Features I by I 21.05.14

FACT meets Lotic – the R&B obliterator behind one of 2014’s most important mixtapes

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To state the obvious, there have been a lot of ‘Drunk In Love’ remixes in 2014.

A lot of them are great, a lot of them are completely terrible, but few have captured the imagination like the one that was hidden in the middle of a mix promoting Berlin club night Janus, under the track name ‘Faded (How The Hell…?) feat. The Queen, barking stans and CBS censors’.

Under the metallic gaze of Berlin-based, Texan-bred producer Lotic, ‘Drunk In Love’ is surrounded by swarms of noise – including the ecstatic fans or “barking stans” of the title – underpinned by a drunk trap swagger one moment, a nightmarishly distorted R&B groove the next. Beyonce’s voice, pitched up and down in various places, and echoing like she’s performing in a tunnel, is spun out like a spider’s web over Lotic’s experimentation, before passing into the frantic club track ‘Fractures (but just the chromatic growl)’.

Damsel In Distress (listen to it below) is one of the most important mixes to be released this year. Its lolloping rhythms and half-familiar pop fragments will go to work on your hips while your mind is flitting from one absurd sound to the next, transfixed. It’s cerebral club music made to celebrate the open-minded and playful club night Janus, run by Lotic and friends, which hosts DJs such as Total Freedom and Venus X. In Lotic’s words, the night focuses on “pushing either new sounds or sounds of people that are maybe consistently overlooked, like people of colour, queer people; you’re not going to see these people consistently making headlines.”

As full of laughter and as sincerely open as his track titles, Lotic took a break from producing his two new “more dancey” EPs (for Fade To Mind and Renaissance Man’s Black Ocean) to tell me about how he balances his interest in the global emotional language of pop with his “nerdy” technical obsessions.

Lotic refers to “water” and “washing” – what made you choose that name?

Well, I started a noise band with my boyfriend, like four years ago, and it was just a really quick decision. I knew that I wanted a name that was associated with water but also implied some kind of intensity. So I picked Lotic, which I thought sounded good as a band name. I’m embarrassed to talk about it sometimes, because it’s so nerdy. It’s to do with ecosystems. I was like ‘I’m really feeling the elements, which element am I?’ And I chose water.

What was it about water and the lotic ecosystem that you related to musically?

At the time it was mostly just the intensity – it refers to an ecosystem that lives under rushing water as opposed to still water, so a river instead of a pond or a lake. I’ve always been into drama, so I wanted a name that sounded dramatic.

What did you grow up listening to?

When I was really young it was just mainstream radio, like in the ’90s it was mainstream R&B. I didn’t hear that much hip hop until I was a tween, but then it went straight from R&B all the time to hip hop all the time. Mostly local Houston rappers, like Swishahouse. And then, by the time I got to high school, I wanted to be surprised all the time, so I was just looking for anything I had never heard of before. I was listening to radio rock – I never knew that punk existed, for instance, til I got to college – but I was listening to like, hard rock. I thought Evanescence was so dark and weird [laughs]. Then I got really into electronic music, I started listening to Bjork and the people that were producing for her. It kind of all devolved into noise, and now I’m here. I think I went through every phase.

I read your piece on Electronic Beats about Beyonce’s album and your admiration for Boots’ work on it, its improvisational flow. Do you think you’ll ever make the move to working with a vocalist or rapper?

As long as it’s something that I really believe in – I’m not interested in rehashing. I’m not interested in producing things that already exist. I’m interested in playing with the way that people interact with those things, and fucking them up. It would just have to be a project where we were both on the same page, me and the artist.

Do you feel affiliated with Houston’s musical lineage?

I do…it’s more of a deep-seated kind of thing that will always be in the back of my head than an explicit influence. Going out in Houston, you’re usually going out specifically to dance, and that’s definitely always been an influence for me, that’s always been important. I’m really interested in introducing really crazy sounds to the club world, but at the end of the day I just want people to dance.

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Tell me about Damsel In Distress – what kind of mindset were you in when you made it, what did you want to say with it?

It was meant to be a clean slate for me personally, as an artist. I had to re-evaluate what I stand for. Moving [to Berlin], I got a little bit blinded by the way things work here. There was a confusion; there was some sort of conflict between what I had known in the past and what I was learning after moving here. And I think just now I’m able to make sense of it all. Damsel In Distress was an attempt to share that with everyone else.

Also, being a DJ, and seeing what things work and what kinds of things get what kinds of attention, I had decided that I didn’t want to do any mixes any more if they weren’t going to have some sort of way to stick around. I mean, how many podcasts do we see every week? Dozens and dozens. But how often do we go back to them? Not that often. So with my club night Janus, deciding to do a mix series was kind of the perfect opportunity to make that statement, but also to release this music that I had been sitting on. So it’s a clean slate as an artist: here I am starting over, this is my new sound.

You say that moving to Berlin changed your music – so this mix was an entirely new approach for you?

Yeah, it kind of was. As a producer, I think a lot of people have this when you first start out – you have your eye on a particular sound or label even if you don’t particularly fit that, and that clouds everything that you make. You don’t always realise it, but it really does affect the way you make music. When I moved here, I started DJing more, and I realised that there is really a lot more going on than what you see as a producer. Your world becomes very small as a producer. As a DJ you have to adapt and pay more attention to things. So when I started DJing I realised that the context for me as a producer wasn’t what I thought it was, and maybe there isn’t one – and it took me a long time to accept that maybe there isn’t a context for what I’m doing, production-wise. That’s the reason that it ended up being the first Janus mix, because if there is any context for what I’m doing, it’s probably Janus.

How did your sound change when you moved?

I think I’ve learned to take my time a little more. Because the club industry here is huge. It’s everything, it’s the reason that Berlin is able to have any money at all. So I’ve had to think more about me as a professional DJ and producer.

I’m trying to be extremely observant in the way that people are responding to things. Obviously we live in the real world, and when you go out with your friends that’s a different experience than when you’re at home and you’re downloading all the things that you like for yourself to listen to in your own privacy. I’ve realised that we’ve always wanted to feel like there are more people out there like us. But maybe there aren’t. And there is a certain language – for instance, pop is an easy way to bridge that gap. Everyone [hears] the new Rihanna song or the new Beyonce album, but everyone processes it differently.

In Janus we have this private conversation about “signal” versus “noise”. There’s so much noise, on Twitter and Soundcloud and Facebook and whatever, that it’s kind of impossible to see the signals. The only people that are able to make these signals are the people in power, the people who work at music magazines, the highest paid DJs et cetera. But if you can kind of fake a signal, if you can do something that’s really clearly, something very cohesive, a clear idea, then people will understand that, because there’s so much noise.

“There’s so much noise, on Twitter and Soundcloud and Facebook and whatever, that it’s kind of impossible to see the signals.”

So how would you fake a signal?

Well, Damsel in Distress was definitely an attempt to fake a signal. I think ultimately it is pointless to try to send a signal – well, it’s pointless if you’re not in a position of power – but you can still say, “Hey, I’m just going to do something that I completely believe in, and package it in a way that makes sense to people.”

What’s a typical night like at Janus?

We always go for intensity. We like drama, a lot. It’s hard for me to say, because I’ve never just been there as someone who’s not involved with the party, but as a DJ [I] really aim to play with people’s emotions in the club. On the one hand, we like to be really clean, clear DJs, and on the other hand we’re really playful.

What’s interesting about your music to me is how it kind of takes all these elements apart and reassembles them differently – or doesn’t reassemble them, just deconstructs them. Do you find that your training [in electronic music composition at UT-Austin] means you take a very technical ear to your music, wanting to pick apart the bare bones of a track?

Definitely. For a long time, I wanted to produce really really danceable music, and I realised that in that process, I ended up trying to erase my foundation, which was these courses, this electronic music composition training. This mix was definitely a strong re-acknowledging of that part of myself. But [I was] also celebrating it – like, this is an asset that I have that a lot of people don’t have.

With that push and pull, how does it feel for you when you’re making music: to what extent is it an emotional expression, and to what extent is it more of a technical academic exercise?

I think it’s kind of always both. That wasn’t always true, but Damsel was the first time that I was able to really be both at the same time. And that was always a conflict for me: it was ‘am I just being really nerdy right now, is anyone actually going to identify with this?’ Because if you’re not connecting on an emotional level, what’s the point? Clubbing is an extremely emotional experience, and if you’re not either making people happy or pissing people off then what are you doing?

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