Rabit is an anomaly in his hometown. At the time of chatting to The FADER, the sort-of grime producer, born Eric Burton, is wandering about in downtown Houston, but while there's a light Texan twang in his voice, his music bears no traces of the city. There's no grime scene in Houston to speak of, after all. The collectives he frequently collaborates with and is referenced alongside—namely, London's instrumental grime crew Boxed and Berlin's ex-pat noise-makers Janus—are connections he made online. He's never actually performed at Boxed; Janus only once. He might call Houston home but he doesn't take part in its nightlife, which is dominated by noise and DIY parties. The displacement is both his curse and his charm. "It's honestly ideal," he says, "because there's nothing to go out to, so it allows me to focus on my own world."
As a conflicted teenager who dealt with feelings of rejection from his family's religion, Burton always had that introverted mindset, finding identification with outsider musicians like Tricky, Coil and Aphex Twin. As an adult, he taught himself how to produce tracks in an attempt to replicate the undefinable feelings he got from those artists and, eventually, that early work led him to link with like-minded producers Lotic and Logos. Then in 2013, his tune "Sun Showers" caught the ear of Robin Carolan, boss of Tri Angle Records—the label where outsiders thrive—which set the wheels in motion for a more fleshed out statement.
The Baptizm EP, due out on Tri Angle this March, gives shape to Burton's inner world. Drifting between delicate melodies and screeches of discontent, the four tracks reveal a sound that's both intensely personal and intensely conflicted. It's a sound that came from the embers of a destructive fire (it was written after Burton tragically had all his belongings destroyed in a hurricane at the same time as suffering heartbreak), and bears both the heat of the flames and the uneasy calm that follows. Choral, church-like tones meet the metallic churn of lead single "Bloody Eye," as Burton rails against the Catholic Church, pitting it against the emotional turmoil he felt growing up gay within its community.
Over the course of a phone call that meandered with him through Houston, Burton expanded on the political and personal tragedies that led him to look deep enough inside himself to finally face the outside world.
The Baptizm EP is full of extremes. I do like having one thing that's very soft, and then having one thing that's hard and kind of grating. The funny thing is a lot of people do that in one song. For me, something that I felt was a weakness, I realized was a strength: rather than trying to create a perfect song with a bridge and a hook, recognising my strength with experimentation in sound. It's not so much about fitting in with what you're supposed to do. That's almost the conceptual or thematic feeling behind the EP as a whole—clapping back, basically. Whether at society, or at rules or institutions.
The opener, "Imp," feels almost church-like. Was that one of the institutions you were railing against? I'm so conflicted about religion. I feel like I'm spiritual, but it's in more of a natural sense. As far as institutions...people talk about ISIS, and they talk about militant Islam, but then these same people will completely disregard the Catholic Church and all of the suffering that goes on because of it. Take suicide, take the number of people who grew up in a Christian or Catholic household that kill themselves because they were told that they were wrong, and they were so conflicted that they felt like they had nowhere to go. I can't say I'm that extreme about it, although I am gay and I did grow up Catholic. But the church as a whole, I don't like it at all. What I do like is the idea of sanctity, and some of the rituals, some of the ways of thinking. It's about taking those references and twisting them into my own interpretation. It's almost like burning something down and being reborn. It's a continual conversation or conflict.
"I'm happy with who I am, but it takes time when you're told growing up that being gay is not only unacceptable but evil. "—Rabit
Is that conflict something you feel within yourself or something imposed on you from the church? I think they're one and the same. I'm happy with who I am, but it takes time when you're told growing up that [being gay] is not only unacceptable but evil. I really wish that I could be positive, but honestly, a lot stuff I do feels retaliatory. Like "Bloody Eye." Seeing in the news trans people that commit suicide—none of these songs have a direct reference to current news, but it's just like a feeling, you know? I try to remain hopeful, but with the way I see so many things going, it's just like, things are just so set in place, and is there anything we can do? Is there even any reason to fight back? It can seem overly dramatic, to take it that far. But that's how seriously I take it. I can't help but feel for people.
The more brutal moments on the EP feel like they must have been cathartic to make. Right. There was a conversation I had with my mother, a couple years ago after a hurricane hit my apartment. There was a mandatory evacuation, and everything that I didn't take with me was destroyed. It happened around the time I had a relationship that ended, and I had pets that died as well. I was having a really hard time taking it all in; I'm pretty sensitive. So a conversation I had with my mother was like, 'I don't want to be this sensitive, I don't like it.' She told me, 'You can use your sensitivity. Instead of looking at it as something bad, look at it as something good. Not a lot of people have that.' That's something that's helped me with my music, it's helped me come to a place of defining what I want to do. It's that sensitivity within me to the things that are all around us that you might not initially realize.
"That's what appealed to me about the occult: there are no constraints on sexuality, race, social class."—Rabit
You sound like you're in a place of understanding yourself and your music better than ever. Definitely. Part of that is my partner, who introduced me to a lot of different things. I don't really subscribe to any way of thinking or any group, but he introduced me to a lot of aspects of the occult, and that was a huge thing in realising myself.
What appeals to you about the occult? I would say a big part of it is confidence. Growing up in the Catholic Church and being gay, so many people even still refuse to acknowledge who they are. That's what appealed to me about the occult: there are no constraints on sexuality, race, social class. They teach us all that we are God, and that was so inspirational to me. Stuart Wilde's writing was super influential to me, like his book The Quickening. That helped me come to the understanding that the way we're told to live our lives, the end goal doesn't have anything to do with our personal gain or advancement or growth, it's for other people or corporations. That was the biggest thing that appealed to me about the occult, very basic truths that I felt very strongly. Existing in the fringes, existing in realms where things aren't clearly defined, that was a big thing I gravitated to.
Photo credit: Lane Stewart