You're at the club, you're extremely well-groomed, and you're caked in so much fragrance that raccoons in Klickitat County think a barge of Drakkar Noir has run aground at Cal Anderson Park. You ingest an $11 vodka Red Bull and slide to the dance floor like a cobra. RL Grime's gusty, crystallized "Amphibian" swishes solidly out of the speakers. This is the sound of the selfie, and it's time to display to potential mates that your vibe couldn't be righter. Grime's sonic ingredients set you up well—the glide of rave, the tonnage of Southern rap beats, and the game (shame) of meathead trap. Your moves are succinct demonstrations of pelvic knowledge. Next up on the system is the harder-hitting "Valhalla" off Grime's new album, Void. You let out an eighth of a twerk, and then it's the build. Feel it ascend—whap whap whap whap, tat-tat-tat-tat, ta-ta-ta-ta shuffffle. Then the moment of silence, the hesitation, and the drop. The room loses it when the beat kicks in. Vodka Red Bulls spill everywhere. People fall and flail. This is what you've worked for—this losing it. The room combusts in selfies, sex explodes, and you dance like a condor. Twenty-three-year-old RL Grime (born Henry Steinway—yes, as in the piano) spoke from his hometown of Los Angeles.
What's the greatest number of selfies you've ever seen someone take during one song?
Sometimes people get on a roll, you know. Where it's nothing but selfies. A number? I'd say 10? Or 15? Maybe higher. If a song is four minutes long and someone's taking selfies the whole time, what's the math? I don't understand how that many selfies are possible.
Did you know there's a Valhalla Lake in Washington? In the Central Cascades.
Yes, of course. I wrote the song about that lake. Actually, I did not know that. I'll have to go visit.
It's the lake where all the club bangers go for their lake activities.
Exactly. I was out there in a rowboat with my laptop. I made the album out in the middle of that lake. It's a funny story.
You're the first human to ever fully waterproof a laptop by using only tinfoil and nipple clamps.
A lot of people don't know that about me [laughs].
Then there's the Norse version of Valhalla, meaning the big, majestic hall located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin. Soldiers who died in battle went to Valhalla, led in by Valkyries.
I thought that was fitting for the song. It's an intense song. Parts of it sound like a war call, so yeah, Valhalla worked for multiple reasons. Plus it's just a cool word. The imagery from the videos fits into that I think. These big crawlers and helicopters all gearing up for some big battle. It continues the story line from the "Core" video. I was inspired by old anime videos like Akira and Tron.
What is it about the aspects of a battle that fit with this music? People full of vodka on the dance floor battling for mates? Battling to procreate to further the species?
It's not a literal thing. It's more just the visual component of it that works for me. Music-wise I've always been intrigued by darker-sounding dance records. I think that coincides with that aspect of battle, and preparing for war.
Walk me through what you do on "Valhalla" when you play it live. Are you doing anything?
I make a lot of different edits, so it's a more unique experience when I play live—be it putting an a capella part from some other song on top of it, or fixing the arrangement a bit. It varies every night. I try to switch it up so things are new for people. I use Reason and Ableton. A lot of the live edits I make are in Ableton. But when I'm making a new song, it's usually in Reason.
Your air horns have a nasty majesty. "Amphibian" is my favorite one. Talk air-horn sounds for me. How do you make your air-horn sounds sing?
I don't know. I've been producing for almost six years now. I feel like I've sort of mastered the programs I'm using, so now I'm able to make the things I want. I'd say it just comes from inspiration anywhere. I made "Amphibian" sitting on my couch looking out the window on a summer day when I lived in New York. I was going to NYU before I moved back to LA. I dropped out to start touring. Anything can inspire a record I think. That's what I love most about making music. That you can translate what you're going through, or what you're seeing or feeling into a song.
What do you remember seeing out that window in New York? Was the psychic teenage biker Tetsuo from Akira out there with his gang? Or were there any cops putting people in choke holds?
I remember it being a nice day. It was almost evening. I started writing some lush-sounding chords and just built the song right there on the couch. It was on a really old computer of mine. It was a dance record, but there was some emotion behind it. That's what I've been into making recently—dance songs that have emotion and meaning to them.
Why is "trap" a bad word?
It's not a bad word; it's more of a gimmick to me. Or that's what it's turned into. I understand where that word comes from. And I understand why my music has been labeled that. But I'm more interested in getting outside of that.
That's gotta be frustrating to be labeled something and not agree with it.
Yeah. That's the crux of any artist. Being pigeonholed in something sucks, obviously. It's been cool trying to branch out a bit, while still making records that attest to my roots and early influences.
There are so many types of DJ music. And they all have subgenres. Then the subgenres have subgenres. It gets confusing.
I totally understand that things need to be labeled so people can understand and put them in certain boxes. As an artist creating, it's way easier to try to blur those lines than to stay within them, you know?
Prepare me for a drop. I'm out there at your show, putting in work. There's the buildup, then the double time, then the shuffle-thrush. Then the pause—that moment of clarity. I take a sip of an ice-cold Lime-A-Rita tall can. I think of a gentle breeze. Because when it comes back in, there's nothing you can do but lose your mind. Advise RL Grime fans how to get ready for when the beat kicks back in. Some light stretching?
Oh yeah, I think light stretching is smart. And having a sip of some sort of Lime-A-Rita beverage is also smart. I think you nailed it on the head there. Collect yourself during the moment of clarity. Yes, the light breeze [laughs], maybe think of a moon jellyfish undulating. When it kicks back in, try not to spill the Lime-A-Rita. That easily happens. It might be time for dance clubs to start serving drinks in sippy cups.
What fucked-up things have you seen people do when the beat drops back in? Have you ever seen anyone wipe mayonnaise on themselves, or cook bacon?
I've seen many shirts come off, and underwear. There was a guy in Nashville who had broken his foot like three days before the show. But he didn't get a cast on it because the doctor told him he had to be bedridden once the cast was on. And he wanted to come to the show. So he showed up with a broken foot and his crutches, holding them up in the air. I hope he didn't make his foot any worse than it was.
Or what about someone doing the opposite of losing their minds when the drop hits? Like someone who got out an Agatha Christie mystery novel and started reading it?
Well, it's pretty dark in most of these places, so it would be hard to read a book. Maybe it's happened, I don't know. Maybe reading Agatha Christie mysteries after the drop will become a new thing. I'll keep an eye out.