Post-Geographical Club Music: Houston's Rabit on Rap, Grime, and New Club Sounds

Houston's Rabit, also known as one Eric Burton, has been quietly pushing his own breed of slightly demented club music for several years now. Recently, thanks to the mainstream music press' late-to-the-party interest in UK grime (likely thanks to Kanye's similar interest in same) and his forthcoming collaborations with Björk, he's beginning to garner quite a bit of attention outside of his usual circles. Ahead of his appearance at BREAD #2 this Friday — his San Francisco club debut — we caught up with Rabit to talk about his musical influences and what makes him tick.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Philadelphia-South Jersey area. I moved down to Texas about, give or take, 10 years ago. I've been here for awhile, but I'm not, like, Texan is not really my culture. I just live here, pretty much. No knock on anyone or anything…

I've never been to Texas, but I have a couple friends in Houston and it seems like a really interesting place.

Yeah, I like it here. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't stay. That's probably another conversation entirely, about location, and everything. Everything I've done [musically] up to this point, geographically speaking, it hasn't really mattered where I've been.

That's an interesting aspect about your music and the scene you're a part of in general, because it has no borders. It kind of exists on the internet, you know? Even starting with Night Slugs in 2009 or so, they were speaking to a very specific set of people across the world, not just people in London. Starting around that time, the sound spread, and it's developed online more than any one geographic area specifically.

Right. I think that's true.

How did you discover grime?

Well, I've probably answered this a lot of times, but … it had an initial wave when it was first “a thing,” a new thing, and people in America were trying to bring it into the mainstream. It was in Time Magazine. Probably around 2000, when Dizzee Rascal, and Kano, that kind of thing, were being pushed in the mainstream. And that was when I first heard about it, early 2000s around then. But I wasn't making music then. It was just this thing that I saw, didn't know what it was. I thought it was a really strange form of rap music, pretty much. For myself, the music-making process, I started making beats. I wasn't making electronic music. I was just listening to rap music, I wasn't really into anything else. As I kind of got into other artists and weirder sounds, I got into some grime, and the producers that were doing their own thing, influenced by grime. I think something interesting that not a lot of journalists have plugged into yet is, I grew up on rap music, but I made electronic music. I actually don't really consider myself “making grime,” like, it's an influence — but I think it's funny that I've kind of settled into the circumference of a genre that stems from rap, you see what I mean? It makes perfect sense, when you think about it. For me, my music-making growth, part of it was making every sound. I was finding artists, then thinking, Damn, this is crazy. I wonder if I can make something like that. So I just sat in my room with an MPC, or Fruityloops, and try and make every single type of music. Consequently, this style that I have now — which I wouldn't call grime, but it's influenced by it — it's its own thing, very influenced by rap and grime.

When you were younger, did you grow up listening to rap?

Yeah, that was the first music that I got into, when I was a kid … there was other pop music, like Madonna, you know, you can't avoid that when you're an American. But my neighborhood, that's what people listened to — rap. My sister had tapes. Boogie Down Productions, things like that, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and I would hear it on cassette, the original purple tape — and I really liked the lyrics but what I was really attracted to were the beats. But it took me a very long time to get into making [beats,] because people discover their music-making in different ways. For me, it wasn't something I got into until I was in my 20s. But I've always been a rabid music fan, and even when I was younger, you know, every Tuesday, when music came out, we had a local store and the guy was real cool, so he'd sell [new CDs] to me on Monday. [laughs]

That was your week right there, right? You'd just sink in…
Exactly. Yeah. I don't want to seem, you know, overly nostalgic about rap music, but there was a period in the mid-late '90s and early '00s when, every week, there was something phenomenal coming out. Over time, I got more into the details of what made the music. I'd be reading the liner notes, obsessing, reading magazines, all into the process. That was something that my family had to say — if you were into school as much as you were into music back then… — but it was just what I was into. As I grew up and was able to go out, then I got into other kinds of music. I would go to drum & bass parties … more of a jungle scene in Philly, and then whatever else was going on at that time — hard house, I don't even know — I was just kind of there, showing up. That was the framework for me growing up: Rap, pop music, and whatever I would hear at the club.

Something I find interesting about your music is that, in my opinion, it sounds quite dark. Is that something you'd agree with?

I would agree with that. I'd say… that's such a loaded term, you know? Part of it is what I was influenced by, part of it is what influences me now, and part of it is — I don't know where it comes from. So it's really multifaceted.

Yes, and I think there's a darkness in rap music that never quite got as much credit as it should have.

I was thinking about this the other day, someone asked me what the first CD I bought was, that I was super into. Looking back, it was definitely Mobb Deep, Hell on Earth. It sounds kind of funny, but it's actually the most perfect thing … that could sit next to something I make now, and make sense contextually. I try not to look into it and define it too much. And I've finished my first album — I can't say too much about it — but it will be out this year, and I have to wait for people to hear it before they decide [what it's about]… I think that's my biggest statement yet. I'm interested to see how people receive that material.

I was never big on rap growing up. When I was growing up, I'd listen to industrial and experimental music… self-consciously dark music, you know? As I've gotten older, I've grown out of that in a way — I still love it, but a lot of it was kind of juvenile — but when I was younger and listening to noisy, aggressive music, I was drawn to the energy of it, the feeling of it. I've been wondering, Why isn't there industrial music made today that has that same energy? But honestly, when I hear music like yours, or M.E.S.H., or Lotic, or some of the Night Slugs guys, I feel that same kind of up-front aggressive energy in your music as I do in a lot of the industrial I listened to growing up.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Even though I went on about rap, when I said pop — at that time, Nine Inch Nails was pop — The Downward Spiral was a huge, huge CD for me as well. I see kind of the lines, the lineage, if that makes any sense. The thing about the industrial scene … I'd consider myself someone who has never penetrated the scene, it just seems very dense to me. The connection that I do see, with some of the producers you mentioned, at the base of industrial music is — it sounds basic, but — a really hard beat. So that makes sense to me. In the producers you mentioned [above], as well, they're hard to put into a genre. And I think that's always going to be a point of interest [for me]. But there are a lot of similarities with industrial. Another thing that's often overlooked — with industrial music being so overtly dark, almost in a comical way, what attracted me to it initially is that there is quite a bit of social commentary there. For some acts, it is their main concept, and for others, just a little bit, but that's definitely another similarity between industrial and [the producers mentioned above].

Yes, and if you look at this “instrumental grime” scene — whatever you want to call it — it's very socially-minded music, coming as it does from a section of society that doesn't usually have a voice in music.

Yeah, it is. There's so many facets to that, too. I've done interviews in the past, with similar questions, and I've gotten a lot of flack for the way that I've answered them. Mainly because, in 2013, when I initially started working with Logos, we were messing around with sounds, I didn't plan to label myself with a name, or a genre. I had people in the grime scene that were saying, I'm a big fan of what you do, let's work together. More grime MCs have come to me, wanting to work together, than I'm able to work with, just because I don't have the time. For me, it got to a point where I fit into the equation and whether or not I should speak about social issues happening in the UK. See what I mean?

That's really tricky.

Initially, I was saying that we're all coming from a similar place. I kind of know where they're coming from. But if I say the wrong thing, I get — You're not from here, so you can't even say. And the funny thing about it is, the only people who have been negative or critical about grime spreading [from outside England to the rest of the world] are journalists. And I'm talking about British journalists. Every single act — MC, DJ, or producer — when they see me [producing grime here in Houston,] they're like, Yes! They're thankful. For them, [I'm] spreading the sound. So that's kind of where I see this division … the people in the scene, they want the music spread, as long as it's good. But the people that are negative are journalists — Kanye just wants to steal this sound. The people that make grime, no one thinks they wouldn't want Kanye to use their beat? What? It doesn't even make sense. The whole argument is just very odd to me.

Let's change gears a bit and talk about what you sound like in the club. How do you change up the energy — like I was saying, this music can be pretty dark. How do you like to approach your DJ sets?

I go off of a feeling, pretty much. My recorded mixes that I've done — they're not really anything like the live mix. Recorded mixes are cool, but it's not really the same at all [as hearing me in the club]. For me, it's a balance of being greedy — playing stuff that I wanna hear, stuff I haven't heard on a proper system — but also wanting people to hear tracks, and share the music. I'm not really overly worried about the scope of the sound, whether it's dark or upbeat, or whatever… I'll play anything if I feel like I want people to hear it.

When you're DJing, it's a really interesting push and pull, like you said — with the selfish aspect of DJing, playing what you want to hear, but you also have to think about pushing the audience's boundaries, educating them a bit.

Yeah. There's a couple ways of thinking about it — pulling the audience, or giving them what they need, and not what they want … for me, stating it in the least egotistical way possible, I don't have any music that sucks. I feel like anything I play is not gonna be anything anyone in the crowd has heard — because a lot of it is my friends' music, that they've just made. I do take the crowd into account, but not the whole crowd, know what I mean? I would rather connect with just a few people that I see who are really into it, the people that I can tell are staying [on the dancefloor] because they want to. People that are just wanting to know [what I'm playing,] they can leave like, right now. [laughs]

That's the smartest way to do it. If you can connect with just five people in the crowd, the rest of the crowd, who are like, What is this? They're going to be interested once they see those five people up front going crazy.
Yeah, maybe. I did this one gig in New York, and I had my sister there. After the club, she said, This guy came up to me, and said, what is this [music]? I just need a name, a word that I can Google. And that, to me, is honestly one of the most — well, if not absurd, but —

Right. How do you reduce everything to a single word?

Exactly. It's not really offensive, insomuch as … it really drives [me] to find the kind of people I want to play for.

Are you finding that American audiences are receptive to what you're doing?

Yeah, definitely. I have a lot of fans here, and there's a lot of interest. Relating to our discussion earlier about grime, I feel like there was a lot of press that came out — not necessarily for me, just in general, earlier this year in the winter and spring — that was very big on grime, driving it home. This is the thing Drake's gonna do. So if people come see me DJ or play live, expecting to hear grime, they're going to be let down. But people are definitely receptive here. Part of it is the way that the press can kind of manipulate something into what they want it to be … I don't have an agenda to push. There are people [here in the States] who appreciate my music and know what I make and what I play, and they're definitely here for it.

Are you connected with NON Records — Chino Amobi, and some other guys?

Definitely. I'll actually be putting some of their music out on my label.

I only just discovered them recently, but they have a very interesting sound. Like I was saying earlier about the industrial connection, some of the tracks these guys are releasing sound like the industrial music I was listening to 15 years ago, but updated in a new, fresh way.

Yeah. These guys are really talented. They definitely have a motive, and an intent, and I'm really down for anyone who has a cause they feel is important. That's icing on the cake — or the other half, I should say — when music is really crazy, and original, and you have something to say. I do see the ties between [their music] and industrial. It's funny, because I don't know what kind of music they listen to, but none of us particularly strive to sound industrial-influenced, but certain things always come full circle, you know?

What's the rest of the year looking like for you?

There's gonna be a lot of stuff. [laughs] I'm headed back over to Europe in the fall. All of that will be announced in due time. My label's really important to me right now. It's called Halcyon Veil, and I'm in planning mode for a lot of things on it right now. I have a lot to say beyond that — but, it's kind of… it's kind of like a flower, and it's just about to bloom, you know? In the next month it'll probably all be announced, but I want to wait for the right time. The main reason I launched it was to put out a couple folks' music, nobody knew their tunes, and I thought it was good music, you know. Then it kind of snowballed from there. I met more and more people, and I was like, Wow… this could be really good. These friends of mine, some of them, were like, they didn't really care. [laughs] They were just kind of sitting on their tunes. So I said, You have to do something with this. I'm excited for that, and hopefully by this time next month I'll have something to announce. 

Rabit performs this Friday, July 24, at F8 1192 Folsom alongside Korma, Sheen, Lye Form, and more.

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