“No Rules Whatsoever”: An Interview With Lotic

Before he plays Corsica Studios tomorrow night alongside Jam City, Total Freedom and others, Lotic talks to Seb Wheeler about Heterocetera, his intimate new EP for Tri Angle, and laying waste to sexless mainstream club culture with the Janus collective

Photograph courtesy of Elias Johansson

When Lotic DJs, he makes graceful yet suggestive movements, guiding his body across the jagged, unpredictable contours of the club music he plays out. He leads the dance. He encourages his audience into a zone where mechanical noise pulsates with sexual energy.

The 25-year-old does it on record, too. Hit last year’s Damsel In Distress mixtape and you’ll be led into a searing darkness that’s utterly seductive. And 2013’s Fallout EP sounds like a fine silk negligee strewn across newly smashed glass.

This delicious combination of aggression and sensuality is formed from a definite, defiant sound palette, one that’s influenced by Kingdom and the Fade To Mind camp, most notably Total Freedom, whose fierce, libidinal, pop-scorched style is a basic blueprint for what Lotic is doing right now. He also cites Venus X and her GHE20G0TH1K party and during a DJ set will play tracks by his peers, other artists who are intent on pulverising preconceived notions of dance music such as Arca, MikeQ, Nguzunguzu, Lexxi and Why Be.

Originally from Houston, Texas, Lotic’s been living in Berlin for the past few years, a city that’s allowed him to focus on making music and DJ out regularly. It’s there that he helped start Janus, a label/party/collective with an uncompromising attitude toward club music that also counts fellow expats/antagonists M.E.S.H. and KABLAM. The crew threw regular parties at Chesters in Kreuzberg, creating a space where they were free to play as they wished and which was instrumental in allowing Lotic to develop his intuitive, free-form DJ style. His equally no-rules Damsel mixtape was also Janus’ first release and while the monthly club night no longer exists, the project continues to release music and has taken to hosting showcases at places like Berghain, Corsica Studios and Unsound festival.

Lotic’s first EP for Tri Angle has just been released this week. A five-tracker called Heterocetera, it written last summer during a period of intense personal turmoil. "There was a lot of darkness. It was really tough," Lotic says. "I was really unsure about the future." The making of Heterocetera was a therapeutic process for him and he’s produced his most physical, charged yet deeply personal work yet.

This EP seems a lot more intimate than your previous releases.

Lotic: I didn’t have a diary, I just opened Ableton and I poured everything in that way. It’s warmer and more emotional than anything else I’ve made.

Did you mean it to come out that way?

L: I didn’t realise until I finished. There were so many tracks that I was working on. Some didn’t work, others weren’t finished and it came down to five [on the EP] and I was like, ‘These are the five best tracks I’ve ever written in my life!’ I’m really proud of them.

It’s always my goal to be more mature-sounding, more convincing, but also more experimental, and more challenging for myself. If it’s not a little bit harder every time I make a new track, then I’m being lazy.

What’s the best situation in which to listen to this record?

L: In a crowded room with the door locked and the lights turned off. But that probably won’t happen too often, will it?

Why did you call it Heterocetera?

L: I knew I was going to have a bigger audience with this record being on Tri Angle and it was important for me to not be afraid of that, to not shy away from what I had been doing before, which was making confrontational music with really gay [song] titles. I always put my identity at the forefront of my music.

I read this word ‘heterocetera’ in an Audre Lorde essay and I walked away with it in the back of my head. It’s like, ‘Whatever straight white person, I don’t wanna hear it!’ When it came to putting the release together, that was the perfect title. It says everything I need to say. It’s clear, it’s not a code word.

You’ve said before that Kingdom and Venus X have had a big influence on your music.

L: I’m really happy that I’m able to call these people friends. I feel blessed and eternally grateful to the universe for aligning me with them, it’s the only way that I’m able to do this now.

How do you mean?

L: Venus and GHE20G0TH1K started this current moment of queer people of colour who are really weird [laughs] and who are bringing club culture back to its roots in a very serious way. [They’re playing] music that’s considered low or goofy but which is actually made by black people who don’t have expensive studios.

It seems like some of the craziest club music is being made by gay people.

L: When you put us on the outside, then we have no choice. If you can’t get into the normal clubs then you’ll just create something else in your basement and do whatever you want. That’s the general ethos of being queer or a person of colour in the West, you’re always on the outside looking in. It’s better to not bother looking in; it’s better to look for the people that look like you and do something with them, create something new – the mainstream isn’t that special anyways.

Is that what you did with Janus, in a way?

L: It’s really important for us to put western Europe on to people like Marfox, who lives right in Lisbon but has [hardly] played in Berlin. People see his music as being from the ghetto, which it is, but that doesn’t mean it has no value. If anything, that makes it way more interesting.

Has Janus ending left a hole in Berlin nightlife?

L: People miss it! I miss it also. But it was time to stop. We made the statement that we needed to make: ‘Hey every promoter in Berlin, you need to do a better job!’ And it worked!

Do you plan your DJ sets?

L: No, I could never box myself in that way. My whole purpose of being a musician is to not follow the rules, so if I set rules for myself, I’ve already failed. I’ve tried to do it, but it only lasts three songs and then I’m like, ‘This is boring!’

During your Unsound set you were very obviously changing the tempo of tracks using the CDJ pitch control, which is quite an unorthodox thing to do.

L: I don’t do it that much either. But it was a festival and I was like, ‘I’m gonna go crazy because I never get to do this!’ It’s a thing I do privately all the time and I’ll do it at Janus, because that’s the only party where there are no rules whatsoever. And there’s so many things you can do with a CDJ, I kind of have to press every button.

When you play, it feels like you’re trying to mess with the notion of a linear DJ set.

L: I never wanted to be a DJ’s DJ. It’s not interesting or fun to me. Of course, a linear DJ set has its functions and it always sounds good in a general sense but I’m more interested in pushing the idea of the DJ as performer and really abusing the control you have over a space and crowd.

Going back to the CDJ: Pioneer added [the digital functions] for a reason! Someone should be using them! But that’s the place where I come from: if no one else is going to do it, then I will. It’s an ambitious and naïve thing, but that’s how I started: ‘Why isn’t anyone doing more?!’

You’re always trying to challenge and surprise your dancefloors. But it takes a certain amount of bravery to do that. Did you have to work on your confidence?

L: Oh no, I started that way [laughs].

I had a feeling you’d say that!

L: Sometimes you’re in a [club] space and you’re like, ‘This is it? I have to be here for how long? I have to spend how much money?’ As a DJ, you can change that. All I’m trying to do is bring some excitement back to these spaces; that’s what they were created for. But now everyone wants to go out and look cute and sip on their cocktails and take selfies. It’s like, ‘Get out!’ Let’s dance and have sex and take drugs and not tell anyone about it the next day! Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I’m really protective of these spaces and I can see the potential in them but they are rarely what they could be. There’ll be an expensive soundsystem, expensive CDJs, an expensive mixer, everyone in expensive clothes, but no one is doing anything interesting.

My favourite thing about your DJ sets and productions is that there are these harsh and nasty sounds going on but also this sexual energy underneath it all.

L: It’s just me projecting what I think the club should be about. It should be interesting to listen to and fun to dance to. But a lot of times it’s one or the other. Here in Berlin, there’s very functional dance music. You can’t dance with your boo to it, you know? You’re going to headbutt them! Give them concussion. It’s not sexy music at all. And then on the other hand, there’s top 40 R&B/hip-hop, which is probably sexy but you wouldn’t listen to it for a musical awakening. I come from both sides of the spectrum: I grew up listening to hip-hop and R&B then learned how to make a track by tapping a bowl with a fork. I’m trying to compress all of my experiences all of the time.

Heterocetera is out now on Tri Angle. Lotic plays Corsica Studios in London as part of an Earthly IV and Janus showcase tomorrow; for full details and tickets head here

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