*Written by Brittany Vargas for Keyframe-Entertainment / Evolver EDM
About the writer: Brittany Vargas is a Bay Area writer, reporter, and consciousness explorer who loves to dance, heal, and study the stars.
With mysterious faerie fire dancers blending into kaleidoscopic visuals and enough eye candy to please any palette, Outersect’s first video – for his track “Kinnari” – features him performing at Bay Area community favorite Flowspace. Evoking nostalgia for 60’s gypsy hippies and old-school underground raves, Outersect beckons us from a magical van into a collage of tribal dancers and flow toy spinners. I felt a vibrant community spirit shining through as he happily orchestrated it all with his gorgeous music.
Not only did the video make me happy, it showed off the underground dance community’s creative folks who make amazing events happen. Among those who created the video are Cindy Sparks (Director), Vertel Jackson (Creative Producer), and Outersect himself (Executive Producer).
Outersect is Rob Rayle, a veteran in the community who launched his career among the artists of Jefferson Starship and Carlos Santana’s band before switching to electronic music. His live productions, DJ sets, and collaborations have taken him across all the major West Coast festivals, as well as international performances. A truly unique artist, he’s known for his ‘one man electronic jam band’ shows, has mastered a rare and powerful analog synthesizer (the Serge Modular) and created his own software, the Outersect Modeler. His passion radiates whether jamming live with Simon Posford aka Hallucinogen or at the private, underground shows he plays.
In this conversation, Outersect and I discuss defining moments in his career, his connection to Flowspace, his creative process, and more.
Photo: Photo: Outersect with the Flowtoys Flow van, paint job by Android Jones
You spent years composing and performing in rock bands before getting on your current path. Tell us about the Burning Man experience that changed your musical direction to electronic music.
In late 1995 I watched the most happening band I had ever put together dissolve into personal drama, backstabbing, recriminations, lawsuits. I don’t want to name any names, but this band had musicians in it that had been members of Jefferson Starship, Eddie Money’s band, Carlos Santana’s band. Musicians at that level … it was a damn good sounding band. As soon as it looked like there might be some money in it the knives came out. I felt like I’d hit the wall with rock bands. I did not ever want to go there again.
Then in January of 1996, I came home one day to three back-to-back messages on my answering machine about the deaths of three different friends and acquaintances whose funerals I would need to be involved in. The closest of those friends was Chuck Fischer who built the synthesizer Kokopele which I discuss here. So by the time August 1996 rolled around I had been to 3 funerals in one year … 4 if you count the band. I was ready for change and in no mood for procrastination.
I had been hearing about this thing happening in the desert for a few years by that time and thought “that sounds interesting …” but put off going. THIS time I was determined not to put it off any longer. I went to Burning Man for the first time in 1996 extremely ill prepared – pup tent, no shade structure – just for the weekend. I was a total spectator and completely sober the whole time. It blew my mind.
Musically what impacted me the most was a renegade set by a band called Beyond Race. They just set up their instruments and played on the playa with no stage, no sound system, not even a PA, just their instruments and amplifiers. There was one guy playing this totally beat up synthesizer with keys broken off. It looked like it had maybe been through a fire or two already. He was getting sounds out of this thing that I didn’t think could ever be used in music. There were maybe 30 people watching and dancing with no barrier at all between band and audience. Their music was weird and different enough that I thought “Aha! This must be that RAVE music I keep hearing about!!”
So I wound up looking for them back in SF – and I would find them on bills with a bunch of DJs playing EDM instead of with other bands. I would find Beyond Race playing in SF with psychedelic trance DJs like the mysterious Adam Om at events like the Digital Be-In.
I decided to reach out and connect with that community. They seemed to be in a completely different universe from the commercially minded musicians I had been dealing with – and that was exactly what I wanted.
You have a converted garage studio where artists like Perry Farrell, Bassnectar, An-ten-nae, and Goa Gil have mastered tracks and CDs. Is that the main component of your creative process? What are other aspects of your creative process?
The studio is definitely where all the concrete work around my process gets done. I’m not the kind of artist who can do all my writing on a laptop using headphones and virtual instruments. I need a keyboard, some knobs, & a good set of speakers at minimum to record anything, so that ties me to my studio for any concrete work. My creative process isn’t always about concrete work, though. A lot of it is conceptual. A lot of it is just ideas.
Sometimes a melody just starts running through my head. I can be anywhere … driving the van, at a party, in the shower, whatever. If I can keep it going long enough to get to the studio with it, I will record it as a quick sketch and come back to it later. This can be kind of frustrating because I often lose the melodies before I get back to the studio. Who knows perhaps I have already forgotten the greatest work I might ever have done??? Tragedy!!
Seriously though even if I forget them sometimes it seems like the good ones come back over and over again and can be remarkably persistent. Those always get recorded eventually. Other times the ideas I get aren’t even concrete musical ideas like melodies or harmonies, but concepts for a song or ideas about how to make a song or a melody.
For example, this latest track I released, Kinnari, has some of both. The first main melodic theme that repeats at the beginning and in the end is one of those melodies that just kept coming back to me until I finally recorded it and put it in a song. The middle section with the nonsense sounding vocal came to me as a conceptual idea rather than a melody, and it is the concept that give this track its name.
So what does “Kinnari” mean?
The Kinnari (and Kinnara) are very well known mythical creatures from Southeast Asia and India. They are kind of like mermaids (and mermen) except they are half human & half bird instead of half fish. The middle section of the piece with nonsense vocal was an experiment in trying to make a woman’s voice sound more like birdsong, so I decided to name the track for these creatures.
What was the inspiration behind the video?
In terms of a video for techno/EDM type music, “Face of God” by R/D was the main inspiration. The idea of the four fire dancers and the mandala of flow toys came pretty directly from that video.
I decided very early on that I wanted two male and two female fire dancers – instead of four women (as in “Face of God”). I wanted eye candy for both men and women, not just for men. That inclusive instinct expanded to showing a very diverse crowd, to showing lots of different types of people partying together,and to presenting a wide variety of body types as attractive.
In terms of overall vibe, I was trying to capture the DIY party energy of late 1990s parties. Trying to capture some of the emotion that the movie “Groove” did in a 5 minute video. Of course, the fire spinning and flow arts communities were a central inspiration to the whole video.
How long have you appreciated the Flow Arts culture? What made you choose that location FlowSpace?
I’ve been involved in the Flow Arts community since before it had that name. My first exposure to it was seeing people spin fire at Burning Man in 1996 and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.
I’ve known Sean and Prisna of the Flowspace since sometime around 1997 or 1998 – it’s been so long that I don’t remember exactly where we met the first time. We are long-time friends. I’ve been to the Flowspace many times, and they’ve used my music in promotional videos for Flowtoys in the past.
Most importantly, I know how much they love and appreciate the art of spinning fire, and that they understand very well the principles of fire safety in fire performances. I wanted fire performances in the video. I knew that was going to be difficult… especially now in the Bay Area in the wake of the Ghostship fire.
They were really enthusiastic about the idea, connected me with many of the people who helped with the video production, and were very helpful in so many ways. This video would never have happened without them.
Photo by: @lillq
Photo by: @lillq
How has your music evolved over the years and where do you see it going?
I grew up playing classical music and then in rock and pop bands. That kind of music is all about harmony and melody. Often little attention is paid to the sounds. Most of the instruments are much more limited than synthesizers in the types of sounds they can make.
When I first started making modern style electronic dance music (1997 or so) I was struck by how little attention was paid to harmonic structures like chord changes and melodies. I heard a lot of electronic music at that time that had no chord changes at all – just one chord through the whole song – and relied only on changes in the sounds to keep things interesting.
Let’s face the truth, though – a lot of that music completely failed to keep things interesting. It might be good to dance to on a big sound system but outside of that it is so boring that almost nobody would ever want to listen to it. Still a lot of that music DID work and was interesting even though it sat on just one bass note through the whole thing. That kind of amazed me.
So I decided to write without chord changes, to use only one chord per song. I was forcing myself to rely only on sound changes, to get more creative with sounds instead of worrying so much about notes.
After doing mostly that for a very long time I have recently rediscovered my love for classical music, especially piano music, and complex chord changes. I think that the music is headed towards an integration of the sound design you find in good electronic music with the complex harmonic relationships you find more often in classical music. Certainly that is what I am experimenting with these days. We’ll see if it works.
How has Bay Area culture – with its community of musicians, artists and creatives – shaped you and your music?
OMG that is such a huge question. It’s kind of like asking how the air I breathe affects my music. I can’t imagine that I would be making the music I am making now if I lived anywhere else.
What’s the intention behind your music? What impact do you want to have on people?
Mostly I want to share my joy and my happiness with other people through my music.
What are some changes you’ve noted in the electronic music industry?
Well it really is an industry now. It’s big business. When I first got involved with EDM here in the USA it was not that way at all. If you wanted to have an EDM party here then, you had to do it yourself one way or the other. It’s nice how much more professional the productions are, the production value has gone way up, but it also seems like it is more of a spectator type experience for most people. The DIY approach that was necessary just a few years ago invited people in as participants in so many ways.
Tell us about any upcoming gigs or projects you have coming up.
There is going to be another video out before too long. So many great fire performances from this shoot got left on the cutting room floor that we feel we have to use those performances in another video for another track. We can’t just leave them unseen. Look for that on my YouTube channel first.
Musically I’m working on an EDM version of a classical symphonic piece now. I expect to release that later this year.
Most of the live shows I play are private, unadvertised, and not open to the general public. But I will be playing at the Stilldream Festival this year, July 27-30. You can find any other public shows on my website or my Facebook page.
Buy the KINNARI EP on Bandcamp: https://outersect.bandcamp.com/
Outersect on Facebook
Outersect on Soundcloud