasionally adding tracks on the fly. In the future (maybe a year or two) I plan on incorporating stem mixing, so I can bring in elements of different tracks and improvise new mashups of my own tunes.
What can you tell us about your upcoming EP, Eolian Oms? Any other plans for this summer?
I don’t really have much to say about the new EP. It’s a collection of tracks that I started about a year ago when I was super into “future” music. The EP is way more melodically focused, and the sound design is far from impressive. It was basically a way for me to experiment and express myself with all the jazz theory I’ve accumulated over the years. Despite not really being into that style of music anymore, I am very happy with this EP. It’s coming out 7/13/16 on Surreal Recordings.
A huge thank you to Jade Cicada for taking the time to answer our questions, and a big shoutout to Notion Presents and The Keep for throwing what was undoubtedly the best after-party of Spring Awakening weekend, official or otherwise. There were rumors flying that this could be the last show The Keep sees, and if so it's a hell of a way to close out. Whatever happens, anyone in the audience that night would agree that it was a blessing for Jade Cicada for be a part of it.