Rainbow Arabia are L.A.'s new electro heroes
Danny Preston of Rainbow Arabia has the rare day job that might actually inspire his songwriting. By night, he mans the production duties for the global-noise electronica duo with his wife, Tiffany. But on weekdays, he charters private planes for the world’s wealthy, shuttling them to urban enclaves and distant paradises with no need for a frisking at the gate.
“I can hop on a plane whenever it’s empty,” he said over banh mi sandwiches at Xoia, a Vietnamese restaurant in Echo Park, last month. “It’s only an option for such a small amount of people, but wow, what a crazy small world.”
Rainbow Arabia’s sound is likewise constantly shuttling from the humid percussion flurries of Africa to keening laments of Middle Eastern melodies and the micromanaged, after-hours techno of Berlin. On its new album, “Boys and Diamonds,” its first for the lauded German dance label Kompakt, there’s a panache that befits the kind of plane ride on which the Champagne flows freely. But on the way to their status as L.A.'s unlikely new electro heroes (cemented with a headliner booking at the Echoplex for Friday night), there have been a few bumps.
Rainbow Arabia was never supposed to be a band, really. Danny and Tiffany were each preoccupied with other, more straightforward projects, but the logistics of coupledom made it kind of inevitable that collaboration ensued. Their influences had long been more varied than traditional Echo Parker indie fare, and the stranger corners of their record collections — Omar Souleyman, Smithsonian world-music compilations — began popping up in their programming.
Danny’s beats typically redlined with punk’s overdrive, and Tiffany’s vocal melodies felt simultaneously combative and immediate. The local tastemaker Manimal Vinyl released their 2008 record, “The Basta,” and many locals didn’t know what to do with a sound too antagonistic for a dance floor yet too machine-driven for rock clubs.
The band acknowledges that some of its goals were lost in translation, particularly for its penchant as two attractive, arty L.A. musicians to adopt aesthetics and imagery from the Third World and other cultures.
“Good music is always supposed to step on toes,” Tiffany said. “Our intentions are always positive, and we wanted to open people’s ears to sounds they were supposed to be afraid of. But I could see how if I was wearing a burka in photos that would be offensive.”
She paused. “Ah, wait, I did that, actually.”
But around 2009’s “Kabukimono,” the band started to make something singular from its disparate ideas, and a residency at the Echo put them at the head of a small pack of local experimentalists on their same label. A remix for the Swedish producer the Field put the duo firmly on Kompakt Records’ radar, and though the label made its name in meticulous, mercurial dance music, it saw Rainbow Arabia as a natural extension of its ethics.
“Without You” buzzes with No Wave synths buoyed by South Asian drum samples, and “Hai” goes right for the hips with a dub step wobble and Tiffany’s insatiably catchy but just-beyond-intelligible lyrics. “Nothin Gonna Be Undone” evokes M.I.A.'s bus-depot clamor, and the title track warps an African guitar line through bright Ibiza synths and tweaked chants.
“I suppose Rainbow Arabia are coming from a different sonic palate than what we are known for,” said Kompakt label manager Jon Berry. “But Kompakt’s ‘sound’ has been always deeply influenced by pop music, and we have always released a more subversive style of techno and house music than what trend in the niche dictates. For us, ‘Boys and Diamonds’ is a tremendous variation of electronic and pop music that fits perfectly in our roster.”
But it came at a price domestically. Danny and Tiffany said that the expectations of a deal with a much more high-profile label made the home recording sessions for “Boys and Diamonds” arduous.
“As soon as we finished the album, we stopped talking to each other,” Tiffany said. “You know how having a kid changes a marriage? This album was like having a whole litter of kids.”
But in time, they came back from the edge of a breakup and quickly learned to enjoy their newfound place at the forefront of L.A. experimentalism. Tours have grown and spread internationally as befits their new label home, and they’re growing more physical and capable live, where Tiffany spends much of a set writhing ecstatically while Danny manipulates live samples.
This time, getting on planes might mean the end of Rainbow Arabia’s workdays instead of its beginning.
“We took a risk and knew we had to step it up,” Danny said. “We had no life for forever. Music makes us way more stressed out than work.”
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