This article is created in partnership with Jim Beam to celebrate the launch of Welcome Sessions –– a new live music series that sees groundbreaking artists return to the venue that first welcomed them.
We’ve been tracking the progress of British musician Jack Garratt since the early months of 2015. It was around this time that Garratt released the single, ‘Chemical’, the first taste of his second EP, Synesthesiac.
At just 24 years old, Garratt’s career was already off to an auspicious start. Born in Buckinghamshire just outside of Greater London, his 2014 single ‘Worry’ was picked up by BBC Radio 1 who selected Garratt to headline the BBC Introducing stage at the 2014 Reading and Leeds Festivals.
But it wasn’t until the release of ‘Chemical’– a song that conflates the sounds of alternative R&B and post-dubstep pop – that the next-big-thing bells really started to toll. This premonition would prove accurate as ‘Chemical’ was the first in a chain of high rotation singles from Garratt over the course of 2015, culminating in his debut album, Phase, in February 2016.
The album debuted at #3 in the UK Charts and #9 in Australia and launched Garratt onto an international tour that stretched out for the next 12 months. But for all the intrepid genre-weaving on Phase, it was just a teaser for the daring artistic accomplishments of Garratt’s second LP, 2020’s Love, Death & Dancing.
To celebrate that album’s one year anniversary, Garratt teamed up with Jim Beam to film a special performance of the record’s lead single ‘Time’ at East London’s Village Underground. For the inaugural edition of Jim Beam’s Welcome Sessions series, Garratt returned to one of his all-time favourite venues with a little help from a nine-piece choir and a six-piece horn section.
In case you’re not already converted to the cause, here are five reasons you need to check out Garratt’s work.
He can do it all
Jack Garratt is a gifted multi-instrumentalist who’s responsible for nearly every note, drum hit and vocal layer on his two LPs. Some early reviewers suggested Garratt might be an Ed Sheeran descendent, but along with negligible stylistic similarities, there are some key differences in how the two artists deploy their multi-instrumentalism.
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Sheeran might’ve embraced all-out pop production on his recent albums, but he’s still rarely seen without that blasted semi-acoustic. Garratt – who seems wholly disinterested in brand-management – is also a guitarist, but his songs are regularly rooted in programmed dance beats or raving synth lines. His guitar playing, meanwhile, is more akin to the fireworks of St Vincent or Lenny Kravitz than the acoustic strumming of Sheeran.
Given his maximalist studio tendencies, Garratt has his work cut out for him when playing live. Listeners to his Live at the Eventim Apollo release would never guess it’s the work of just one man. But the corresponding performance videos reveal Garratt alone on-stage, standing behind a customised instrument station and creating live loops from guitars, sequencers, synths and drum pads, all without missing a single lyric.
Thanks to the presence of the choir, horn section and a drummer and keyboardist, the Welcome Sessions performance of ‘Time’ was a rare opportunity for Jack Garratt to get completely lost in one of his songs.
He’s a quintessentially contemporary artist
Garratt’s music comes good on many of the post-genre possibilities of the streaming era. Combining ideas from all over the stylistic spectrum requires a certain discipline if the aim is to make something listenable, and this is where Garratt flourishes.
He’s liable to journey from post-dubstep-R&B to main room house and classic rock guitar noodling within the same song, but there’s an organic consistency to the way he carries out the synthesis. On Love, Death & Dancing in particular, Jack Garratt’s approach to genre-merging feels less like a manic tour of his influences than the work of a songwriter who’s absorbed such a wide range of sounds that they can’t help but percolate into his practice.
He makes dance music for people who don’t want to go out
Fans had to wait four years for new music from Garratt following the February 2016 release of Phase. He spent the first 12 months of that period notching up close to 150 shows across the US, UK, Europe, Australia and Japan, but he returned home a broken man. His already unsteady mental health was in a state of steep decline and he wanted nothing more than to escape the limelight.
‘Time’ eventually arrived in February 2020. The track’s lyrics offer a clue to the fears and anxieties that had beset Jack Garratt in the preceding years. But while ‘Time’ begins as a heart on the sleeve singer-songwriter ballad, it gradually morphs into an electric dance track featuring an anthemic horn line and the mantra-like lyric, “Time is on your side.”
The track is an apt introduction to Garratt’s stated intention to make “dance music for people who don’t want to go out.”
He makes boundaryless pop music
Despite habitually sampling from a wide palette of sounds, Garratt’s never seemed overly intent on displaying his cleverness. To the contrary, for all his experimental tendencies, Garratt’s songcraft is unashamedly accessible.
It’s tempting to compare Garratt to fellow Londoners SOHN and James Blake, but apart from some biographical crossover (age, provenance, multi-instrumental agility), the equivalence feels imprecise. See, rather than being an unlikely crossover act, Garratt’s career has been a case of disrupting mainstream pop music from within.
In case that sounds like an overstatement, consider this: in 2016, Garratt became just the fourth artist to come up trumps in the BBC’s Sound of… poll and win the Brits Critics’ Choice Award in the same year. The three artists before him were Adele, Sam Smith and Ellie Goulding.
Of course, matching the transatlantic success of those three performers was always going to be a tall order, but Jack Garratt’s success in these two categories demonstrated that young artists needn’t yield to the prevailing trends in order to get noticed.
Garratt’s work is emblematic of a new strain of boundaryless pop music – he’s neither too preoccupied with artistic pretention to appeal a mass audience nor does he place any noticeable clamps on his creativity.
He makes hopeful and empathetic music
In a 2020 interview with Atwood Magazine, Garratt offered a candid account of his mental health struggles. “My goal and my journey in life is to accept and love the things I hate about myself – to love that part of me that hates me,” he said. Not only does this sound like an incredibly complex psychic paradox, but it displays an advanced level of emotional maturity.
Elements of this struggle – the attempt to love and accept what one doesn’t like – have long been apparent in Garratt’s songwriting. Take, for instance, the Phase single ‘Surprise Yourself’, which begins with an appeal to “Speak and open up your mind.” On Love, Death & Dancing’s ‘Better’, Garratt contemplates a chemical solution to his fierce self-loathing: “Oh, if I can take something/To make me feel better than I’m feeling now/And everything else will work itself out.”
But Jack Garratt comes closer to equilibrium on tracks like ‘Time’ and ‘Get In My Way’, the latter of which rests on repetition of the line, “No, nothing’s going to get in my way.” These two songs exemplify Garratt’s refusal to buy into the darker symptoms of his depression. By giving listeners access to these thoughts, Garratt’s music gains an undeniably hopeful and empathetic potency.