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06.02.2020 | Words by: Emma van Meyeren

Russell E.L. Butler’s latest project, “A Talisman To Ward Off Dysphoria”, was released just a few weeks ago via Bandcamp. It’s accompanied by a beautiful note, describing the soothing and loving sounds of the project as “affirmations that I have made to myself to love and care for myself, regardless of the difficulty of my circumstances”. It’s the type of music you want to light a candle to, take a bath to, listen to while on a random walk to nowhere or while browsing through pictures. It slows down, it’s gentle.

Those who might be familiar with Russell’s fire mixes or tracks like Shock in a Cave might be used to a heavier sound coming from their fingertips, but both can live together quite well, even in their DJ-sets. During the upcoming weekender they will play Het Muzieklokaal on Sunday evening. We emailed Russell with a few questions about their recent work. 

Q: Hey Russell, it feels like you’ve been building a bond with The Netherlands this past year, we’ve seen you play in De School as well as Mono and Radion. You’re being represented by the Dutch agency Minor A.M. in the EU. Could you tell us something about how that connection started?

A: It has taken me several years to find a connection in Europe and I feel very lucky that the hard work and relationships I’ve built have paid off. I was introduced to my current agency Minor A.M. through Axmed from Dance With Pride. They started working on shows on my behalf before I officially signed with them, which impressed me. So shout out to Ilyas from Minor A.M. I’ve been loving playing in The Netherlands. The dancers really like my sound and how varied my sets are. Excited to return to De School!

Q: Now that we’re talking geography, you were born in Bermuda, were living in the Bay Area for a while and moved to New York recently. Why did you decide to move to the east coast? How has it been for you so far?

A: It is a long complicated answer, but I mainly needed a change after 10 years out West. New York has been really good to me. I didn’t ever picture myself here, but more recently there have been some major cultural shifts in its music scene that made me want to come out and contribute. Some of these shifts are more venues as the result of their result of the racist Cabaret law being struck down by activists in the scene (check the work of Let NYC Dance), there are way more black people in the scene starting parties, djing, producing etc., and it is less expensive to live than The Bay at the moment.

Q: Your latest project is called ‘A Talisman to Ward Off Dysphoria’, do you have any Talisman(s) of your own? What do they mean to you?

A: I do. Some of the tattoos I have, like the artwork for the release, are talismans for me and for others. I have some talismans that belonged to my ancestors, a bell that belonged to my grandmother is the main one I engage with. I’m also interested in affirmations or mantras. Repetition is powerful, and a big part of my practice as an artist is to induce states that push someone’s consciousness into their inner being. The hope is that once they reach these depths they can rest and heal themselves. 

Q: You describe the record as the ‘first experimental project’ you’ve done in over 10 years. What does ‘experimental’ mean to you? 

A: It is an interesting term. For this release I used it to signal to people that this is not a dance record. I consider myself an experimental artist above all. Each one of my pieces is an exploration of a new experience for me, which is what experimentation is all about. After 10 years of making pop music and then dance music, I felt it necessary to let everyone know where my roots are. I struggle with being boxed in as one kind of artist or another and sometimes I have to assert the fact that genre classification is not only unnecessary when it comes to art, but is actually a damaging colonial practice (vague but perhaps more on that in the future).

Q: The project you did before this, 606 Trax, was more dancefloor focused. Could you tell us something about how your approach to this type of modular techno has developed over the years?

A: I began working with modular synthesizers roughly 12 years ago. I started making techno and presenting it in a live form around 2012. More recently, I have shied away from doing live sets, in order to concentrate on my studio practice. Another reason that I have taken a break from live sets is that what I do with the synthesizer, is no longer appropriate for the “club” realm. Djing can suffice in those spaces

Q: A lot of your work is focused on community. That concept can be super difficult, even within the specifically queer-focused communities that exist in electronic music. It seems that space for genderqueer, trans and non-binary people still isn’t always there. From what I could tell through the digital world, the festival Honcho Campout was a beautiful and intimate moment for the community last year. Could you tell us more about playing that festival and what it was like?

A: It was a really beautiful experience. As you can tell I’m a very spiritual person, so the fact that it was on a wiccan campground, was really special. I also played on the first night, closing the afters space under a full moon. In my mind, I was programmed perfectly. The artists brought such amazing and diverse sounds and I made so many new friends. There are still ways for it to improve, but I am so impressed by what the Honcho guys have been able to build. They facilitated so many new friendships, especially the Enby Porch. Basically all of the Non-binary people would gravitate towards the porch of the artists’ bunks. A naturally occurring phenomena. We ran that thing. It was the most Enby people I’d ever been around in one place and it was such a lovely relaxing experience.

Russell plays Het Muzieklokaal Sunday evening from 21:00 until 00:00. Ticket for Het Weekend are available online and at the door. 
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