I was ready to be surprised. Although San Diego’s electronic scene is far from renowned, Random Rab‘s flavor of thoughtful downtempo felt right at home in Little Italy.
If L.A. is the golden star child of EDM, San Diego is the estranged black-sheep brother who wears hooded sweatshirts and listens to grungy beach rock and smokes pot in his room. The electronic names that do come through America’s finest city are generally world famous house, dubstep, or trap artists who play venues like Omnia or Soma, or like, Typhoon Pacific Beach.
So when I walked into the Music Box SD on Thursday and saw LiefHaus spinning nondescript dance music to a sparse crowd, I worried that I was staying up past my bedtime for nothing. I struck up a conversation with a guy named Alex. We got to talking about other names in the downtempo electronic scene. He spoke avidly about the time he met Bluetech at an intimate show at Soda Bar. I told him about Emancipator’s live set at Belly Up last year, and how my previous roommate was a producer who loved Tipper and Kalya Scintilla. We both nodded enthusiastically and sipped beers as the crowd started to fill in. Maybe there was hope for the San Diego electronic scene.
Stoik started his set with a bang, or rather a bass-heavy, sitar-forward auditory mandala that I wish I could have Shazam’d had I not been standing awestruck in the center of the now throbbing sea of people. This is what I was hoping for. A man with a scruffy beard and a flat-brimmed hat held his arms wide and swayed forward and back in time with the pulsing rhythm. Stoik was much more present than LiefHaus. You could feel that he was playing to us, here, at The Music Box, tonight- especially YOU right there with the dreadlocks and the light-up shoes.
Random Rab came out around 11:30. An arc of oval-shaped light bulbs framed Rab’s gear table like a steam punk church organ. His set opened less dramatically than Stoik’s but the crowd was enthusiastic all the same.
Random Rab’s music is more melodic and emotional than most EDM. On the surface it can sound minimalist or boring, but I think that’s because we’ve grown accustomed to the build-up and drop structure of “mainstream” EDM artists like Skrillex, Avicii, Deadmau5, and others. It’s easy to grow numb to subtle artistic choices in a genre that is mostly concerned with hyperbole and melting faces and blowing minds, etc. etc. Listening to Random Rab demands a quiet mind and perhaps some patience and introversion. Not to say it isn’t super fun to dance to, but it’s an experience more than a commodity, and the real payoff comes when you close your eyes and turn inward.
Random Rab’s set at The Music Box made it clear that San Diego can hold its own when it comes to turn out for alternative EDM artists. Festivals like Lightning in a Bottle and Symbiosis Gathering are hubs for this sort of thing. And as events like Burning Man fall into mainstream awareness I can only hope that San Diego will attract more artists who make good-ass dance music that doesn’t make your head fall off or whatever.