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Life was tough for the young Jax Jones. Then he found music

House DJ Jax Jones faced homelessness as a child, but music was an outlet for his feelings of anger. Now he's raising awareness of the importance of early years

Jax Jones

Jax Jones. Image: Supplied

A turbulent early childhood led to Jax Jones being an angry youth, but he found an outlet in music. He explains why he’s joined the Prince and Princess of Wales’s Shaping Us to raise awareness about the importance of the early years.

Through my twenties, I thought little about my own early childhood. Honestly? Leaving it to history felt easier than spending too much time dwelling on the past. It was only when I got married, wanting kids of our own, that I realised I really needed to reflect on that period properly. I’m a father of two now: understanding my own experiences felt an important step in shaping how I take on the task of parenthood with the care it deserves.  

I was born in 1987 in South London. Before I was talking, there was turbulence at home. My parents split. Dad went to Turkey, and I’ve not seen him since. Mum and I went to Malaysia where I started nursery. That was a lot of upheaval. 

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Then the move didn’t work out – we were back in the UK by the time I was three. We were homeless for a while, constantly moving across the capital. Mum was often out of work and unable to afford childcare; I’d keep her company at the job centre, housing office appointments and wherever else. She did her best by me, but life was tough. Until I left home, life never really settled.

In retrospect, those experiences were in some ways a gift: my mum and I were close. We went on that journey together. And it’s where my desire for success came from. We were on our own, so I needed to succeed to get us out of the situation, and I did. But the lack of security – both in people and place – also had a profound impact I’m still only starting to be able to comprehend now.

Even if most of us can’t point to many specific memories from the first few years of childhood, increasingly there’s acceptance that they’re hugely significant in shaping the rest of our lives. From pregnancy to the age of five, our brains develop at an astonishing rate – faster than at any other period. Interactions and experiences in these years affect how we build social connections, manage our emotions and develop a sense of self. The consequences can take a lifetime to shake. 

With so much upheaval, I became an angry child who acted out. I wouldn’t eat and could become aggressive. Teachers flagged I was a bully in primary school. Looking back, I can see I craved attention, which I got by kicking off. Thankfully, I was able to channel that anger into music. That’s not to say the impact was over. To this day, it affects who I am. 

It’s hard to measure how people turn out and why. I know my path could have been hugely different. There were plenty of characters looking to take advantage of that desire for guidance and support, whether in gangs, drugs or elsewhere. I was lucky to find music, and have adults enter my life who helped me find a way through. 

At a council-funded weekend music school where I learned classical guitar, a teacher gave me a classical concert guitar worth thousands because he saw my potential and wanted me to have a better instrument. A secondary school teacher asked me to help with the purchasing of music kit for classes and let me take some home to practice with.

There’ve been people like them throughout my life who cared enough to go the extra mile. They had no obligation. Much like the more difficult experiences, these acts of care and kindness also shaped my world. Still I see the impact of my early years in my approach to music. It’s a creative outlet but coupled with obsession. Making music that’s commercially successful is the validation I so deeply desire. 

 As much as I can, I now try to support younger people. Through my record label I have a hands-on relationship with the artists we sign: I try to look out for our artists how I wish I’d been looked after in my first years in the industry. When young DJs get in touch, I’ll always offer advice.

Then I met the [current] Prince and Princess of Wales at the Queen’s Jubilee last year at Buckingham Palace, all this came up in conversation. Their Shaping Us campaign is about raising awareness about the importance of the early years, and we agreed to work together when the moment came. 

We can’t change our own childhoods, but we can shape those of the next generation. As a father trying to correct how things are done in my family structure, with no real blueprint, I’ve had to do a lot of the reading and research myself.

Doing so isn’t always easy. As I learned, I found myself fixating on how I wished my own early years were different. Knowing so much created a burden – I felt a real weight on my shoulders to do better, to get things right. 

The pressure on parents is greater than ever. With the cost of living crisis, support services and arts budgets cut and school resources stretching further and further, for many it’s a constant struggle. It impacts relationships at home.

Parents under stress have less time and money to support their children. It’s hard to think about the future when so much energy is spent on surviving the here and now. All that needs to change, and fast. At the same time, though, our behaviour also matters. Parent or not, every interaction with young children counts. 

Life is messy, it’s not always easy. But when so much of who we become is determined by our early years, even the smallest acts of kindness, generosity, care and guidance can shine a light for decades to come.

Find out more about the Shaping Us campaign here

Jax Jones’s new single, Need You Now with DOD, is out now

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine out this week. Support your local vendor by buying today! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop. The Big Issue app is available now from the App Store or Google Play

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