Phutureprimitive is the performing name of Rain, a Bay Area-based electronic musician who will play in The Catalyst Atrium on Saturday, December 5th in support of his latest release, Searching for Beauty in the Darkest Places Part 2.
Local Santa Cruz: Names like Dance Out Your Demons and Searching for Beauty in the Darkest Places seem to suggest that you sometimes use your music to convert negative feelings to positive ones. Would that be fair to say?
Rain: Yes, absolutely. Music is literally the one thing that has always been there for me, particularly when I was younger and learning how I fit into the world and what I wanted to do, developing my relationship with myself and going through all the growing pains of that process. I could put music on if I was frustrated, and it would literally allow me to feel those feelings.
Being older now, I completely understand why that’s so therapeutic. When we experience trauma, it creates stuck emotions in our body, and until we allow ourselves to experience those emotions, they’re going to stay stuck. I think music has an ability to create an environment where it’s okay to let those feelings out and to feel those feelings, whether to a small or a large degree. And I think that process definitely has a healing effect.
And it also happens when I’m creating music, but in different ways. For me, making music is a way to express things that I don’t know how to do with words. It’s a great way for me to convey emotion and to convey duality. That’s a big component of my music: I like duality and juxtaposition—you know, presenting something that is very soft, lush and warm up against something that’s very rough and distorted and gritty. I think life can often be that way. You sometimes are left holding these paradoxes: “Gosh, I feel this one way; these are my overall beliefs, but I also find myself behaving in a completely different way.” I guess I’m really intrigued by that, and I find that music is a way that I can express that.
Why have you gravitated toward electronic music in particular?
I’m not entirely sure. Ever since I was old enough to start collecting music myself, I’ve always, for the most part, found myself liking electronic-based music, but music that wasn’t explicitly electronic. It wasn’t so much a logical choice; I just found that when I was going to buy music, listen to music or go out and see performances, they were consistently electronic-based. Where that innate preference comes from, I’m not entirely sure.
One thing that I can say about electronic music is that I like the flexibility of it, and I like the fact that you continually have the opportunity to hear sounds that are previously unknown to your ear. If you put together a four-piece rock band, you’re primarily playing the same instruments as all of the other four-piece rock bands in the world. There’s still an infinite variety of ways you can track, record and master the sound of a guitar alone to convey an incredible range of emotion, so I don’t mean to say that all guitars sound the same by any stretch. That being said, with synthesis alone, there is such a wide range of possibilities. And ultimately, my favorite kind of music is music that combines the best of both of those worlds, so that you get something that is very natural and that your ear is familiar with. Ever since I don’t know how long ago, we were taking horsehairs and creating a bow on a stick, creating a plucked instrument or stretching animal hide across a hollowed-out log and beating a drum. It’s like the human voice being the universal instrument: that’s something that our ears are used to. But there’s something exciting about combining that with sounds that are unknown to the human ear and seeing what emerges out of the stew. [Chuckles]
The name Phutureprimitive seems to relate to that.
Exactly. Yeah, before I ever had the idea of being a musician, my favorite kind of music blended both of those things together. That was one of many reasons why I landed on the name Phutureprimitive. You can get a lot of things from the duality of that name, but organic and synthetic—that was one of the conscious reasons that I picked that name.
I like the name because it’s provocative, but it’s also widely open to interpretation. It’s two opposite things, but they’re somehow appealing next to each other. Every time somebody gives me a possible answer to what the name means, I tell them that they’re right, because they are. I didn’t mean to convey something explicit or specific. I think you could use that term to convey how the human race is right now. You and I are living in what felt like science fiction only a number of years ago, and yet there are ways that we’re being incredibly primitive to each other as a species. You can go any number of directions, and using it to explain the type of music that I appreciate is one of many reasons that I chose the name.
In regard to blending the organic with the synthetic, you manage to keep your music sounding very alive and human, which is not always an easy thing for electronic musicians to do. How do you make sure that the human element is there?
One way that I accomplish that is through transitions. You generally create songs in chunks, and then you put those all together. If you don’t put much effort into the way that those sections transition from one to the other, it can feel more cookie-cutter, sterile and blocked out, which is exactly what it is. That can add to an already sterile medium, given that you can quantize your sound and have everything exactly perfect. That’s another thing: being willing to play with timing a little bit—add swing to your percussion and not leave everything so perfect that it just feels like a drum machine. And then the third element to that is actually playing with dynamic range and volume. When you play a guitar, every time you pluck a string, it’s going to be at a slightly different velocity. Even though the note will be the same, the timbre is going to be a little different. It’s going to resonate a little differently because of how hard or soft you pluck that string. The human ear has an incredible ability to determine what is different and what is the same. It’s very easy [when making electronic music] to go in and draw the notes for the melody with whatever instrument you’re using and have all of those notes be exactly the same. It takes extra effort to go in and change the velocity so that you get different volumes for each of your notes, which gives it a lot more of a human feel.
Differences in velocity can really convey emotion. Also, a little bit of human error in rhythm can be a good thing, because being directly on the beat all the time can sound very assembly-line. Along with bringing some swing to the percussion, do you ever slightly offset the beats so that they’re not perfectly quantized?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m hearing that done a lot more with the snare, for example. Usually, in this day and age, most snares in EDM [electronic dance music] are many layers of sounds to create the final snare or clap sound that you hear. I’m starting to hear more sounds where the layers are slightly offset, so it’s not all lining up at exactly the same time. And certainly with any hi-hats or rhythmic percussion, that’s where you can really play with a more human feel but still keep things lined up so that it doesn’t sound like it’s off or blocking the flow of the movement.
Will the “Dance Out Your Demons” game be a part of your show here in Santa Cruz?
Absolutely. I really enjoy that. I came up with that idea a couple of years ago. We just make a quick announcement before I go on inviting people to go to the merch booths. We have a bunch of duct tape and Sharpies there, and we encourage people to grab a pen and write down on a piece of duct tape a fear, a demon or maybe a wish they have—something they want to bring into their life or something they want to go past or get out of their life—and stick it to the bottom of their shoe so they can literally have the experience of going out and dancing out their demons. It’s great, because people will text me pictures of a piece of tape that maybe is on their shoe right after the show—or, in some cases, literally months later—where it’s just rubbed bare, and they’ll exclaim, “Look! I danced it out!” It’s pretty rewarding, and it also makes a game out of something that might be a little too woo-woo or something that people might not otherwise think to do. It may give you something to think about throughout the night as you’re navigating, dancing, having fun and talking with people—something that you can come back to again and give some thought to as you’re having a shared experience with everybody there.