My first encounter with Jack Ü, the pseudo-supergroup of professional noise-merchants Sonny Moore and Wesley Pentz, better known as Skrillex and Diplo, came on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Miami last March. At the Ultra Music Festival, the commercial centrepiece of the annual Winter Music Conference that draws the great and the good and the brostep to Floridian shores, the pair took to the stage for the most anticipated set of the weekend.
Within a minute, Diplo had clambered onto the desk and was commanding his sun-soaked congregation, mostly scantily clad college students squandering their spring break by flailing limbs in a sardine-like crush, to scream and clap and all sorts of things that would make the music harder to hear. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that a good DJ should neither be seen nor heard. Their job is to play pre-recorded music in a fluid and appreciable fashion, but Jack Ü took their babysitting duties very seriously and audibly.
And yet, Moore and Pentz moulded their hour on the main stage into the most thoroughly entertaining show of the weekend. Rapidly devouring Skrillex’s new album, Diplo’s dancehall-inspired Major Lazer discography, the talent of their respective labels OWSLA and Mad Decent, and even Toto’s ‘Africa’, the frantic set clicked perfectly. In parts, so does their collaborative album.
Beyoncéd onto the internet as they attempted to livestream a 24 hour set, Skrillex & Diplo Present Jack Ü features 9 tracks, including collaborations with Canadians Kiesza and Justin Bieber, British duo AlunaGeorge, bejewelled rapper 2 Chainz, and more, elegantly merging the technical and production expertise that both Moore and Pentz are renowned for into a sonically impressive body of genre transcendence that’s unfortunately rather slow to start and, once actually going, quick to finish.
The album opens with ‘Don’t Do Drugs Just Take Some Jack Ü’, which is barely any more than a slowed recording of a drunken phone call between the pair. ‘Beats Knockin’ follows, driving the album down a New Orleans bounce path. Sadly, the whole package is far too reminiscent of Diplo’s ‘Express Yourself’, all the way down to the comments on how slickly the listener is rockin’. I feel for Fly Boi Keno on vocals, as he’d clearly not be there if Nicky Da B was still alive.
When we reach Kiesza-touting single ‘Take Ü There’, the album begins to come alive. Her solo material has lacked in energy, but the Jack Ü production makes up for it in Red Bull-infused insanity. Her vocals are soar intensely over the percussion, and only an off-key breakdown tarnishes the record.
This trend is continued through the other umlauted tracks, ‘To Ü’ with AlunaGeorge and, perhaps most bizarrely, ‘Where Are Ü Now’ with Justin Bieber. The former is a defiant future bass cut anchored by powerful vocals; the latter a humorously sultry emotion party with ‘the Biebz’ that serves as the most consistently musical music on the album. It taught me that even wailing synths can bring a tear to my eye, with their hollow anguish knocking upon the depths of my soul. Thanks, Bieber.
Sadly, the remainder is largely forgettable. 2 Chainz talks about spraying his loo with Febreze on ‘Febreze’, ‘Jungle Bae’ contrasts a squelching drop with W&W’s ‘Bigfoot’ synths and a Maximus Dan imposter, Moore assumes singing duties for the lethargic ‘Mind’, and the less said about ‘Holla Out’ the better.
Last year, I slated Skrillex’s album as its muddle of styles, attempting too often to stray from reliable paths, proved largely unlistenable, verging on abhorrence. Diplo’s maturity and skill, however, restrain these audible flailings and provide a far more polished product in this Jack Ü compendium. Unfortunately, the tracks worthy of a second listen away from a spacious Miami creche is far too few.