Easy Chair — From the October 2016 issue

Psychedelic Trap

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Driving into Cleveland on a warm July Saturday to secure my press credentials for the Republican National Convention, I get a text from a friend in California, a guy in his thirties who knows what’s going on. He surfs the dark web. He gets how Bitcoin works. He’s a Mason, an actual Mason, in a lodge, and he loves to discuss the sort of trippy conspiracies that Masons were once accused of backing. Having learned from my Twitter feed that I’m in Ohio to cover the G.O.P.’s nomination of Donald J. Trump for president of the United States (does it get any trippier than that?), he wants me to check out a local underground-music scene — psychedelic trap — led by a friend of his, GoldfaceMoneywatch. Would I like to hang out with Goldie? Sure. The convention doesn’t start till Monday. Judging by the police presence downtown and the labyrinth of traffic barricades, I’ll want to avoid the city center until the last moment possible.

It’s dark by the time I set out for the address Goldie gave me on the phone, and I’m apprehensive. I’m white, and from talking to him I gather he’s black, and this is a grisly moment for race relations. Following the deadly shootings of two African-American males by white policemen in Minnesota and Louisiana, five cops were killed in Dallas eight days ago. (Three more will be killed tomorrow in Baton Rouge.) The press has been pushing an ominous story line concerning what to expect in Cleveland, including talk of a group of black protesters who plan to exercise their legal right to openly carry firearms outside the convention. Certain media organizations will be issuing body armor to their staff. Is this the best time to voyage out at night in a rented Chevy Malibu to meet a strange trap musician and his posse in an unfamiliar neighborhood? When my wife, back home in Montana, rings my cell phone, I don’t pick up. She implored me last night to skip this whole assignment.

To my relief, the house is quite large and handsome, and it sits on a tree-lined street in Cleveland Heights. Goldie greets me in the driveway. His dreadlocks reach his broad shoulders, but I’ve gotten his race wrong. My middle-aged bearing, short hair, and mall-store polo shirt seem to put him on edge. I don’t imagine he’s sober. His pupils are cosmic, bottomless, dark. I follow him into the house and down some steps to a basement rehearsal area with busted sofas and ashtray-covered speakers, where three other guys in their twenties — one white, two black, as if this matters; it doesn’t seem to, not to them, at least — are lounging around a drum set, drinking beer. I try to explain my presence: a traveling journalist in town for the convention, killing time. No response. To dissolve the mood, I ask what they think of Trump. My plan is to let them vent and then join in, forging an alliance. It doesn’t work. The gnomic white drummer doesn’t speak a word, while the two black guys offer thoughtful comments on the allegedly bigoted nominee, who doesn’t infuriate them as I’d expected. As for Hillary Clinton, they express some doubts. Their tone is impersonal, chill, farsighted. No mention of race. No tension. I’m surprised. Then Goldie picks up his guitar and plugs it in, his friend grabs his bass, and the drummer grips his sticks. The fourth kid watches as they start to play, improvising, jamming, their eyes squeezed shut, rattling a lighter that goes sliding off an amp.

For now I’ll say this about psychedelic trap, or at least the version I heard in Cleveland: it’s outlandish, it’s loud, and it follows no straight lines. If you think you can hear where it’s going, that’s you, not it. That’s you, feeling lost, anxious for a groove. But it is not anxious. Lost is where it lives.

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