la Roche
la Roche; Courtesy of the artist

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La Roche sees magic all around them. Whether it’s coming from their community, childhood memories, or their favorite music, the burgeoning D.C. artist finds enchantment everywhere. This outlook influenced their 2018 debut EP, the glitchy, dreamy Thaum. In the years since, la Roche has grown as a creative, recognizing new responsibilities and complex identities inherent in adulthood. Their upcoming album and film reflect this maturity.

La Roche is the project of Rochelle Sacks, a Mexican-Jewish artist born in the United States. They lived in Vietnam, Korea, and Panama, until returning to the U.S. at age 15. Their talents are as varied as their stomping grounds. The nonbinary, genderfluid musician, drag-DJ, and producer also toils with dancing, writing, editing, and cooking. They’ve been creating music since childhood and taking in the world’s magic like a sponge. “I am interested in music through the lens of sound, and sound through the lens of the world around you,” they tell City Paper.

Among their many interests, music is their greatest teacher—la Roche likens it to a healing force tied to their identity. For years, they performed under their birth name at open mics, but a more dynamic expression of artistry came about after a toxic ex tried convincing them to leave music. “It was only until someone asked me to give up music as a whole that I decided I had to commit my entire life to it,” they explain.

La Roche pursued an audio production minor alongside a social justice major at Virginia Tech. “[Music] is not something I have to chase or run against,” they say. “It’s something I’m growing actively, that’s sitting next to me, that I’ve planted.” And the importance of music in their life has only grown. Where it was a hobby for years, it is now a resonant part of la Roche’s identity. “That’s the beauty of music,” says la Roche. “You’re to believe in your stupid little world before anyone else does.” 

Their debut EP was inspired by the wonder we feel as children and references the minimal amount of energy it takes to perform an act of magic (as in thaumaturgy). “Through the lens of a child, you get to see what’s missing, what’s absent,” la Roche says. “As an adult, you get to look at all that and recreate it.” Los Dos, their latest album, which is releasing this year, (recorded with Erik Sleight of local noise pop group Br’er), goes beyond childhood awe. A recent relationship and traumatic break-up brought la Roche to set even more intention when defining music as a place for healing. “Music is our wizardry. It has a magical utility,” they say. 

With the album, they’re not trying to make sense of the universe’s intentions. There are questions, but no need for answers. They connect the uncertainty with their faith: “Being Jewish, you question everything—God and gender alike,” they say. 

The album itself is about a sense of inescapable inevitability. “Braille,” the lead single to be released in August, expresses power dynamics in relationships, and how we often turn away from ourselves when we need the truth most. “He asks if I feel it / But I’m blinded to my needs,” la Roche sings over a churning, electro-pop beat. There is a strong focus on identity and the challenges of radical honesty. 

As la Roche explains, radical honesty is necessary to confront who you are, your needs, and what changes you must make to meet those needs. “The only way out is through,” they say. “There’s no hiding.” 

With so much of la Roche’s music inspired by the world around them, community is integral to the artist. So it’s only natural that their interests move beyond music and into political activism. With their best friend, filmmaker A, la Roche co-wrote, produced, and sound edited a new film documenting the events leading up to and surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection. The film is due out this spring.

But the idea for the film began prior to the insurrection, while la Roche was participating in the Black Lives Matters protests during the summer of 2020. They found themselves in the streets along with the nation’s palpable outrage, camera in hand. The filmmaker was there too, documenting the events and the Metropolitan Police Department’s response to protestors. 

“As someone with a camera, I had a moral obligation to ingrain myself in my community,” la Roche says. Their friends were teargassed, and chased and corralled by police. MPD’s actions spurred the creation of the film. In the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, la Roche and the filmmaker witnessed MPD interactions with increasingly violent, right-wing extremist groups aligned with then-President Donald Trump that were stirring up chaos in the city. Their cameras continued rolling, documenting the rising tension before the insurrection.

Told through the lens of protesters on the ground, la Roche says the film paints a through line of the White supremacist foundations that prompted the insurrection. Beginning with MPD’s violent response to BLM protests, the cameras then show how White nationalists responded to Joe Biden’s election with back-to-back protests on Nov. 14 and Dec.12 that led to violence and arrests. From this angle, la Roche and the filmmaker define the insurrection as inevitable and juxtapose the “police brutality within communities of color…to the lax treatment which insurrectionists were given,” la Roche says.

Their work on the film is as central to la Roche as their new album. “If you’re not seeking to have a personal connection with the world around you, you’re failing,” they say. Working on the film forced them to consider the ethics of framing and consent, as well as ways of documenting and spreading forms of successful community support. The film emphasizes the extent to which communities collectively fulfill needs unmet by the state.

Within the many arts la Roche is pursuing, dedication to community and authenticity remain at the center of it all. The vision is best described when they explain their mantra, paraphrasing Nina Simone: “Music is a magical utility, but it also has a moral utility to reflect the times that we’re living in.” 

Thaum, and soon Los Dos, can be streamed online via la Roche’s website