Pop Marketing with Club Producer Lotic

How to Get Political, At Any BPM

  • Photography: Matt Lambert
  • Text: Thea Ballard

“I don’t know what the kids are doing!”

Lotic, the producer born J’Kerian Morgan, often delivers an idea or observation in a self-effacing drawl, punctuated with hyperbole. It’s a habit of speech that injects levity into the conversation, and crystallizes exactly what’s being said: while you’re laughing—perhaps a little hysterically, because Lotic is very funny—their point gets locked into your consciousness. They’re explaining to me how their relationship to nightclubs has changed, and the relatable sensation of feeling old on a now-rare visit to a Berlin club. “I don’t really go out anymore unless I’m getting paid,” they say, barely joking. “Club trends happen so fast. I feel like I missed two generations by now.”

It may be surprising to hear such a sentiment from a producer and DJ who, alongside peers like Total Freedom and Leonce, not to mention their local affiliates from the club night and label JANUS, is a key architect of one of the defining aesthetics of 2010s dance music. Their notoriously genre-agnostic sets were game-changing, frenetic weavings of Jersey club, bounce, and pop with otherworldly sonic interjections that seemed to corrode the boundaries between tracks. In moments, it was as if Lotic had fully rewritten that Beyoncé song from scratch—reverently, of course. In the years since, with club trends mutating and whirring by, their work as a producer has steadily become too expansive and unruly to be contained to just the dance floor.

When I first speak with Lotic over the phone, they’ve just released Power, their first full-length album, which they feted with a show at MONOM in Berlin. Power is a crisply formed articulation of a sound that, for all its familiar traces, is on the whole Lotic’s alone, poised to forge its own path between the various silos—the club, the theater, the gallery, etc – with which it intersects. The narrative around the album is one of self-determination: the record was made over a tumultuous two-year period in which Lotic struggled with depression, a breakup, and homelessness. It’s a story of an artist’s journey within themselves, and the music itself veers between hard and soft, comfortably flexing its jagged, angry edges, but ultimately settling in a resolutely vulnerable place. Lotic lends their own voice to mix for the first time, injected as a defiant hiss or a spectral texture. Their songwriting process was, as it always has been, an intuitive solo venture, each track beginning with what they call “a seed”—a rhythm, a hook, a word—and extending out from there. “I get obsessed with one idea,” they explain, “and I kind of try to figure out how it can live.”

With Power, the artist harnesses the affective muscle that’s always structured their productions and DJ sets, and uses it to say something, as clearly as possible. “I never really thought about my work in [terms of communication] before this record,” Lotic tells me. “But there ended up being a need to communicate certain ideas and feelings.” Their vocals were crucial to that process of articulation. The lead single “Hunted,” for example, revolves around an incisive refrain: “Brown skin, masculine frame, head’s a target/Actin’ real feminine, make ‘em vomit.”

Though Lotic is among the artists who have been roped into think-piece narratives around club utopianism and the political potential of dance music, they describe a failure in the reception of abstract music constructed with real ideals in mind: “With electronic music that doesn’t have vocals, you have to talk about those things afterwards. Maybe you can put it in the song title or something like that, but a lot of times it comes off as a joke, or the listener isn’t actively thinking about that while they’re listening to the music.” When I note that extrapolating a message from music after the fact is often left up to the critics, they respond, simply, “I want to control my narrative.”

Still, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Lotic is a student of two key forms whose architecture is affect. First, the soundtrack: they’re trained in scoring for film, which surfaces in their intricate arrangements. Lotic’s take on the cinematic is nonlinear, creating new containers for the emotions articulated in their music. The second form is pop music: as much as they’re known as “this serious, like, ‘sound artist,’ or whatever”—“dark, disturbed…,” they add, laughing—pop is a major influence for them. Lotic studied music theory as an undergraduate, and cites pop’s effectiveness as a tool for engagement: “It’s good marketing,” they note, “and it’s successful because that’s what it’s supposed to be.” This is especially true when a pop song combines a host of imperatives—take M.I.A.’s 2010 Maya, for example. “When I heard it I was like, what? This bitch is getting political, at this bpm? I didn’t know you could do that, and be in charge.” Lotic said they were going to listen to the album—one of their favorites—once we got off the phone, so I did, too. It was thrilling, its off-the-wall pacing and vibrant yet acerbic mood reminiscent of Lotic’s own musical personality.

I wonder aloud whether pop is a form that skews “feminine”—and ask if that might be linked to Lotic’s embrace of femininity, both in this record and in their life. “Being raised by women, and all of my musical heroes being women,” they reply, “I really wanted to honor femininity in general, and I feel a lot of pride for it. But I also want to acknowledge that I found my strength by living in that more and more every day.” When Lotic first arrived in Berlin from the suburbs of Houston, they saturated themselves in queer culture for the first time. Before long they realized, “For as much credit as the Berlin gay scene gets, it’s really not very queer very often.” “It’s pretty high-key misogynistic,” they add, “and I’m just not here for it.” Exploring alternatives became a starting point for Lotic to come into themselves, beginning with reorienting their relationship to desire. “I was like, I don’t need to be wanted by these people, or wanted at all,” they explain. “I can be the one that’s wanting, so let me be the best version of me.”

Thus began a process of deliberate, self-loving transformation that led to the Lotic of the present. Often in a cascading bleach-blonde wig and bodysuits, lids and nails in glistening metallics, Lotic poses in Instagram and press photos with their head thrown back, eyes cast down, a little dreamy and a lot regal. “Beauty is expensive,” they point out. “It took me some time before I could get foundation and a good wig.” But their wardrobe has been growing alongside the artist’s relationship to the social, cultural, and sexual economies their contents represent. “Even women will say, ‘She wears so much makeup, she must hate herself, she must want to be wanted.’ Like, no, she wants to feel pretty, okay? It doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else.” Lotic’s also a natural performer who has grown a sense of self despite —not in imitation of—their surroundings: Berlin’s look remains predominantly white and masculine, even at its fringes. And Lotic is notably, even defiantly, comfortable with being seen. (As they exclaim during a conversation about unimaginative audiovisual DJ sets: “Um, I am the visual, bitch!”)

Lotic just completed a Power tour, and during our conversation they hint at possible upcoming dance and film-adjacent projects, too. But particularly exciting is the prospect of a next chapter of music. “I’m basically going to redo [Power], in a sense, the way that I would have done it if I had some stability,” they say. “A fun, carefree record.” Lotic recently took up voice lessons again, for the first time since college – where their vocal coach had them singing “all these old Italian songs.” The new teacher is more accommodating. “She only wants me to be a better version of me,” they tell me. Lotic is a performer, a communicator, and a person who favors healthy relationships, and their expressions of self contain a sense of urgency that can only exist in relation to others. Not to mention a studied persistence: “Even though it’s attached to you, and we think we know our voices really well,” says Lotic, “if you don’t [use] it every day, you just kind of lose it.”

Thea Ballard is a writer, editor, and PhD student based in Durham, NC.

  • Photography: Matt Lambert
  • Photography Assistant: Nicolas Schwaiger
  • Hair and Makeup: Daniel Sallstrom
  • Text: Thea Ballard