Having found each other within the budding US queer scene in the mid 2010s, Ariel Zetina and Bored Lord embody the notion of "soldier of the scene." Despite their disparate sounds, and approaches to DJing and producing; the pair share a love of the communities that created them — acting as a bridge between Illinois and California. In recent years Ariel Zetina and Bored Lord have combined their sound in a series of B2Bs, sharing tracks and most recently, with their collaborative track 'Smoke Machine'.
For Zetina, that sound is deeped in the queer community, her Belizean background (with injections of traditional genres such as brukdown, marimba and punta) and awe for her current hometown, Chicago. Having served as a Smartbar resident since 2018, Ariel has gained a cult following for fluctuations between the genres that grew from the Windy City — primarily euphoric queer anthems, squelching acid deep cuts and provocative house blends. Not shy of a cheeky edit or two to get eyes to the sky, Ariel boasts a plethora of raunchy edits in her production catalogue — think a high-NRG rework of Baltra's 'Baby', a multitude of SOPHIE bootlegs including 'LEMONADE' and a much-rinsed remix of Boy Pussy's 'Pump My Body Up'. With releases on Femme Culture, Majia and more; November saw the release of her highly-anticipated debut album 'Cyclorama' on Local Action Records, a club-focused but introspective record that sees Ariel explore her theatrical background and her love for her trans sisters — many of whom feature on the album.
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Bored Lord's sound - though swayed by her upbringing in Memphis, Tennessee - is a staunch mix of UK bass, breakbeat, UKG and Bay Area rap; owing to her current home — Oakland, California. Similarly to Zetina she has gained a reputation for producing mind-blowing club edits, and existing upon a knowledgeable and reference-heavy, but still lighthearted and humorous plane. Jumping on the seventh track of Ariel's 'Cyclorama', their collaborative effort 'Smoke Machine' sees them meld breaks with high-tempo house, delivering a sultry yet tongue-in-check anthem preened for misty dance floors.
We caught up with Ariel Zetina and Bored Lord following the release of their track and Ariel's album 'Cyclorama', to talk Miami Bass bangers, PinkPantheress edits and repping their trans sisters at home and abroad.
AZ: So it began when we met in Minneapolis.
BL: Oh my god, is that where we met? In that weird little rave thing?
AZ: I think that was the first time IRL. We stayed in touch and Daria sent me stems, she said: "I think you would add good shit to this." Then it ended up being a really great, natural, digital back-and-forth between us. It was weirdly easy for a production to happen, you know what I mean?
BL: We'd also played a show together in Chicago, and [Ariel] had played in the Bay Area with me. So we'd hung out, we'd heard each other play, we knew each other's stuff really well.
AZ: We'd played b2b already before that, when Daria played at Hideout in Chicago years ago.
BL: You'd played years ago at the warehouse I lived at actually [laughs]. It was a super easy process though, we've known each other for years. I sent Ariel the first batch of stems and then she pretty much sent me back a finished track. I'd sent over some loops and she was like "here's a song!"
AZ: I think you sent it back after that and arranged it even better. It was one of those production moments, where you can be working on something forever and forever, and then you can just get a track that's super easy to nail down and it’s amazing. Do you get that Daria?
BL: Yeah kind of. I think if something isn't working for me, then it;s not working. But some projects I just latch onto because I know something is there. But this one, we knocked it out so fast — we passed it back and forth over like a week or two? and during that I was already playing it out [laughs].
AZ: Me too. [laughs] I remember when Daria played at Smartbar this year and she played it while I was in the audience. It was a complete moment for me. It solidified my faith in the track. I get so doubtful over things I've created sometimes, so hearing Daria play it on that soundsystem was incredible.
BL: It's so weird you feel like that because I feel like I play one of your tracks in every one of my sets.
AZ: Awww! Yeah I need to be less like that.
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Oh, you two!
AZ: Yeah I just get like that sometimes in production, I think it's because it's a world of people buying super expensive gear and hunting down samples, exclusive software etc. I don't use a lot of that fancy shit.
BL: I think it's all overrated.
AZ: Yeah, I agree. I have been watching all these YouTube videos titled like “10 necessary plugins,” and it’s crazy. This is what experts are telling people to do? This is so overly complicated for no reason [laughs]. Like, I do not understand!
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What elements do you think each of you bring to this track from your own musical styles?
BL: [Motions to Ariel] Chicago!
AZ: Yeah, totally. I would say break beats for Daria. We come from similar interests though. Our venn diagram has similar overall club interests, then some unique regional stuff too.
BL: Oh yeah. I mean, when I first started making music in Memphis, a lot of what I was making was inspired by mid-west house music and acid. Larry Heard lives in Memphis and the crew around Alleviated Records, so I started in that area a long time ago. But then, I feel like we both came up in the proto-club era of SoundCloud.
AZ: Yeah the 2012-2016 era. I was super into grime when I started, I still am, but I was only into grime for a second.
BL: I'm still into grime. [laughs]
AZ: Yeah! [laughs]. I was obsessed with it and I kept thinking: "Why am I this non-UK child listening to Dizzee Rascal?" Proto-club is such a way of phrasing our tastes though, I agree.
BL: We're also in that handful of trans girls who were really doing it a few years ago.
AZ: I feel like me, you, everyone in Jasmine [Infiniti's] crew — when she was living in The Bay Area...
BL: Yeah, like New World Dysorder.
AZ: Especially in that, there were only a handful of us. We've been DJing for a while, you know?
BL: Yeah we're old ladies now [laughs].
AZ: Yeah! It's really weird that now there are so many trans girls DJing, because that really wasn't the case back in the day.
BL: At all! It was not cool to be a DJ [laughs].
AZ: It's actually crazy to think when we started it was only dudes DJing, such a weird period.
BL: It's only really shifted in the last five years, now I feel like all the young girls are DJs.
AZ: It's especially true in NYC and Chicago.
BL: The Bay Area too!
So onto 'Cyclorama' Ariel, you have a lot of your trans sisters on the record and there’s a bit of a running theme around the connection between you all. Do you both feel comforted by the cohort of great trans DJs coming up right now?
BL: Pretty simple. [Laughs]
AZ: It's great because you can be in a new city and meet someone you've never met before and it's a unique experience shared to be trans, so we support each other. I've definitely had my ass saved so many times when I've been in situations touring...
AZ: [laughs] yeah. I'm glad I always have that. It's the nicest thing, It gets lonely travelling.
BL: Also, it's not fun travelling trans.
AZ: It's such an ordeal, it's so great when you meet someone and they get it.
BL: I think to see it grow so much is so cool. It's not that there's a sound around it either, everyone has their own thing going on. We can just give each other love, play on line-ups together. It's crazy to go to another city and see a bunch of trans people in the club. It's not something I ever thought would happen.
You just played a b2b together at Unsound right? How was that?
AZ: It was so fun! It was also surreal too, seeing Daria in Poland! [Laughs] It was really easy to play, the crowd was so giving. We played one-track-to-one-track the whole time and I think both of us were just like: "Yeah let's go!". We really hype each other up.
BL: I honestly felt like we were goofing off, it felt criminal to get paid to do it. I remember reading a review of the festival and, because we played at the same time as Kode9 and Tim Reaper, it said that it left a very queer crowd for our set. You could feel a bit of an energy shift in the room when we went up, we played straight after Batu. There was a lot of dude energy in the room, and then we got up. [laughs]
AZ: Oh god, when you played that PinkPantheress edit you have. That for me, represented the energy in the room that night. I like how both of our styles show through, even if we're playing our own stuff.
BL: We both play heavy, but there's a lot of femininity. You can feel us in it, but that doesn't mean we're going to let up and go easy on 'em — you know?
AZ: It's so funny I was playing at this gay bar on a Tuesday or a Wednesday or something, and I played the original mix of SZA and Doja Cat 'Kiss Me More’ — and one of my DJ babies was like: "Damn you're shelling it out! Why can't I play this song? I love it!" It made me realise that you always have room to put yourself into a set. Honestly, I believe you could give everyone the same Top 40 chart tracks and everyone would sound different.
BL: I think you would sound different, but...
AZ: [laughs] I wanna hear some noise artists' rendition of the Billboard Top 10. Well maybe not now, since Taylor Swift is the entirety of the Top 10.
BL: Is that true??
Yeah, apparently it's the first time that's ever happened.
BL: That's so surreal to me, because I could not tell you what any of those songs are.
AZ: I listened to the Lana Del Rey one and that's it, and she's barely on it! They cut her out!
BL: I literally feel so out of touch.
AZ: Yeah It's crazy. But yeah, maybe not the Top 10 now but I'd like to see what a noise artist would do with it.
How do you think both of your backgrounds have influenced your music taste?
AZ: Well, talking about Taylor Swift, It's weird because we're both from the South seeing Taylor Swift who used to be a country singer and she's now pop. I grew up on a diet of Martina McBride and shit like that.
BL: Yeah Taylor Swift came from Nashville though, Nashville is the yuppy central of Tennessee — you can quote me on that [laughs].
AZ: You're gonna have all of Nashville coming from you.
BL: I'd love that, I'd love to fight Nashville
AZ: That's a very Memphis thing of you to say.
BL: Wearing my Realtree camo hat, talking shit on Nashville, with my cut-off tee [laughs]. You can take a girl out of the south.
AZ: Oh my god, there was a party that I went to that was Realtree themed and I was so shook. Like ya'll don't even know, I'm from right outside Jacksonville like 45 minutes from the Georgia border type shit. North Florida is very different from the rest of the South, but it's very Southern.
BL: I don't know, Northern Florida is pretty buckwild.
AZ: That is an hilarious way of putting it.
BL: That Florida/Georgia line is some country ass shit.
AZ: I mean Jacksonville is the birthplace of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Yellowcard [laughs], and Quad City DJs who made 'C'mon N' Ride It (The Train)'.
BL: Yeah Jacksonville is so part of that Miami bass/Florida breaks area. I know my shit — 'Peanut Butter Jelly Time', 'Whoomp! (There It Is)', 'Space Jam Theme Song'. When I played in Miami I played 'C'mon N' Ride It' and I've never seen a crowd reaction like it.
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Can you tell me an anecdote that you think sums up your friendship?
AZ: The first thing that came to my mind was sitting in bed with Daria and ordering Wingstop. [laughs]
BL: I think it speaks to our dynamic. We're both very low key, considering we spend so much time at the club. Honestly, when we're not in the club we're usually just hanging out. The first thing that came to my mind was when you were at my warehouse, and you were telling everyone that we were the weird artsy cousins of the trans DJ girls.
AZ: Yeah, we are! We're the girls who don't live New York type shit, you know.
AZ: Like, sorry we don't live in New York or Berlin...
BL: I bet you get that all the time too, everyone going "Why don't you live in New York?"
AZ: I love that everyone assumes I'm from New York though, like every time someone says it to me I'm like "I love that you think that, but no."
BL: Yeah whenever I'm in NYC everyone is like: "So what neighbourhood do you live in?"
AZ: "Just super west, y'know"
BL: [laughs] Yeah.
AZ: We also play in so many random cities together, that's great. Now we've been in Poland together. It's never been intentional, we've just randomly ended up in the same place.
So, the track is called 'Smoke Machine', could you tell me your favourite smoke machine moment?
AZ: Oh my god, yes. It was at this party called Wangs, and It was probably the only place that was legitimately POC in the gay part of the city. It would have these crazy ass, tiny parties and it would smell like poppers everywhere. We'd be in this little room and not be able to see anything because of the smoke machine, listening to some incredible Chicago house. I loved it.
BL: You know what, the first thing that comes to mind is when I played in Miami earlier this year at ATV Records — legendary little spot. I didn't know that they had one of those ice cannons, you know, EDM-festival-style. But I cannot emphasise how small this space was, it was not necessary. The song drops and I was terrified, but also thought it was really cool? [laughs]. It felt like a Slime Time Live moment. I was on a lot of mushrooms so it was ten times weirder.
AZ: Yeah, whenever you're on a psychedelic and you're in a haze it’s so disorientating.
BL: Oh my god, even sober sometimes there's a lot of smoke and lights and I'm like, what is going on right now?
AZ: Yeah, this cannot be good for all of our receptors right now.
Do you both feel like soldiers of the scene a little bit in your respective places?
AZ: I definitely rep Chicago, it's so important to me. In a lot of ways too, I play music people in Chicago are making now but also some of the older stuff — there's so much great Chicago acid and Chicago hard house.
BL: 90% of what I play is, if not Bay Area people, other US artists that I know personally. I think as a DJ, and as someone who has been in a scene for a long time before it popped off, it’s something you naturally do. I'm really sentimental as well, if my friends make stuff I'm going to play it. I love representing The Bay because it's really what made me, then throwing stuff from Memphis in there. I love wearing my influences on my sleeve, I love community — I love playing other trans artists too. When I'm overseas I typically play stuff that reminds me of home.
AZ: I'm always so glad when people send me tracks, I've been introduced to so many trans artists that way. I think for me and Daria, it's amazing for us to see music from girls who come from the middle of nowhere in the US too.
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Do you think you are both inspired by your current scenes in Chicago and The Bay Area respectively?
BL: I'm definitely influenced by the scene out here. I think it's a lot of the reason I do what I do, there's a lot of UK influence but also funk and Bay Area rap. I'm also influenced by Chicago stuff too, so when we meet up we get to meet in this fun middle place where we mix each other's styles. Also Ariel has played in the Bay Area a bunch too, we even played in LA together. Ariel is an honorary West Coast girl.
AZ: Yeah It's so funny that has happened. I've played in SF a lot, it's probably the place I've played the most outside of Chicago. I always appreciate the scene in SF. I think my first time in the Bay Area was when Jasmine Infiniti booked me for a party in Oakland, it was my first time I'd left Chicago to go somewhere else. The energy of how people mix there is so different, I always love seeing that — with queer scenes in cities, it's so cool to see how people operate.
BL: I think that's why both of us are in the places that we're at. We've invested a lot of time into the communities and scenes here, we're part of it and we're contributed the sound.
Finally, can you both give me a track that reminds you of the other?
AZ: That PinkPantheress edit! Whenever I hear the original of that track now 'Just For Me', I think of you Daria.
BL: Ariel made this 'Pump My Body Up' remix years ago, and it's so bitchy sounding. It's so chaotic, without the kick drum on it, there's moaning and a triangle — there's so much weird percussion going on. It's such a style that I only associate with Ariel, I've been playing that track for years and years at this point. I've just played it in Amsterdam.
AZ: Oh my god, I love that. It's aged so well!
BL: It speaks for you, you've built a sound for yourself. Props to you girl.
Ariel Zetina's debut album 'Cyclorama' is out now, buy/stream it here.
Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter