We're living in one of the most exciting eras for young British pop artists right now - a period when the floodgates seem to have opened to allow a huge amount of talent through to the mainstream. Against this backdrop, it takes something special to stand out - and 27-year-old Jagga certainly has that. It's impossible to pigeonhole him.
His debut single, Modern Day Romance - released at the end of 2010 on Pure Groove Records, the imprint of one of London's last quality independent physical record shops - blended a crunching industrial arrangement and heavy, mechanical bass with Jagga's unmistakeable, impassioned vocals. Just a few months later, Sony snapped him up - and this year, he's done everything from touring with Katy B to recording in LA with Odd Future producer Matt Martian. The latter was one of the more memorable experiences of his career: "It felt like going back in time, working with him - the studio's in the front room, they've just moved into this new apartment and there are bowls everywhere. I felt like I was writing to the vision in his head - when and it got to about 8 o'clock and it got dark, he put these green strobe lights on in the house to create some mood while I was writing..."
But it is his own singular niche that Jagga is determined to carve out in the UK scene. It's a story that's been a long time in the making. His lack of regard for genre boundaries has its roots in the range of music he grew up around: Charlie Parker and the jazz legends, courtesy of his mother; Burning Spear and other seminal reggae artists, from his dad; and, from an older sister who was just as voracious a music fan as the young Jagga, everything from Rage Against The Machine to Wu-Tang Clan. As Jagga got older, his range of influences carried on widening: Bob Dylan, David Bowie and James Brown. It's reggae star Sizzla that Jagga enthuses most about, though: "He makes really spiritual music - uplifting, and his voice is out of this world. It's really acrobatic and he can do so many things with it - he can wail, he can be really tough..." It's that range that you can also hear in Jagga's own performances, with a voice that descends from both the great rock lineage of passionate, all-consuming feeling and the spiritual, reflective traditions of reggae - all channeled through Jagga's identity as a young 21st century city boy.
His own musical career began after Jagga started venturing into London's musical world for himself - early '00s Shoreditch clubs, back when the area was actually cool, were his first haunts, and soon the young Jagga began to hone his ideas and craft in bands. "It was one of the most fun times of my life, but also one of the hardest," he laughs. "I didn't have any money, didn't have any food, moved house four or five times because I couldn't pay rent anywhere." As the singer with the twisted electro outfit Devil's Gun, Jagga was on the verge of getting signed in 2008 - but, following the financial crisis, the label went bust first. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "It's where I learned to write, and we developed together - but solo, I have a lot more freedom. The way the band was structured, I'd always work around backing tracks, and there's only so much you can do over grimy French electro. Now, there's more expression in it. It's more based around what I'm feeling, not fitting around someone else's work." It pays off: the songs Jagga has been recording blend abrasive, searing textures with forward-thinking beats and a knack for indelible hooks. The heavy, juddering bass of Keep On The Light contains echoes of Chase & Status's stadium-sized dubstep, while the existential Brutal Beauty explodes into an anthemic chorus and Out Of Control showcases another side to Jagga: sparse, emotive and chilling, it proves that he also knows less is sometimes more. Meanwhile, Love Song - set to be his next single in the new year - captures the shadowy liaisons and fleeting feelings of night-time city life perfectly.
Its title is a red herring: more of an anti-love song, it finds Jagga reassuring his paramour that he'll slip away back into the night. "It sounds quite sinister but I was thinking of it as the kind of situation where you go back to a girl's house and spend the night with her, but you're not going to be hanging round in the morning trying to latch on," he muses. "Like, I'm going to let you go about your life and do what you want to do. The title's kind of ironic..."
It's not just musicians who proved formative for Jagga. One of his more unexpected influences is the German philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm, known for his thoughts on human nature and political systems. "I watched a couple of documentaries and watched a few of his speeches, and his influence has crept into three of my songs," says Jagga. "The lectures I heard were about a man becoming an automaton and having no control over his own destiny, and being divorced from the things that give a person that sense of humanity - and just becoming a tool of the State. So I wrote the track Automaton, which is a fun, kind of jokey take on it - but that was the root of the song and there's a little sample of his lecture at the end. I find his thinking really interesting. It's great to hear people like that talk - you get these really great ideas crystallised." A genuinely individual songwriter who's not afraid to confront big ideas in his work, Jagga stands out from a crowd of eager-to-please X Factor pop stars ("I wouldn't even contemplate it, it's just not my world - it'd end up in tears, wouldn't it?" he laughs when asked about the programme). Currently working with names such as Ant Whiting (MIA), David Kosten (Bat For Lashes) and Dan Carey (Santigold),
Jagga is sure to blow away a few cobwebs in 2012.