"To play music in Asheville, you have to be into different types of music," says Brien Worsham of RBTS WIN, a band that mixes electronica with traditional instruments. It's a hybrid, and a burgeoning genre in the local music scene.
RBTS WIN, for example, was born when Worsham (a vocalist and guitarist with bigtime emo-corish act Secret Lives! of the Freemasons, and now-defunct Throwing Myself) met musician/producer Javi Boleo from the experimental outfit Kings of Prussia. "I'd been wanting to do an electronic project, and Javi was doing everything that I was into, like sample-based electronics."
Worsham, who grew up in Asheville, has been playing music for a decade-and-a-half, everything from punk-rock to metal to electronica-derived sound. "It's easy with RBTS because we're able to do all different kinds of music. We have anything from super keyboard-driven emo-electronic, to R&B, to hip-hop, to indie rock."
How does it work? The band begins by taking samples from vinyl and recording them onto ProTools. They use mostly vintage analog synthesizers. Drum and organ hits are sampled; the old Moogs and Yamahas are live. On stage, the group and its equipment — a maze of computers, keyboards, cables and pedals — operate as a single organism: part rock band, part science experiment.
"All the bands that really inspired us with this type of music have left Asheville or disbanded," Worsham says, naming Sports and EAR PWR, the latter now working out of Baltimore and signed to Carpark Records. "I don't think Asheville was ready for it at the time they were trying to do it."
But these days, a solid if still-small contingency of analog-electronic crossovers can be found at area clubs, including experimental rock trio Sonmi Suite, whose drummer Dave Mathes sometimes performs with Paper Tiger — the collaboration of singer/songwriter Molly Kummerle (Ruby Slippers) and DJ Mingle. The Hundred Hands, a psychedelic trio, blends loops and electronics with bass and guitar.
And so the local love affair with jam of all sorts — whether born from guitars or loops — continues.
"A lot of people in Asheville grew up on this psychedelic-rock music — Phish or The Grateful Dead," says promoter/DJ Timothy Cross. "You find a lot of electronic music has that, it's just a 21st century version. The psychedelic aspects are coming in with how the DJs are mixing it, or how the studio is putting it together on computers."
He adds, "It's almost live a Revenge of the Nerds. When I was a kid there was an element of coolness with the bands. The kid sitting at home playing on his computer wasn't participating in much of anything. Now, they have a laptop, they're sitting at their house and they're recording an album."
But Asheville's electronic musicians aren't just holing up in their rooms. Though Worsham admits that RBTS is "not really a limelighter band because we kind of hide behind all of our equipment," the group has played plenty of small shows, along with some high profile opening slots for the likes of Black Moth Super Rainbow and Prefuse 73 — both of those nationally touring acts were in Asheville.
"I've been a fan of this style for quite a time and we always had to go through Atlanta or Charlotte to see shows," says Worsham, who points out how the electronic scene has grown. "Now bands like Peach House and Washed Out are playing at Grey Eagle — you wouldn't expect that to be the venue for that style of music."