American experimentalist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer L'Rain comes to Pioneer Works, with a set from New York DIY scene staple Russell E.L. Butler.
L’Rain’s artistic evolution eschews overarching narratives. Multi-layered in subject and form, L’Rain’s sonic explorations interrogate instead how multiplicities of emotion and experience intersect with identity. The experimental and the hyper-commercial; the expectation and the reality; the hope and the despair. L’Rain is searching for balance in the obliteration of binary Logic.
L’Rain is the musical project of multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and curator, Taja Cheek. Alongside Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, she has developed L’Rain into a shape-shifting entity that blurs the distinction between band and individual. At once personal and collaborative, it mirrors the journey that brought L’Rain into being to begin with. Growing up in Brooklyn, Cheek found her feet at the center of a vibrant DIY community in the first half of the 2010s, playing noise music and hosting concerts in her basement with the likes of Dreamcrusher and TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone.
If noise music represented a release from the constraints of her classical training, the loops and samples she admired in bands like Animal Collective liberated Cheek to make music on her own terms. Using her voice to work up ideas recorded with her iPhone microphone, she uploaded sonic fragments onto Soundcloud to share with friends and early collaborators like Andrew Lappin.
Beginning as an abstract meditation on grief, Cheek traces the origins of L’Rain to the period which followed the dissolution of her musical community and the passing of her mother, Lorraine. The name L’Rain was conceived as both a tribute to her mother and her own gregarious alter ego L’ (lah-postrophe), and one which she subsequently tattooed onto her Arm.
Fascinated by the collisions of hi- and lo-fi technology, she teased out the crunched aesthetics from the equipment that was available to her, playing with home-spun recording approaches alongside professional recording techniques on her self-titled 2017 debut album L’Rain, which has been described as a form of “psychic collage”.
In the years that followed, Cheek began working more closely with Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, who have become invaluable collaborators as part of the L’Rain project, guiding Cheek in the expression of her voice, both on record and in a live setting. “Ben and Andrew are my closest collaborators and confidants”, she explains, embracing the project’s potential to challenge the foundations of what a band can be. Probing notions of change on what would become her 2021 album, Fatigue, Cheek supplemented her vocals with an array of instruments, including guitar, bass, synth, keyboards, percussion, and various effect pedals and plugins, assembling a cast of twenty collaborators, to formalize a more collective idea of creative practice.
Released into a context of a global pandemic, systemic inequality, and the continued violence against Black people at the hands of the state, Fatigue explored simultaneity of human emotion – audacity in the wake of grief, disappointment in the face of accomplishment - at once asking questions of both herself and her listeners.
Critically acclaimed by NPR, named album of the year in The Wire magazine and #2 in Pitchfork's best albums of 2021, Fatigue propelled L’Rain towards a new audience, while further cementing her place within experimental and art institutional spaces. And yet, equally inspired by gospel and ‘90s R&B, and touring with Black Midi and Animal Collective, Cheek is conscious of not allowing this narrative to dominate.
“I’m not really interested in being separate from the world,” she explains, pointing to new album I Killed Your Dog as a way to bring the project back to earth. “I’m envisioning a world of contradictions, as always,” Cheek explains. “Sensual, maybe even sexy, but terrifying, and Strange.”
Written amidst heartbreaks from the perspective of an earned maturity, I Killed Your Dog is described as an “anti-break-up” record. It takes the universal pop theme of love as its starting point – bold, bratty and even a touch diabolical – and inspects it through the form of a conversation with her younger self, untangling her relationship with femininity and the formal musical conventions that others have come to expect of her. A crystallization of L’Rain’s tactile approach to song-writing, the album is also an implicit interrogation of the electric dreams and failures of early synthesizers, toying openly with rock music tropes, the lineage of folk as Black music in America and Cheek’s own background playing in experimental guitar bands.
Joining Cheek’s regular collaborators Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz (who also play in the live band) are other musicians that perform in the live iteration of the project, Zachary Levine-Caleb, Justin Felton and Timothy Angulo, taking the sonic world laid out by L’Rain in 2021’s album Fatigue on a compelling new trajectory.
With a band comprised of regular collaborators Andrew Lappin and Ben Chapoteau-Katz, alongside Zachary Levine-Caleb, Justin Felton and Timothy Angulo, L'Rain are taking the sonic world of 2021's Fatigue on a compelling new trajectory.
Through her curatorial work with NYC institutions like Creative Time, the High Line and MoMA PS1 where she was a performance curator for several years, Cheek has also explored the terms on which creative work is presented – extending a theme which resonates with her concerns as a musician. As she said in an interview with Pitchfork in 2021, “I’m hyper-aware of how marketing and packaging happens for Black people and women and Black women [...] I like feeling a sense of agency in how those stories are told.” Interested in engaging DIY arts organizations, she cultivates a collaborative approach to curation, seeking out the surprise element that emerges from dialogue between cultural communities. From those early basement noise sessions to her curatorial work with major NYC arts institutions, Cheek has also found herself on the other side of the creative process, developing a fluid relationship between her curatorial work and that of her own musical Practice.
Pieced together like snippets of found sound, L’Rain is edging towards a practice that resists disciplinary categorization and instead reflects the messiness of the self in all its fullness.
Russell E.L. Butler (T4T Luv NRG) (She/They) is an artist living and working in NYC. Over the years, Russell has been an active member of the underground DIY music scene. They’ve released cassette tapes, 12”s, and albums with labels like Opal Tapes, Ghostly, Tresor, and Mr. Saturday Night. Russell can also be found on a diverse array of lineups in clubs and festivals in NYC, San Francisco, Berlin, and London to name a few. Russell’s artistic pursuits span the myriad of cultures and sonics related to Dub, Experimental, and House music. Most recently they have signed on with T4T Luv NRG to release two projects. The first, a 12” of 4 club ready bangers under their elusive DJ Autopay alias and the next being their first solo album since 2018, titled “Call Me G”. Russell weaves narratives out of their personal and social experiences as a participant in cultures that are being stamped out by the machinations of late capitalism. She forms a kind of propaganda with her work; presenting ideas and practices that invert the cynicism born from violent disempowerment and encourage a direct engagement with society's institutions with the aim of strengthening collective power.