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It’s becoming more and more difficult to gauge the creative health of the music industry using traditional methods, i.e., dragging your rotten carcass to shows featuring local bands at small to medium sized clubs. New music floats in the ether like swarms of stinging cyber gnats waiting to be caught by a curious listener’s net. The music itself is in large part created to the sound of the same soft clicking of a laptop keyboard that’s producing this very sentence. No callouses are formed, no band practices had on the mildewed carpets of rehearsal studios, no bailing a pickled drummer out of the drunk tank.

A local exemplar of this ephemeral approach to music-making is Chris Royall, a composer of, to broadly characterize it, atmospheric chill-out music.

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Chris in his home studio in San Francisco

Mr. Royall was born in Fairfax, Virginia and studied at the SAE Institute in Miami before moving to San Francisco nine years ago. Part of what provided the impetus for his move to the Bay Area was its alternative hip hop scene, exemplars of which include Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, Hieroglyphics, and Latyrix.

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Mr. Royall is, like many of us in this over-saturated world, a musical omnivore. Influences from a variety of genres can be heard in his work, from Massive Attack’s dark but cushiony soundscapes to the more jagged textures of Aphex Twin. Dub is a big influence as well, according to the artist. S.F. dub culture is tight-knit and highly incestuous, not unlike most local music scenes; he works on his friends projects and they work on his. When I asked him to name some dub influences, he rattled off -rather than pioneers like Lee Scratch Perry or Mad Professor- a list of collaborators currently active in the S.F Bay Area, including Dubsworth, Tapa and Modibardo. It’s good to know that such solidarity still exists in a scene seemingly defined by computer-bound introversion.

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Many of these artists, including Chris, contribute music under the San Francisco-based Dubsalive record label. To hear his music on that labels website click on http://www.dubsalive.com/artist/chris-royall/.  In addition, he has music on Soundcloud.  Go to https://soundcloud.com/chris-royall to hear some of his glowing electronic apparitions.

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words by Matt Fink | photographs by Robert Schultze