In the summer of 2013, a friend brought me to a hole-in-the-wall venue in Berlin called Chester's for a club night organized by the electronic collective Janus. The music conjured by producers like M.E.S.H. and Lotic was unlike anything I had heard before: bombastic eruptions of noise seamlessly melded with Sade samples; mechanical squeaks and whirls as if factory machines had an orgy with no safe-word; rap bangers spliced with sounds that could only be described as what it must feel like to be castrated. But amidst the aural chaos, the crowd never stopped dancing.
It's two years later and Janus has been the subject of a New York Times feature about "Brooklyn bohemians invading Berlin's techno scene," and eventually stopped hosting the club night that perked everyone's ears in the first place. All the associated acts continue to make music that can melt eardrums like laffy taffy in a microwave, but one producer stands out with his online mixes and in-your-face online presence--Lotic, né J'Kerian Morgan. This week, the Berlin-by-way-of Austin artist is releasing Heterocetera, his first record on Brooklyn's Tri Angle Records, also home to Evian Christ and Vessel.
Terms like "cold" and "abrasive" frequently come up while discussing the 25-year-old's productions, but Lotic explained over a Skype conversation that these qualities aren't just sonic ire for the sake of it. Instead, they represent an act of rebellion to prevent clubs and dance venues from being jeopardized by hetero-normative types--an attitude that partially informs the EP's title. "Clubs are supposed to be a safe space for every freak on the planet, but they're not," he says. "The whole EP, especially the title track, is the biggest middle finger I can do right now in response."
Below, Lotic spoke to me about making music informed by the design of certain Berlin clubs, the feminist essay that inspired the title "Heterocetera," and needing to say "fuck you" to someone at least once a week.
THUMP: You've said that your music channels the idea of otherness and puts it in the listener's face. Does that mean the music is supposed to be intentionally exclusive or uninviting to certain people?
I know that certain people who are different from me--white, straight Resident Advisor commenters, for example--will be a big part of my audience. Unfortunately, that's the main driver that inspires me to make this confrontational music. If I don't say "I'm gay, I'm black" and take these really feminine photos, then I feel like I'm failing some kind of responsibility I have to piss these people off. But I'm talking about the types of people who are ruining club culture by being homophobic, hating women, etc. It's not about making the music exclusive, but rather a reaction to the status quo--knowing my context in the music world and being upfront about that.
Does your personality reflect the in-your-face qualities of your music?
I'm a gay, black dude living in the West, so I'm always a little bit angry.
Can you tell me about the EP's title? I know it came from a feminist book.
It came from a piece of writing by Audre Lorde. The whole book inspired me because she has such a way with words, but also seems like a really sweet person. It struck me that you can be an anarchist, and be mad about being black, but you don't have to be mean about it. The whole book changed my perspective about existing in the world.
That word [heterocetera] is perfect and knew it had to be the album title from the first moment I saw it. Any time an oppressed person is being addressed by their oppressor and don't want to hear it, that's the word that comes to mind. As nice as I think I am, I'm always going to say fuck you. I have to say it once a week. The whole EP, especially the title track, is the biggest middle finger I can do right now.
The opener "Suspension" is one of my favorite record openings in a long time because it feels multi-sensory--I feel it as much as I hear it. Is that an experience you're actively trying to trigger?
That's what I meant about the advantages of having actual access to clubs constantly. Not just the speaker quality, but the aural experience of being in these giant rooms when something crazy is playing. The stuff that I'm making now--that hasn't been released--relates to me thinking about how this music would work in a club space.
Chester's had this corner that was designed for people to feel bass frequencies. Are you saying you design and produce sounds specifically for the clubs you want to play in?
Exactly. When I was in the States, I had no idea what the actual experience would be like outside my headphones. There's no real context for club music in the States. People who play it are often in shitty bars with shitty speakers--and that's totally fine and super important--but as a musician, thinking about the space the songs will play should influence you differently.
You've said that city-specific sounds from Houston are ingrained in your brain. Have the sounds of Berlin influenced how you approach music, too?
I'm influenced by DJ'ing and dancing in specific Berlin clubs. As a result, now everything is much cleaner in my music, and I've gotten really picky about how I mix my tracks.
When you sample one of "The Ha Dance"--one of most famous New York ballroom songs--in the title-track, then warp it into something new, it feels like you're bringing a certain legacy into the future.
It made sense to go [to those reference points], knowing the EP is coming out on a bigger label, and that a bunch of white, straight people will be listening to it. On the other hand, I'm not actually from New York, and I've never been to a ball, so I didn't want to use the sample in a way that people actually from vogue and ballroom culture use it. The decision to use it in the way I did was my way of being respectful to the original scene, while also saying fuck you to some aspects of the modern online community. [But] I don't know if there's a responsible way to use it, except to not use it.
With post-modern work, isn't everything up for grabs and fair game for appropriation and manipulation if still respectful?
Yeah, but if I'm making a comment on producers who try to capitalize on a scene or trend, and then I do the same thing, then it's not fair.
How would you describe your connection to future-forward producers and collectives that people sometimes tie you to, like Total Freedom, Arca, and the Fade to Mind label?
I think we're all coming from a similar place. For the most part, we're people of color or gay. Our relationship to the club is this feeling of wanting to protect that space from the types of people who threaten it. It's supposed to be a safe space for every freak on the planet, but it's not. It's a safe space for straight, gross dudes.
Is this what inspires your sometimes-difficult or abrasive sound?
I can't speak for other people, but that's how I see it, and I've talked to other producers I get categorized with and some feel similarly. Of course white, male journalists don't necessarily get that until I say it with my mouth. I've seen those epic collage thinkpieces that analyze the music of, say, Ashland [Mines, a.k.a. Total Freedom] or other producers tied to Janus, and they are correct in that our sound has connections, but they are not getting at the core politics of it. So it's maybe better that I'm describing my feelings on that, rather than others doing it for me. Otherwise I'd maybe just be like, "Stop. You need to stop."
Do you think the new music you're working on will maintain the same intensity?
I'm pushing it way more, if anything. I used to put as much shit as possible into a track if it remotely made sense, and then cut it all down. Now, I'm better at picking what makes sense to put in there and keeping everything in. There's more to actually listen to, but you can hear the freedom and lack of self-consciousness.
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