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Saint Jude’s music is a love letter to south London

Forced to reshape his entire artistic vision after tinnitus halted his live performances, musician Jude Woodhead is emerging with a unique, and truly London, sound

When tinnitus cut short Jude Woodhead’s DJing ambitions in his late teens, the south London producer (also known as Saint Jude) was forced to rethink his life. The hearing condition – which causes a constant ringing sensation deep in the ear – made playing live virtually impossible. However, it did help the 22-year-old venture into a more insular space with his music, creating a darker, complex sound that blends garage, breaks, DIY indie, and dense electronica.

Mapping an ever-changing relationship with the surroundings that shaped him, Woodhead’s lyrics explore urban change, community and coming of age in a time of crisis. It’s hardly surprising, then, that things can get pretty heavy. “Everyone wants to make shit that they haven’t really heard before,” the artist tells Dazed, lauding his love of “dense music that has a lot of stuff going on”. 

Set for release in November via Slow Dance, his debut album Signal certainly falls into that category. Imprinting dark, lo-fi creations with reflections on city living, isolation and mental conflict, the record enlists grime legends, underground LA rappers and Polish-Indonesian dreamfolk singers, sketching out an experimental but cohesive sound. We caught up with Woodhead to discuss the new album, his upcoming show, and how his music has been shaped by both social and personal change.

How has tinnitus affected your relationship with dance music?

Saint Jude: I’ve got really sensitive hearing. It’s not even particularly bad at the moment, but I know that if I do go to a really loud environment, it gets really bad really quickly. I was really into dance music, but I just couldn’t hack going out to clubs. But I’m quite happy with the change that’s caused; I’ve got very into songwriting, and I wasn’t singing on my music before that. I don’t know what music I’d be making otherwise, but I’ve managed to make it a positive thing, and I don’t think it’s had a negative effect on my music.

What about your mental state? How has it affected that?

Saint Jude: It’s connected to a lot of other things, so I don’t know what’s necessarily caused by tinnitus, and what’s just a normal emotional response to not being able to go out and do fun shit. It was about coming to terms with having to switch a lot of things up. With tinnitus, it basically is your mental state, because it comes from your brain, and it changes depending on certain moods and stuff. So many people in music have really bad tinnitus and just kind of hack it, but I can’t really hack it in the same way. It’s a subjective thing.

Your debut album is called Signal, and it includes three short tracks with the same name. Who are you signalling to?

Saint Jude: It’s a word with quite a lot of meanings. In a literal sense, the album’s an audio signal, that’s what it is. Another meaning is the idea that when you release music, it goes out like a radio signal – you’re putting something out, and you don’t really know what people will make of it. Also, some of the sounds on the record are quite influenced by pirate radio, and “give me some signal” is something a lot of MCs would say to try and get a response back from people. It’s quite an abstract thing that felt right for the way I think about music.

Tell me about the creative process behind the lead single “No Angels”, which considers ideas of community togetherness.

Saint Jude: I wrote that song in lockdown, when I was going for bare long walks, listening to archive Rinse shows from when it was pirate. I was influenced by a lot of those sounds, like when the drums sound saturated, almost like they’re too powerful for the medium that they’re in. I was also having a lot of thoughts about the situation that a lot of people found themselves in, a lot of people were struggling. That was where I got the chorus, “The money doesn’t matter too much / The love for your people is enough”. A lot of the verses were inspired by Laura Oldfield’s zine series Savage Messiah, which is about psychogeography (a French-derived theory intersecting psychology and geography, which explores the art of “getting lost in the city”). During COVID, I remember going past loads of places in southeast [London], thinking “I remember what happened there” or “Remember that time…” and writing those ideas down on the notes on my phone.

I read a quote of yours that struck me: “Community and solidarity is the most important thing, and will always be in conflict with the forces of capital and money.” How does your socio-political outlook influence your music?

Saint Jude: Music definitely is an escape, but I’m not sure if it should be. I definitely wouldn’t want my music to be an escape from political realities, because I feel like you should try and reflect the times and respond to what’s going on in the world. I consciously want to be influenced by my politics, because I’m very left-wing, and I’m quite a political person in my non-music life, but I think “No Angels” is the only song where I really touch on politics. There is obviously a place for politics in music, but it can often feel really forced. 

How has gentrification affected your relationship with south London? 

Saint Jude: South London has changed a lot. You see certain changes in the area [near Forest Hill]; you see all these middle-class people moving in, but it’s a force that is not driven by those people moving in, it’s driven by property, and everything else is just a symptom of that. It’s a hard one to put your finger on, because all of this change has gone on at the same time that I’ve become an adult. That’s the time when you change who you are as a person, so it’s quite difficult to actually work out how the social changes have affected my relationship with it.

What are your hopes and expectations for the upcoming album?

Saint Jude: I don’t have an ideal way that I’d want people to engage with it: people can make of it what they want. I just wanna make it to a point where I’m happy with it. The point when you finish it is, to me, a lot more important than when it actually gets released, because I’m doing it for myself, I’d be happy just to have made it. Music gives you this immediate feeling, and you can tell really interesting stories and do things that you can't do with any other medium, because it’s so immediate. You don’t have to engage with it on an intellectual level… it makes you feel things.

Saint Jude's debut album Signal will be released on November 14.