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Credit: DJ Plead

Recognise: LAVURN

As Cassius Select, the Toronto-born DJ and producer Lavurn Lee has spent the past decade crafting mercurial club music packed with bass and breaks. But on his debut album under his given name, he revisits the vocal-led experimental R&B of his earliest releases, revealing a more intimate side to his artistry. Alongside a Recognise mix filled with shadowy ambience and anxious beats, Dhruva Balram learns the story of ‘LAVURN’

“I’ve realised I’m bad at interviews,” says Lavurn Lee over a video call from Berlin. “I’m bad at all the stuff outside of making the music. Some artists are so good at it, like so curated that they sound a certain way, and there’s a real character.”

Over the past decade or so, the enigmatic Toronto-born DJ and producer has avoided such rigid characterisation, exploring a wide array of styles under numerous guises, from leftfield blends of R&B and hip-hop as FAKE, through hazy bedroom beat balladry as Guerre. It’s as Cassius Select that he’s made the most impact, with EPs of ceiling-threatening club music released on labels such Banoffee Pies, Unknown to the Unknown and Hypercolour. His productions and DJ sets exercise genre-blurring fluidity, fusing his love for classic house and breakbeats with bass-heavy lashings of footwork, garage, techno, hip-hop and ambient music. It’s a mercurial sonic identity that’s placed him behind the decks at clubs and festivals in Berlin, London, New Delhi, Hong Kong, Sydney, Seoul, Shenzhen and beyond.

On his self-titled debut album under his given name, however, Lee alchemises the many shades of musical self into a clearer portrait, lifting the mask a little and leaning into the multifaceted nature of his artistry. “For a long time, I wanted to use aliases as a fresh start,” he says. “It was an idea to create a new world separate from the previous stuff. Now, as I’m older, I’ve realised it doesn’t matter: I can put everything under one name and it’ll still contain all the multitudes of what I want to express.”

Written in the aftermath of a relationship ending, ‘LAVURN’ is an uncharacteristically intimate 13-track reflection on love and loss, filtered through a prism of experimental R&B. At once sparse and ornate, Lee stitched the album slowly over the course of three years; a tapestry of processed vocals, surgically programmed drums and haunting melodic textures that provide a snapshot of the pain he felt during that time, and a reminder of the resolve it took to move past it and into a state of self-love.

Before ‘LAVURN’ came to be, Lee had spent years living in Sydney, where he was a key figure in the city’s then-bustling electronic music scene; early releases as Guerre and Cassius Select landed on local labels like yes please, Hunter Gatherer and The Finer Things. It was there that he met DJ Plead, whose SUMAC label put out the debut FAKE EP in 2018, and has now provided a home for ‘LAVURN’. “Jarred [DJ Plead] influenced the way I make music,” Lee says of his close friend and former collaborator in the trio BV alongside Marcus Whale. “He’s the guy that showed me footwork for the first time. I was like, ‘wow, that’s the most futuristic music ever.’” 

When Lee unexpectedly had to leave Sydney toward the end of the decade, a bout of depression followed him as he moved between Hong Kong, Toronto and Berlin. FAKE had been “more of a rap thing”, he says, but unmoored and heartbroken, he soon found himself drawn back to the singing that had been prominent in his earliest releases. As an act of cathartic self-care, he started penning deeply personal lyrics, which would eventually form the basis for ‘LAVURN’.

“I started working on it properly for six months or a year after the break-up,” he says. “It felt good to express myself through songwriting. It’s been so long now, that I’m like, ‘it’s just a funny snapshot’, because I don’t feel those things anymore. But some of the lyrics are really raw. I’m now thankfully detached from those feelings.” 

Lavurn sitting on a dark stage shirtless singing into a mic with his eyes closed
Credit: DJ Plead

As he gradually started putting music to his words, it was DJ Plead and SUMAC co-founder T.Morimoto who encouraged him to continue. With them in Melbourne and Sydney respectively and Lee between Toronto and Berlin, sending projects back and forth was a way to stay in touch and support one another. “If they didn’t encourage me and kept pushing me to finish stuff or leave stuff alone, then the album wouldn’t have been finished,” he says.

A current of desperate longing runs through much of ‘LAVURN’. “I think the most pronounced thing is maybe the feeling of wanting someone back,” he says, a feeling reflected in the lyrics of ‘Little Mother’, in which he sings: “I want you back / is that so bad?” “I don't feel that anymore, which I think is good,” Lee quips. “It feels healthy not to feel so attached.”

Opener ‘CCC’ invites the listener into record with warm piano chords and cut-up vocals reminiscent of late-era Mac Miller, a constant throughout the record. ‘Compact Disc’ sounds like glitch-hop reinvented, while ‘Hardcore’ brings in skeletal drums. With its restrained snares, ‘Steppin (Flipmode)’ sounds like an early Neptunes beat. By the end of the project, the influence of Tricky's arresting vocals will have become apparent, but are rendered in Lee's layered, effect-laced style.

The anxious rhythms, shuddering synths and weighty bass of 'Windchill', 'Tool (Medley)' and 'Still' demand attention, pulling you into the vivid gloom at this record’s heart – a feeling as though the sandcastle Lee is building is too close to the water. 

Lee continually samples himself throughout the record, an apt demonstration of the merging of his numerous musical selves.  “I wanted things to be self-referential,” he explains of his process. He would write a beat, a melody or vocal line, and then strip elements away before weaving them into other songs, changing the tempo and timbre until they became otherworldly, unrecognisable fragments This painstaking technique, where recurrent elements were layered on top of each other to create collagist new tracks, is part of the reason the album took so long to make. 

“Initially, part of the delay was laziness,” he admits. “But then, once I was putting everything together, it felt like it was its own insular world, because certain themes are repeated, almost like a movie soundtrack.” Despite familiar lyrics and motifs recurring in different cuts, each rendition sits within its own distinct context, like individual movements in a single piece of music.

Working on ‘LAVURN’ has also influenced Lee as a DJ. In sets played under his own name, he’s embraced his new found sense of creative freedom, incorporating “indie and folk music that I grew up with” as well tracks from the R&B and hip-hop artists he’s been influenced by like Neptunes, Timbaland and Tricky. It’s a vibe that echoes through his Recognise mix for DJ Mag, which traverses shadowy pianos and haunted autotune passages into gauzy ambient and glitching beats. 

But it’s not like Lee has given up on the dancefloor though.  “Cassius Select is purely for the club,” he explains of his best-known alias. “[It] is a very specific kind of space, and I’ll keep doing that because I love the club and love making dance music. But this LAVURN project makes me want to play more R&B and hip-hop music.” 

No matter which guise Lee navigates the complexities of the music industry through, one thing remains clear: his dedication to authenticity and artistic integrity is unwavering. Though his monikers each explore distinct modes of expression, they are drawn from a shared vocabulary. With ‘LAVURN’, he’s opened the door and invited listeners further into this musical world, and to embark on that ever-changing journey of self-discovery with him.


FAKE ‘Trouble’ 
Will 2 Zero ‘Surveying The Floor’
Mica Levi X Oliver Coates ‘Bless Our Toes’
LAVURN ‘Recording’
Djrum ‘Forgetting’
2562 ‘Solitary Sheepbell’ 
FAKE ‘Slim Chance’
Mica Levi ‘Tears’
Klein ‘Ballad’
Hype Williams ‘Madting’
Dro Carey ‘Unreleased’
Zombie X Burial ‘Ultra’ 
La Timpa ‘Treatment’
Klein ‘Storm’ 
Oscar Key Sung ‘Next To (Loop)’ 
Tricky ‘Tattoo’
Placebo ‘Hug Bubble (Brad Wood Remix)
Martsman ‘Subbed’ 
Radiohead ‘Pulk/pull Revolving Doors’ 
Carrier ‘Into The Habit’ 
Wen ‘Strings Hoe (Wen Remix)’ 
One Inch Punch ‘Wallflower’ 
Daemon X Cassius Select ‘Round3 (Vip)’
Smerz ‘Flashing’ 
Lavurn ‘JK’ 
Lavurn ‘Play’
Charlotte Horn ‘Bound (To It)’ 
Björk ‘You've Been Flirting Again (Flirt Is A Promise Mix)’ 
Oscar Key Sung ‘Sand (Outro)’ 
Cassius Select X Daemon ‘Davos3’