The Texas producer and Björk collaborator takes us on a trip through the abstract sound world of his new album Les Fleurs Du Mal
When Texas-based producer Rabit – real name Eric Burton – first emerged in 2013, he was initially categorised as part of an emerging wave of producers drawing inspiration from instrumental grime music, but when he issued his debut album Communion two years later it was clear that his interests lay elsewhere. Released via experimental label Tri Angle, Communion was much harsher and harder than anything he’d done before, with apocalyptic tracks like “Pandemic” driven by deformed drums and machine-gun rhythms – and with his new album Les Fleurs Du Mal, Burton takes things into even more abstract territories.
Les Fleurs Du Mal is like Communion turned inward, with the brute force of that album stripped away and replaced with something equally unusual but far more uncanny. Ambient and drone collages, phantom percussion, and minimal electronic sketches offer an alternative outlook to the distorted dystopias of Communion, while a statement shared by Burton alongside the album shines a light on some of its literary, artistic, and occult influences. The album’s title, translating to ‘The Flowers of Evil’, is taken from French poet Charles Baudelaire, while Burton quotes transgressive and controversial photographer Joel-Peter Witkin and Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin in his statement.
The album sees Burton collaborate with musicians like Drew McDowall of cult industrial icons Coil and Montreal underground artist Cecilia. These follow a series of collaborations for the producer, from working with experimental musicians Chino Amobi and Elysia Crampton to co-producing the song “Loss” with Björk, taken from her new album Utopia. Following the release of both Les Fleurs Du Mal and Utopia, Rabit has put together our latest Dazed Mix, matching original material and edits to complement his album. We spoke to him to find out more about it.
When did you start working on the album? Was there a particular catalyst that kickstarted everything?
Rabit: I’ve been working on new material since Communion. I’m always working on experiments, making new sounds. Creating the sounds is just feeling it on a basic level, doing whatever sounds good, and is devoid of an emotional attachment. Then when I pick through the pieces and find how I can relate to the audio and how the statement can use those textures to get a point across, that’s when things begin to come together. So it took a long time to create all the new sound worlds, but once the concept came together, it went pretty quickly.
The catalyst... after Trump, Brexit, seeing the decay of morality and truth, seeing truth weaponised, the propaganda, chauvinism – I think art felt more important, more valuable to me then. The deceit of the Republican party – it’s nothing new, but it’s more amplified, more exposed. The greed was always in your face, but to see it in such an unapologetic way, it felt more vivid.
The people running this country right now are truly the lowest level human beings – monsters. It’s always been this way though. I wanted to make a work that had that level of decay.
You described your last album, Communion, as very drum-heavy, with your main intention being ‘to make something forceful in the most immediate way.’ This album swaps that sound for something less in-your-face. How did you end up going in that direction?
Rabit: It was a natural progression. After making tracks like ‘Straps’ and ‘Pandemic’, I felt there wasn’t much left to do in that arena. It’s like beating a dead horse. That album came out in 2015, but the music was made as far back as 2013. That’s five years ago. I feel we change so much as humans, but we’re punished as artists when our art changes with us. I don’t make fast food music.
Additionally, I always like a challenge. Electronic music – particularly the scenes I find myself in – they began to feel very one-note. This is a new note.
You co-produced a track, ‘Loss’, on Björk’s new album Utopia. Can you tell me the story behind that?
Rabit: I met Björk a few years through Robin Carolan of Tri Angle Records. I was sharing the Communion demos with her and she was really into the track ‘Pandemic’. This was around the time she was first writing Utopia, but the track was already firmly fixed into my album. So she asked me for a beat, and of course I was floored. We worked on the song for maybe two years, off and on – some remote work, some at her home in Brooklyn. It was a chance for me to really see a master at work. I’ve never seen a song produced in this way, with such specificity, intention, and patience. Intention is important to me.
When Trump started sabotaging things, I was texting her, ‘We need a new pied piper. Do it!’ It feels good to be this open amongst fellow artists, Björk and Alejandro (Ghersi, aka Arca), to say things out loud and make them important and set that intention, to be amongst people who agree with this. It’s humane and it’s very powerful.
“The people running this country right now are truly the lowest level human beings – monsters... I wanted to make a work that had that level of decay” – Rabit
Before this interview you told me that ‘Loss’ was your ‘perfect beat’, and how that acted as the ideal cap to the sort of distorted drum sound that you’d been exploring since Communion and largely moved away from on your new album. What did you mean by that?
Rabit: When I say ‘perfect beat’, I mean a pinnacle of what I had been trying to do for, like, two to three years – forceful and urgent, not chained to a genre. I think I feel comfortable and free to explore different ideas now because my friends in music are so good at what they do. Like, who makes music as urgent and pressing as Lotic? No one, in my opinion. Who is as expressive in their electronics as Arca? Not many. (With this album) I felt free to explore more lanes.
But I didn’t want to do a boring ambient thing where these modern people emulate Steve Reich and try to ride on the back of this dead thing. I was seeing how what was considered ‘serious’ electronic music was inherently white supremacist and elitist – it never represented me or my friends, and I wanted to do a new style. Les Fleurs Du Mal is a style on its own, a queer, viscous style, not as immediate but all intentional. A sound that takes patience and emotional depth.
Also, over time, I realised my albums are maybe better for a headphone experience than a club, so I went totally headfirst into that idea. There’s no sense in splitting a thing to make it fit in a format. I would prefer to go fully in each direction, separately. Make an album a full immersion experience and have my DJ sets be the best, not finding a place in the middle where they compromise. No compromise.
You also mentioned this story of your partner helping someone with their suicidal feelings, with the book Illusions by Richard Bach factoring into that. Can you tell me about that book? Does it have much to do with the album?
Rabit: I read a lot while making this album. My partner does therapeutic work and helps people every day; there was one particular situation he told me about that stuck out, and that book played a part. It was a moment where the person was trying to hang on, to keep living, and part of them wanted to stop hanging on. This guy was driving around the country by himself, gathering the strength to kill himself, and that book at the right time helped him change his mind. The story stuck with me because I was like ‘Wow, one word can change someone’s life.’ One small act of giving or sharing. Even when we feel defeated, we should know we can help someone else, that there is space in our heart even when we think it’s empty. That charged me up as an artist.
So, my partner informs my work in many ways. He introduced me to the occult, and I probably would not release music without him. I think a healthy relationship is one in which you help each other deprogram from the society at large, to find new ways of thinking and being, and to be a support system for each other. I feel really lucky to have met him and be in this relationship – but I don’t believe in luck. I think it was meant to be.
I love track titles like ‘Bleached World’. How do you come up with your names?
Rabit: They just come to me, based on what I’m reading or watching or what I care about at a point in time. They can represent a moment in time or an idea, a feeling. An album is such an exciting platform because it’s like a puzzle and each piece is its own story, but they all lead back to a whole and have ways they interlock. Titles can be poetry – it’s a strong influence I took from noise music, but again, like ambient, I never felt noise music represented me, it was for straight white men, so I stole this way of speaking ideas into power.
Did working with Elysia Crampton or Chino Amobi on their records inspire any of the music you made here?
Rabit: Of course. I think in the last few years, Elysia and Chino changed how American music can be defined. I think we all did it together. To put it in a really basic way, a straight white person from a university who makes a sine wave, and their album cover is like a grid, something very soulless – in electronic music, that’s like, ‘Wow, the pinnacle! Five stars in Resident Advisor, gigs in every museum!’ None of us are from that world, and we made it anyway. We hacked the system, and there’s a lot of hope in that.
I think we genuinely represent something new. I think there has to be something to come and represent a breaking down of these old values, and maybe that’s us. We build ideas on top of each other, and we aren’t ashamed to show love, and I love that. I can ask them for anything and I know they’ll understand and be down like it’s automatic. I made ‘Tearz’ because I wanted to be like (Elysia Crampton’s earlier project) E+E. There’s a lot of value in generosity, and re-learning what capitalism strips away from us. A sense of selfless community is empowering.
01. Rabit feat. Chino, Temptation – “Scorched Earth”
02. Croww takes Chino, Conrad, and Mayhem through a walk in the garden
03. Giovanni’s Room
04. Elysia Crampton & Rabit – “Opal”
05. Rabit – “Garden of Sinners I”
06. Rabit – “Garden of Sinners II”
07. Rabit – “Misty Blu II”
08. Rabit – “Petal”
09. Croww – “Prosthetics” (Rabit splintered edit)
10. Jurg Frey – “Pianist, Alone”
Les Fleurs Du Mal is out now