Lotic grew up in Houston, Texas, studying music before moving permanently to Berlin with his boyfriend in 2012. It’s a journey many electronic musicians make, with the German capital being a much more fertile ground both for inspiration and experimentation than the more immediate, instant gratification culture of North American dance music scene. After several months, J’Kerian Morgan started the regular clubnight Janus as a response to the city’s dominant and overwhelming techno scene, using the dancefloor as a stimulant for his brooding, menacing take on R&B.
‘Heterocetera’ is Morgan’s first Release on Tri Angle Records, sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Evian Christ and oOoOO at a label moving further towards the darker corners of electronic music. And these kinds of sharp, abrasive beats lend themselves naturally to hip-hop. I mean, if you look at recent collaborations like Hudson Mohawke and Kanye, Rustie and Danny Brown, as well as label mate Clams Casino’s three instrumental mixtapes, it’s clear that this kind of heavy handed, low bpm production works well with an aggressive, emotionally charged rap vocal over the top. With this in mind, EPs like this can sometimes be in danger of sounding like a glorified beat tape, incapable of commanding your full attention because it feels incomplete.
Lotic avoids this on ‘Heterecetera’ by not sticking to any sort of form, adding these small, but crucial idiosyncrasies that act as valuable checkpoints across the EP. On opener ‘Suspension’, these rolling 4/4 ticks are punctuated by a harsh, industrial crash, almost like an old, rusty metal door being forced closed. There’s a sharp, high pitched synth drone crying above throughout, gradually rising and sounding more and more anxious until it’s almost unlistenable. Similarly on the title track, some otherwise conventional synth and percussion movement plays second string to a frantic sample from Masters At Work’s The Ha Dance, swirling around like thousands of flies trapped inside a jar. On the slower, brooding ‘Phlegm’ the work is done at the deeper end, with a robust kick drum clearing the way for some short, intense percussive interjections. These dark, specific motifs all feel very considered and deliberate, providing instant and memorable signposts for these songs that allow them to standalone in their own right. It’s clear that Morgan had a good idea of how these songs were going to sound before he stepped into the studio, and despite the uniformity in terms of textures and mood, his skill as a producer and as a songwriter is in his ability to look at every song as a separate idea, making ‘Heterocetera’ feel like a fully formed, cohesive body of work.
Emotionally, this kind of electronic music can often operate within quite tight parameters. Morgan approaches his productions in the more traditional sense, though, with songs that aim to provoke deeper and more specific emotional reactions and attachments. Throughout the EP he manages to create and then sustain a narrative by adding an unswerving sentimentality to the technical mastery. There’s a moment on ‘Stay’ where a fragile, ethereal female vocal is introduced above another sprawling, metallic beat. It almost sounds too clean, or too angelic, like one of those default sounds you get on those cheap keyboards in college. It’s a jarring moment of vulnerability, especially in the context of these very clinical and confident soundscapes. After moving to Berlin, J’Kerian Morgan experienced an almost debilitating loneliness and anxiety, as the unfamiliarity of a new country threatened to detach him from his creativity and sense of self. “It was very tough. I was depressed for six months straight, basically”, he told Pitchfork last month. You can absolutely feel this sense of loneliness and alienation throughout the EP, which in turn makes it confessional, like a privileged, moving window into Morgan’s own emotional space.
Songwriting seems like an intense, all-encompassing process for Morgan, as he channels all the noise that makes up his world into these tight and clinical productions. It’s an ambitious approach to being a producer, and it’s exciting to see what form it will take within the wider boundaries of a full length album. For now though, even at five tracks, ‘Heterocetera’ is a strong, visceral electronic record that maintains its ambition and intensity from beginning to end.