As Big Wild, producer, composer and now-turned vocalist, Jackson Stell crafts lush soundscapes and sweeping melodies that challenge the status quo of electronic music. Formerly a hip-hop beat producer, known as J Beatz, in his native Massachusetts, Stell switched creative lanes following a life-altering trip to Big Sur, California. He adopted influences from the state’s natural glory and open spaces to create the atmospheric and wide-spanning Big Wild sound, which today traverses electronic, indie, pop and beyond.
Since officially launching in 2012, Big Wild has become one of the fastest-rising dance/electronic artists in recent years. He first broke out in April 2015 with the incendiary track “Aftergold” (Foreign Family Collective), which topped the Spotify Global Viral Chart upon release. He followed the success of “Aftergold” with his debut EP, Invincible, in February 2017 (Foreign Family Collective).
As the next progression, in February 2019 Big Wild released his debut album, Superdream, on Counter Records. The new album sees Stell pushing the boundaries as a producer and artist like never before, as he serves as the primary lyricist, singer and songwriter for the first time ever. Each song is diverse in sound and scope and represents the full spectrum of emotions and experiences that are central to the essence of being: in one moment, you’re dancing out of your seat, only to find yourself in joyful tears seconds later. The album title, thus, reflects this amalgamation: a super dream combining all of life’s curious, inspiring occasions.
“The album was inspired by a need to create music that was a greater reflection of who I am now,” Stell says of Superdream. “This led me to feature my voice and songwriting as the main focus for the first time ever. I wanted to create a personal record that people could relate to using my own life experiences. When I listen to Superdream, it feels more like me than any of my other music.”
As a performer, Big Wild is one of the most progressive live acts on the electronic circuit today. His live show has him switching between multiple instruments (drum pads, synths, keyboards & live vocals) to deliver unique energetic performances every night.
When Jess Smyth was around ten years old, her mum used to sing Sunshine by Gabrielle to her in the car. Sometimes they’d be on the way to school, other times they’d just be stuck in traffic, watching cars speed past in the opposite direction. Her mum described it as her “hopeful little tune”, a guaranteed mood-lifter when she was feeling down. Last year, Smyth took her mum to Gabrielle’s comeback London show, a decade on from their car journeys. “There were so many tears, we were both just bawling,” Smyth remembers, giving way to a small laugh.
It’s this sense of intimacy that defines Smyth’s output as Biig Piig. In the past two years, Smyth has come up through West London’s nascent art scene, garnering a loyal following for her smoky, sedative take on hip-hop and neo-soul, which moves fluidly between singing and rapping, English and Spanish. At just 21 years old, she possesses the kind of insouciant wisdom usually reserved for people beyond her years, her songs candid, slow-moving vignettes of young love, identity and the general unease of navigating modern life. In an increasingly fast-paced world, listening to Biig Piig feels like a sigh of relief.
Early tracks like Crush’n and 24K established Smyth as a standalone voice within her scene, but she’s a natural collaborator. As a founding member of NiNE8 Collective – the eight-person-strong network of London-based creatives, which includes frequent producer Mac Wetha and friend Lava La Rue – Smyth has found a community, something that is now central to her practice. But it wasn’t always this way.
The oldest of four, Smyth was born in Cork, Ireland, but spent her formative years in Spain, where her family relocated after being given advice that living in a warmer climate might improve her brother’s severe asthma. Her parents spent their time running bars and restaurants in Costa Del Sol and Marbella, before the financial crash caused the local council to revoke their property without warning, forcing the family to move back to Ireland suddenly. Smyth, on the cusp of adolescence, found the transition difficult.
Having only studied in Spain, she had to reintegrate into Irish culture, something she felt slightly removed from. Despite speaking English at home, she only knew how to read and write in Spanish, which meant she had to re-learn basic skills in English. After a year and a half in Waterford, her family picked up and moved to her mother’s home town of Kerry, a time she describes as “a particularly rocky period” for her family. Shortly after, they decided to pack up again; this time headed towards West London, where her parents bought a lease on the pub that they still run today.
When Smyth moved to London, she didn’t go to school for over six months, in part due to the time of year she moved. “I was too young to go out so I was literally in my room for, like, seven months on my own,” she remembers. Smyth wrote her first song during this period; it was a reaction to a particularly lonely day. “It was just such an isolating period, so I started writing tunes because when you have no one to chat with, you just chat to yourself. Singing to yourself really fucking helps, to be honest.”
It was in this time when Smyth started to find her voice. Naturally drawn to the more confessional corners of music, she was on a steady diet of acoustic balladeers like Lewis Watson and Ben Howard; two musicians who fed her imagination. She found solace in her own vulnerability – a doctrine that still trickles into her work today.
Soon after, Smyth enrolled into a Music Tech class at Richmond College, where she met Lava La Rue. Here they spent their lesson breaks in the music room, jamming and co-conspiring ideas for their future NiNE8 Collective. Outside of college, she became entangled in London’s open mic scene, regularly making excuses to her parents so that she could perform in Soho.
On one particular night, Smyth told her father she was babysitting for one of the regulars at the family pub. She was actually going to Soho for a late-night set – an experience she now recognises as life-affirming. “It was my first ever four-song sets and I had such a sick time,” she beams. “We all went on the roof and were drinking Prosecco, just gassing each other up about how good everyone was. This was the first time I felt like music was my thing.”
Another night, Smyth found herself at a house party in West London, where La Rue and Wetha were involved in a cypher in the room next door. As a mic was passed around the smoke-filled room, it eventually landed in the hands of Smyth, right as the music turned to a J Dilla beat. It proved a pivotal experience. “I’d never really improvised like that before, so I started singing melodies and rapping on the spot and I had the best time. I remember something just clicked and I was like, ‘Woah.’ I realised there was a part of me missing, and this was it.”
From then on, Smyth devoted the hours that weren’t spent working in restaurants or casinos to writing music with Mac Wetha, singing and rapping over lo-fi beats he’d crafted in his bedroom. “When I made my first tune with Mac, I started to speak over the beat because I was like, ‘I can’t sing this, I need to speak it.’ It came round really naturally, like it was the only way I could communicate,” she explains. “I didn’t really understand that it was something formulating itself into a genre, or even music.”
She began to upload her work onto SoundCloud, like early songs Sex and the hook-heavy Getta’ Real Job. 2017’s Vice City caught the attention of digital music platform COLORS, who contacted her through the streaming service and invited her to their Berlin studios to record a live video session of the song, which currently boasts over 5 million views. “Everything changed after COLORS. People were taking it seriously and I thought, ‘Maybe I can do something with this.’”
Speaking to Smyth, it’s easy to see why people gravitate towards her. She’s softly spoken by nature, sounding as mellow as the comforting low hum that characterises her music. She’s seemingly never in a rush – another trademark that permeates her patient bars – and is an attentive listener, always making space for others. This could be indebted to her nomadic upbringing, an experience she describes as “character-building” and helped her gain a strong sense of independence. Change no longer phazes her; as far as she’s concerned, she’s her own refuge. “You have to just be your country. Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home,” she declares, her voice sharp with conviction.
Despite her carefree outlook, both in her music and personal life, Smyth still grapples with the identity issues that come with moving around a lot. “When I was in Ireland, they’d say I was too Spanish to be Irish. But then when you’re in Spain, you’re too Irish to be Spanish. So it’s like, I don’t know!” she laughs. “To be fair, I’d never change it. It’s so sick to have experiences in different cultures.”
This ability to adjust is a driving force for Biig Piig. While she’s cemented her aesthetic with her sleepy, jazz-tinged bops, Smyth is inherently a creature of adaptation, shapeshifting to fit the environment around her – or, just to suit the environment in her head. Recent single Sunny saw her transform once more.
Her first release for RCA Records, Sunny is a slight departure from the after-hours haze that defined her sound. Produced by Zach Nahome, Smyth sings affectionately about the testing nature of love, about how it feels good to resign to it. Her typically laidback drawl is carried by the uptempo beat, its pronounced bass line and subtle bongos glistening with balearic influence.
For now, a forthcoming EP is where her focus lies. Titled No Place For Patience, it will complete the trilogy of Biig Piig releases Smyth has prepared. Originally intended to be high concept, character-led projects named Fran, Mira and Aura, the EPs touch on important chapters of her teenage and adult life. “They’re all similar stories but from different times. The first one represents ages 16-17, the second one ages 18-20, and then the next one coming out is about the last year,” she explains. “No Place For Patience reflects on a lot of relationships, but mostly my relationship with myself. I’ve finally started to talk to myself, do you know what I mean? I’m growing, and it feels good.” It seems the more everything changes, the more it stays the same.