Name: Pixel Grip
Members: Rita Lukea, Tyler Ommen, Jonathon Freund
Interviewee: Rita Lukea
Occupation: Songwriters, producers, performers
Current release: Pixel Grip's Arena is out now on Feeltrip.
If these thoughts by Pixel Grip piqued your interest, visit the band on Facebook, Soundcloud or Bandcamp.
Anger, spite, and revenge are a constant source of creativity for me. My identity not only influences my creativity, but it also shapes my reality. I was voted most rebellious in high school. Is it really a surprise that ten years later I’m writing songs about lighting landlords on fire?
Choosing not to conform is extremely difficult. Choosing to take a good long look at the way the world works and deciding: “yeah, this isn’t fucking working” - is difficult. Capitalism isn’t working. The patriarchy isn’t working. The cisgender, binary concept of gender isn’t working. America is drenched in puritanical, christian rhetoric. My identity is enmeshed with my artistic path because I so strongly identify as an outsider. And the club brings outsiders together.
Jon is a queer DJ working in Chicago, and before the pandemic, all three of us were little underground techno besties. We made a point to be at those parties as often as we could. We would get off work late and text each other like “you going to the function?” Or “you chasin’ demons tonight?” That’s how the song title for "Demon chaser" got thought up. Whether it was supporting Jon at one of his events or just being present in the scene, every member of Pixel Grip is such a stan of the local techno/house scene in chicago. It’s the only place we want to be, to be honest.
The institution of “the disco” is a long standing gay refuge - there is a deep history of clubs being a safe space for gay people. and in chicago, that happens to intersect with some of the highest forms of art in the world. Drag, music, the birthplace of house. Clubs are the ideal space for celebrating differentness because they are the only place where an individual can exist outside of society. Every other institution in America celebrates conformity, chaste, humility - they celebrate productivity, profit. The club is a moment in time that you get to exist outside of life, and I truly wish it lasted forever.
When I wrote the lyrics for our first album “Heavy Handed”, I was not a professional musician or entertainer yet. I didn’t understand how profound it was to fill a venue full of people. I didn’t have the foresight to understand that we would be creating a mood and telling a story to sold out shows night after night, I was just trying my best to write a song.
Going into “Arena”, the venue was the only place my mind was. I had finally accessed the forethought: “people are gonna be singing along to these songs”. That concept completely changed my perspective on songwriting and the topics that I decided to talk about in “Arena”.
I remember many seasons passing in chicago with my best friends Jon and Tyler. I remember a lot of ketamine and green tea being consumed. I remember Jon obsessively hitting his juul. I remember grocery story sushi. The writing sessions for these songs were so much fun. The recording process was fucking grueling. Becoming delirious in Adam Stilson’s studio. Drinking Fernet. Powering through.
Lyrics are the last part of the songwriting process for me. The way words enter the picture is that when I am first writing a song I do a lot of vocal improvisation. Some of the words I improvise end up sticking around for the final version. But a lot of the time I’m taking the demo home and writing lyrics based on what I performed during those first few takes. The music sets the words free, because without the music the words would never be said.
There are not many discussions about the lyrics in the band, the boys really let me do my own thing with them. but Jon and Tyler are the sole producers on the record, splitting production of the songs between them half and half. So they have plenty of other stuff to deal with!
A song like “Alphapussy” is not attempting to bring about social change. The only thing that “Alphapussy” attempts to do is humiliate my oppressors; to make my master’s dick soft with my insolence. I have a personal vendetta, and you as an audience member get to be let into my world for a moment while I talk about it.
I would say that I attempt to break free from old identities through art. I kill my former self through the art of identity curation. You can decide to be anybody at any moment. Life is theater. walking down the sidewalk is a performance.
My purpose in life is to entertain and when I am not on stage my purpose is to prepare for when I am. My purpose in life is to bring people together - to bring outsiders together in the audience of our shows. My purpose in life is to make my protests loudly heard through art.
When someone really weird makes really good art, all of a sudden it’s cool to be like them. Music, art, and fashion can honestly be this social currency that buys you acceptance. It shouldn’t have to be that way. Queer artists shouldn’t have to be granted validation based on what they can offer the world. But we need to keep pushing boundaries, keep breaking those molds, keep making our voice heard. keep being ourselves, unwaveringly. Be a fucking weirdo. keep subverting until there’s nothing left to subvert.
Books recommended by Rita Lukea of Pixel Grip:
Some books the band has been reading lately: "Sissy" by Jacob Tobia, the Xenogenesis series and "Sower" by Octavia Butler, "Giovanni’s Room" by James Baldwin, Grace Jones’ autobiography.