A lot of drum & bass fans can remember back in late 2017 when Jonathon Signal made the not-so-subtle switch from that moniker to IMANU and the shock waves it caused, not becuase of the name change but because of the announcement that he would no longer be focusing solely on D&B. It’s becoming less and less rare nowadays for artists to straddle genres or make a cheeky switch from D&B to halftime or dubstep or even to dabble in straight beats like techno, but back then it was nearly unheard of. We also didn’t quite know yet what this switch would mean for an artist who, at the time, seemed to be a dyed-in-the-wool D&B artist.
Five years and a huge number of very varied releases later, we now know that Jonathan as IMANU never planned to completely abandon D&B but he certainly wanted to branch out, trying his hand at everything from trap to bass house to R&B. Not just trying, really, but succeeding and building a bass music brand that really defies genre. IMANU is now bigger than the sum of its works, but with the release of his epic album Unfold, out a few weeks ago on September 16 on Deadbeats, this sonic victory lap still has the artist himself wondering where he’s landed.
Having been teased for six months since its first single, the decidedly Hudson Mohawke-meets-Arca via FKA Twigs-esque R&B track “It’s Our Destiny” featuring Kučka, Unfold’s release proves that IMANU has managed to hoist himself out of the one-trickiness of the D&B scene and make a comprehensive, multi-genre career that’s more about his own style than placating any one genre. For the most part, he’s also managed to take said D&B scene along for the ride, largely with the help of other pigeonhole-hating labels like Noisia’s Vision Recordings. Anyone who didn’t come along for said ride is foolish, to be honest. IMANU’s bold, emotive work is too good to be bitter about, or so one would think.
YEDM caught up with IMANU to chat about the album and where he thinks his work may go in the future. We found that even after all this time and literally rearranging the face of D&B as he has, IMANU can still run into people who just want the same old two-step beat and for him to fall in line behind it. It doesn’t sound like he’s planning to go back any time soon, however, and if Unfold is any indication, IMANU will keep marching to the glitchy, innovative beat of his own genre-stradling drum. Thank goodness for that.
Unfold seems to be a sort of journey album, and from the looks of it, it’s still unfolding for you. Why did you think now was a good time to release an LP and what do you feel it says about your journey in music and life over the last few years?
I felt like I was riding a wave of momentum and needed to take advantage of it. Ever since my last EP as Signal I’ve been hinting at making other things, and finally took the leap into a bigger project where I showcase that. I hope that people can stop looking at me as a D&B artist and just see me as an artist.
There are a lot of collabs and featuring artists on Unfold that run the gamut of styles from What So Not to The Caracal Project. We won’t ask you to choose your favourite on the album but what were a couple of notable experiences in working with all these artists that made the track or experience special for you?
To be completely honest, nothing really crazy happened during the creation of the album. Almost everything was done online during the pandemic so there wasn’t really much room for anything weird to happen. Some tracks, like for example the What So Not and DROELOE collabs, have been in the works a lot longer than everything else on the album, whereas Tudor quickly recorded some lines for “Haunt My Mind” so I could hand it in a few hours before deadline.
Unfold seems to be a great compendium of all the different styles you’ve been playing with since you started releasing under IMANU. Did you choose Deadbeats because they were the most open to all these styles and genres?
It was mainly for the Lambo they promised me!
How has it been for you releasing pretty much what you want in the last few years and not being confined by one specific genre? Do you feel like your previous Signal fans have embraced the change?
It’s been scary. Whilst I’m very grateful for the support I get online, I’m still quite anxious when it comes to playing multiple genres in my sets, as I still get booked for a lot of D&B shows and then don’t really know what I can get away with. Some crowds can be very tough. Slowly and surely getting there though!
There are a lot of nods to R&B and reggaeton on these tracks, as well as a lot of funk. What about these genres inspired you for this album?
Rhythm. Coming from a Surinamese/Dutch background and living in one of the most culturally diverse cities in Europe, I’ve always been exposed to lots of different genres, some of which are yet to be pushed to their limits. I’m used to hearing lots of Latin music at family gatherings, radio, on the streets and the odd time I go to a “regular” club. I figured I might as well have a crack at it.
There’s a unique vibe to the sound design and vibe of this album. What sorts of programs did you use to get these sounds? Did they come out sounding like what you wanted in your head?
Like everyone else, I use boring Serum and Splice, in FL Studio, with a touch of piano. Nothing ever sounds like what I want, which I think goes for most producers, but we have to deal with what we can get.
The album and single art for Unfold seems to really match the sounds on the album, with sort of sea-monster-in-a-nebula vibes. Who was the artist and how involved were you in the visual concept?
All the artwork was made by Tom Jager, who has also worked on my artworks for my VISION EPs. I gave him quite a lot of freedom, only requesting a certain theme (flowers), and colors (red, black, beige). Almost everything else came from his genius mind.
What’s one funny or weird thing that happened while making this album that you can share?
Nothing really in particular, but I guess it’s pretty funny that I made most of the music whilst calling and streaming with friends and patrons on Discord.
You played a lot of shows during the summer, all while presumably working on the album. Are you planning to finally take a break over the fall/winter season or is more touring/releasing forthcoming?
Unfortunately I need to make money to feed my addictions (food and fashion) so there’s no break in sight as it stands!
Unfold is out now on Deadbeats and can be streamed or purchased on multiple platforms by clicking here. We recommend running it through at least once on YouTube, as each track has its own gorgeous visualizer.