balls to the wall
LSDXOXO and Kelsey Lu Are Tapping Into the Pain
The Philadelphia-born, Berlin-based techno provocateur LSDXOXO is having one hell of a year, and not just because, on an infernal track off his new EP Dedicated 2 Disrespect, he tempted Satan himself. A major player in New York City’s epochal GHE2OG0TH1K movement with a thick stack of incendiary mixtapes under his belt, LSDXOXO decamped to Berlin in 2018 to found the famed Floorgasm parties. All that time on the floor informs D2D, four tracks of peak-time dance music that don’t skimp on LSDXOXO’s riotous vocals. “I’ll make the Devil fuck me good,” he promises, among other things. And with a track like “The Devil”—so versed in the Black histories of ballroom and rave, so fully bodied in beats and braggadocio— who could deny him? Not cellist and vocalist Kelsey Lu, who spent the pandemic crafting sound baths on Bandcamp, which are the perfect comedown after LSDXOXO’s come-ons. Here, the pair discuss making music for dark rooms without putting themselves in dark places. —JESSE DORRIS
LSDXOXO: Thank you so much for doing this. I know you’re in the middle of vacation.
KELSEY LU: I was like, I’m in vacation mode, but I’m going to do this because when the article comes out and I see someone else talking to you, I’m going to be mad at myself.
LSDXOXO: Well I appreciate you for taking the time out.
LU: So you’re back in Berlin?
LSDXOXO: Yeah. I was just in London for the past week and a half recording my LP.
LU: That’s so exciting. How’d it go?
LSDXOXO: I got a lot more done than I thought I would, so I’m quite proud of myself.
LU: How do you envision bringing new aspects of performance into your set, like using your voice more?
LSDXOXO: It’s definitely a mindfuck, transitioning into being a recording artist and performer, and coming from the DJ world. Now I’m deejaying regularly and also having to rehearse my performances, write and record music, and learn guitar. It’s daunting, but also very rewarding. It’s this transitional period of me trying to figure out the healthy way to approach moving into the next area of my career.
LU: I was reading about how you’re introducing instrumentation and learning how to read sheet music.
LSDXOXO: I know that’s the world you come from. I think you inspired me to bring this cinematic approach to how I make music. It inspired me to challenge myself to think outside of the electronic-music box that I was in.
LU: People really limit themselves with instruments. They’re like, “Oh, I wanted to play when I was a kid, but it’s too late for me now.” And it’s never too late. Speaking of boundaries, I was reading that you grew up religious, and I was like, “Ooh girl, tell me about it.” I love hearing about it because after having to work within boundaries, when you are released from those bonds, you’re craving certain interests that were denied to you, and you just want to expand.
LSDXOXO: Once I climbed out of that pit of repression, I wanted to go balls-to-the-wall with my expression and step into my own person. Music has definitely been my main route for that.
LU: I’m exploring eroticism more and asking people what that means to them. When you hear the word “erotic,” what do you think of?
LSDXOXO: For me, eroticism is an exploration of self. I like to approach it in a campy way because people take sexuality a bit too seriously. If you apply a cheekiness to it, then it’s more comfortable to talk about and bring to the masses. Since moving to Berlin, I’ve kind of had a sexual awakening. This city is known to be very free when it comes to exploring sexuality. Moving here has helped me become one with my sexual being.
LU: How long have you been in Berlin?
LSDXOXO: Four-and-a-half years. I’m still a newbie because I can’t speak a lick of German, but I definitely feel at home here and it’s a nice progression from New York.
LU: I’ve been to Berlin a handful of times, but the last time I went was the most time that I ever spent there. I loved being able to talk to other people, especially other Black people, about how much freedom they feel there.
LSDXOXO: People don’t have many expectations, so it gives you freedom and autonomy to explore what it is to be an artist and how you approach your craft. This is the reason I’ve been like, “I’m going to pick up an instrument and I’m going to start writing all of my music,” even though that’s something I never thought I would do. I feel like this city allows me to do the things that I want to do without expecting a certain thing.
LU: I moved to London this year and my separation from America was this feeling that there’s no expectation about what I should be doing.
LSDXOXO: And people have this fresher perspective of you as a person, so you’re allowed to create who you are for them, whatever that may be.
LU: Do you feel like the dance music scene—in Berlin or otherwise—is shifting to be more inclusive of Black folks?
LSDXOXO: Yeah, especially in the last two years or so. There’s been a lot more space for us to have control over how we move forward in our careers. And because of these conversations, we’re allowed the space to build and not just take the scraps we’ve been given the last few decades. It’s exciting to be an artist in this period, because we look back on artists that made music similar to ours and they were labeled experimental or underground. And while those genres allow you to have freedom as an artist, they put a cap on what you can achieve. I prefer not to be called an experimental artist because I feel like it just means lower pay and less visibility. Now that we’re given more of a platform, it allows us to do things of our own accord and see what comes of it. If I was ever to claim a genre, it would be pop.
LU: Claim it!
LSDXOXO: [Laughs] Coming up, pop music was so exciting to me because it didn’t have one sound. There’d be a pop artist, and each album would have a different concept, a different essence. It doesn’t have that anymore. I want to change that. I want to remove that formulaic sound and bring it back to the explorative vibe of the ’90s and early 2000s.
LU: When you were a kid, what song gave you a sense of euphoria?
LSDXOXO: One of the first moments that I felt real euphoria was listening to Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee).” They really bring you into their world, even though the song is super cheesy. Another moment was Lil’ Kim’s album The Notorious K.I.M. because my mom would blast that in the car and on long road trips. That album has a full narrative and just pulled me in.
LU: Do you ever hear something you’re kind of disgusted by, but you’re also like, “I need to know what this is?”
LSDXOXO: Whether good or bad, it makes you feel something. People either hate or love my music, and that’s an achievement to me. I don’t ever want my music to be filler, I want it to incite emotion, even if they turn it off and never listen again. That’s better than making something people don’t have much of a feeling about.
LU: I’ve never liked the question, “What’s your process?,” because I don’t have a set way. But working on your LP, what was your approach?
LSDXOXO: It changed while I was writing the LP. When I started, I was in a different place mentally and emotionally than I am now. If you start a song that speaks to where you’re at in a particular moment, trying to revisit that in a different headspace makes it harder to finish. The songs I was recording last week, I wrote in 2018 when I was going through a breakup and feeling super angsty. Now I’m happy and in love. I had to step back into that place, and who wants to put themselves back into a place of depression? But as a storyteller you have to be able to do that without ruining your vibe.
LU: I feel you. With “Blood,” I was reflecting on things that were really painful for me, and it’s taking a lot of time to recuperate. I didn’t realize how much it took out of me, how much it affected me emotionally. Now, many therapy sessions later, I’m recognizing how much it took its toll. I appreciate what you said because it’s important to acknowledge that we have to take time and find ways not to be stuck in that place.
LSDXOXO: Especially when you have to perform and promote it. Speaking to a traumatic experience, it’s like, how do I deliver this moment to the people without putting myself back in a dark place?
LU: After I put out my EP Church, I never listened to it, because I couldn’t. When I performed it, that was my way of releasing. I felt so held by everyone that was there.
LSDXOXO: It seems like you’ve found a healthy balance between having a piece of music be part of you as a person and part of your artistry.
LU: Yeah. I’m excited to hear these songs from your breakup. I love a love song, but I also love breakup songs.
LSDXOXO: You’ve got to cover the spectrum, and I make sure I do that. I got club songs, sex songs, breakup songs. The album encapsulates my last four or five years of experience. It’s my first album, so I’ve been able to put pretty much the buildup of my adult life into it. There are a lot of twists and turns.
LU: Do you have any favorites?
LSDXOXO: Yeah, the more personal racks I definitely hold near and dear, but obviously people are expecting the club bops, which I’m also excited for.
LU: When you have sex, do you hear music, and then later turn it into a song?
LSDXOXO: Oh, absolutely. [Laughs] I’m literally writing mid-stroke.
Grooming: Allie J using Nars
Photo Production: Monika Martinez
CD Collages: Robert Escalera @robert64