People tend to talk about clubs as sacred spaces for spiritual fulfillment, which, for some, they no doubt are. But dark, loud spaces that function primarily on the back of alcohol sales don’t serve the needs of all who need healing. That fact has become clear over the past couple of years for Rizzla, a New York-based producer and DJ, who built a career of blasting out adventurous beatwork in those sorts of spaces. Last week, they tweeted that they hadn’t been in the club in over a year, which seemed a bit of a surprising sentiment for someone who—as an orbiter of some of the most exciting sounds and scenes in underground music—has been responsible for providing so much of the energy that drives New York club music. It was especially surprising given that they were on the eve of the release of a debut full-length album for Fade to Mind called Adepta, which provides one of the most vibrant looks at the oft-chaotic sounds that soundtrack to be issued in recent memory.
Over email Rizzla offers some explanation, as well as offering a distinction that many people don’t often make when they talk about these spaces. “There is the club and ‘The Club,’” they wrote. “The former a temporary place you enact the ritual known as nightlife, the latter an idea that can provide a framework to challenge relationships to power, pleasure, liberation. To heal one’s body, the physical club can be the worst place to force yourself to ferment in, and by nature these spaces center the able and healthy.
Due to changes in both “health and ideology” over the past couple of years, they underwent “a slow process of detachment” from club spaces. Grappling with a cancer diagnosis and the ensuing chemotherapy changed the way they moved through the world. “Cancer, and any chronic illness, fundamentally changes your relationship to your body and what you put in it,” they write. “There was a slow process of painful realization that going out constantly was ultimately making me sicker.”
While there were also headier reasons to Rizzla’s break from going out—they also say they have been drawn to interfacing with power structures in a way “where aesthetics are not the end goal”—these practical considerations allowed the to focus more intensely on the actual music-making side of their work. “While performing has a necessary social & public-facing component, production doesn’t have to,” they say. “Reorienting my relationship to the making of music from a direct product of DJ sets in the club to a more speculative experiment in world building has been simultaneously painful and liberating.” They may not have had the ability to test out new tracks on giant soundsystems, but they were also free from having to think about their music in terms of the “utility” they offer DJs. They were unleashed to explore production in a new way.
As such, they channeled what a press release calls this period of “personal apocalypse” into Adepta. Drawing on “rural isolation, radical politics and gothic science fiction” as much as their history in dance music, the record is composed of 12 overwhelming pieces that layer dizzying synth melodies, chattering vocal samples, surreal raps, and other weaponized found sounds into these incredibly dense collages. Though Rizzla admits that part of the process of making the record was ultimately refining these tracks to draw them a little closer to the dancefloor, tracks like “Inquisition” bubble over and out of the gridlike arrangements that club music tends to favor, throwing sounds into every margin, scribbling into any blank space
The focus is as much on the way all of these piese mesh texturally, and the overall atmosphere they evoke—largely one of bleakness and chaos—than on the emotional effects of any specific element. “Everything can be an instrument in a [Digital Audio Workstation], and all sorts of sources were used for textural elements on this record; acapellas, youtube videos, sermons, field recordings,” they say. “For me, the texture is more exciting than the topline, the intro to a song sometimes more revealing than the drop as to the character of the producer.”
So, as all this suggests, Adepta is a heavy record, suffused with the world-ending energy that informed it, and the pain and freedom of being away from a space that was once home. But there is a sense of regrowth too, the natural process of greenery poking up through the ash once the fires subside. There’s this sense of centeredness in tracks like “Test Man,” pounding with piston-like locomotion, in apparent rebuke of the swampy chaos that surrounds them. It’s part of the inherent optimism in dance music’s reliable rhythms. The beat comes back, you keep moving forward. Rizzla explains this part obliquely, saying that the record was a conscious document of their emotional states over the last few years. “Some tracks were started before chemotherapy, some during, some after,” They say. “The emotional and physical states I was in during this process has a direct impact on their sound, their mood, their intention.”
What I could be, I guess, is that freedom, the unrestrainedness that comes when you find yourself in an impossible scenario, with no choice but to do things differently. In a few weeks, partly to celebrate this record and partly to celebrate seven years of Fade to Mind, Rizzla will DJ again, a fact they expressed some ambivalence about on Twitter. But if they approach this return anything like Adepta, it has the potential to be something special—the sound of a rebirth that they didn’t ask for, the rare ability to begin anew.
Listen to Adepta up above in advance of its release on Fade to Mind next Friday, July 6.