Local Action is proud to present Cyclorama, the long-awaited debut album by Ariel Zetina.
A resident DJ at Chicago’s iconic Smartbar, a long-standing Discwoman family member and a key part of the city’s dance music and LGBTQ+ communities, Ariel has established herself as one of the most exciting electronic artists operating today - through releases such as 2020’s acclaimed MUAs at the End of the World and 2017’s Organism, and her meticulous approach to DJ mixes - as recently evidenced on Sestina, her 2020 contribution to Mixtape Club.
Written across 2021 and honed this Spring, Cyclorama is Ariel’s most impressive and all-encompassing work yet, showcasing her as a producer, vocalist and also curator, pulling together an ensemble cast of her peers in Chicago (Cae Monāe, Mia Arevalo, DANNN) and some of the most exciting names in contemporary club music (Violet, Bored Lord).
Conceptually, Cyclorama draws heavily from Ariel’s background as a theater writer and producer. Popularized in 19th century German theater, a cyclorama (or cyc) is a large curtain, placed on the back wall of the stage. This creates an illusion of extra depth in the background, and often is used to represent the sky. In Ariel’s words, “I imagine all the tracks on this as the lights and action projected onto the cyclorama. The whole album is like the cyc, a representation of the sky. Or an imagined sky. An imagined dancefloor. An imagined theatrical production.”
As well as drawing conceptually from Ariel’s background in theater, the album draws on a personal level from Ariel’s journey as a trans woman of color - most directly on Cyclorama’s three vocal tracks, ‘Gemstone’, ‘Slab of Meat’ and lead single ‘Have You Ever’.
On ‘Have You Ever’, Ariel collaborates with Cae Monāe, a dear friend and fellow trans woman of color. “‘Have you ever been with a girl like me before?’ and all the lyrics refers to the fear and anxiety that cis men who are attracted to trans women feel, and also any woman that doesn’t fit the mold of a stereotypical woman”, Ariel explains. “Cae and I - and many trans women - have been in so many situations where society tells cis men they cannot be with trans women and this explores that and gives power to all trans women in this situation. The techno reflects that, as well as the “Spell my name” section at the end, showing the true power of trans women.”
On ‘Slab of Meat’, Ariel delivers a hypnotic solo vocal performance that builds in intensity with each line (“I am treated like a slab of meat both emotionally and sexually sometimes, especially one left in the freezer on the back burner. Why did you bring this meat home from the market? For what? You’re wasting meat!”), while ‘Gemstone’, a collaboration with Mia Arevalo, continues the empowering themes of ‘Have You Ever’ in a different context:
“[‘Gemstone’ is] a call for trans women to take time with your transition because it will all happen eventually. As two girls who have started our transition almost a decade ago, I think we have both seen that we have always needed to take our time to take our time. Reminders not to rush or compare yourself to other girls. I love the metaphor of gemstone months representing different periods of transition. I’ve been so many different women in recent years, and I'm excited to continue my journey.”
It’s immediately followed by album closer ‘Tropical Depression’, the title of which is a reference to Ariel growing up with tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes affecting her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as well as her family in Belize City:
“This track for me is about living day to day and continuing while dealing with my really intense clinical depression. The sample comes from “Why can’t you let me go?” but is supposed to be transformative and not necessarily legible. How we hold on to our trauma and depression like a protective shell. This is an attempt to deal with it in a different way.”
The Cyclorama album cover, directed by Dylan Bragassa, stars Ariel alongside Monāe and Arevalo in an imagined theater production. In Ariel’s words, “a theoretical performance starring only trans women of color - I wanted an ensemble shot to represent the ensemble nature of this album! Love how Dylan combines so many ideas to create a very unique image that asks so many questions.”
Published: 27th October 2022