Rizzla is a New York-based DJ and producer of electronic music, a well known figure in the city’s vibrant underground club scene, part of “queer artist collective” Kunq, and resident at innovative nights like Ghe20 G0th1k and “queer dancehall party” Reggay.
The Iron Cages EP on the Fade To Mind label is his first “official” release, though he has been producing for several years and DJing for longer. It serves as a great introduction to a fascinating artist and music scene.
The EP is named after social theorist Max Weber’s metaphor for capitalist control, and Ronald Takaki’s popular book on race and culture in 19th century America of the same name. Track names on the EP, such as “Black Jacobins” and “Fucking Fascist” even more obviously indicate the major influence of radical politics on Rizzla’s music.
His musical influences span an impressively diverse range of dance music from across the globe, from funky house to techno, dubstep and grime — shot through heavily with Caribbean and Latina forms like dancehall reggae, mambo and hardstyle. This mix is particularly in evidence on his exhilarating DJ sets (available on SoundCloud).
Rizzla has said the EP’s title track is “the soundtrack to an uprising in its highs and really dirty lows”, though that could serve as a description for the EP as a whole. The video for two of the tracks underlines this — a collage of recent protest and riot footage from across the world, from Ferguson to Brazil, which fits the music perfectly.
“Iron Cages” is the most accessible track, blending a gorgeous mournful vocal from singer Odile Myrtil over a woozily fractured edit of the acoustic guitar hook from Ultra Nate’s 90s chart-house hit “You’re Free”. Myrtil’s central refrain “Don’t think I be falling for your shit any more” is straight out of a love song, but the double meaning of the oppressed fighting back and shattering the oppressor’s iron cage is clear.
The rest of the EP is harsher-sounding but equally good. “Airlock” manages successfully to hitch futuristic industrial techno to the bounce of dancehall and soca. “Twitch Queen” throws the dread synth stabs and swooning vocal samples of early rave over minimal grime/dubstep beats, while “Black Jacobins” is reminiscent of early 90s jungle techno updated with “trap” hip hop and even a little trance.
Perhaps best of all is “Fucking Fascist”. Distant-sounding police sirens, juddering snares, handclaps, and deep descending basslines lead to a sinister repeated sample hook “rest in peace my friend”, a haunting glockenspiel melody and galloping techno, combining to conjure a fractured US society in crisis and spurring resistance.
The difficulty inherent in attempting to make “political” music, especially dance music — that the end product could be crude, worthy or drily conceptual — is avoided here. The eclectic brew of musical influences never feels forced, rather a natural result of a gifted musician taking in all the diversity his home town has to offer — part of a scene consciously trying to join the dots between likeminded radical cultural and political networks worldwide.