Lotic on tearing gender apart to make Power, their best music yet
It didn’t take long for J’Kerian Morgan, better known as the producer Lotic, to find their footing in Berlin.
Shortly after they relocated there from Houston in 2015, they began regularly playing many of the city’s most globally legendary clubs and landed a high profile remix of Björk’s ‘NotGet’. But by the end of the next year, they were homeless. This rather massive life shift disrupted not just their music, but their mind. With more time alone than ever, their long-bubbling feelings of not being at home in their own body fully manifested, and they admitted to themselves that being a man isn’t who they are.
Not long before Morgan announced their debut album Power, they publicly declared their use of the pronouns they/them – she/her, “if you nasty.” When I meet up with them in Berlin, I expect to encounter the femininely-dressed but still boyish person pictured in previous press photos; instead, the gender identity they solidified during their time unhoused is fully rendered. They arrive in a bright, blond wig, daring sunglasses tinted an unusual, sparkling grey, a form-fitting white tank top and pants as red as lipstick.
“For me, finding my own power was living in my femininity,” they tell me, as we sit in a stuffy café. “Real strength is being able to confront not only other people about who you are, but mostly yourself. It’s about looking in the mirror and looking straight at it.” Lotic gradually stepped away from “boy clothes” and embraced all their previously unspoken feminine urges. “The first time going to the nail shop was a big deal for me,” they say. “I thought about it for a year before I actually went. Going out during the day with a wig on is [still] a big deal for me.”
Morgan visualized their true self well before they began publicly presenting as feminine. While unhoused, they conceived of their album cover, a way to continue working on their art as they were unable to make music. The results feature them cast against a softly burning, cherry-red background, wrapped in a zebra-print shawl, electric and glossy; they’re pitched above the viewer in repose, awash in a stance that’s as imposing as it is alluring. “I wanted it to be a statement of power, but a delicate, tender moment,” Morgan says. “Even though it’s intimidating, I’m covered in gloss. It’s feminine, but it’s not weak.”
The artwork befits the music. On Power, Morgan cautiously drifts away from the creaky, dance music-adjacent sound that defined their breakthrough 2015 EP Heterocetera and its follow-up, Agitations, in favor of unsettling arrays of shuffling percussion, ominous bells and blasts of apocalyptic synth noise. On its title track, they sandwich a brutal, beatific center with fragile, alien passages that sound like rebirth, like tadpoles breezing through a foggy stream at night. ‘Resilience’ is playful but eerie, with rattling drums that give way to absolutely battering, dreadful hammers of digital dissonance, a transition from the inviting to the imposing. ‘Hunted’ and ‘Bulletproof’, two tracks among Morgan’s first to contain their vocals, mince no words in addressing the producer’s stigmatized existence as a trans person of color, but even at their most distorted and inhuman, they sound faintly teasing. The music video for ‘Hunted’ sees Morgan, dressed fully femininely, dragging an unconscious Typical White Boy out to sea and drowning him; afterwards, they emerge from the water in a startling, unforgettable, Queen of the Damned-like outfit.
“I proposed a life-giving, ritualistic aftermath of a queer queen who preyed on the beauty and arrogance of the privileged — all a bit tongue-in-cheek,” says artist Matt Lambert who directed the clip and also worked with Morgan on the Power artwork.
The café is tiny and poorly ventilated, so we retreat from the sweltering mid-afternoon heat to Morgan’s apartment. Once we’re there, Morgan takes off their wig and seems to immediately cool down, both physically and figuratively. The blonde ’do is part of a collection that’s all out in their kitchen. “When I’m in boy clothes, I notice the way people look at me is more racial, whereas if I’m standing in my full self, then it’s a little more the gendered side of it,” they say. They feel this from both non-queer and queer folks; in fact, they might even feel it more from the queer community they once consciously aimed to make their audience. “If it’s a look, that’s one thing; they can accept that [as fashion],” Morgan says. “If it’s who you are, then that’s like, ‘Oh whoa. What, are you trans now?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, maybe! What’s wrong with that?’”
On ‘Bulletproof’ Morgan declares they won’t let the constant judgment, the subtle violence of others prevent them from being themself. A blitz of ominous tubular percussive blips that follows a mantric repetition of the lyric “I’m bulletproof” emphasizes the ecstasy and power of standing confidently in one’s own person.
For Morgan, reclamation — of gender identity, of strength — is a true fascination. On Power standout ‘Nerve’, which is maybe the closest the album comes to boasting a party track they inhabit an exaggeratedly masculine pose one second – “It’s LoLo in this bitch/H-town in this bitch” – before shifting to a deeply queer position the next: “You got nerve/bitch, you gon’ get curved.” They weave fluid, extreme caricatures through a bare minimum of a beat – fluctuating waves of bass throbs, trap kicks that glitter more than they attack, bits of synthetic bells — that’s an ideal match for the terrifying distortion that enshrouds their voice throughout.
Morgan has taken lately to wearing a nameplate necklace emblazoned with the word “power”. It showed up in a picture on Instagram just weeks before they announced the album, aside the caption, “I’M DROPPIN’ HINTS.” The juxtaposition of the jewelry’s delicate size with its towering message foretold the kind of album Power is: a deeply unflinching document of Lotic’s relationship with gender and society’s strange prudishness around it.
Max Freedman is a writer with bylines in Paste, Bandcamp Daily, Magnetic, Under the Radar, and more. He loves tight productions with roaring bass, minimal yet driving tracks, LGBTQ+ artists and romances – or, at least artists who talk about LGBTQ+ issues – and more.