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Genre-Benders- Local Artists, TonalTheory

Updated: Jan 19

Written and published by X and Alana Ryan

Whether you’re an avid techno fan, or are simply interested in branching out into other subgenres of EDM, best friend - now married - duo, Marissa and Rae, who collectively go by the stage name, TonalTheory, are looking to completely transform and expand your perception of what techno music can be defined as. In this interview, I got the opportunity to ask Marissa and Rae about what specifically sets TonalTheory apart from other artists in the current industry, and how their passion for sound design, genre-bending, and above all, creating music together, has gotten them to where they are now in the DC underground music scene. They also provided me with a sneak peek into how they’re looking to expand their musical horizons moving forward, all while continuing to encourage diversity, positivity, and open mindedness to all genres, within the EDM community.

What genre do you two make? Why specifically this genre?

"We are all about breaking down genre boundaries, specifically in Hard Techno, but with a flare of Trance elements! We strongly believe in the timelessness of the genre and we always want to make music that will stand the test of time. Some people say that Techno is too repetitive, but if you really immerse yourself and listen closely, each element gives it that extra layer upon layer, and you really start to lose yourself in it. Sometimes in our productions, we like to incorporate melodic moments, which really speak to our classical backgrounds as well."

What does your music making process look like?

Rae: "We think we really build off of each other! Marissa is very strong with the sound design and putting down the ideas and technicalities with the DAW. Sometimes it just comes so naturally for her and she would sit down and record amazing ideas effortlessly. And then, I would usually look into the finishing part of the track such as the arrangement: Does the energy transfer work here? Did this sound make sense? What else should be happening here? Et cetera."

I’ve been around plenty of production collaborations, and I’ve noticed that building off one another is exactly what a collaboration needs. It’s not about one upping each other or a balance of power, it’s about what each artist thinks the song needs and how they can make it better. It seems to me from the sound of their music that Marissa and Rae make a great team and really know how to structure their music collaboratively.

How did both of you first get into music? When did you start producing together?

Marissa: "I started learning how to play the piano from a very young age and also played the viola as part of an orchestra until college. Once I got to college, I was definitely more focused on academics, but I still needed an outlet for my passion for music and I had to find a way to make my own allowances as a college student. Then in 2011, I opened up a credit card, maxed out on it to purchase all of the equipment, and started hauling them to gigs and bars every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and started DJing! That’s when I met Rae!"

Rae: "I have always been around music since I was young. My dad plays the guitar, and my mom was actually in a folk band so they would always introduce me to new music, at home, on trips, everywhere we go, there was music. So that’s how I started learning how to play the guitar and spent about 8 years in a classical guitar ensemble throughout my high school and college years. That’s when I met Marissa, in college, and she was doing a lot of gigs at bars and formals and we became best friends!"

How is it being a duo? Have you experienced any challenges?

Rae: "We went into music as best friends and we quickly found out that we had a common mind and passion towards music. So, when we sat down and decided to do it together, it was not a difficult decision. Being a duo definitely comes with some challenges though. The biggest challenge for us is the prejudice that comes with being a female and male duo. Up until recently, when we walked up to a venue, I cannot count how many times I was met with 'Who’s the DJ?' When we say we both are, Marissa always gets pointed out with a look and gets told “You’re not a DJ” with a chuckle, or even better, she gets blocked from walking into the venue and gets told “Oh you are not allowed to go inside until the door opens,” as if she is just another female friend that I brought with me to get inside together early before the show starts. We would always just shrug it off and reiterate the fact that we really are both DJs and a duo group because we want to be respectful and avoid any unnecessary altercation. It has definitely gotten better but it is something that we worry about for sure and that’s why I always remind people that she is the one that taught me everything I know!"

Unfortunately, this is such a common situation in the music industry. Women get pushed to the side or discriminated against simply because we live in a misogynistic society. It’s especially common when it comes to producing music. The only reason you don’t see more women producing is not because we can’t or don’t know how to produce, it’s because it’s harder to get to the top without running into men who don’t respect us. It’s great to know that Marissa has someone like Rae to point out these issues as well. These two are very lucky to have each other.

Where have you guys performed?

"It’s been a roller coaster for us in the DC scene but we’ve played possibly everywhere from a small dive bar, to major clubs in DC, including Flash, Soundcheck, and U Street Music Hall that would book techno artists over the years. We recently made our major festival debut at Insominac’s Project Glow Festival in May and had an amazing time playing back to back - techno and trance with our brother Ricky S. But our absolute favorite has to be the intimate DIY warehouse parties in DC, and Philly. We recently made our debut in LA with TechnoFamLA and will be playing for Taken Music Experience for our New York debut soon!"

Are there any good stories from any shows or festivals you’ve performed at?

"It’s not necessarily a show that we played at but back in early March of this year, we recently worked on a video production project to really showcase our music and it was something that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. It was a passion project for all of us involved including videography, lighting design & production, video editing, and of course, our music. Our Decibel Collective team members each shot an hour set in one of the DC warehouses that we throw events at and we literally pitched a tent in the warehouse and spent 4 days building and recording the set in the space. Unfortunately, the heating system in the warehouse was not working so we had to bring portable heaters and radiators to keep ourselves warm overnight but the best part was, one morning, we woke up to a 50-degree room and found out that we had 3 inches of snow overnight! We were all seriously concerned about the project for sure then. But we were able to finish the shoot and it was such a memorable and rewarding experience for all of us. It was definitely an honor to be noticed by one of the biggest techno promoters in Los Angeles and have the opportunity to have it featured on 6AM Group. We are very excited for people to see what we have created together, which is now available to stream on 6AM’s YouTube channel!"

"We really want to thank Sarah and Anzhonny for their magical work behind the cameras, as well as Will and Lance who spent 3 sleepless nights to set up the lighting production for this shoot. Also, Adam, who has put in countless hours to the final edits to make sure it looks perfect, and lastly our Decibel Collective team, Henry, Andrew, and Matthew, for their amazing artistry in their music. We’re so proud to be part of this team!"