It was the seventh soggy weekend in a row in New York, but a throng of 20-something club kids with chunky boots and shaggy mullets still made the pilgrimage to a punk venue in an industrial stretch of Brooklyn where the British producer Evian Christ was performing a four-hour D.J. set to celebrate the release of his debut album, “Revanchist.”
Backlit by a rig of xenon strobe lights and silhouetted by arena-grade fog that engulfed the dance floor in a blissed-out haze, Christ did the most to bring a religious experience to the room. His masterful, theatrical buildups, full of relentless bass lines, pounding synths and prismatic arpeggios, blasted from the speakers as a single disco ball sparkled overhead. The crowd seemed to rise off its feet and levitate alongside it.
But Christ, born Joshua Leary, didn’t always know how to work a room like this.
“When I started, I could hardly D.J. at all, to be honest,” he said in a recent interview from his home in the northern English town Ellesmere Port, where he still lives. Over a decade ago, Christ was catapulted into the spotlight after his 2012 mixtape “Kings and Them” caught the attention of Kanye West, who invited him to produce on his buzzing, shape-shifting sex jam “I’m in It,” from “Yeezus.” The track helped catapult his career: Collaborations with the rappers Travis Scott and Danny Brown, an itinerant club night called Trance Party and a fresh record deal followed. But he didn’t put out a full-length album of his own until last Friday.
Most artists don’t drop their debut a decade after their breakthrough, but Christ, 34, has long chosen the unconventional path. In the 2010s, he was part of a wave of producers seeking out intersections between underground electronic music and mainstream hip-hop, splicing chopped-up rap vocals with hard-edge synth stabs. His skill for that approach endeared him to ravers across the globe, in part because he has long been devoted to trance, an often-derided genre of dance music rooted in big climaxes and unabashed sentimentality. On “Revanchist” he leans into it at a critical moment in the sound’s bubbling comeback, making a statement about its relevance and power.
It’s an audacious album from an artist who practically stumbled into music. The first time Christ stepped foot in a professional recording studio was at West’s request. He was in his early 20s, and had been making tunes in his mother’s garage while studying education and teaching schoolchildren during the day. “I was more interested in other hobbies, like sports,” he explained. “I just did music if it was raining.”
At the end of 2011, he uploaded some experiments to YouTube, which the now-defunct Tri Angle released as the mixtape “Kings and Them” in February 2012. A year and a half later, West (now known as Ye) and his team flew Christ to Paris to work on “Yeezus.”
“It was slightly weird,” he said, chuckling.
Christ attributed the long wait for his first full-length partly to his desire to step out of the spotlight and refine his craft. “Since I started making music, I was suddenly expected to work on No. 1 records,” he explained. “I didn’t have the experience or know-how to follow through on that in a way that I felt good about.”
His reverence for dance music was planted early. Christ fondly recalled playing the 1996 racing video game Wipeout 2097, which had a soundtrack featuring acts like the British electronic producer Sasha and the rave duo Orbital. “I was obsessed with the feeling of driving these spaceships around and listening to this music,” he said. His stepfather, who D.J.’ed on the weekends, had a room at home where he kept records and turntables; often he’d play compilations from the influential clubbing brand Gatecrasher.
Christ was immediately infatuated with the flashy Y2K album artwork of the genre: colorful, sci-fi dreamscapes that featured skyscrapers or hovercrafts from the 22nd century. At the end of trips to the supermarket, his mother often rewarded him with trance CDs to play on his Walkman. “Trance music is quite childish in a way,” he said. “I found this music really exhilarating, really futuristic.”
He was introduced to the art of production on weekend visits with his father, who was a fan of ’70s and ’80s synth-pop bands like Human League and Pet Shop Boys; his dad saved up to buy keyboards and sequencers. They’d fiddle around with the machines for fun, but when Christ was in his teens he struck up a Myspace friendship with his fellow English producer Lukid, who taught him the basics and encouraged him to continue exploring.
Making “Revanchist,” he returned to old project files dating back to 2014, rummaging through unfinished ideas and upscaling the freshest ones. He completed an initial version of the album in 2020, but the pandemic and sample issues delayed its release. After a monthslong battle to clear one crucial sample failed, Christ decided to write some new songs instead, keeping what he still liked from the original draft of the album.
“Revanchist” preserves the sweeping drama of Christ’s style, diving into hyperpop excess and apocalyptic delirium. Its epics embrace trance’s signature soaring supersaws — a type of synthesized sound created by layering de-tuned saw-toothed sound waves.
“When I first started playing trance in my sets,” he recalled, “it was really challenging for people’s tastes.” He noted that the culture of electronic music was — and often still is — elitist. “It was like, ‘This is serious electronic music for people with taste. And this is garbage electronic music for normal people.’”
The Dutch curator and trance expert Arjan Rietveld said many people perceive trance as the kind of music they’d hear on the radio or TV around the turn of the millennium, citing its commercial sound “with cheesy vocals and distasteful video clips.” (The Belgian artist Ian van Dahl’s turn-of-the-century blockbuster “Castles in the Sky,” for instance.) He said the genre’s negative perception was also somewhat the result of technological advances: “Making and sharing music became accessible to pretty much anyone with a computer, some software and an internet connection.”
Today, trance is experiencing a resurgence and critical reassessment. Other electronic artists are returning to the sound: “Strong,” a song by the xx singer Romy and the British producer Fred again.. employs the genre’s sky-high arpeggios and penchant for feather-light vocals and inspirational lyrics. Though it was once a faux pas for D.J.s to spin these tracks in some avant-garde spaces, now it’s not uncommon to hear the genre’s colossal synth leads at underground nightclubs.
“It’s a genre of music that has way more depth to it than even I probably have discovered yet,” Christ said. “If 1 percent of people end up doing half of what I’ve done, then it’s all worth it. ’Cause this music has been lambasted for so long.”
The fact that “Revanchist” is arriving at a moment of renewed interest in the genre isn’t lost on him. “When I was really young, I found this music really exciting, uplifting and sublime,” Christ said. “And through no conscious decision of my own, I ended up getting drawn back into trance music.”
“A lot of things in life go full circle somehow, and this has been one of them.”