“I just got my shit together, again,” snaps Texas born Berlin-based producer, DJ and R&B obliterator, Lotic. They’re sitting directly under the aircon in a Berlin cafe—flexing encrusted black nails and flicking their hair—and speaking on a metamorphosis that’s seen their whole existence evolve during the process of creating their debut album POWER. “I’ve learned a shit ton [in the past few years]”—they look visibly relieved. “Where do you want to start?”
The Tri Angle Records signee have come a long way since hitting a personal low in 2016, when five people showed up banging on the windows of their ground floor apartment in Neukölln at nine in the morning—a surprise eviction. “They let themselves in and were like, ‘you have ten minutes to leave’. I was like, ‘you have ten minutes to leave, who are you, what the fuck is going on!?’ I had the flu, so I was sweating and hot and naked and all these strangers are in my house waving papers at me telling me I need to move out.” It turned out the person they were subletting from was pulling a shady move and not paying all the rent. That rock bottom moment was the catalyst for a journey of crucial self-empowerment.
For the uninitiated, Lotic properly arrived in 2014, delivering a first taste of their cerebral club music with their DAMSEL in DISTRESS mixtape. Uncompromising, jarring and chaotic, the record subverted mainstream R&B and pop culture (see their deconstructions of Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” and “Formation” on that tape) and, in doing so, soundtracked the hedonism and articulated the struggles of Berlin’s queer and poc communities. By 2016 Janus, the club collective Lotic co-founded in 2012 because they didn’t feel properly represented in Berlin’s club scene at the time (even within it’s notoriously inclusive queer community), had relocated to its new home at Berghain. Meanwhile the release of their much lauded Heterocetera EP made a fangirl of Björk, who slipped into Lotic’s DMs in 2016 to ask them to open her Berlin show and later to rework tracks from her Vulnicura album. “The Bjork remixes happened around the same time [that I was made homeless],” Lotic say. “On the one hand I was dealing with all this stress and then Bjork is in my inbox and I’m like wuuut?”
The acclaim from Björk was, of course, a strong look. But it also inadvertently attracted another, unintended audience to Lotic’s work and live shows. “The crowds were these increasingly sort of straight white techno dudes,” they say. “From that I made this mixtape, Agitations, because I was agitated—I was really struggling with being happy and that I was having success but also what that meant… I was considering retiring.” On top of generating a new base of fans, being unceremoniously kicked out of their home, Lotic was also coming out of an “unhealthy relationship” and navigating complex gender identity stuff. Essentially: shit was kicking off.
“The rest of the year was just really depressing and horrible,” Lotic explains, “I was drinking a lot, depressed, not working, didn’t really know who I was, which has never been true. Somehow this record came—I needed it in a way, even though it started from this… It was meant to be an empowerment record for other people, but it ended up being one for me. It was sort of like my therapy.”
Considering the challenges Lotic has been through in the past few years—effectively being homeless and heartbroken—it's no small feat to have created a body of work as intense as their debut album POWER. “I found my power by dealing with the disempowerment," Lotic say, defiantly. “For me power is love, accepting love and being vulnerable and all of these softer, more difficult emotions we have to deal with... Yes, I was feeling pain but I had finally been able to acknowledge, it’s not your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it, these are things that you can change and these are things you can’t change, so change those things and everything else you’re going to have to deal with in a different way. That basically was the process of making the record, switching from pure anger to processing emotions in a real full way.”
Translating all of Lotic's experiences and raw emotions over the past 29 years into something as sonically challenging as their life has been, POWER is an unnerving listen. Across the record’s 12 tracks, clanging percussion, twinkling ice cold synths and dizzying strings come across like the unsettling score for an unmade Dario Argento movie—in fact they should use it to soundtrack Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria reimagining. Or as Björk describes it in the commentary for the Vulnicura remixes, Lotic’s sound is “shrieks of beasts, dark insects and pagan birds displaying their feathers in a territorial way: a colourful celebration!!”
That said, this new album also shows a softer side to Lotic’s compositions that’s not been present in their previous work. “I wanted to make something that was light and upbeat and maybe more true to my full personality than one mood that I had,” Lotic say. “It took for fucking ever because life happened and I didn’t know how to approach the album when I wasn’t feeling like I was empowered.” The change in tone and outlook in Lotic’s sound was partly influenced by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ emotional memoir, Between the World and Me. Lotic’s penchant for chamber music, which they describe as “emotional therapy,” played a role too, at a time when they didn’t want to hear words but still wanted to “stretch” their brain. And so POWER is a record about duality—one intended to spark considered reflection on the relationships between power and disempowerment, masculinity and femininity, technology and biology, ugliness and beauty, softness and harshness, dark and light.
This attempt at processing emotion is why POWER features Lotic’s own vocals in their work for the very first time. There were things Lotic had to say that the music alone couldn’t articulate. Take “Hunted”s bold mantra addressing black people as literal targets and femininity as a perceived weakness: “Brown skin, masculine frame head's a target actin' real feminine make 'em vomit this nigga can't take it.” Still there were tracks where words failed to articulate Lotic’s message, like album standout “Distribution of Care.” “There was all this talk about distribution of ideas, distribution of money and we’d never talk about love or care or softness,” say Lotic. “There are so many memes online about cutting people out of your life that don’t fit or whatever but there’s none about growing together and I wanted to like have one moment to focus on that. I tried to write words but nothing quite fit, so that’s why I have the crazy strings but also this very sexy beat. Even though it’s aggressive, a lot of the record is meant to be a warm hug. Although it’s coming from me, so my hugs are kind of short and hard.”
Despite the frankness about the issues they’ve dealt with over the last three years, Lotic are quick to clarify that they most definitely have not had an identity crisis. Instead they’ve gone through more of an identity realignment that has encompassed selfcare decisions like checking the friendships they were choosing and fully embracing their gender identity. As their image of the Neukölln queer bubble burst, realising so many of the ‘friends’ they made were the kind of faux friends you would only ever see at the club, Lotic felt people saw them as “too bougie” because they wanted to work instead of party (some Berliners really do seem to be on permanent vacation), while their experience was being minimised by a lack of black friends who could directly relate to what they were going through. “In America I was way too queer for the black community and for the queer community I was way too black… I felt like I needed confirmation that I wasn’t fucking crazy, sometimes you need that reminder if it’s not in your environment and everyone’s telling you, ‘is you tripping?’”
These feelings of deracination were compounded by Lotic’s decision to adopt they/them pronouns and publicly share their experience transitioning (not that they subscribe to a binary definition of gender and sexuality). “The way that I look probably will change over the course of promoting this record and I’m not afraid of showing it and I’m not afraid to talk about it,” Lotic say. “My responsibility as an artist is to first be honest with these things and second to let everyone else that’s listening know that it’s okay for them to be experiencing those things as well.”
Lotic and their experimental contemporaries have proven beyond doubt that they’re not just a cool today gone tomorrow fad, with their visionary work impacting everyone from Kanye to Björk. Instead they’re constantly evolving, incorporating fresh sounds (with both Lotic and Arca now using their vocals in their work) and challenging the norm with their unapologetically queer aesthetics. Take Lotic’s Matt Lambert-directed video for “Hunted” (watch above). The Queen of the Damned-inspired visual sees Lotic sacrificing a twinky white boy they’ve dragged into the sea, before triumphantly emerging from the water in their fiercest, most empowered form. “I always felt a bit like prey, but now I’m not really personally worried about that,” Lotic say, of the track. ”How you see me is not on me, that’s on y’all.”
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.