“He’s a genius, a f—ing genius!” a concertgoer screamed in my ear when describing Nicolas Jaar, who was performing the first of two sold-out shows at the Fonda Theatre on Wednesday. This description of the Chilean-American electronic artist is hardly inaccurate, however, as best exemplified by Jaar’s new album Sirens, the highly anticipated follow-up to 2011’s Space Is Only Noise. Sirens, which peaked on Billboard’s top dance/electronic albums at No. 8, is an intricate, complex collection of songs that are both personal and political.
Even its album cover is complex: Originally presented as a gray-and-white album cover, the surface scratches off (a quarter is packaged with the vinyl) to reveal “A Logo for America,” a 1980s art installation by his father, Alfredo. The words on the album — “Ya dijimos no pero el si esta en todo” (“We already said no but the yes is in everything”) — refer to the 1988 Chilean referendum on democracy.
Jaar’s popularity stems from him elevating electronic music to a new and different level. “I feel an affinity with the political aspect of dance music — maybe it can increasingly become a place of protest,” he has said while speaking with Pitchfork.
The unconventionality of Jaar was demonstrated at his show when he began the night with the ambient, quiet sounds of “Killing Time.” This track is not as easily digestible as the other songs on Sirens, yet it clearly illustrates his music of contrasts: hard to soft, fast to slow, loud to quiet.
Fitting with his role as a composer (his 2015 album Pomegranates is an alternative soundtrack to the 1968 film The Color of Pomegranates, and he composed the soundtrack for Palme d’Or winner Dheepan), Jaar used his film soundtrack experience to craft an unexpected performance, engaging the audience with several moments of surprise and improvisation. He would begin with a familiar track, but it would suddenly dissolve into an array of percussion and crackling textures.
As with Darkside, his collaborative outfit with fellow producer Dave Harrington, the stage presentation was a key element of the show. Cloaked in darkness, with only strategically placed lights and occasional clouds of smoke, Jaar was focused on creating a mood for the concert — and he succeeded. The minimalism of the production enhanced the music, rather than competing for attention.
Jaar did not address the crowd throughout the night, and he went from one song to the next without giving fans the chance to applaud, not allowing for the fluidity of his performance art to be broken. For the show’s encore, he quietly introduced, “I am going to play some old tracks,” before segueing to “Space Is Only Noise if You Can See.” As the bass rhythms of that song inspired the packed crowd to dance along, it was clear that many more fans, hungry for forward-thinking music with a beat, had indeed been converted to Jaar’s unique brand of genius.