Mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and conservatively dressed in a plaid button-down shirt and cardigan, Jumbled doesn't quite fit Baltimore's classic archetype of a DIY hip-hop producer. By day he's known as John Bachman, a high school teacher; but by night he transforms into Jumbled, one of Baltimore's most imaginative beat makers.
Bachman's childhood spent on a farm in Harford County lends a unique perspective to his atypical hip hop beats.
"We did 4-H, so we had pigs, cows, chicken, and sheep," Bachman laughs. "We raised sheep and showed them at the fair and everything."
Bachman's youth spent working on the family farm inspired him to seek higher education in agriculture where he hoped to influence policy, but a lack of job opportunities in the field pushed him into teaching.
Now 37 years old and in his thirteenth year as an educator, Bachman teaches pre-engineering and technology education at Western High School, a public all-girls school in Baltimore. Not only does he help college-bound high school girls with life skills, like building resumes and setting goals, as well as engineering skills, like robotics and 2-D animation, he also gives them a little glimpse into his colorfully-soundtracked world by showing them how to make their own beats.
Bachman has officially started a beat club for the girls of Western High School and already has several interested students. "I got a grant from Ableton and have this somewhat unlimited license for education, so I put up flyers and got some buzz going," he says.
In an attempt to inspire the girls to join the beat club, he designed the flyer using photos of female dance music producers, like Tokimonsta, and it actually worked. "The girls were like, 'What's the flyer about?' [and after explaining it], they're like 'Beats like [this?]'" Bachman starts tapping rhythmically on the table, reminiscent of the days of banging out Clipse's infamous 'Grindin' beat on the cafeteria table. "I'm like, 'Yeah, but on the computer, not banging on the table.'"
Bachman might not be a big name, Kanye-esque producer—and he doesn't ever want to be—but he has the creative chops to show these girls how to get started. A listen to one of Bachman's 12 full-length releases listed for free download on his Bandcamp or countless collaborative singles on his SoundCloud page reveals layers upon layers of energetic drum loops, clever instrumentation, and eccentric vocal samples. Never one to create simple, uninspired edits of the stuff you hear over and over on the radio, it's clear that Bachman isn't just an average bedroom beat maker.
Bachman's signature productions are mostly sample-based, using elements like bluesy bass lines, emphatic jazz horns, and breakbeats from classic club records. And ironically, as he teaches his students how to make beats on Ableton, the most state-of-the-art music production software in existence, he prefers to arrange his music using one of the most rudimentary audio editing programs on the market.
"I use Audacity, which is stupid, but it's all I use," Bachman laughs. "It's just comfortable."
As it turns out, using Audacity allows Bachman to freely manipulate his samples in such a way that makes his productions sound so intricate, so musically diverse, and so Baltimore. His "Boom EP" from late 2015, the perfect entry point into the fantastic world of Jumbled, naturally mixes club music with funk breaks and '60s pop harmonies—a demonstration of his myriad influences. Even his official foray into club music on "Club Classics" in early 2015 turns the homegrown Baltimore club genre on its head by using its signature breakbeat framework but adding steel drums, '80s pop vocals, and dramatic horns to transform the sound into something totally new. His "Wish It Was Longer" EP from the summer of 2016 explores his inimitable niche within Baltimore's DIY music scene with blissed out, jazzy hip-hop beats and raw vocal features from local emcees. On his latest EP, "Action Shots," Bachman creates an avant-garde backdrop for conscious rap with nostalgic record crackles, bad-ass guitar shreds, and bluesy bass lines.
But the most alluring element of Bachman's productions is this very particular air of Baltimore that gloriously emanates from each song. It's raw, unrefined, and never mastered. This was generally the nature of classic Baltimore club music from the '90s and that's what made it so great. Bachman has adopted the same less-is-more ideology with his productions as well.
"Cheap records [are] so crackly and I like it," Bachman says. "At the very most, I'll [see] the record is dirty, put some soap on it, and wash it in the sink."
Bachman spends a lot of time digging in the dollar bins of local record stores, like The True Vine and Celebrated Summer Records, in search of cheap, obscure material to sample. "I mostly pick things by the cover and by the years—usually nothing after 1980," he explains. But he's especially drawn to certain rock, soul, and jazz record labels—like CTI, Stax, and Shelter—because they consistently offer specific sounds he likes to explore.
Bachman has found a nurturing home within the underground hip-hop community in Baltimore and is eager to collaborate with other local artists. He is currently working with UllNevaNo, a local emcee, on a forthcoming hip-hop EP and also has some of his signature soul-tinged Baltimore club tracks slated for future release as well.
And as long as he doesn't have to stay out too late on a school night, he can occasionally be found soundtracking the forward-thinking ciphers at popular open mic events for local producers and rappers, like the Baltimore Beat Club and Llamadon's Beet Trip.
While producing is just a hobby for Bachman, he embraces the fact that he doesn't quite look the part and in turn, doesn't take himself too seriously.
"When I did the ["Boom EP"], I sent it to [local DJ] Ducky Dynamo and I was like, 'What do you think of this?' and she was like, 'This would be like if our cool uncle made club music,'" Bachman laughs. "It wasn't a direct diss, but it was a weird offshoot, and I was like, 'I'll take that.'"