Friskily mashing up lush electronica, post-dubstep, balladry, breaks and beats, Jockstrap’s Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye offer up a proper melting pot of sonic delights. Meet the breakout stars of wonky art-pop…

“Growing up, I always wanted to be a pop star,” muses Georgia Ellery of deliciously oddball electro-folk/ art-punk pair, Jockstrap. “A pop star or a hairdresser…”

Three days after their casually magnificent appearance at Bluedot 2022, a playful riot of vividly original avant-pop, melting orchestral glitchcore, thunderous left-field techno, circuit-bending punktronica, achingly melodic chansons and seductively mellow lounge jazz, Ellery and her fellow Jockstrapper Taylor Skye are speaking via video call. These mid-20s kids seem disarmingly soft-spoken, fresh-faced and polite for the makers of such diabolically inventive, subversively sexy, reality-rupturing music. They barely look old enough to convincingly order half a shandy in a village pub.

There is no such thing as a typical Jockstrap song, but most of their tracks so far sound like three or four mutually antagonistic sonic ideas all fighting for supremacy. ‘Concrete Over Water’, a breathy reverie about the bittersweet joys of city living, becomes a tumultuous trip hop mash-up of fizzing synths and desiccated vocal effects. On the anthemic ‘50/50’, stampeding acid techno meets jabbering Dadaist chants and woozy sighs. And their self-remixed ‘I Want Another Affair’ is an airy bossa nova shimmy that morphs into a blasting Italo-house banger overlaid with disembodied raps and samples.

Their debut album, ‘I Love You Jennifer B’, just released, offers a wide-ranging panorama of softly strummed folk-pop ballads, throbbing hi-NRG beats, plucked harps, melting electroscapes, autotuned voices and super-saturated hyper-pop melodies. Think Squarepusher, Joanna Newsom and Burt Bacharach to a disco beat.

In Jockstrap’s music, the ground is constantly shifting, with tempo and texture dissolving as the mood lurches between euphoria and nausea, romance and horror. All that is solid melts into air. Skye admits this “pushing and pulling” between sweet and soft to dark and dissonant is a deliberate strategy, mirroring his own emotional state.

“Yeah, I like that in music,” he says, nodding. “Often – in my life at least – something can go from feeling great to feeling horrific within seconds, so when moments like that happen in the music, it’s because it feels relatively familiar… ha! It’s all driven by emotion, really.”

The time-stretching, sense-jarring, voice-reversing glitch elements in Jockstrap come from Skye, who prods and tweaks a range of electronic gizmos onstage while Ellery plays violin and sings.

“All of the manipulation is done on a computer,” Skye explains. “It’s very specific – I don’t do the same thing for every song. Sometimes it’s about making the full song and then messing about with it, and sometimes it’s about changing a certain sound. Usually, it’s quite rudimentary, but done in an extreme way.”

Meanwhile, Ellery provides Jockstrap with sweetly fragrant melodies, fabulous outfits and confessional lyrics full of lust, heartbreak and love/hate sentiments towards urban living, echoing her real divided loyalties as a native of Cornwall now based in London.

“Most of it is autobiographical,” she concedes. “I can’t really make anything up. I have tried, but that initial spark… I can’t get it from fiction. So if nothing’s happening in my life, it’s a dry spell for the music.”

Ellery also directs or co-directs Jockstrap’s stylish, surreal, funny videos, smartly giving the band’s visual identity the same strong authorial voice as their sound.

“It’s been pretty much our idea, steering the ship,” she smiles. “I’ll keep doing it until we can afford the best director in the world.”

Even if Ellery and Skye sometimes sound like they’re playing in different bands, they insist any creative tension between them is more asset than liability. While some groups split up over musical differences, Jockstrap are staying together for the same reason.

“We’re quite good at working through songs, even if we hit walls, which is not a skill everyone has,” Ellery explains. “When we disagree on something, we find an alternative that we’re both up for. It has to be that way rather than someone feeling unhappy about a decision, which would lead us to a different place. But it’s important to have the tension for release when you’re working with someone else. You’ve got to be able to say, ‘No, I disagree – we should try something else’. Because if there was none of that, it would just be like fluff, wouldn’t it?”

Both members of Jockstrap come from musical families. Born and raised in London before moving to the sleepy East Midlands town of Market Harborough at the age of 11, Skye was brought up by parents who had enjoyed successful careers as West End musical regulars.

“They both sing and play instruments, although they teach now,” he says. “My dad plays the piano, so I started that very young. And they are huge music fans – they introduced me to everything I listen to, basically. But they’re into much weirder stuff than Jockstrap. This is not really pushing it for them.”

Ellery’s childhood musical passions were composers such as Tchaikovsky and Brahms, having been encouraged to learn violin from the age of five by her music therapist mother.

“I guess it paid off in the end,” she laughs. “She’s our number-one fan, along with Taylor’s parents.”

But when the teenage Ellery began partying at weekend-long “barn raves” in her native Penzance, she swapped classical strings for house beats and dubstep basslines, and it was a shared love of dance music that helped to shape both future members of Jockstrap.

“One of the big influences for us as teenagers was UK dance music,” she affirms. “That and the production on early Beyoncé. It was stuff that we both loved at the same time, and although we never channelled it on our first two EPs, I think we have done a bit with this album.”

Photo: Eddie Whelan

The pair first met in 2016 while they were studying at London’s highly prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama – a launchpad for countless stellar talents, ranging from Noël Coward and George Martin to Mica Levi and Shabaka Hutchings.

Ellery was studying jazz and composing her own singer-songwriter material on the side. Skye was doing an electronic music course, light years removed from Ellery, but they shared some overlap in taste, including James Blake. They also shared a composition class and a student residence. After Skye posted some of his early productions on Facebook, Ellery tracked him down, and they began exchanging demos. They then made the inspired decision to try meshing their chalk-and-cheese styles together, proving Paula Abdul’s evergreen adage that opposites attract.

“It made perfect sense to start making music with him,” Ellery says.

Even though Guildhall once had a reputation for looking down on pop with snobbish disdain, Skye found the college an open-minded and inspiring place for experimental electronic composers.

“The intake for electronic music was very small –  there were only about five or six students studying it in my year, and they ranged in style,” he says. “Some made Pixies-like rock, some made Avicii-style dance and others made John Cage experimental music. I think because Guildhall has other courses that are slightly more abstract, it attracts quite open-minded people.”

As Jockstrap began to take shape, Ellery also started playing the violin in various folk, klezmer and art-rock bands, including the Guildhall-affiliated Black Country, New Road. She remains a member of both groups, although she now has a stand-in violinist to cover for BCNR, who have blossomed into critical favourites. Back then, though, she found the college had little interest in her extracurricular musical ambitions.

“They didn’t care too much about our side projects,” she says. “That kind of made me think, ‘Why am I putting all my eggs in the Guildhall basket?’. But my songwriting was definitely influenced by what I learned. Before Guildhall, I wrote more by ear, but I was then able to intellectualise songwriting, so that was another tool to write with.”

Although Jockstrap always had co-founders Ellery and Skye at their core, their embryonic line-up was a five-piece featuring fellow Guildhall students Melchior Giedroyc, Michael Dunlop and Lewis Evans.

“It took lots of rehearsal to get it tight,” Ellery recalls. “We performed with some amazing players, but it was too unstable to tour and we weren’t earning enough money, so we ended up stripping Jockstrap back to a duo.”

Shortly after completing their studies, Jockstrap released their debut EP, ‘Love Is The Key To The City’, on tiny boutique label Kaya Kaya. This landed them a deal with Warp in 2020, which led to two more EPs and a handful of singles. On paper, the fabled experimental electronic label should have been their natural home, but the duo have since signed with veteran indie powerhouse Rough Trade, partly because their friends Black Midi are on the same label.

“The Warp deal was just a short-term thing,” Skye says. “We didn’t have any big ideas about labels – we were feeling things out. The release went really well with Warp but then we had to figure out what to do next. Industry stuff. And Rough Trade were very excited about the project.”

After a run of releases foregrounding their glitchy, discordant, disruptive side, Jockstrap’s inaugural long-player covers a broader musical spectrum, giving full vent to the pair’s passion for dancefloor anthems and vintage soft rock melodies.

“We wanted to have a mix of dance tracks, classic songs and more experimental stuff because that’s what we’re both interested in,” Ellery explains. “And we had the opportunity to show a whole range of things on an album.”

Jockstrap are that rare beast, a cutting-edge electro duo who – like Squarepusher or SOPHIE, Max Tundra or Hudson Mohawke – appreciate the syrupy, mesmerising, almost occult power of melodic soft rock. They readily cite Elton John and Paul Simon as key inspirations with no hint of irony.

“They are both huge influences, so we’re happy to sound a bit like them,” Skye enthuses, and when he admits that his dream collaborators would be pastel-shaded emo-pop lightweights Keane, Ellery sniggers, but he insists he is being sincere.

“I grew up listening to Jamie Cullum, James Morrison, Keane and Daniel Merriweather,” he shrugs.

“Someone like Keane would be really fun to work with. They’re quite theatrical, and they’ve gone on to write stuff for theatre. It’s obviously completely different to what we do, but I think we like to work with people who are in a completely different world to us.”

So who is the mysterious woman who inspired the album title, ‘I Love You Jennifer B’? It turns out she visited Ellery and Skye in their dreams on the same night. Yes, both of them.

“She’s someone who we happened to dream of one night last year,” Skye reveals. “We both woke and said, ‘Did you have this dream?’. And we had, so it came from that.”

They may share close creative chemistry, but Ellery assures me that they’re not in the habit of having the same dreams.

“Not really,” she grins. “But we thought this was such a strange thing to happen that we couldn’t ignore it.”

With a buzzy debut album, an upcoming US tour and an exploding media profile, Jockstrap seem poised on the cusp of moving up from hipster darlings to mainstream contenders. Ellery may yet end up being the proper pop star she always dreamed of being. Which would be a sad loss to hairdressing, of course, but a big win for subversively sexy, delightfully wonky music.

“We just want the music to reach as many people as possible while doing what we want to do,” says Skye, laughing gently as he mumbles a cautionary warning to himself about talking bullshit.

“We’re at the bottom of the pop star mountain, looking up at the peak,” Ellery beams. “We can see it there. All we have to do is climb it.”

‘I Love You Jennifer B’ is out on Rough Trade

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