The simplest party (ritual) often carries with it the pretense of a highly-specified lexicon that requires the participant to be in the know. Often these rituals (parties) are designed to exclude, and a privileged class is promoted through a discourse in fashion and tastemaking — from a salon of philosophies to a symposium of Greek pederasts. Janus, a Berlin label and club night soundtracked by electronic musicians Lotic, M.E.S.H., and KaBlam, began as a party but with a much different goal in mind: to subvert notions of dominance by zeroing in on a definition of “cool” aligned with that which is most radical and perhaps that which is most “free.” Consider New York City’s GHE20G0TH1K, a regular event hosted by Venus X that has promoted a freedom of expression within queer/alternative/youth culture and high fashion alike. The event has consistently advocated an independent sense of style and sound that is a distinct shift away from a culture of exclusion that has promoted ideology and dogma in dance music. Such freedom has embraced content that disintegrates what “sub-genre” you’re working in (is it post-dubstep, 2-step, techno?) in favor of an ethics of open-sourcing and promoting the underrepresented. Similarly, Janus, as an event and as a label, is making aesthetic choices that demonstrate how the ethics of a localized event can translate beautifully into distinct composition.
Enter Lotic’s “Damsel in Distress,” a mix that embodies this percolating belief system of disintegrating existing structures. The primary “sound” is a thick gauze of brilliant noise — a clanking, buzzing chorus of metallic aggression that evokes a pervasive tension throughout. Opening piece “Chunk” carries with it many of the sonic staples found in “high-dance” music: broken glass, wily animal sounds, fragmented rhythmic structures; however, there’s a distinctly continental darkness going on here, a whirling futurist high-end that’s as much reminiscent of the hypnotism of Shackleton as it is of NYC’s freewheeling DJs or the UK bass scene. From the get-go, Lotic’s primary tactic is the use of cultural and sonic counterpoint; in “Hummingbird,” a straight-up trap sub and snare are coupled with the oppressive ascension and repetition of echoing bird-sounds, and a Latin-like calypso rhythm rises out of a noisy tumult. These pairings are sharp and effective; it’s a type of violence that simultaneously locks on to both the physicality of the sounds themselves and to cultural reference.
This entire exposition undoubtedly serves as setup for the mix’s flagship moment, the “Drunk In Love” remix, Queen Beyoncé’s single that has been remixed an infinite number of times since her album dropped six months ago. Lotic’s rendition, titled “Faded (How The Hell…?) feat. The Queen, barking stans and CBS censors,” is a heavy, gothic journey that flips Bey’s blissed-out vocals over to visualize their underbelly, the rawness of what she’s actually saying. The sexuality of the original track deepens to include a wider range of emotionalism — pissed-off, jealous feelings over a horror-movie-level musical undertow. The intensity of the track’s intro softens into a more sentimental atmosphere, as an introspective guitar progression drops during the big “surfboard” moment, one of the mix’s few “light” moments. Frankly, it’s an emotional roller coaster that plays with how huge and convincing the original is, rendering it more inclusive to the rough content subconsciously evident within “Drunk In Love.”
The unabashed inclusion of the played-out Beyoncé track demonstrates a rekindled “freedom” in electronic music that focuses on “cultural craftsmanship” at large. Sound is important, but perhaps more so is the right memetic drop, to the point where even a filthy, wobbly dub-step moment is fair game given the proper framing. This is made perfectly clear in Total Freedom’s simultaneously freewheeling and razor-sharp mix “Wrong Choice Mixfile For Versus Tokyo,” a work of art that masterfully drops home runs like Rihanna and Justin Bieber next to Jam City and Steve Reich. In fact, Total Freedom explored an equally terrifying remix of Beyoncé’s “Angel” in his mix for Hood By Air during Fashion Week 2014, a mix confrontationally titled “10,000 Screaming Faggots.” Like Lotic and Janus as a whole, Total Freedom expresses a message of acceptance and radical freedom that critiques contemporary culture while forming an ideology all its own. If anything, the ethics is the relational model itself, a system of picking up cues and progressing discourse through the free experimentation with sounds of “questionable” cultural meaning. Obviously this may have something to do with the internet; as TMTer Matthew Phillips recently described, the virtualization of the dance floor is unifying the physical, embodied club with a pan-geographical mental attitude.
But, for Lotic, this “mindset” isn’t just globally relevant — it’s localized in the Janus and GHE20G0TH1K events, and within the specific, individual histories of any under-represented culture. Thus, I choose to read the ferocity of the mix — from the haunting Beyoncé and Missy drops, to the brutality of the sounds themselves — as intentionally “violent” by identifying with the emotional necessity of under-representation. The noisiness of the record isn’t a “joke,” and the cultural counterpoint happening in the track titles (“a shy Björk howling in the distance, feat. the historic Buddah vs. Sugur skirmish”) is secondary to the overwhelming intensity of the mix’s last seven minutes during “Ascension” and “Suspension.” All-in-all, “Damsel in Distress” isn’t fucking around, and every reference adds to its focused severity. The dark palette is simultaneously aesthetic and political — as Lotic stated in an interview with The FADER, “the notion that music can be apolitical is in and of itself privileged.” As a result, Lotic’s simultaneously violent club-music is a means of liberating the medium from the vanilla complacency of dominant EDM.
Lotic’s project is the ownership of darkness, an ownership of alternative histories underneath the mainstream elements of the club, and by confidently using the loaded EDM genre as a tag on Soundcloud, he’s queering it. Similar to his take on “Drunk In Love,” Lotic is intent on exposing what’s underneath a glossy exterior, to reveal a more complete, brutal, honest picture of club life and dance music. It’s a strategy aimed at disintegrating existing structures and empowering queer, youth, and under-represented cultures. Even the cover of the mix, designed by M.E.S.H., contains a slogan “hype-hate-copy” overlaid on a stock recycling diagram. Yet, in an interview with Berlin culture magazine 032c, Lotic insists that the diagram “…starts with hate.” If that’s the case, then “Damsel In Distress” is a response to hate, a treatise that flexes an ideology of freedom to outline the full emotional spectrum of the club, and to breathe a new political imperative into dance music.