The lone star state has produced two of the most intriguing young producers in two separate, but related, club music scenes. Lisa Blanning lassoes them in for a conversation together. Above, left to right: Lotic and Rabit.
Despite being the fourth largest city in the United States, the musical legacy of Houston, Texas is limited—propped up by its homegrown hip-hop, including Rap-a-Lot Records, Geto Boys, UGK, and DJ Screw—and eclipsed by its notoriety as the location of NASA’s Mission Control. This mostly inhospitable environment was one reason that J’Kerian Morgan—born and raised in Houston—moved first to Austin and then to Berlin, where his work as Lotic has developed to the disorienting dance music found on his most recent EP, Fallout, released by Sci Fi & Fantasy. As a producer, Fallout‘s moods swing from alarming to creepy to ethereal, all in the space of four tracks and in the context of the dancefloor. As a resident of Berlin club night Janus, Lotic’s DJ sets alongside the likes of Total Freedom, Venus X, Jam City, and more have solidified his position in the new, Fade To Mind-led movement of cross-genre experimentation in the club.
Rabit, née Eric Burton, has been a resident of Houston for five years, and it’s from this base that his gaseous, meditational yet delicately dangerous grime has floated, tickling the ears of like-minded producers in the UK—such as Visionist, Logos, and Slackk. His new EP, Sun Showers (Diskotopia), was hotly tipped by many of his musical peers well before its release last week. And although the pair never met while residents of the same city, it’s a connection—now a friendship—they share, fuelling their daily trans-Atlantic exchanges and upcoming collaborative work.
Tell me how you met each other.
Rabit: When J’Kerian was still in Austin, we connected online, started sharing music back and forth. I was in Houston and he was still in the States, transitioning to move over there.
It sounds like there’s a bit of a scene around Ben Aqua?
L: Ben Aqua owns Austin. If you want to do something, he’s either already involved, going to be involved, or it’s not going to happen unless he gets involved. He lived in New York for a while, but he got sick of it. He moved to Austin, which doesn’t have a huge scene. It’s not easy to be an artist there in general, any kind of artist, but he really made it work for him. That means he’s established now. Actually, that’s why I started talking to [Ben Aqua], because I was starting to DJ, and he was the most visible one.
So he deals mostly with electronic music? Is there an audience for it there?
R: It’s growing. Over all, it’s still pretty young. #FEELINGS has been around for maybe two years? It takes time for things that are really small, with participation and everything. I just played the party he has, #AFTERLYFE; it’s growing each time. Austin is like any major American city where people are just looking for whatever the biggest trend at the moment is. It’s almost the only way to get people to support and go participate. I think that was part of the reason there was a good turnout last weekend because of all this recent stuff: “Oh, grime. What’s grime?” Most Americans really don’t know what it is [laughs]. But #FEELINGS was the main thing to cause us to meet each other. It may have happened regardless, the Texas scene…
L: …Is super small. We all know each other.
But you guys have never actually been in the same room together?
L: We have now. But it had already been a year or so when it happened.
R: When J’Kerian came over for South by Southwest in March, there was some extra time, so once South By was over, we came back to Houston. He was visiting family and I came back home, so we worked on some music for a couple of days together. I broke out the drum machine, he had the software. It was really fun because it all came together so quickly. We were just banging out a bunch of different sounds. Over the course of two days, we had a good handful of songs. Not finished, but pretty much there. We’re still in the process of doing that.
Is grime specifically for you, Eric, a thing only recently?
R: No, I listen to everything. That sounds really cliche, but it goes in phases and there might be a couple of months where I hate club music and I only want to hear ambient music in my house playing in the background. I hardly listen to stuff other electronic producers make. I listen to music my friends make, that they send me, but as far as the whole scene, I try not to stay too in touch with what’s going on. So, I’ll go through stages and listen to all types of music. I’d say like two years ago was when I first started making grime and garage. So, it’s not new. What kicked it off was when I hooked up with Keysound and a lot of the newer grime producers and DJs last year—the initial response was good so I continued to push the sounds.
L: When he first started sending me music, it was more footwork-influenced, but if I play you stuff he sent me a while ago… I mean, I can tell it’s the same person. But it’s like he stripped all the percussion, basically [laughs], so it’s really simple and so sick. As far as trends go, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with you; you’re not actively paying attention, but you are aware of them.
L: It’s funny, the way they have shaped your sound. I feel like now it’s all making sense, but it’s the same music, I know it’s coming from the same place. I think you just found a better way of expressing what you’re trying to say, and now the sounds make more sense in this context, as opposed to the footwork context, because now it’s more about those textures and about it having space. Whereas before, with footwork being so busy, that might have been the least appropriate context. But that’s why I loved it [laughs], because it was so wrong.
R: I like that, it points to the idea that whatever you’re doing as an artist is in you. These other little things, the little styles of sound will take over you for a period of time and you go through stages as an artist, but I feel like it’s all about channeling that into whatever your sound is. I know everybody goes through that, whether it’s really respected artists that have ten albums.
L: That was really the hardest thing, for me, to finish my first EP, and actually just until this most recent one. Not to say that you’re doing something so new—”you” being anyone, ever—but if you don’t have a context for what you’re doing, it’s really hard to figure out how to get that message across. Like, “There’s nothing that sounds like this, I know what I want it to sound like, but I have no way of copying a certain pattern or talking to people.” I feel like you had way better context than I did for mine, because until very recently, I didn’t feel like what I was doing made any sense to anyone else.
R: Was that like a week ago? [laughs]
L: It was three weeks ago [laughs].
Can you talk about J’Kerian’s development musically, like how he just described yours?
R: I think it’s similar in that for his first EP, it’s really good, but you can almost hear what he was listening to at the time, or his influences. You’re just figuring stuff out, you want to be the people you admire. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that. You have these kinds of artists that act like they’re the epitome of originality and every idea that they had God gave it to them when they were in front of FruityLoops, don’t give credit to anyone. I give credit to all my influences. J’Kerian was heavy on that as well. And I just feel like it’s almost like pulling back: when you’re new, you want to put everything into one song, and you want to put ten ideas into one song and into one EP. So I can see what he’s doing with ideas—really taking one thing, working with it, and making it the best it can be. I think he’s definitely finding his own sound as an artist. You need people along the way, not an executive producer or anything, you need people to reassure you.
L: You were a really big reason I finished this EP at all [laughs]. It was basically you and Lamin [Fofana, at Sci-Fi & Fantasy] giving me a deadline; that’s the only reason it happened.
What about the similarities that you guys have?
L: As far as what people will say, probably none. But I think being an American and into club music has been the strongest connection. One of the things that’s the most obvious to me since being here is that Europeans don’t understand that there is zero context for weird club music [in America]. If you’re going to the gay club, you’ll hear really shitty house remixes of everything. If you’re going to the other club, it’s just Top 40. In Austin, it’s a little bit different because you’ll get house. But being an American, there aren’t many clubs to begin with, and there’s usually not a specific kind of music that you’ll hear in a club. You’re hearing the same thing that you heard on the way to the club when you get inside the club. Probably the same playlist. There wasn’t a strong musical influence that we share, it was this American-ness, being in Texas and not being able to drink past two, having to go straight home because there’s nothing else to do.
R: That’s an interesting point, because I almost feel like a similarity could be the alienation, as people, as well. Because there is an American mentality of the way you’re supposed to be and we’re both kind of weird. We did have similarities in that way, because when you feel like you’re not accepted, you retreat into your own world and you make your music that world. I feel like another similarity is that our music is described in that way, as well.
L: That’s true. I want to say that I’ve never NOT seen it described as ‘alien’. Either of us. Which is interesting. I know it’s partially a good hype word at the time. It’s good to be called alien, that’s what people want to hear now.
I really like the symmetry of your careers: you’re both from Texas, you found each other through a different kind of music which is outside of the norm of what people are listening to there. And now you’re both starting to get a little bit of recognition outside of your hometown, or your own social circle. It must be nice to share that with each other.
L: It feels good. It’s been funny, just seeing his progression, I never didn’t expect this to happen. Just the fact that people are noticing, period, and especially close to me. It feels good, but I can’t really say why. Obviously, we’re close and we appreciate just seeing each other being successful, but the fact that it’s at the same time…
R: The timing is really weird. Me and J’Kerian, we’d be doing the same thing even if people weren’t paying attention—making music and sending it to each other. Just the fact that at the same time, people are noticing, even though it’s in little, different sub-scenes that it’s happening, it’s really good. I’m happy.
L: As far as the timing, maybe you don’t feel this way about your stuff, but I think we’re both finally starting to figure out what we sound like. I said it earlier, but we’re finally able to contextualize what we’re doing, whether or not it’s within some kind of scene or these certain associations. Not context in that sense, but making sense to us. To me, I finally understand my music and what I’ve been trying to do for the past ten years. Finally, I feel like Fallout sounds like me. And I feel like this record sounds like him. It’s him, it couldn’t be anyone else.
R: I agree.
And there’s some overlap there. Do you feel because you’ve been in constant communication throughout this time when you were making these records that listening to each other influenced your own processes?
L: For me, yeah. Especially after working with him. Just seeing how fast he works. But he will design a sound from scratch, whereas I kind of refuse to [laughs]. And so listening to him, I’ve learned how that makes sense, why people do that, and why you should do that. And this is the first time that I’m really using any melody at all, beyond two notes at a time. And I really enjoyed writing the melodies; I’d probably still be making Berlin-sounding [techno] stuff if I wasn’t listening to his stuff all along, which has increasingly got more and more melodic and less percussive. Like my music, I’ve just added more and more drums, and he’s just taken them all out [laughs].
R: That is pretty funny, because when I was listening to the masters of Fallout when he sent them to me, it was kinda like, “Okay, here’s some vocal samples; okay, here’s crunchy sounds, it sounds like machines falling apart. It’s definitely J’Kerian.” But then, all of a sudden, I’m like, “Is this a melody?!” I had to look at the mp3. He’s definitely influenced me on a few levels, I would say compositionally or sound choice-wise, turning ugly sounds into beautiful things. And then another level, just having the confidence to put out whatever you want. I recognize when people write certain tracks, some of them make some bold choices, and if I’m listening back to it, it might give me confidence to put out what I want to do. ~
Lotic’s Fallout is out now via Sci Fi & Fantasy. Rabit’s Sun Showers is out now via Diskotopia. In Berlin, Lotic plays Panorama Bar on October 30th with Nguzunguzu and Slava. Rabit plays Lotic’s club night Dissonance on November 8th at Chesters.