Bored Lord’s focusing on the ravers, not the room
Dance music in America is weirdo shit. Always has been. When Daria Lourd was growing up in Memphis, making electronic music was “not the cool thing to do. People were in guitar bands and I was playing with drum machines and they were like, ‘What are you doing?’”
She stuck with it. A decade later, the success of her ecstatic rave project Bored Lord is a sign of where dance music in America is at right now – connected, confident, brimming over with ideas, precariously DIY for the most part, and still pretty weird.
Bored Lord is a frankly brilliant club DJ and a prolific producer, whose official releases on Knightwerk and T4T LUV NRG are outnumbered by countless Bandcamp drops and blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em edits. Renowned for her dexterity with a pop sample – from Dido to Kylie, no 2000s relic is safe – her DJ sets are big, bold-print FUN, drawing heavily on her own dubs and tracks from her producer friends like Bastiengoat and WTCHCRFT.
Lourd lives in Oakland, California, a notably diverse and politically progressive city which looks across the Bay to San Francisco and has long provided local artists with cheap warehouses to live and work in. A hotspot for DIY culture, Oakland is also an important node of the west coast’s rave underground, a scene that actually has musical roots in UK hardcore, jungle and drum’n’bass.
But it’s illustrative of the huge chasm between rave culture in the States and dance music in the UK that those connections are far from common knowledge. While dance tracks have been a chart staple in the UK ever since Love Can’t Turn Around put Chicago house on Top of the Pops in 1986, back in the USA, the scene never went truly mainstream. Even now, being a raver in America marks you out as being different.
“The way that I grasped on to electronic music, and specifically dance music, was through a scene that felt so… for lack of a better word, punk, you know?” As a musician with an interest in experimentation and production, Lourd was creatively aligned with electronic music from early on. “But it was also more ideal for queer people, more ideal for trans people,” she points out. “I think in a lot of America, dance music is a queer thing. A lot of people see it that way in the underground. When I travel around the States, I pretty much exclusively play for queer events. New York is maybe an exception to that rule.”
Lourd moved from Memphis to Oakland “kind of on a whim” in 2016, living in a warehouse full of artists “playing this music that doesn’t really fit anywhere”. At the time, she was releasing music at a clip, exploring blunted Auto-Tune pop and techgnostic club deconstruction on releases for Rare Nnudes, a kind of proto-vaporwave internet collective.
Once established in Oakland, her tastes shifted into what she calls “pseudo-club”, mixing Jersey club, baile funk and Night Slugs in her DJ sets, and encountering old-head San Francisco DJs playing house, techno and jungle, “people from all these different cultures, sprinkling in all these different things from all over the place”.
It’s in the past five years she’s found her rhythm as Bored Lord, putting out dozens of energetic, emotional and sample-heavy tracks that draw from two continuums: UK hardcore – including a taste for tough garage and nawtee northern bassline – and US bass music, spanning Jersey club, Florida breaks and west coast rave.
But compared to the witchy online-pop she was making for Rare Nnudes, the current glut of Bored Lord tracks don’t sound like weirdo shit at all. Tracks like Everyday 2gether, the No Doubt-sampling breakstravaganza that opens The Last Illusion EP, are resolutely functional, engineered to melt the club to its foundations, and increasingly reverent of historical tropes: if you know, you know.
Her next record confirms that direction: a first album on T4T LUV NRG, the label run by fellow travellers and trans DJ icons Eris Drew and Octo Octa. Like Drew’s 2021 album Quivering In Time, Lourd’s Name It! is inspired by the great electronic albums of yore, intended as a true longplayer rather than a collection of club tracks.
“I wanted to set aside a very specific piece of music that was meant to be a journey, meant to have emotional depth and to have its own sonic landscape… it’s kind of hard not to say clichéd phrases to explain what an album is,” she laughs.
That meant avoiding identifiable pop samples and digging deeper into her record collection and her production skills, sourcing weird snippets from vintage scratch records for turntablists, and taking notes from her favourite albums, from 4Hero to Janet Jackson to Nirvana. “I love-love-love sampling, it’s one of my favourite art forms,” she insists, but this album is about “writing something that holds its own water without the need of the [pop] samples”.
Nailing the right sound was a long process. Some of the material she’s released in the past two years – including this year’s cracking self-released album, 3213123 – are “throwaways from trying to land them on the album and it didn’t work”. As Name It! evolved, she realised that her experimental impulses were starting to cohere into a sound that felt almost innate, with “a sonic tie between all of the tracks that make it sound like it’s mine”.
The eight tracks, riffing on rugged 90s electro, hardcore and 2-step ruffage, really do feel like a meticulously composed suite, with all the vocal chops building to a bigger narrative, one that runs much deeper than the joy of a cleverly executed pop flip. The titles point to the outpouring of feelings within: Luv, Feel It, Close My Eyes, Believe. “It’s really an album that’s inspired less by the rave and more by the moments in between, by the people in my life and Oakland, not just as a rave scene, but as a place that holds all the people that I care about,” she emphasises.
There’s a difference between a scene and a community. The Bay Area is not a record industry hotspot, but it’s thriving if you know where to look – a network of “tiny little spaces that are really just community run, and groups of friends deciding to start a label”. Since 2016, when a fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse claimed the lives of 36 people, the deadliest blaze in Oakland’s history, the city has cracked down on off-book art spaces. These days there are two worlds: the above-ground scene in downtown San Francisco, where properly equipped venues are limited by a 2 a.m. curfew, and what are known to the initiated as “renegades”.
“It’s really an album that’s inspired less by the rave and more by the moments in between”
“That’s the word that people use in the Bay Area,” Lourd explains, “which just means that people found some way to use generators – people are even using electric batteries now – and just throwing raves where they can. Further out in nature, that’s kind of more common now, especially during the summer. But if they can figure it out in an abandoned building or some parking garage or whatever, they will. I’ve played in very many odd spots. Usually they play there a few times until it gets rolled on by the cops, and then people move on and try to scope out the next spot, which feels more and more difficult, but there’s always people who keep that alive.”
My own experiences of Bay Area raving back up this classification: one of the most fun and least cool parties I’ve ever been to took place in an underground storm drain, a graffiti-covered bunker accessed by scrabbling down a concrete tunnel below Ocean Beach. Local DJ Farsight was playing in-between sounds spanning Jersey, jungle and reggaeton, and the crowd was a mix of dorky Burners, tech-coded normies, goths, of course, and a cute gang who turned out to be ravers from Oakland (shout out DJ Clearcast).
That checks out, laughs Lourd. The Bay Area is a scene that’s “entirely based on people trying to enjoy themselves and listen to music they like, instead of, ‘How many tickets can we sell?’ Sometimes that reality hits and it sucks. You can only play so many shows that don’t pay or throw so many events that don’t make money. But it doesn’t really matter. The experience is the priority, and trying to keep that torch burning. And sometimes that feels lost everywhere else.”
That’s why, as a touring artist, Lourd tries to play parties and festivals operating on similar principles. In the UK she’s made connections with Strange Brew, Noods Radio and Field Maneuvers, and around the US she’s mapped out a network of DIY parties to keep her on the road and among friends. “I definitely try to befriend people, because that’s the only way I know how to operate in music,” she says. There’s a tangible difference in Europe, where dance music can feel more like an industry than a community. “When you play somewhere in the States, [the audience] is only a small group of friends and the people that they’ve accumulated. And those people go to every single thing.” It’s the same in the Bay Area, and “I still try to seek that out,” she adds.
Her diary is therefore stuffed with dates across both continents for the foreseeable future – a schedule that has been exhausting at points, making her “semi-agoraphobic” from the social burnout induced by meeting 20 new people every weekend. But the hard touring has also unlocked new levels to her craft, “another click on the wheel”.
“You go deeper and deeper and deeper. I just played some sets where I surprised myself, even,” she says. “All the years of practice, the muscle memory and the reading of the energy in the space, [I] just let that happen naturally instead of trying to think, what am I supposed to play? Or what do they want me to play? I just show up and let all the past do the work.”
Name It! is out now via T4T LUV NRG