Soft contours and loose grooves.
More and more DJs are using their music as a platform for defending their values. This generational awakening is a defining feature of electronic music in 2019. But for Russell E.L. Butler, music isn't just a platform for the political. It's the stuff of politics. It's a world-building project in itself, a way of manifesting the utopia you believe in—or it least it can be, when done right. More than just a vehicle for a message, music can actually carve out "an ideal space for community," Butler once said, "a space to dream... and feel what freedom and transcendence would be like." The title of their album last year, The Home I'd Build For Myself And All My Friends, captured this notion, that music can foster safety and intimacy.
On The Home I'd Build..., Butler explored a texture-centric modular techno sound, with defiantly weird rhythms and an improvisational feel. They turned the intensity up a couple notches with Petty, a club-focused EP of rowdy drum tracks. Their 12-inch last month for Fixed Rhythms, 606 Trax, was even more skeletal, with literally no melodic element to speak of. On their podcast for RA, ahead of a performance at RA's twenty four/seven party at Nowadays in New York this weekend, they reveal another side of their sound: what they might play at an easy-going daytime BBQ "on a porch somewhere," Butler said. "Bellies are full, but excitement for the evening is starting to build." It's full of soft contours and loose grooves, moving from dubby house cuts to sweet R&B and ethereal techno, with decisive mixes that makes the genre jumps feel natural. There's an approachable energy to it, like they're inviting you to come party with them and their friends.
What have you been up to recently?
It's Tuesday morning on July 2nd and I just had a really cute tour that stopped in Toronto at Bambi's and Ithaca for Microtones. They were both really special; the former was the first time Ciel and I got to play back-to-back, so it was a dream. We're really good friends and that definitely came thru in the tunes we shared. Also got to eat momos and play hella Mario Kart 8. Microtones was at a historic Black Elk's Lodge (Forest City Lodge 180) and proceeds from the show benefited the Traditional Center For Indigenous Knowledge And Healing. The party began with a land acknowledgement ceremony and featured a diverse array of artists and genres. I really love playing in communities like this because everyone is so caring, present and intentional. North America is littered with emerging special communities like this.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I lived in Prague from the end of February to mid-May of this year, where I was an artist-in-residence at the Synthesizer Library there. I made some great friends while there, like Mary who runs the library and Oliver Torr who helps run the XYZ Project and Noise Kitchen and works at this great club called Ankali. He introduced me to San and a few others who run the club and they were gracious enough to let me record this mix in their booth one Tuesday afternoon. It was recorded on two CDJ-2000NXS2s and an Allen & Heath Xone 92.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I recorded the mix at the very beginning of April. Spring had not quite sprung and so there was a bit of a chill in the air most days. On this day though, it was quite warm, so I felt that I should make a mix for the season that it would be coming out in summer. I love summer, especially in humid places. I tried to imagine a daytime BBQ out on a porch somewhere. Everyone is a little drunk from the sun and whatever else. Bellies are full, but excitement for the evening is starting to build. The sun is just starting to set and someone slaps this on. It has a consistent, humid ambience throughout, with some moments that remind you why life is so special and precious. It is my version of the backyard summer mixtape. Thick, black, bangin, intellectual and sexy as hell.
It's been a year and a half since our feature on the Bay Area scene. What are your thoughts looking back on that?
I'm in a very interesting spot where I am memorializing my time here. I have given this place a lot and it has given me even more, but it is starting to wear on me in certain ways. I'm in a unique position where I'm still young enough to do anything and try anything in this life, while human civilization still exists in this way, so I hope to enjoy some of those waning years and try to make this whole DJ/art thing really pop off. I'd like to continue to create and expand my community in other places. I hit a bit of a professional and personal ceiling in the Bay and feel that I have to move on to grow, so I'm planning a move to the East Coast of the US in September. I truly love this scene and the people in it—it's just my time to move on. Many amazing artists remain and I hope that these folks will have something go in our favor soon, cuz the last few years have been rough.
With your last album, you set out to create "an idealistic space for the community, a space to dream in this frantic, late capitalist system." In what ways do you think instrumental electronic music can carry a message like this?
A primary draw of this music, for me, is the way in which it brings people together. It can lay the bedrock for introspection and self-discovery, if executed with a certain care and perspective. This deep connection with the spiritual self can ideally lead to a sense of grounding. I hope that this state of being can contribute positively to a person's path through this life as they are torn in many different directions by a multitude of struggles.
I also feel that I am connected to a black tradition of music sharing and creation that seeks to document these experiences of life for the benefit of our ancestors, to heal their struggles, our contemporaries, so that we don't feel so alone, and our descendants, so that things can hopefully be a bit easier for them.
What are you up to next?
I'm in the process of packing my stuff and slowly making my way through my Oakland/SF bucket list. I just had a record come out on Oklahoma City label Fixed Rhythms. I have more tour dates coming up as well that I am especially excited about, including another European tour in September and October ;-), along with the Europe/Paris debut of my live A/V project, BRIC, with long-time collaborator Ian Colon. See the list of dates below.
July 25 - Queer Showga, Oakland Museum of California
July 27 - RA twenty four/seven, Nowadays, NYC
July 28 - Smangtasia, Stone Tavern Farm, NY
August 15-18 - Honcho Campout
August 30 - Into The Woods, LA