DJs are bound to view the club a little differently than the rest of us.
Beyond the fact that their vantage point is actually different — usually slightly higher and facing the opposite direction of everyone else — there’s the idea that they’re there to work in the same place most people go to forget about their own grind.
Ezra Rubin, the producer better known as Kingdom and the man behind some of your favorite alt-R&B cuts, has been peddling a sort of fractured view of the club for a while in his production work for other people. But freed up to do exactly what he wants on his first ever solo album, Kingdom was allowed to let this clear-eyed viewpoint of the blurry-eyed dancefloor run wild.
The resulting album Tears In The Club is a mix of stuttering drums, subdued vocals and a general world-weariness not often heard in typical party tracks. We talked to the producer about his fractured fairy tale take on the club-bound R&B to figure out how his debut came to be.
You’ve obviously been producing for other people for a while — on tracks like Kelela’s “Bank Head” and Dawn’s “Paint It Blue — and you have your own label with Fade To Mind. So how long has the idea of a record with your name out front been gestating?
I guess I really started thinking about it like a year and a half or two years ago. It’s always been in the back of my head but I was touring a bunch. I moved to Los Angeles and the album was a chance to slow down, stop touring and really get to know my city. It also allowed me to do some work that was a bit more melodic or emotional than the work I would do for other people.
What sort of effect did learning Los Angeles have on this album?
Well, it’s a driving city. There’s a lot more of a headphones vibe on some of my other work, this album is more driving music. I also think the landscape of the L.A. area is reflected in some of the more atmospheric and instrumental tracks. Plus L.A. has such a strong R&B scene. They have their own radio stations and festivals and they really support it. So, that part of my music was even more enhanced by being here.
How does Tears differ from the production work you do for other people?
I mean, I think it’s pretty related. At least with regards to the vocal material on my album, it’s still R&B. There is a little bit more rhythmic experimentation, some things that maybe some vocalists would say wouldn’t fit on their album.
But there are places that it differs pretty greatly. There’s a mix of warm, welcoming sounds and a dystopian energy. That comes through a lot on the instrumental interludes. Those are more the sound of when I’m lonely. They’re a little more vulnerable and the pull you away from the warm R&B textures somewhat.
You’re obviously very heavy into the stuttering, futuristic R&B sound. Are there any other club scenes or microgenres right now that you’re really into or pulling inspiration from?
I’ve been listening to Jersey Club all my life and I think that’s definitely had an influence on the way I produce. I’ve also been listening to a lot of flex music [Note: Flex is a Brooklyn-born genre of dancehall with industrial overtones. Here’s an example.] But I don’t really think that comes through on the album.
This album really wasn’t about me reaching out. It’s much more solitary and introspective. Some of what I’ve been DJing might have crept in and maybe subconsciously some of the drum sounds might be present from the fact that I’ve been listening to a lot of jungle and darkstyle.
I think everyone’s going to see the album through their own lens, though. I wanted the album to show that I can be vulnerable. To share these lonely moments and sad moments that I go through and maybe to share what goes on in my head when I’m out exploring nature. I go on a lot of hikes on my own. Just night hikes in the area and I’m hoping people will discover a little bit of that on the album.
There’s a sort of dystopian club aesthetic is all over this album. The parts that aren’t open and expansive, and particularly the lyrics, seem to be a bit anti-club. Has your experience with clubs been that negative? Do you find them to be dark places?
I think to a degree, yeah. It’s something I’ve noticed in the last couple of years. Especially because I’m a type-1 diabetic.
My condition is well-managed and it’s fine. But still when you pull out your blood sugar meter, people look at you so strangely. Or I’ll get looks when I’m pricking my finger or need to eat something. I kind of realized this isn’t really a fully safe space for everybody. There are these lines and there’s an unspoken feeling that having fun is some sort of requirement.
Later on in the process of making the album, I witnessed some bad fights. Some sexual harassment and big fights where blood was drawn and the cops were called.
And then, of course, there was the Orlando shooting. And that was a reminder that the club is even less of a safe space than we thought. People are there to have fun but you don’t know at all what’s going to happen.
But also, the “tears” of the title can be tears of joy. It’s all just a release. This album as a whole is about letting out emotions.
Tears In The Club is out now via Fade To Mind. Stream it below.