“Oh no, that balloon just flew out of the window,” Kingdom says absently, looking out at the Bosphorus. Born Ezra Rubin, the 35-year-old producer and Fade To Mind co-founder is sitting on a C-shaped, modular ’70s dining set inside Beyoglu nightclub MAMA, where he will be playing a set tonight. A group of ten people flutter about the stage in the adjacent room, some setting up equipment, others, hanging up balloons that spell “Kingdom”. With dirty dark green carpet tile flooring, old leather sofas, chandeliers, the smell of a thousand cigarettes, and ephemera from modern Turkey’s past, the atmosphere is more Studio 54 than Berghain.
Rubin first came into the scene as a DJ in 2003 in New York City. Lately, he doesn’t play as much as he used to, he points out contentedly. “I’ve been in L.A. for almost eight years now. My focus has changed to spending half of my time making stuff for other people,” he says. “And that’s totally liberating, because different people come to me with their different influences, and I get to cater to what they want.”
“WHEN WE STARTED THIS, WE WERE KIDS AND WE’RE DEFINITELY ADULTS NOW AND EVERYONE WANTS TO BE CREATING THEIR OWN LITTLE UNIVERSE.”
For many years, Kingdom and his ever-extending fellow Fade To Mind artists had an under the radar following, known to New York, London and Berlin’s post-club kids. However, the collective did create a seismic wave, building up to the comeback of strong female vocals in both mainstream pop and R&B in 2017, and paved the path for other diverse, PoC and LGBTQI+-led music collectives like NAAFI and NON Worldwide. “If what you’re doing is not inclusive of LGBTQI+ and people of color, then it isn’t making any sense,” says Rubin. “It wasn’t even really intentional but I do feel like I started something slightly different with Fade To Mind, and it seems to have stuck and had influence.” Established in 2011, the label is often referred as a “sister label” to UK-based Night Slugs, which Rubin is also a part of. The artists from the two labels often collaborate, play together and do remixes of each other’s work.
Nguzunguzu’s “Timesup”, which Rubin defines as “some of the most specifically sad dance music that ever came out,” was the first ever Fade To Mind release. It was followed by three Kingdom EPs, including “Vertical XL” (with the opening track, “Bank Head” featuring a then-up-and-coming Kelela), followed by releases and mixes by Nguzunguzu, Asmara, Rizzla, and Future Brown.
Last winter’s “Tears in the Club,” Rubin’s first LP as Kingdom might be his most personal one to date. “‘Tears in the Club’ was me leaving the club, basically,” asserts Rubin. “It was taking apart club music and making it into ballads and R&B, making it into this slower stuff. I vented out all the vulnerability and some of the sadness and nostalgia, and I feel like the music I’m making now for my next project is way less afraid.” In July, Fade To Mind celebrated its seven-year anniversary with a special set and “Fade 2 Mind” branded champagne bottles in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Rubin released a single, “Getaway Kind” with Zalma Bour, one of the singers he is developing, and has another one in the works with London-based singer Sema, who he says has a Mariah-level voice. “When we started this we were kids and we’re definitely adults now, and everyone wants to be creating their own little universe,” he says of Fade To Mind. “I think that’s a good thing, because if you’re stuck in the collective mindset, there are certain limits to what you can do. So, our e-mail chains now are more like a Venn diagram of smaller circles that cross over.”