September 27, 2023

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Rising DJ/film maker QRTR on Brooklyn dance parties, her Portuguese-Puerto Rican roots [Interview]

Rising DJ/film maker QRTR on Brooklyn dance parties, her Portuguese-Puerto Rican roots [Interview]

Rising DJ/film maker QRTR on Brooklyn dance parties, her Portuguese-Puerto Rican roots [Interview]03 QRTR By Bren Haragan

From DJing eclectic soirées in the city as an NYU undergraduate to making her Holy Ship! Wrecked debut in Mexico alongside Overmono and TSHA in December later this year, Meagan Rodriguez is a dynamic rising talent making waves in New York and abroad. Known by her artist name QRTR— pronounced “quarter”—the producer is a Brooklyn-based DJ and filmmaker who has seen a meteoric climb in the dance music space within the past few years. The sound designer opened for rising dance music producer Fred again.. and dance music icons Swedish House Mafia at a surprise pop-up show at H0l0 in Queens, New York last month. QRTR, who says she will always consider herself “a fan above all else” is still buzzing about being asked to open the back-to-back set on August 5. “After the party, Fred actually sent me a very sweet voice note saying he heard some of my mixes prior and liked what I’d been up to. It was such a surreal experience,” she gushed.

For all her success, QRTR is surprisingly grounded and humble. Her team and devoted fan base are the ones who delight in highlighting her accolades and latest projects both online and offline, showing up in droves to see her work her charm behind the decks of the main stage at HARD Summer, Electric Zoo, Electric Forest, and Coachella. This month, QRTR submitted a track from her latest body of work, infina ad nausea : the remixes, for a first-round ballot consideration for the upcoming Grammy awards season. The Massachusetts-born artist has come a long way from merely dabbling in music and film-editing in her bedroom as a teen.

“My parents gifted me my first computer when I was in middle school—this was the same PC that had Sony Acid Pro pre-installed, as well as a full creative suite that included video software,” QRTR recalled. In her earlier years, she spent hours alone at home, tinkering with sounds and editing short film projects, some of which were created with friends from school. She was certain she’d be a singer, a musician, or an actress in her adult life, until the end of high school, when behind-the-scenes work in film and television took on a new appeal. The creative was a shoo-in for NYU, and after moving to the “Big Apple” to begin her undergraduate career at the university, it didn’t take long for her to declare her specialization: film editing and sound design. “It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized I wanted to fold music into my life in a substantial way again,” she recalled.

On the evening of her 21st birthday, the budding film protégé fell in love with Brooklyn’s nightlife. She’d go on to spend countless evenings and early mornings exploring its myriad of venues and genres—not to mention New York’s larger dance music culture—alongside her creative pals. Her decision to foray into dance music, though, has its roots outside of the city. During a sunrise set at Bonnaroo 2014—the first major music festival she attended—QRTR dropped LSD for the first time. “Something just clicked for me in terms of how badly I needed more dance music in my life. It felt like I had discovered something about myself that I was compelled to explore, causing me to pursue my own dance music project,” she mused. Thus, the QRTR project was born. Well into her degree path at NYU, QRTR downloaded Ableton, bought her first DJ controller, and, within a year, began throwing underground soirees in Brooklyn on a monthly basis as part of the then-burgeoning artist collective, .WAVCAVE.

“Influenced by the queer dance party scene in London,” .WAVCAVE found its footing in the borough in 2016, thanks to the developmental efforts of QRTR and her best friend Jenny Palumbo. “We were struggling to find immersive dance parties in Brooklyn with eclectic lineups, so we found DJs and visual artists who felt in line with a more playful energy we were always looking for in other parties and made it our own,” she said. Today, .WAVCAVE has evolved into a small imprint with a dedicated studio space in Bushwick.

Several years after she’d established her artist project, QRTR continued to work in film and television. While at Sundance on behalf of a documentary series to which she’d contributed work, she played a few demos for the series’ composer, Khari Mateen: “He was one of the first people I let listen to the songs I was working on, and he told me to reach out to a mastering engineer to wrap the songs up and release them as soon as possible.”

Although she was regularly producing and DJing events in Brooklyn through .WAVCAVE, she hadn’t yet committed her focus to her artist project outside of these events. “That extra motivation from Khari at Sundance was a huge step in getting me to finish those tracks and officially release them. Ryan Schwabe was the engineer Khari recommended I get in touch with, and we still work together on most of my releases to this day,” she said.

In 2017, QRTR self-released her debut EP, Absinthe Party. “Although I feel I’ve grown immensely as a producer since that first EP, I’m still really proud of my choice to experiment with different genres on that EP, because it really set the tone for the rest of my career up until now and allowed me so much flexibility as an artist to explore different ideas and sounds,” said QRTR. Inspired by Jacques Greene, Caribou, Daphni, Tokimonsta, and Aphex Twin, not to mention The Social Network‘s soundtrack, QRTR’s debut composition is filled with moving, electronica dance cuts tinged with the cinematic. A subsequent stream of original singles gave way to wide critical acclaim: the thumping “DRIVER”, introspective “I Gave Up” and “Forest Sprint,” and the textured “RUN OUT THE BACK”; these tracks were integral to the artistic development that precipitated QRTR’s debut LP, Drenched. Initially released in 2020 as a limited-edition cassette that immediately sold out, the eight-track project cemented QRTR as a heavyweight in the making within the East Coast’s dance scene.

For Drenched, the artist pulled sounds, textures, and imagery from experiences gathered on watery excursions and arduous treks through mountainous terrain on the islands she explored with her family in her youth. “My father was born in Puerto Rico and my mother was born and raised in Madeira, a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco. Waves and dance music have a lot in common, the way they provide release through repetition. I spent a lot of time on both islands growing up, and I can’t help but find myself returning to the way the ocean makes me feel. Constantly trying to fold that sensation into my music—excitement, wonder, comfort, release,” shared QRTR.

Madeira is a mountainous island, she explained, lined with rocky beaches that run alongside its cliffs, and alluring seiche waves that beckon to islanders. Drenched is ultimately a reverence to QRTR’s love for tidal bores, sea swells, and the ocean’s harrowing depths. The homage takes shape in the form of a playful, sonically dense project that’s as immersive as it is danceable. “In Madeira, the people have an intimate relationship with the ocean, one of both respect and fear. The way we look toward its vastness and accept that we will never fully know what’s underneath… To be drenched, you must allow yourself to submerge completely, while being careful not to be consumed.”

Held in high regard by the who’s who of dance publications, QRTR’s second full-length composition infina ad nausea hears her elegantly demonstrate her prowess for sound design across tracks that feel uniquely expansive, euphoric, and at times, meditative. “The idea of ‘pushing boundaries’ is something constantly evolving in my mind. Contemplating what it means to elevate what I’ve already been doing is one of the most exciting parts of being an artist for me—forever chasing what that boundary is, in order to push it along,” she mused. “I think I’m making some of my best art yet, and that’s all I can ask for right now.”

Featured Image: Bren Haragan

Tags: .WAVCAVE, Brooklyn Mirage, Fred again.., jacques greene, Meagan Rodriguez, QRTR, Swedish House Mafia

Categories: Features, Music