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“Get to know it, and you won’t want to rip it off.” Fade to Mind’s Rizzla on humanizing the exotic

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  • published
    8 Apr 2013
  • interviewed by
    Chris Kelly
  • photographed by
    Josh Andrus / Ezra Rubin
  • tags
    Fade to Mind
    Kingdom
    Rizzla
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“Get to know it, and you won’t want to rip it off.” Fade to Mind's Rizzla on confronting appropriation and humanizing the exotic

From fusing Southern trap rap with EDM sensibilities, to mining global bass subcultures, to nodding to vogue house without stepping inside the ballroom, appropriation is the dance music world’s watchword.

One artist uniquely positioned to offer an informed opinion on the topic is Fade to Mind affiliate Rizzla (aka Brian Friedberg). After studying sociology and film, he received his Master’s in Cultural Production, focusing on global queer issues, Caribbean visual art, and vogue culture; his dissertation examined Masters at Work’s ballroom touchstone ‘The Ha Dance’ as an art object.

As a musician, Friedberg’s productions are a kaleidoscopic view of dance music from across the globe: a frenetic mix of hard house, vogue swing and Caribbean beats that he and his cohort describe as ‘kunq’. “For better or worse, we’re all influenced by shitty tribal gay house,” he admits. “Hilariously enough, a lot of those intros sound like UK funky.”

 

“I was chasing the idea of the euphoria of Caribbean music but with a darker electronic influence.”

 

His style evolved from his experiences throwing college parties for a diverse list of cultural houses. “I was trying to play weirder music and pop and Caribbean-style music,” he says, “so my production technique came out of making edits.” While he anticipated the tropical-electronic sound that producers like Dubbel Dutch and Murlo would eventually develop, it was an “anemic little field” at the time. “I was chasing the idea of the euphoria of Caribbean music but with a darker electronic influence.”

While drawing from the Caribbean sounds he had immersed himself in during a year-long college exchange program in Trinidad, he was also engaged in the “very small, very mean little ball scene” of Hartford. This was nearly a decade ago, when Vjuan Allure and MikeQ mixtapes were being chopped up into “garbled messes” and uploaded to imeem. “That was always very inspiring because it was high energy and vicious,” he remembers. Playing Latin gay nights allowed him to mash all of his influences, as he could mix Masters at Work, reggaeton, hip-hop, dancehall, and vogue beats, with a touch of hard house. “I was also a raver at the same time; I wanted things at 200bpm.”

As he’s grown as a producer, his focus has been on creating tracks with narrative elements, rather than replicating existing genres. “If a song of mine doesn’t have a story, no one is gonna hear it. Even if I don’t explicitly state them, I try to write stories for each track that I make,” he explains. “Even mood-wise, they can get very bi-polar: some tracks I make are really saccharine happy hardcore, ‘everything’s gonna be great, embrace the sunshine,’ and others you’re getting burned alive in some cave in St. Thomas,” he laughs.

 

“With the ‘Harlem Shake’, my first thought was poor Baauer. Does anyone really think this dude meant to make a politically problematic, copycatted, crackerfication of hip-hop?”

 

A word not usually associated with free-wheeling club music is accountability, but for Friedberg, it’s a guiding principle. “I feel like holding yourself accountable for originality is essential nowadays, because it’s so easy to be influenced by everything around you,” he says. “People don’t ask themselves ‘why?’ enough. ‘Why did I make this? why should it be in the public domain?’ There are so many people that are technical wizards making ‘genre of the day rip-offs’: kids with great ears and trained fingers that don’t necessarily have anything to add to the conversation.”

Despite the sound and the fury of such ‘genre of the day rip-offs’, he dismisses the move to “problematize” copying. “For years, there’s been derivative tech-house and derivative hip-hop, or derivative jazz for God’s sake,” he says. “With the ‘Harlem Shake’, my first thought was, “poor Baauer.” Does anyone really think this dude meant to make a politically problematic, copycatted, crackerfication of hip-hop? He didn’t mean to do that, that’s all these idiots on the Internet.”

“Products get out of creators control so quickly,” he explains, launching into a larger point about the ballroom world. “That’s what people were afraid of with vogue music, but the people who created it are getting credit for creating it,” he says, and he has a point: it might have taken a few years, but the Vjuan Allures and MikeQs of the world are in-demand across the globe. “After that point, it’s free culture. It’s only a problem if creators are cut out of their own story… Who am I as a friend of the sound to feel protective of it? That’s a lot of old DJ culture that needs to be confronted.”

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