“I can’t believe that I put out a tweet on a Monday afternoon, and it’s the most retweets I’ve ever received in my life,” Jax Jones tells Billboard over the phone.
The English producer and DJ has the fiercely loyal Demi Lovato Fan Army to thank for that, but he’s going to have to accept his own radio stardom soon. Jones first hit the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart in late 2016 with his MNEK and Mike Dunn collab “Housework.” The traditionally-repetitive groove peaked at 48, but his follow up “You Don’t Know Me” with label-mate RAYE burned up to 13, stayed on the charts for 21 weeks, and charted in 26 countries to become a worldwide smash.
His latest tune “Instruction,” featuring the aforementioned hit machine Lovato and fellow Brit Stefflon Don, dropped Friday (June 16) and it already promises to stomp summer radio into total submission. It’s a massive tune led by booming drums with a colorful pop attitude, counter-pointed by he unmistakable party of Brazilian Carnival. The track is graced with a picture of Jax on a Sriracha bottle, representing the spicy flavor that’s about to spike your tastebuds.
“My feel when I made the tune was it might be too bombastic for people, like too loud, but I’m hoping everyone from the 50-year-old guy riding through the highways on his Harley, down to the 16-year-old just grooving in her bedroom, can feel this,” he says. “It’s my take on what’s going on out there on radio… You’ve got the dancehall influence everywhere, so I’m thinking, ‘How can I explore that within dance music at my tempo?’ which is a lot faster than what’s on radio at the moment.”
The Caribbean and Latin influence goes all the way back to Jones’ childhood. While his mom stuffed him full of the Grade-A pop of Kylie Minogue and romantic notions of Barry Manilow, it was his step-dad who turned his world upside down.
“He was playing a lot of Fela Kuti in the house,” Jones remembers. “A lot of hip hop and r&b, what we call Bashment music, you know, that Jamaican stuff. He collected the vinyls, and I used to steal his records and make copies of them without him knowing, so I could listen to them on my own.”
When it came time to create “Instruction,” he drew on those memories and channeled the big percussion of house acts The Good Men and Gregor Salto.
“My job as a DJ and a producer is just to have a big encyclopedia in my head,” he says. “If I’m gonna make a dancehall record, I’m gonna reference the best dancehall that I know — even if it might just be super underground, but I know it’s quality. I see that a lot, across people like Drake and even Justin Bieber. I can hear the reference that they’re doing, and it’s insane, because it’s always inspired. It means I can listen to something that’s 30 years old and find something in it that I can maybe bring up to date, or just introduce to newer audiences.”
It’s important to Jones to take his time with each record. It wasn’t that long ago that he swore his music career was over. Previously signed to Atlantic as part of the band Domino Go, the group went nowhere, and Jones and Co. found themselves quickly dropped. He went back to just being a session guitarist and found himself in the studio with Duke Dumont. Dumont’s manager heard he was playing with production on the side, and suggested house music.
“He gave me a bunch of house compilations and stuff like that, and I just drove my head into it,” Jones says. “The second track I made was the record ‘I Got U,’ which ended up becoming the Duke Dumont single with me featuring. It changed my life.”
That tropical groove broke onto charts around the world, topped the U.K. Dance singles chart, and was nominated for Best Dance Recording at the 57th Grammys. Suddenly, Jones was back from the dead. He just needed a hit of his own.
“I was trying to find the perfect kind of record that could fit well in the clubs and be something you could have on radio, which is notoriously difficult in house music, because there’s a lot of chin strokers and gate keepers you have to please,” he says. “We hooked up with Raye. She’s a genius in the studio, and her voice is amazing. It just came really easy.”
He tapped into the simple, straightforward dance sounds of Hot Creations and the like. Then he got the okay to sample Booka Shade’s classic underground hit “Body Language,” and “You Don’t Know Me” “became a bit of a weapon.”
“Now when I play the song out, it’s like the Save the Dance Floor song,” he laughs. “I start my DJ sets with it, and the place just comes alive.”
Finally the lead artist on a smash of his own, Jones was still nervous to be marked a one-hit wonder. How do you follow up a run-away tune like “You Don’t Know Me?” His nerves eased a bit once he showed the beginnings of “Instruction” to his pal MNEK, songwriter to the stars including Beyonce, Madonna, and Diplo, to name a few.
“I knew it was going to be lit the minute I played it to him, and he was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I know what to do,’” Jones remembers.
MNEK’s strange computer attempt to sound like a female struck a chord with Lovato’s management. The rest is history. “I almost fell on the floor when I heard she wanted to record it,” Jones says. “It came back sounding flames.” He also tapped his friend Stefflon Don to record a verse, and add some more panache to the banger.
“I’m just trying to push the listener’s ears as much as possible,” he says. “Demi Lovato being on a record with Stefflon Don is not something you can just make up. It sounds weird, and to me, that’s exciting. I want to keep doing that. I look up to people like Disclosure and Diplo — if I could find myself at 50 percent of what they achieved, then I’ll be happy.
“I’ve been praying for this in the temples,” Jones raves of his long-delayed success. “It feels good. I’m just trying to not f–k it up.”