Last spring, Moogfest's inaugural takeover of downtown Durham made a strong case that the city could be a burgeoning hub for experimental electronic music. But months before the festival, and on a much smaller scale, a local extended family of instrumental hip-hop and electronic beat makers known as Raund Haus had already launched its own eclectic incubator for a new generation of producers to showcase an assortment of funky head-nod fantasies.
"There were all of these cats in the area who made beats, and we just wanted to provide something that everyone could enjoy and somewhere that the beat heads could call home," says Randy Maples, the twenty-one-year-old beat artist and Raund Haus cofounder who performs as Trandle. "We didn't want them to feel like they had to be secluded anymore."
Initially, he shared this sentiment with Nick "Gappa" Wallhausser, a thirty-two-year-old Durham native and hip-hop enthusiast, who returned to his hometown after spending six years in Nagoya, Japan. But for the past year, Raund Haus organizers—Maples, Wallhausser, and David Huber, plus producers Daniel del Rosario (Drozy) and Kathryn Liang (awaymsg), and visual artist Blaine Carteaux (Coolboy36)—have provided those spaces for their own core members and affiliates through day parties on the patio of Ninth Street Bakery, a series of bargain-bin sample challenges at Bull City Records, even a limited-edition cassette release, RH-001. But Raund Haus's true home is The Shed, a cozy venue nestled just inside the Golden Belt complex on East Main Street.
"The space has always worked best for people who have a specific arts or music agenda rather than people who are just looking to throw a party," says Daniel Stark, who opened The Shed in late 2014. The venue hosted Raund Haus's first showcase in February of last year and has continued to welcome the group into its space.
"Raund Haus definitely brought that to the table in terms of having something where it's really a main attraction kind of show," Stark says.
He notes that, from what he's observed, the Raund Haus crew is more focused on their craft than on gaining exposure. Since they don't have to promise a party to market their shows, they're free to focus on sharpening their creative output to optimal levels.
Raund Haus may be an organic, Durham-grown effort, but the inspiration for it came from Los Angeles. David Huber, aka Hubbble, grew familiar with L.A.'s weekly beat club, Low End Theory, during two summers he spent interning at the L.A.-based Alpha Pup Records after graduating from USC. Cofounded by Alpha Pup owner Daddy Kev in 2006, Low End Theory was, in the words of writer Mike Rubin "an often-exhilarating collision between the avant-garde and the dance floor." It quickly became fertile ground for Madlib and any number of J Dilla aspirants, bass obsessives, jazz heads, and EDM eccentrics. Eventually, Low End Theory would become instrumental in cultivating a globally respected L.A. beat scene known for producing a breakthrough generation of experimental hip-hop beat scientists such as Nosaj Thing, Glitch Mob, Gaslamp Killer, and most notably, Flying Lotus, who's one of Moogfest's headliners this year.
Wallhausser admits that it was Huber—an event organizer by trade—who inspired the Raund Haus model. After hearing one too many idle conversations about the then-unnamed collective wanting to plan an event, Huber became the catalyst for launching Raund Haus. Perhaps it was the sense of community that Huber witnessed during his Low End Theory nights that gave him the audacity to believe that a similar scene could be duplicated in a city with only a fraction of the cultural cachet of L.A. Besides, what would be more reflective of Durham's newly touted creative and tech-forward scrappiness than a crew of experimental gearheads revitalizing the city's music scene? Even so, that wasn't the ensemble's original mission.
"From the get-go, Raund Haus was just about having a place to play beats and seeing what the fuck happens," Wallhausser says between sips of a craft beer in his living room. "Then, all of a sudden, all these people started showing up to watch these nerdy musicians play on their laptops or their weapon of choice."
One such person was Hank Stockard, director of marketing for Redeye Worldwide, the Hillsborough-based music distribution company. After attending a few Raund Haus events and getting to know its core crew, he floated the idea of the crew forming Raund Haus Records under a digital distribution agreement with Redeye. Months later, the idea came to life.
"It sort of dawned on me that for all these great events going on, there wasn't really a nucleus, from a record label's perspective, for all of these artists to put out music," Stockard says. In his position at Redeye, Stockard's relationships with new labels had exposed him to a fair share of what he calls "the SoundCloud mentality"—the tendency of artists to finish a song one night and upload it to SoundCloud by the next morning without any forethought to building a cohesive artistic narrative or brand. Stockard helped guide Raund Haus toward its first official release, Maples's debut LP as Trandle, hi key low key, which the collective celebrated along with its first anniversary at The Shed last month.
Technically, Maples had already experienced his coming-out moment as the lone Durham artist on last year's Moogfest bill, but this night may have meant more to the Kenya-born Durhamite. Using a Roland SP-404 sampler during his performance as his treasure box of cuts from his new album, he finessed its knobs and buttons with intense concentration, as if controlling the weather with each transition.
"I like to analyze things when I'm playing," Maples says. "I was just happy to be up there, and I just like to hope that the people in the audience are making connections with each other and feeding off of each other."
Huber adds, "This is kind of a weird way to think about it, but people have Super Bowl babies because they were in the same setting together when their team won. There probably won't be any Raund Haus babies, because people aren't necessarily bumpin' and grindin'. But if cool ideas and interactions happen because of what we're doing, we've done our job."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Haus on Fire."