Jam Rostron sounds off about Berlin, Bolton and Sandra Bullock
Taken from the February issue of Dazed & Confused:
Track titles from Planningtorock’s third album, All Love’s Legal, suggest a rather worthy album. Names like "Patriarchy Over & Out", “Misogyny Drop Dead” and “Let’s Talk About Gender Baby” aren’t what you imagine wanting to hear on your daily commute or down the club. But it turns out you do, because the explicitly gender-challenging lyrics are nonetheless open-minded and playful, and delivered over deep, dark disco. Planningtorock is Jam, and Jam was born Janine Rostron 41 years ago in Bolton. This third solo album is Rostron’s first public outing as gender-neutral and is a rare attempt by a musician to tackle such a personal-political topic head-on. Here Planningtorock talks about queer Berlin parties, prosthetic noses and an unlikely favourite blockbuster movie.
Dazed Digital: This album directly talks about gender issues. Why did you tackle the subject in such a head-on way?
Planningtorock: With the last album I tried to incorporate some of my political ideas, and I was way too subtle and poetic so I came out of it quite frustrated. Also, I got to a bit of a low point last summer making music, thinking, ‘What’s making music for me? What can I do with it?’ And out of that moment I wrote ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’, which was a massive turning point for me. I realised I had to be way more direct, which was more fun. Gender politics is the biggest part of it, but also queer theory and living as a person who identifies themselves as queer. It feels very liberating to be more direct, to talk about things.
DD: It’s interesting to be political on dance and disco tracks.
Planningtorock: I wanted to try tracks that are really fun, so they have an openness to them. And dance tracks, because I want to dance when I’m singing about this stuff. It’s the best way to share, because some of the topics might be actually quite heavy for some people. There are some tracks on the record I wanted to be anthems, that would really stick in your head so you could sing along. With ‘Let’s Talk About Gender Baby’, I just wanted to make a queer disco track. ‘Human Drama’ is my favourite track off the album. I wanted it to be a really moody club track.
DD: You were raised in Bolton but are now based in Berlin. Has being there influenced your thinking?
Planningtorock: Places definitely have a lot to do with it, but even in London I’ve discovered a different kind of community. Berlin’s an interesting city to live in because it’s a lot slower and smaller than London. You can be poorer – you can live off very little, which affords you time. It’s really important that people are able to indulge and explore these things. Living in a hyper commercial and capitalist society, it gets harder and harder.
DD: Do you go back to Bolton often?
Planningtorock: Every Christmas. I go and stay with my mum and my sister, which is my yearly holiday, hanging out with those two amazing women. Nothing’s taboo with those two. My mum’s a very smart, self-made, self-defined person.
DD: In which ways did she influence you?
Planningtorock: My mum actually shocks me more than I shock her. I’ve always talked about everything, and when I was at art school all my gay friends came out to my mum and she was like, ‘You don’t have to, I already bloody know!’ They were having a really hard time with their own families, but I’ve never had that. I know how amazingly lucky I am. I’ve still never met anybody like my mum. She’s a massive bookworm, really into history.
DD: You were born Janine but changed your name to Jam. How long have you been Jam?
Planningtorock: It’s happened over a period of time. No one ever calls me Janine now, apart from the taxman. Close friends always call me Jam or Jammy, and then I decided to make it concrete because I wanted to have a name that wasn’t gender-defined at all, to escape that and to play with it. I want to make this a public thing now.
DD: Were you always questioning this stuff when you were a teenager?
Planningtorock: Always questioning. I’ve lived in Berlin now for 13 years and I’ve always been part of the community here, but it feels like there’s more opportunity to discuss gender politics now. Back in the day, you were kind of chastised about it. I remember playing at a festival in 2006 and being asked if I was a feminist. I said yes, and was given a really hard time.
“I sat down and thought, ‘How do I feel about patriarchy?’, and I thought, ‘I want it to fuck off. I just want it to go away, just fuck off and die’”
DD: On the cover of your last album, W (2011), you wore a big prosthetic nose that made you look like the sexy beast from the 80s TV version of Beauty and The Beast. What look will you have for All Love's Legal?
Planningtorock: The prosthetic nose was a way to play around with so-called feminine features and non-feminine features. With this record, it’s still a work in progress, but I’m quite interested in the flower that I have on the album cover. It’s a pretty queer flower.
DD: You use a de-genderised voice on the record. How do you create that sound?
Planningtorock: I pitch my voice, but while performing over the last six years, my voice has actually dropped, so some of the tracks I have manipulated and some I haven’t. It’s a real hybrid. I love Cyril Hahn’s remix of (Destiny’s Child’s) ‘Say My Name’ because of the de-genderised voice, and it’s amazing how that’s become so accepted now. With my last album people were somehow troubled by the manipulation.
DD: A lot of old house tracks did that too.
Planningtorock: Dance music has always had a bigger licence to play around, don’t you think? You just make a dance track and somehow you have different freedoms than you do if you make a song song.
DD: The language around gender and sexuality is constantly changing. What’s your current take on it?
Planningtorock: I get excited about terminologies around fluidity or liquidness in sexuality and gender. I think the whole thing should be hugely playful and open. In relation to feminism, the biggest change is the fantastic term ‘intersectionality’, which implies that when you think about feminism all these other issues come into it, like race, economic status and class. This is crucial for feminism now so it doesn’t end up with white middle-class women having the absolute monopoly.
DD: Is there anything else you want to say about patriarchy and feminism?
Planningtorock: I’m so grateful that I made ‘Patriarchy Over & Out’ because it really cracked something for me. I sat down and thought, ‘What is it I want? How do I feel about patriarchy?’, and I just thought, ‘I just want it to fuck off. I want it to go away. I just want it to die, just fuck off and die, out in a rocket, eject it into space so it will explode and go the fuck away.’ So that approach really helped me with the topics and writing.
DD: In what practical day-to-day ways does patriarchy piss you off?
Planningtorock: I try to make myself aware of when men are talking too much, taking up the space too much, all these stereotypes of behaviour that could be described as coming from a patriarchal conditioning. I read an article the other day about the Bechdel test, where you watch a film and see if it has women in it that are not just talking about men. First of all you’re like, how many women are actually in the movie? How big is their role? How developed are their characters? Are they only there to facilitate the male actors? I’ll tell you a film that doesn’t fail, and I absolutely love it. The Heat, that mainstream cop comedy.
DD: With Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy?!
Planningtorock: It’s about their relationship as professional cops, dealing with each other’s different characters - and they’re both very different characters. There were some feminist jokes in there, which is amazing in a big-screen American blockbuster. Mindblowing. It’s the kind of movie where you’re just like, ‘I want those women in my life.’ I just want to know them – they’re so fucking funny.