Scarlxrd: Stripped Back
PHOTOGRAPHY by TOM OXLEY
I’m standing in a bright airy photo studio in East London, drinking tea and shooting the breeze with Tom the photographer when we hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Call time for everyone isn’t for another forty minutes. The photography team only just started screwing light stands together. We presume it’s the studio manager arriving. Instead, “hello,” says a soft voice. We turn to see a tall, impressively built man, setting down a huge suitcase. He reaches out to shake hands. “I’m Scar. I’m a bit early.”
The accent gives away his Wolverhampton roots, his hair is perfectly messed up and he flashes us a shining smile. You wouldn’t expect 28-year-old Marius Lucas Antonio Listhrop, aka Scarlxrd, to enter any room in such an understated way. As a pioneer of the trap metal scene—definitely not a relaxed genre of music—he’s got millions of followers, a fashion label called DXXMLIFE, at least three alter egos and an incredible rate of output. Since 2016 (and this may change by press time) he’s released fifteen albums on his own label, Lxrd Records and twelve EPs as Scarlxrd, along with a handful of albums and EPs under his alts Taka Lxrd, SPRNKLZ and Lucas Hector. “With Scarlxrd it’s more obnoxious, tongue-in-cheek and literal. I say what I mean as Scar but with Taka Lxrd, I play with words and poetry and ideas. I think my best work lyrically, by far, is with Taka Lxrd.” Scar, as he prefers to be called when we sit down for the interview, has spent the last six years plowing his own furrow, building up an organic fanbase and not playing by the standard music industry rules.
His first taste of real fame came in 2013 when he spent a couple of years as a YouTube personality known as Mazzi Maz, and earned a sizable following before deciding to focus on music, first as vocalist with the nu metal band Myth City and then as a solo artist/rapper. As well as being a vanguard for trap metal, Scarlxrd was identifiable from his insistence on wearing a mask in everything he did early on. Then, in 2020, just before the pandemic really took hold, he made the decision to take it off—just when everyone else was putting one on. “Oh man,” he laughs uproariously when asked about the timing of the choice. “People thought I could predict the future. People said ‘Scarlxrd, he’s ahead of the curve.’ I’d made a song called “6 Feet” and then we had to social distance six feet! They were like ‘this guy, he was trying to tell us something; he is the future–tell us more!’ People think I predicted the pandemic. Listen, I can’t confirm nor deny that I knew about the pandemic. I’m not saying I’m a prophet,” he pauses. “But I’m the closest fucking thing,” he adds before bursting into laughter again.
Along with losing the mask, Scarlxrd has changed his whole aesthetic. Things are more stripped back and simple. Take, for instance, this photoshoot for MARVIN. There’s no entourage, no hair and makeup or stylist. He’s decided to do all that himself, hence the huge suitcase, which he can’t wait to open to show us his brand new Balmain sneakers. “I got them in every color” he joyfully admits, holding them up like brand new puppies. Once he’s filled a clothing rack and put on his signature, chunky Givenchy silver necklace, he expands on the decision to remove his mask. “I felt like that image and aesthetic [started becoming] my main selling point,” he explains.
His hometown of WolverhamptonIt was the headline. Whereas as a creative artist, as a musician, I wanted my music and my art to be the headline. The aesthetic holds hands with the music and complements it. When you wear a mask and you don’t say anything about it, people come up with their own theories and their own ideas. Which aren’t necessarily true! People thought I wore the mask to hide my face, to hide my identity. No, the mask was there to communicate the idea of a certain image and a certain vibe. When I first came out with that image in 2016 with the song “Imnxtamess” no one else looked like that. It was a unique way I could express myself through clothes. I’d strap belts and stuff around my legs, create my own look. As time went on though, it became less unique. It’s like when you hold something light for a long time it becomes heavy, it becomes a burden. Not to say that the image was a burden, but I felt I could see it becoming bigger than the music. So I took the mask off and everyone who thought I was hiding something realized I wasn’t. They were like, ‘damn motherfucker, he’s good looking too.’ His hometown of Wolverhampton and nearby Birmingham is steeped in music history, especially with metal bands. Black Sabbath, and their iconic frontman Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Napalm Death and Godflesh all come from the area. Maybe it’s something in the water there. Does the heavy music history influence the younger denizens? “My band, Myth City had a lockup in the same place that Sabbath would rehearse,” he shares enthusiastically. “I think the most influential things are things that are in plain sight. You don’t think they’re influencing you. It’s not conscious. So growing up in Wolverhampton, that influence of musical history was just in the air. If I’d grown up in the Caribbean, on beaches smoking weed? I tell you, I’d be making reggae. I think your environment speaks to you in ways that aren’t always aware of. I’d spend so many hours of my life in that lock-up with my band and we’d bring in all our influences. I would 100% do a collab with Ozzy. I’d do that in a heartbeat. Ozzy, hit me up man,” he laughs.
In January 2016, he released his first single under the Scarlxrd moniker, “Casket”. The production for the music video was slick, using all the experience (and money) he’d garnered from his YouTube career. “I know my angles. I know the lighting. I know how to edit. I know what’s going to fly and what’s not,” he explains. “I’ve learnt so much, and I think it shows in what I’m doing. I bought a drone for that video!” He filmed it one night in Wolverhampton, outside the British mainstream fashion store, River Island. The location chosen “because the lighting was so good! We couldn’t afford the big lights back then so we went down to River Island where the shop light was so good!”
Later the same year, came two more album releases: スカー藩主, an eponymous debut in October, followed by Rxse two months after that. There was a laid back feel but definite hip-hop vein running through them both. But then in February 2017, he released his third album Cabin Fever and things changed. The sound was much, much heavier and the vocals were screamed. An edge had crept in. What happened in those few months between “Casket” where he was happily dancing outside River Island and Cabin Fever, where it was like he was outside the gates of hell. Scarlxrd laughs at the analogy but quickly becomes serious.
I missed being in a band. I missed heavy music. I missed it all. I was going through that for the first time in my life. Before, when I was in a band, I’d be going through shit, your classic shit that you go through and you write about. But that year, life was on Expert Mode for the first time and everything felt like life or death. I was in the darkest place I’ve ever been. I can’t even say all the things I’ve been through because I still haven’t even processed it all. It was a traumatic year and you can hear it in my sound.
Earlier in the interview, he’d mentioned having to sell all the lenses, drones and equipment he’d accrued with YouTubing so he could eat and make rent. He’d gone from being pretty successful to having nearly nothing. Was music the only thing?
That was it. I found an outlet. Music was the only way, the only thing I had. I was in a place where I didn’t want to see anyone, didn’t want to talk to anyone. And when you’re like that, people get the idea and start to drift away. The only people I would speak to were Danyl and Vorn, my camera guys. Other than that, I was kind of a recluse. That’s why my sound went like that. It was me. I was at my most aggressive, darkest and most vulnerable. I was hurt for sure. I was dangerous, man. I used to get dressed in my whole Scar fit and just sit in my living room. I didn’t even have electricity so I just used to sit there. Fuck knows what I was thinking about but I sat there. I would sleep in that outfit and I’d just be. It was dark.
There’s an incredible work ethic with Scarlxrd. He’s so prolific that he can’t actually remember the exact amount of records he’s released. But he’s always known hard work. Well before YouTubing, Scar was a child model. “I was the face of [UK sports chain] JD Sports when I was teenager. I loved it,” he chuckles. “I was actually speaking to my manager and telling him I want to get back into commercial modeling. You’ll see me doing Calvin Klein or Balmain man! I’ve got a portfolio of when I was a kid model. I looked like a pretty girl. I absolutely killed it. I’ve always been working.”
When he started YouTubing, he earned just under four dollars his first month. But he saw the potential and knew that with perseverance, he’d start earning real money. “I think of it as a mixture of genetics and the need for attention from strangers,” he explains of his productivity. “Doing YouTube was so fun because every time I’d post, I’d get that dopamine spike of a 1000 comments and 80% of them were from girls. Give me attention! My work ethic is good because I get validated from it. What doing YouTube has taught me is that it’s not about the medium, it’s about the art.”
In today’s world “it’s the Wild West” he says, when it comes to releasing music and art. Artists can seamlessly move between on and offline platforms. They can release music on OnlyFans, play concerts on Twitch and then hit up a festival IRL. “You can make one song and put it on ten different platforms,” he explains.
Algorithmically and machine-wise—and I don’t want to sound like a tinfoil hat—but right now we’re creating music for AI. For a machine. The machine feeds back what we put into it. And what we put into the machine, is to be successful. So the machine feeds back what success is and, with sounds in particular, people start to tailor their work for the algorithm. But the algorithm is just a machine. So they’re tailoring music for a machine to pump back to you. We’re living in the Matrix. It’s fucking crazy. That’s why I see the importance in detaching and making dope art. Making stuff that I enjoy and not what I’m influenced to enjoy. I started my own subculture 100%. It has no name but you can see it and you know it’s there. The second it gets a name is the second it dies. If I have too much around me and I start to feel like things are out of my hands, then I won’t enjoy it anymore. I’ll get reckless and I’ll destroy myself. I can’t think of anything worse than living safe. I’m an independent artist that puts my entire life on edge. Things could change at any moment for good or bad and that’s the adrenaline of it and the best thing about it. Sometimes I sit at home and try to think of what I could do to totally destroy my career and whether I would be able to come back from it. I think I probably could. We get influenced so easily now because we spend all our time on screens. People talk like they’re on Twitter and dance like they’re on TikTok.
He tells a story of the huge influence two sets of cousins had on him while growing up. On one side of the family, they listened to the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn and on the other, 50 Cent and Eminem. It was a healthy regimen of musical inspiration but it would be one particular album to first excite and frighten him: Slipknot’s eponymous 1999 debut record.
Me and my brother used to sleep on bunk beds. I remember I played “Eyeless” and I’d grab one of the poles of the bunk bed and head bang so fucking hard. I remember feeling excitement and energy through my whole body as I was doing it. I knew at that moment that no one could tell me anything. I remember I would go and see my cousins when they were MCing and they’d be rapping and I wanted to be like them so bad. I wanted to rap, look cool and have a slit shaved into my eyebrow. Then, I’d go and see my other cousins, who’d put me onto Korn and shit. Then I’d go home and play a rap track and straight after that, grab that bunk bed pole and go crazy to Slipknot or whatever. That bunk bed was fucked. It was all broken. I remember I kicked all the slats in. It wasn’t an aggressive energy. It was more that I couldn’t be contained. I was very fucking wild as a kid. I was drunk on attention. I wanted attention from everyone and everything all the time. I had to be the loudest in the room, everyone had to look at me.
He pauses, “I still am that fucking guy, clearly.”