After the first edition of the RH House Of Music magazine, we really liked the idea of doing a magazine, and that has lead to the second edition in the making! The upcoming HOM features stories on Invisible City Editions, Awanto 3, Sahel Sounds’ Mamman Sani and more…
To warm up for it, we decided to put Xosar’s feature online that we published in the first edition. Enjoy!
Very pretty, but far more bright, Sheela Rahman a.k.a. XOSAR picked up producing electronic music after studying neuropsychology. After her first release, not so long ago, she agreed with Rush Hour to put out a few beautiful records. In a short space of time, we got to know her as an interesting lady in her cockpit of electronic musical hardware.
We had a conversation about her releases on Rush Hour, about soundtracking scenes in life and how she conjures magic when she creates music.
Let’s start at the point of your first release. You hadn’t put anything out before your release on L.I.E.S., and then there was this really peculiar, dark but above all super refined EP called ‘Tropical Cruize’. To me this release sounded like you had been producing interesting stuff for a long time. Why didn’t you put out music earlier?
Releasing the tracks wasn’t a huge priority for me, I was more concerned with the feelings associated with making the music, the endorphin rush that each new melody would induce, that satisfaction synchronicity induces when the elements fall into place. I wanted other people to share these feelings, so I posted some tracks on the internet. Eventually people started contacting me saying they were interested in releasing it. They usually thought I was a guy and addressed me as “bro” or “man”, but I was ok with that. For some reason it made me feel powerful. After flirting with the idea of becoming a faceless producer, I decided to just be myself, so here I am!
In a short time you have released quite a few records. As far as I know each one has got its own peculiar vibe, or story. Can you tell me more about how the releases came to be? Let’s talk about your output on Rush Hour, starting with ‘Ghosthaus’.
I recorded it in San Francisco, right after my room mates and I decided our house was haunted. This excited me. I imagined that I was starring in a paranormal TV series. In each episode I’d be contacted by the central intelligence agency, they would inform me of my next mission, then I would go onto investigate whatever UFO landing site or haunted house I would need to go to and hopefully solve the mystery. After much time spent fantasizing, I decided I might as well concoct a theme song for the opening credits of this fictitious tv-series: ‘Ghosthaus’.
Haha, nice. How about ‘Nite Jam’?
When I was young, I wasn’t allowed to go out. No parties, no friends. Definitely no boyfriends. I lived in the suburbs, the closest entertainment within a 5 mile radius was a Vietnamese strip mall and a Toyota dealership. In my solitude, my only escape was music and books and I started to idealize this concept of seductive big city life in my head. The city is where all the energy is, where things happen, the jugular. In this vision, I’d descend unto the dusk, foot heavy on the pedal, wind against my cheek, deep and sensual beats blaring. I’d pull up to an underground warehouse party and immerse myself into the music and the atmosphere of the mystical gathering, sharing some sort of transendental experience with the other party goers. I would fantasize about this scenario and city life in general. When I stayed with my parents for a week in the beginning of last year, I was remembering all these childhood fantasies of mine, trying to capture the imagined scenes, giving them justice by giving them a soundtrack. That was ‘Nite Jam’.
Last but certainly not least: ‘The Calling’.
I produced this in Los Angeles at the end of last year. This isn’t so much soundtracking a fantasy this time, but more like soundtracking my real LA life. I was living in this wild mansion with seven people, I’d be meeting all sorts of new people every day. I went to the desert nature in palm springs on the weekends, and was working in a warehouse in downtown doing graphic design during the week. It is a colorful song to a colorful upbeat time in my life.
You have studied neuropsychology and you are a graphic designer. And, it can’t be ignored, you are a woman. What inspired you to start producing electronic music?
I started producing music on my mint green Kermit the Frog Casio EP-10 in the east side of San Jose when I was 5 years old. I took some time off to fulfill my trivial earthly requirements such as school, then I picked up where I left off about 4 or 5 years ago. I just had this unshakable desire to recreate certain vibes that I’ve either imagined or experienced but have always clung to because of the unexplainable mysterious magic they conjure.
I reckon you were the only girl around being into it?
Only girl? Hmm more like only person! After I took an interest in both electronic music and producing, it took several years for me to find like-minded people. Where I grew up, everyone listened to hip hop and rap, and freestyle which was cool. When I finally went to audio engineering school there were only 4 people in the class. I was the only girl though, yes, along with a dubstep producer, a hardcore speedcore freak, and a 73-year-old one-armed medieval new age producer.
How did you pick up producing music? What were your first electronic musical instruments and why?
After many failed attempts at learning software myself and just not knowing where to start, I consulted with my close friend Adeptus to help me figure it out. He sat for many hours, explaining to me the intricacies of programming the Electribe using the EA-1. There’s something incredibly special about the Electribe. It enables you to glide through time and space with impeccable finesse, you never have to disrupt your creative flow with some decision about which Ableton preset patch to select. I practiced every day, recording bits and pieces into garage band.
This wasn’t good enough though. I wanted a more robust understanding of production and sound, I wanted a solid fountation based in fact and precision. After swooning over this audio engineering school for several months, I saved just enough money to afford it. I had a full time job and after work at 6 every day I would ride my bike 10 minutes to my audio engineering classes. When I was there, I finally got that foundation I was looking for, they taught me all about everything from how to program a synthesizer to music theory to breaking down the production merits of Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’.
You moved to De Hague, how do you like it so far? From your point of view, how is San Francisco different from De Hague?
Both are very beautiful, different places with a lot of personality. San Francisco has the big city vibes, the Netherlands has the old world energy. There isn’t a whole lot of raw nature in San Francisco as accessible as it is in the Netherlands. That’s one of the reasons I love the Netherlands for the time being, because I like to have easy access to nature, the beach, the dunes, the forest.
Xamiga and Trackman Lafonte & BonQuiQui are your collaborations with Legowelt. In what way do you find each other while making music and how do you approach the process of making music completely different?
Lately Danny (Wolfers, Legowelt) likes to sequence all his melodies in Ableton and I love to play them by hand. I like the idea of sequencing the melodies with a computer, and it’s probably more precise that way, but I feel like I can access and channel certain parts of your body and soul when I play live that you can’t attain quite as well when you are doing it through machine-like programming. Although you can achieve some pretty freaky intense results that way at least. Everyone is different and thrives under different conditions though. Danny has been producing for 10 years more than me, so he probably has advanced further into a level that I don’t yet understand fully.
You know that Kermit Casio I was talking about earlier? Well I still have it and I use it on Xamiga songs sometimes. For ‘Kermit’s day out’, I threw down some melodies onto a kick then Danny supplemented with additional percussive sounds then we kept sending the file back and forth until we got bored then we called it done.
I know Legowelt has a thing for his Amiga 1200. I was wondering… Is Xamiga a combined name, Xosar + Amiga?
It’s actually the name of a baby tiger we met in Las Vegas at Siegfried and Roy’s tiger refuge.
At this point you are working on your first album, it will be put out on Rush Hour. What can we expect? Or is it all still a big blur?
I’d prefer to let the music speak for itself, I’m more curious to see what kinds of worlds and fantasies the music conjures in the minds of the listeners!
Of course you still have dreams of things you’d like to do or that could happen. Can you give an example?
You know what the biggest room in the world is? The room for improvement! I really hope to improve my production skillset and I guess my life skillset in general. I hope to jam with my friends more, and hopefully star in a paranormal tv series.
Text: Mijke Hurkx
Translation and editing: Max Cole