Texas-born, Berlin-based electronic musician finds her voice
Lotic looks at ease. When we talk about Zoom at the end of August, she is lounging on a sofa in her Berlin apartment, her smiling face resting on her perfectly manicured hand. As we discuss her production techniques, expatriation from Texas, and touring in the midst of a pandemic, she gesticulates wildly, widens her eyes when excited, and punctuates her most entertaining stories with a thunderous laugh.
But there is nothing comfortable about the frantic and emotional electronic music that J’Kerian Morgan makes under the name Lotic. About to release his second feature, The water, (the title is a nod to the literal definition of lotic, relating to organisms inhabiting freshwater) the artist was hailed for her distinctive sound, one that The Guardian called “gnarled and powerful electronica”.
When Lotic boarded her flight from Texas the day after graduating from UT in 2012, she believed she would be free from any struggle. She was moving to Berlin, a city known for its history of gay culture and electronic music. But she quickly learned that life as an artist can be difficult anywhere; and that being transgender and black presents unique challenges around the world. “Utopia does not exist,” she said, lying down and smiling. “It became very clear to me.”
In 2017 Lotic, BS ’12, was recording their first album, Power, for the recent pre-electronic label Tri Angle, when she heard a knock on his door. The person on the other end of the phone informed her that the tenant she was subletting from had not paid the rent. For months, she slept on friends’ couches as she struggled to piece together what would become her critically acclaimed debut feature, an album the music site Fork says, âtiptoes the line between exuberance and terror.â Shortly before the record’s release, on her 29th birthday, Lotic announced on Facebook that she would no longer use male pronouns .
âThis record was very, very difficult to finish,â Lotic says. “I just felt like everything was slipping through my fingers.”
Lotic’s musical career began across the world, in Houston, Texas, when she was around 10 years old. Watching her middle school marching band at a basketball rally, she was overwhelmed with inspiration as woods and horns enveloped the halls.
âThey were so happy and there was so much energy. I was just like, ‘I want this. I want to give that to people, âshe said. “The feeling I got seeing that was like, this is what I want to do.”
She wanted to be a drummer, but took up alto saxophone, which she hated. Still, she felt compelled to make music. She graduated from high school in 2007 and enrolled at UT, where she spent two years as a major in film production in the Radio-Television-Film department and two years as a major in film studies. She says the film studies part was more interesting because she didn’t care about the production aspects of splicing the film; she prefers to be the person who composes the music of the images. Outside of the classroom, this is exactly what she experienced.
âI thought I was going to be kind of a movie composer, but I was also in Austin, Texas,â she says. “Then I thought I was going to be, you know, like one of those indie pop stars on Pitchfork and I got a loop pedal.”
Lotic was a DJ at local clubs and bars in Austin and began experimenting with DJ Logic production software, recontextualizing some of his favorite songs. This led her to the Experimental and electronic music studios at UT, a place where she could cultivate her nascent sound – in dance music theory, but darker and more frenetic than anything other DJs were playing.
“I have been doing this for the past two years [in Austin], and I was like, I’m a musician, âLotic says. “This is what I want to do.”
She released a mixtape in 2011, More than friends, which has shown its ability to synthesize a minimalist production with complex rhythms and dark, textured electronic sounds. Coming out of town in 2012, she was working and releasing a variety of DJ mixes that hovered between club Baltimore, trap, hip hop, and her own idiosyncratic brand of experimental electronic music.
In 2014, already installed in Berlin, Lotic released Damsel in distress, a mixtape that caught the attention of the electronic music world, especially its remix of BeyoncÃ©’s “Drunk in Love”. Lotic was praised for flipping the top of her childhood hero’s shiny card over his head, exposing the filthy belly. It was a love-hate letter to her hometown and current city, and an acknowledgment of the complicated relationship she has with the two. She had to leave Texas – âI don’t think I would have made the transition if I was in Texas,â she says – but she always struggled to find herself in Germany.
âI’ll never feel at home anywhere, but I’ll take all this information with me wherever I go,â she says.
The mixtape caught the attention of BjÃ¶rk, who asked Lotic to remix a track and open for the longtime experimental pop singer in Berlin.
âI play my stuff in front of 10,000 people, so honestly I would say I wasn’t prepared for that mentally,â she says. âI did my best musicallyâ¦ [BjÃ¶rk] was excited, so that’s all I had to do. Accomplished job. It opened up a lot of doors, but I’m such a perfectionist and such a queen of rehearsals that I tell myself, I wasn’t ready. No amount of gassing is going to change my opinion on this.
Popular as she was in the underground, Lotic needed to find his voice.
The first video for The water, ” Come to me “ shows Lotic contorting near a coral reef, shimmering in hypercolor purple and gold, tendrils emanating from all over his body. Directed by fellow Berliner Matt Lambert, it’s a psychedelic and personal take on Lotic. But it is also a political declaration. â1.8 million Africans died in the Middle Passage; their bodies were dumped in the Atlantic, âLotic wrote in a statement accompanying the video. âIf their cells had been able to adapt to this new ecosystem, thrive and multiply, a new culture and glorious history might have been possible. “
Lotic and Lambert have been close collaborators since at least 2013 – he shot visuals of Lotic for Stunned magazine, she marked her short film MEAT– and Lambert says Lotic’s musical growth is apparent.
âOver the years, I feel like the music has become a lot more emotional, lyrical and personal,â he wrote in an email. “More voice and storytelling have become much more important.
At UT, in the Electronic Music Studios program, Lotic worked on concrete music projects, a form in which the creator manipulates organic sounds to create collage-like compositions. Its exit before The water uses some of these elements, but until now she hadn’t really used her voice as an instrument.
“I did a lot of really terrible vocal sketches even then. [at UT], but for the first two outings, I didn’t do any vocals, not my own voice anyway, âshe says. Power is mostly instrumental, as she wasn’t completely comfortable with her vocals yet, and, because she says she’s a perfectionist, she thought, no, she’s not ready yet. No, you can’t hear it yet.
“I thought I was going to be like the fourth member of Destiny’s Child for all of my childhood,” she said, smiling but not joking. “So the vision has always been to be a pop star in quotes.”
Before registration The water, Lotic worked with a vocal coach for almost two years to strengthen his voice and learn breathing techniques. Although her voice has appeared in earlier versions, never before has she made such a direct statement as herself, in her own words.
On “Always You”, her voice floats among the harps and a repetitive note that sounds like a sweet alarm. It is announcing to the listener that it is time to wake up, that she has arrived. That while an artist may never be done shaping herself, it’s Lotic in his fullest form.
Credit: Matt Lambert, Philipp Primus