Festival All-Star: Random Rab
It’s a balmy morning in the Costa Rican jungle at Envision Festival as the first wisps of sunlight stream through the canopy. Lacy shadows appear on the ground while howler monkeys awaken to sing along with one of Random Rab’s famous sunrise sets. This is just one of many images conjured when reflecting on the Ashland, Oregon, based multi-hyphenate’s career who has built his legacy as a music festival fixture.
Sunrise is a delicate time when people are either on the brink of delirium or freshly awoken. Rab has come to understand this hour and his music is intuitive to its sublime nature. While the steady heartbeat of percussion pulses through his tracks, he eases listeners into the day with gossamer melodies that feel as warm as the first rays of sunshine. His incorporation of soft, sensual vocals alongside the occasional strokes of a live bass guitar create a perfect soundscape for the early morning state-of-mind.
“Random Rab is a staple,” says Envision co-founder and producer Justin Brothers. “A staple as King of the Sunrise set, a staple as one of the only artists to play every single Envision and a staple personality in West Coast festival culture. I met him at the first Envision in 2011 and have always looked forward to the next encounter. He's a stellar human with nothing but joy for this world—there's a reason you feel the way you do at a Rab sunrise.”
For over a decade, Random Rab has become a global sunrise set pioneer, unwittingly finding a niche in what was once considered an unsavory time slot. “It was never intentional,” Rab says, on how he was crowned the sunrise king. “I was always just the last man standing and no one really wanted to play sunrise sets, that wasn’t a thing. Plus, I always had the keys to the sound system so I would just play renegade sunrise sets all the time and it slowly became a tradition.”
Rab Clinton was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was dubbed Random Rab in 1998. Before he was known as an electronic music producer, he explored various genres playing trumpet in jazz bands and being a guitarist and vocalist in rock bands. As a teenager, Rab had grandiose dreams of becoming famous and though he didn’t quite understand what he wanted out of fame, he inherently correlated (as many of us do) fame with success.
“When I actually fell completely in love with music was when I realized it doesn’t even matter what kind of success I’m gonna get,” he says. “I love doing this and success or no success, I’ve found what I’ve been looking for.”
In addition to discovering his fervent love for music, he found an audience with a fervent love for him. As home-production technology advanced, so did his ability to better translate the sounds he heard in his head into music. The outcome is a delicately bass-driven, melodic soundscape that is just as danceable as it is chill. The gravitas of his sets are alluring and captivating, feeding the mind with music that is so rich and decadent, you feel full afterwards.
“People can feel his soul when he performs, he has a magical quality,” says Sara Spicer, the stage director of Shambhala Music Festival’s Living Room Stage. “I've always had a great experience working with him over the years — he's very authentic, personable and humble.”
During the years when four-on-the-floor still reigned supreme and bass music was a burgeoning genre, Rab was experimenting with harmony, instruments and vocals, eventually evolving into the ethereal sound for which his music is now known. According to Rab, his first record—which was recorded on a four-track tape recorder—was archaic and laborious in comparison. Now releasing his 11th album Formless Edge, he has become a prolific artist who has also endured the often tempestuous DJ lifestyle, a combination becoming less and less frequent in the electronic music world.
“When I first started, the musical technology was on the cusp of becoming available to everyone,” Rab explains. “I was learning it along with the rest of the world — a new music theory, which is electronic music theory.” Rab found his niche, along with several other like-minded artists, by creating it. He co-established El Circo, an artists' collective turned gathering turned legendary Burning Man camp, along with a group that included such electronic music royalty as FreQ Nasty and Bassnectar. After their first trip to Burning Man as a sound camp, Rab’s career path was clear, albeit a little dusty.
Between a tour opening for Shpongle and his newfound Burning Man family, Rab was motivated to quit his seven-year job as an engineer and technical director for the up-and-coming (now globally successful) Obscura Digital, a San Francisco-based virtual reality and immersive environment company. “It was not easy ‘cause I worked with all my best friends but I was working for other people’s dreams,” he says. “I really wanted to pursue something that I believed in rather than someone else’s vision.”
Though touring around the globe playing music is a seemingly charmed life, being a festival all-star does not come without its hurdles. One of the biggest challenges of being so entrenched in the festival circuit is avoiding burn out. As the father of a six-year-old son who must also juggle six festival appearances this season, Rab has invested in his own well-being more than ever. Playing shows and/or festivals up to five nights a week can, and usually does, lead to gratuitous partying—and rightfully so. Though Rab has had many moments where he nearly threw in the towel, he pressed on and adapted his habits.
Rab’s solution is that, instead of staying in hotels while he is on the road, he camps in his Sprinter van. Bars and after-parties are replaced with campfires and sleep, hangovers and recovery are replaced with hiking and swimming, and fast food and Big Gulps are replaced with nutritious, home-cooked meals. “The best decision I’ve made for my career is to treat it like a road trip where I’m camping with my friends that happen to have shows,” Rab explains. “I’d rather smell like a campfire than a strip club.” His choice to find balance is not just a reflection of his years of experience, but also of his character—instead of becoming jaded and burning out, he evolved.
While Random Rab’s music and sunrise sets are what truly established him as a festival icon, his humility and benevolence are what have secured his longevity in the scene. Now a family man, he experiences festivals with a new perspective: “This is an awesome community and it’s very supportive of families in a lot of ways. To me, that’s what makes it all worth it. The fact that I can bring my family with me means that there’s something working.”
Rab is not only beloved by fans but also by festival organizers. His kind-hearted disposition and appreciative perspective make him a joy to work with as he is continually booked by producers, sometimes for multiple years of the same event (such as Shambhala, Envision, Sonic Bloom, and many more). His music and vibes have made a global impact on festival culture, having been invited to perform at events such as Infrasound Equinox in Wisconsin, Earthdance in Florida, F.A.R.M. Fest in New Jersey, Camp Bisco in Pennsylvania, Boom Festival in Portugal, Australian Eclipse and an upcoming performance at O.Z.O.R.A. Festival in Hungary. No matter where the sun rises, Random Rab will find a way to greet it.
“I can't decide which I enjoy more: his mystical musical journey as the warm Costa Rican sun peeks up over the lively rainforest or the laugh-filled, smiling moments we’ve shared all across the world,” Brothers reflects. “I'd probably have to go with the latter.”