Jealous God – A legacy, hermetically sealed in electronic music

“I don’t want to start another label” Juan Mendez told Maria Perevedentseva in a Quietus article from 2016. The producer, DJ and label owner, known also by his artistic name Silent Servant had just called it a day on Jealous God records, the label he established in 2013 alongside co-conspirators James Ruskin and Karl O’Connor (British Murder Boys). Naturally at the time, he  was pensive about embarking on the next phase as a record label boss.

He, Ruskin and O’Connnor had just announced ten more releases from the label, scheduled throughout the succeeding year, calling an end to a 15-odd year collaboration for the trio which started in the Sandwell District collective.

After a successful five-year run Jealous God’s legacy has been enshrined in electronic music history, leaving some giant shoes to fill in its wake. Today, after twenty two releases, Jealous God has taken on mythic proportions as one of the most unique record labels ever to come out of the Techno genre.

The label sprang into existence with releases from Ruskin and Silent Servant in 2013, but it wasn’t really until the third release, another Silent Servant 12”, that Mendez “felt that it was the start” of Jealous God. “Visually, it was what I wanted it to look like”, he told the Quietus “and from an audio standpoint it’s what I wanted it to sound like.”

Going from Silent Servant’s “Siglo 2” on the first release to “Lust Abandon” on JEL03 there’s definite shift, where a kind of minimalist functionalism disappears into something closer to the EBM, and minimal wave genres. The droning atmospheres clouding stoic beat arrangements of Siglo 2 are pushed to the background to make room for percussive staccato synths and legato pads haunting the exterior fringes of “Lust Abandon”.

 Jealous God had found its sound, and it was solidified in the look of the product. For a large part Jealous God was Mendez’ label, and it wasn’t about his sound as an artist, it was all down to the aesthetic of the label, a look he curated throughout its twenty two releases, starting with the cover for “Lust Abandon”.

JEL03’s cover is adorned with label’s bold graphic logo, etched in gold on black, something that would remain a constant presence through Jealous God’s catalogue. It was presented alongside a pastel photograph of a readymade figurine arrangement including the virgin Mary, Jesus on the Cross and the Grim reaper, all hermetically sealed in its plastic wrapping. There’s a dichotomy at play there from the imagery to the packaging and the music, and it was Mendez aesthetic vision that defined the label as much as the sound it proliferated.  

Mendez, a visual artist and graphic designer, had been working as art-director at an advertising agency since the mid 2000’s. He moved into designing record sleeves after joining the Sandwell District Techno collective with his first musical release as Silent Servant on their label in 2006. Using his free time to design covers for Sandwell District, he crafted a visual identity for Sandwell District that had a kind of monochrome appearance with a stylised collage approach to artists like Tom of Finland. But what inspired it? “Karl [O’Connor, Regis] was always sending me books on Teddy Boys, old UK youth culture, cafe racer, leather culture stuff,” Mendez told Resident Advisor’s Matt McDermott in 2017. “And then I got this idea to mix all that up with horror movies.”

Sandwell District had too many cooks in the kitchen however and it made for a volatile environment, one that would eventually implode as n it came to a dramatic and pointed conclusion with Rrose’s Artificial light (1969-1909) in 2012.

Out of the ashes of Sandwell District, Jealous God was born in close succession with Ruskin, O’Connor, and Mendez at the helm. Jealous God became a platform for those artists and their musical tastes with Mendez taking on a pivotal role at the label, managing art director Corinne Schiavone, photographer Rita Minissi and Los Angeles experimental filmmaker Jenny Nono towards his vision for the label. “I do like that curatorial aspect (of the label)” he told Mcdermott and from the artwork to the packaging and back to the music, there was a consistency to Jealous God that few labels have been able to achieve to that degree.

A reserved, yet poignant output followed JEL03 and the label took its ultimate shape through releases from the likes of Broken English Club, Phase Fatale, Fixmer, In Aeternam Vale, Alexey Volkov and the artists at the head of the label; established and new artists that would mould a distinct, yet varied sound for the label. It was the sound of Techno, operating in the margins of the genre. EBM and minimal wave played an integral role in the sonic disposition of the label, incorporating the punkish quality of those genres without sacrificing the technical refinement Techno had achieved up until this point. It certainly wasn’t DIY, but it was bold and immoveable like Punk.

 

There was a fluid dialogue between the sound and the artwork and the packaging, which took on more of a “real-world presence” according to Mcdermott when comparing them to the Sandwell District concepts. Including tangible objects in the artwork, arranged in contrast and sympathy with each other, there was a Duchampian quality to the cover-art that communicated something of the music with a flourish of Mendez’ latin-american dry and direct humour in the subtext.

Mendez was heavily influenced by the Toilet Paper Magazine and “without ripping them off” he played on that style of 60’s photography and the “pop-ness of things” in their work. “Also having the two distinct concepts of ‘Jealous’ and ‘God’ allows for a really interesting and creatively productive mix of ideas,” he explained in the Quietus.” This dichotomy becomes a sort of mould, a limitation that creates a means of no limitation.” Between the artwork and the music, Mendez and Jealous God relied on a certain directness, where the artwork was easy to read, and conveyed its themes and ideas “quickly and effectively”.

Issue no. sixteen with Broken English Club (Oliver Ho) comes to mind. Ho’s known obsession with JG Ballard and especially the novel Crash is brought to real life through the photograph on the cover. A human torso at the wheel of a car takes on the form of a mannequin (perhaps a reference to Mannequin records)  in a flesh-body suit that compliments to blue hue of the automobile interior perfectly. “I wanted to embody that, mix it up a bit,” he explained in Resident Advisor. “Something like Eyes Without Face meets Crash.” He continues: “I wanted it to have this androgynous, non-sexual feeling. That’s why I used the tin body suit with medical braces. I wanted to push my design off the table top.”

 

From the music to the artwork, there was a considered effort running through the Jealous God label and its releases that had a striking effect on both the listener and the viewer. You’re immediately drawn to their records regardless of your musical proclivity, and for the musical enthusiast, a Jealous God record always reserves a special place in your collection.

From the sleeves to the little trinkets they included in some of the releases, Jealous God records are pieces of objet d’art that have made a significant impact through the short tenure. Calling an end to the label Mendez, Ruskin and O’Connor have made a unique impact in the annals of electronic music across their biography and discography.

Bringing it to its conclusion seemed inevitable too, because if it had become a ubiquitous feature in record stores it would have certainly lost some of that mythic appeal it had garnered.

But Jealous God couldn’t just merely end either and there always had to be something deeper to it. Going from Ruskin’s JEL02 to JG022 the label had to complete a circle for Mendez. Like a DJ set it would need to reach its apex at Domenico Crisci JG12, and dissolve again in JEL022. ”I  needed time to arch the label’s sonic direction, so that I could come back to that sound (JEL02)”, he explained in the Quietus. Using the analogy of a DJ set at Berghain he says, “I can start off with Pye Corner Audio or Broken English Club and by the end I will get to Oscar Mulero, I will get to the fucking Waveform Transmissions or Sleeparchive records. That arch is crucial, and now the label embodies that.”

 

It was an appropriate and pivotal point to bring that label to its conclusion, and as such it left indelible mark on the musical landscape, one that has hermetically sealed its legacy in electronic music much like the records it sold. Few labels have been able to achieve this in electronic music history, and if the feat ever was to be repeated Mendez is one of the only people that could. Although he is not completely opposed to the idea of starting a new label, and suggests in the Quietus interview that he “probably will”, Jealous God set the bar pretty high.

“The next step is to have a new, clear, distilled idea” says Mendez about life after Jealous God and we’ll wait with bated breath for that moment to arrive.

*Silent Servant plays our basement this Friday for the Triangle Showcase.

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