The tour paints a portrait of the producer (real name Sheela Rahman) who grew up in suburban San Jose but has since relocated to The Hague. "I've always been fascinated by the paranormal realm of existence," she explains. "I take after my mother in that respect." Rahman's mother has long maintained a fascination with the otherworldly—she's a member of a local paranormal society and claims to have psychic powers—although her father remains a "natural sceptic."
Her rise to prominence has been swift: in less than a year she's gone from a wholly unknown quantity to a regular on respected outlets such as L.I.E.S. and Rush Hour, with a signature sound that delivers machine soul through a prism of strange and wistful exoticism.
As a child, Rahman's passion for music was developed locally. "San Jose radio in the early '90s was a mixed bag; you'd have Latin house, freestyle, trance, I listened to it all," she recalls. But it was the spectral, futuristic sounds of Detroit techno that first sucked her into production. "I began listening to house music of all kinds when I was around 11, but it was the Detroit stuff I always found myself drawn to."
After studying neuropsychology at college, the lure of music proved too strong, and in her early 20s Rahman enrolled in a sound design course in nearby San Francisco, which she credits with "planting all the necessary seeds" for a career in production. Around this time, she also began to forge a promising sideline as a self-trained graphic designer. "I was bouncing back and forth between music and graphic design," she says, "but I came to realise it was music I wanted to focus on."
Rahman relocated to The Hague in 2011 to put the finishing touches on the tracks that would make up her first two EPs. Her debut release, Tropical Cruize, came out in January last year on Ron Morelli's L.I.E.S. imprint. It arrived at the start of a breakthrough 12 months for both label and artist, and Rahman professes a deep kinship with her label mates. "I love all of the artists on L.I.E.S.," she says. "Especially Torn Hawk and Terekke. They are my two favourite producers right now, and they're both on my label. To be involved with an imprint that puts out music I genuinely feel on a deep level is a pleasure."
Tropical Cruize showcased XOSAR as a purveyor of finely crafted machine music, pairing rugged drum patterns with enchanting, homespun synths, and her own vocals daubed on top. Her follow up EP, Ghosthaus, which arrived just two weeks later on Rush Hour, was even better. The elegiac lead track, "Rainy Day Juno Jam," saw XOSAR wring more emotion out of her gear in three minutes than some producers achieve in a career. Her boyfriend and studio partner, Danny Wolfers, AKA Legowelt, remixed both original tracks on the EP, and his extended version of "Rainy Day Juno Jam" provided a bittersweet closer to Norman Nodge's Berghain 06 mix.
These two records were followed by another solo EP (Nite Jam, also released on Rush Hour) and three collaborative releases with Wolfers. "I moved to the Hague so we could work on music together," she explains. The pair share a house with five—yes, five—rooms devoted primarily to analogue equipment, one of which is Rahman's personal studio. The non-musical items listed in her tour—tiger statues, crystals, books—aren't just there for show. "I've always been fascinated by tigers, their fearlessness," she says. "It's something I try to bring to my own life, and having tiger imagery around me is inspiring." And the crystals? "Well, let's just say I'm really interested in their restorative qualities."
With time Rahman's interest in the paranormal has only gotten stronger. She's a voracious reader and spends much of her free time researching her areas of interest, "such as occult thinking, and finding out how I can channel different energies, be it through symbols or other holistic ways of living—meditation, for example." When asked to expand on the relationship between her music and her beliefs, she says: "I definitely have a deep-seated intention to make something happen to people who listen to my music," before quickly adding: "But I don't insert subliminal messages into my music. I just want my music to improve people's lives a bit."
Rahman admits to being teased and bullied for her outlook on life. "People have always been quick to make fun of me, and discredit my beliefs as crazy mumbo jumbo, but I don't really care. I've never wanted to come across as someone who's preachy or pushes my beliefs on others. I don't like people who blindly subscribe to any concept or idea that's placed in front of them. We should always question everything that's presented to us and come to our own conclusions."
Our chat wanders into her interest in the occult, a belief system she describes as "empowering". "The occult preaches free thought as opposed to what our modern society is undergoing," she says, "which is manufacturing people who wake up every day, go to work, go to sleep, and don't have any meaning in their lives. I think a lot of people just blindly go through the motions of what they're told to do. The occult school of thought teaches the power of your mind, how you can control your own reality, and that you don't have to live by anybody else's wishes but your own."
Like Wolfers, Rahman clearly enjoys working under different pseudonyms and creating the kind of semi-ridiculous back stories that stick two fingers up at those who take their craft too seriously. In 2012, the pair unveiled two collaborative projects: the first, Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui, has appeared on both L.I.E.S. and Crème Organization, and seems aesthetically indebted to Rahman's upbringing along the sun-soaked US West Coast, with dusty Casio keyboards used to weave charming, lo-fi "surfer house" (as they've dubbed it). Their Xamiga project, meanwhile, burrows deep into the duo's shared love of Detroit techno, each track swooning with drama and menace. "Xamiga was the one we wanted to really put some depth into," she explains. "The Xamiga tracks are deeper and darker as opposed to the happy, laidback vibes of Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui."
Rahman has clearly found a kindred spirit in Wolfers (his latest album was called The Paranormal Soul, after all) and she talks eagerly of their collaborations. Working so closely with one of underground electronic music's most revered figures has clearly been an insightful, if at times bewildering, experience. "Once Danny called me over to listen to one of his 30 minute masterpieces," she recalls, "and he'd drawn faces on the MIDI keyboard. 'That's all you have to do—draw faces,' he told me." She laughs, before adding, inevitably, "It sounded amazing too." Rahman is also quick to point out that the learning process is reciprocal. "Danny didn't know how to use Ableton at all until I taught him," she says. "He was only using Amiga computers, analogue technology and maybe Reason. But he uses Ableton a lot now."
In addition to their blossoming studio partnership, Wolfers and Rahman toured extensively together in 2012, performing several live dates across Europe and the US. She recalls a gig in Detroit on New Year's Eve in 2011, which ultimately led to her producing "Elixir of Dreams." "It was a magical experience—as the clock struck 12 I was playing, with [Liquid Liquid's] Sal P behind me doing the countdown, and a quick little song and dance number on the mic. The next day, we went walking and the whole city felt abandoned. It had this very eerie vibe—I mean Detroit already feels like an abandoned city, but on New Year's Day it was a complete ghost town. We walked around the city and there wasn't a soul about, so we filmed a quick video on Danny's phone and then I made that song the same day."
The year ahead will see another XOSAR EP for Rush Hour, with Xamiga and Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui releases also confirmed, the latter on small Australian label M Division. Rahman is also exploring a side project, which she describes as "dark and droney." "I have this whole other world of music which I haven't released yet, it's more experimental," she says, citing Throbbing Gristle and Norwegian black metal act Burzum as influences.
Intriguingly, an unreleased arsenal of 100 tracks suggests a similarly prodigious work rate to Wolfers. She says her stockpile of music started to build after her decision to swap California for the Netherlands in 2011. She returned briefly to the US with Wolfers in 2012 after accepting a job as a graphic designer for a tour management company in Los Angeles, whose clients included Skrillex. It's a career path that clearly had some promise—she co-designed the sleeves for her Rush Hour EPs and is responsible for artwork on Crème Organization and Citinite, as well as countless club flyers—but she decided to shift her focus to making music full-time. So far she has no regrets. "Life is too short to not do what you love," she says.