Last night I ended up drinking some kind of funky Kool-Aid in the backyard of a small Brooklyn yoga studio. There was a fire pit and a couple of shaman kids, and we were talking about Psychic TV, the late 80s acid house band that, for a long time, also led an international cult devoted to the pleasures of the body. These shamans and I were griping about how DJs these days don't have the kind of imaginations that they used to. I mean, when's the last time you heard about a techno producer inventing an entire spiritual foundation to go along with their music? Still, one does meet the occasional high-minded artist whose music is clearly a part of some wider, weirder artistic pursuit—and Berlin-based, Houston-born artist Lotic is one such DJ.
Lotic is the resident DJ at Janus, a Berlin party that specializes in the more unusual—and the particularly American-derived—strains of club music, with recent headliners like TOTAL FREEDOM, Mykki Blanco, and DJ Sliink. The Janus crew moved around for a handful of events before finding a more permanent dancefloor at Chester's, a small venue in the heart of the unbelievably hip Kreuzberg neighborhood. Lotic tells me that Chester's feels like home, and that after nearly two weeks away from its DJ booth, he's started to miss it.
Following up his debut single on Brooklyn-based record label Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Lotic—J'kerian Morgan—explores themes of destruction and rebirth, moving from the melancholy tape loop of "Sankofa," released in January 2013, to the sharp, unpolished contours of "Dust." I asked him to explain the sentiment behind the new release and he told me about rage, fury, and one particular image he had in mind of huge tentacled metal robots crushing everything and turning the world into a desert wasteland. Badass!
Check the teaser from Lotic's new four-track EP out on Sci-Fi & Fantasy October 1.
THUMP: Hi J'Kerian!
So where are you at this very moment?
I just got home from dinner—Korean. I live in Neuköln, Berlin.
I was just reading about that neighborhood.
Probably in the New York Times [laughs]. It's quickly becoming "the cool spot."
A friend told me to visit the Oz Gaziantep bakery. I heard the baklava is the bomb.
Haven't tried it. But there's tons of great Arab food here. It's cute. I miss Mexican food, though.
So what brought you from Austin, Texas to Berlin?
Realizing I had to rely on music to live [laughs]. In Texas that isn't possible. Also, I didn't have enough money to live in a place like New York.
Wow—I thought you were going to say "school" or something. But you just up and left because you knew you could make a life as a musician there?
Yeah. Or at least I knew I had a better chance—I knew electronic music was a thing here and I hoped it would work out.
So far! I'm fairly close with most of my favorite DJs and producers. I'm paying rent. I'm playing at Panorama Bar with Nguzunguzu and Slava next month.
That's like the Berlin club, right? Like, you basically "made it?"
Basically [laughs]. This, after being on tour with Total Freedom and Why Be. My club residency, Janus, has a lot to do with this. Dan Denorch, who organizes it, changed my life. And being in Berlin, which is fairly boring if you're not partying, means I can focus on producing in my down time.
I had to Google it: "Janus (Latin: Ianus) is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, passages, endings and time."
[Laughs] That's the inspiration, which is so fitting! The party started last June and our first guest was DJ Sliink. We had trouble finding a regular space and eventually ended up at Chester's, which is a small venue in Kreuzberg. After a couple parties, they really invested in us. They installed a nicer sound system and bought CDJs for us. It's pretty cute now.
What? Dude—venues in New York don't give nearly that kind of a shit about their performers.
Yeah. I've heard.
Do you think artists get treated better in Berlin?
In general, at least compared to New York. I've never lived there but from what I've heard promoters are a little dirtier in New York. Here it tends be a little more about the music and the party and the crowd—not about the promoter making money. And it's Europe, so people are maybe more used to dance music? Berlin isn't the place in Europe for artists, though. Compared to Switzerland, there's practically no money here [laughs]. You'll play a nice party and meet cool people, but you might not take much money home.
I feel like in Berlin, though, people have more emotional relationships to their venues. Like, here, I don't have love for any venues in particular—I just go because that's where the DJs are. Do you have a "home-y" relationship to venues you play at?
Definitely. I was just telling my boyfriend Mark that I miss Chester's. It's been a couple of weeks. I sometimes miss Berghain and Panoramabar too.
When I think of those venues, I think techno techno techno techno.
That's right—well, Panoramabar tends to be housier—but this organization called CTM has been introducing new sounds to the club, which is really great. You don't get the same number of people, but that soundsystem makes up for it.
Right. Do they have love for the weirder stuff beyond techno, or the particularly American shit you're pushing?
Berliners? Yes. People at Berghain? I'm not sure [laughs]. Most of the music here is techno, so people are happy to hear anything else. Total Freedom, for instance, is super popular here, so people are paying attention. Plus, there are a lot of Americans and expats here.
I read in your Motherboard interview that you're coming at music from an academic background?
I studied electronic music composition for two years, as a minor basically. It wasn't until then that I actually finished a piece. I also did college radio—so what I'm doing now grew out of that. It also grew out of wanting Austin to have some kind of interesting dance music going on. My friends and I definitely approached it from this queer/people of color point of view, like, why aren't any of us doing this? We got tired of hipsters playing hip-hop with their tongues in their cheeks.
That does get really old. So you had a crew in Texas that you were working with?
Not really. It was just me and my two close friends and our laptops and fury.
Definitely. Frustration. My last release on Sci-Fi & Fantasy was sad. Moving to another country is pretty hard, it turns out.
That must have been lonely.
I moved here with my boyfriend. That's how we did it—he was hired at Ableton. But we were the only people we knew.
So is your boyfriend a sound design nerd as well? Do you steal his techniques?
We met on OKCupid because we kept nerding out about noise music [laughs]. And no—he steals mine!
So it seems like you've found a new family in Berlin.
Yeah, it's been so nice. I'm the luckiest girl on Earth.
Any plans to return to the US?
Long-term? No plans. A friend of mine joked this weekend that once you start making money in Berlin, you have to stay in Berlin. Except that it's true—it wasn't a joke.
So how did you link up with Lamin Fofana from Sci-Fi & Fantasy?
Oh! Through my connections with Dutty Artz. I was working on an EP for them that I never managed to finish. He reached out during that time and offered to release some tracks. I sent him "Glittering" and he wanted to release it right away. We kept in touch ever since.
He's got a really unique vision. Sometimes when I don't get what he's doing, I worry that in five years I'll finally come around to it and be like, "Yeah. You were right."
[Laughs] Yeah. I trust him, definitely. Even before we started talking, I was like this man's onto something. I hope I can meet him IRL soon.
I feel like, for both of you, there are a lot of encoded messages in everything you make, but not in a way that beats you over the head.
I appreciate that. I think really abstractly and it usually takes me a while to connect the dots but, especially with this EP, I think the concept is clear—subtle but clear. It's not really declarative, but cohesive. I never really want to make too strong a statement; ain't nobody got time for that.
True. The quote that came with your press release was from Mikhail Bakunin. It reads: "Let us therefore trust the eternal Spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternal source of all life. The passion for destruction is a creative passion too!"
Yeah. I first saw that quote when I was reading Audre Lorde and I was like, wow, that's me. We hear something we like, but we want to make it our own, so we deconstruct things and reconstruct things until it sounds like that little bit we originally heard or misheard it as. Sometimes we want to start over, but the only way to do that is to get rid of what's already there. Of course, that's impossible. But we try.
Is that something that you set out to embody in music, or something that came to you after sitting with the music for a while?
When I started the first track I was thinking "digital wasteland," like a modern War of the Worlds. And I kept this image in my head throughout. I mean, literally, an image like this. I wanted to soundtrack it basically. But once I was done I realized it didn't have to be scary, and I remembered the quote, and realized that destruction can actually be beautiful.
They call him 2Magz, he tote two mags -@maxpearl.