Eli Raybon SXSW

Raybon’s idea for a science-fiction epic created through music and other art forms comes from his love for everything retro.

It’s 9:20 p.m. in Austin, Texas, and a musician dressed in a lab coat and a headpiece made out of batteries is halfway through his set at South by Southwest. A stage full of analog synthesizers and drum machines might appear as one more curiosity to a passerby, but to those in the know, it’s not just a stage full of electronics — it’s the product of one of electronic music’s up-and-coming young artists, 21-year-old Eli Raybon.

On March 15, Raybon, a local artist hailing from the Waynesboro area, played his first major show as a solo artist at the annual South by Southwest conference and music festival combo in Austin. The event is a 10-day conglomerate that’s part music festival, part film festival, part gaming conference and part interactive media conference. SXSW, as it’s known in the business, has become a steppingstone for small, independent musicians to get their foot in the door of the music industry.

“It’s a really, really big indie music festival with just all sorts of crazy stuff going on,” Raybon said. “There’s music and film and gaming. Basically, any sort of art or culture — it’s all at this one festival.”

SXSW provided Raybon with a platform where he could begin to share his ideas with the music community. The festival gave him the opportunity to fill the stage with synthesizers, drum machines and science fiction-themed props. This sort of extensive arrangement is a direct outgrowth of the vision Raybon has for his music.

“The show was incredible,” Raybon said. “It was the first time I actually had the chance to do a show with this setup, with a bunch of synthesizers and drum machines and stuff like that. It’s been on my bucket list for a long time, so I was super, super pumped to be able to get out there and do that.”

The young creative is currently collaborating with Los Angeles-based producer Prozak Morris to put together his first fully fledged record: an ’80s-style, science fiction-themed concept album titled “Supertoys.” The record is the first step toward the realization of an idea Raybon has had for years that extends beyond the normal realm of music, and Morris has played a vital part in the process. “Supertoys” may be starting as music, but the team of talents envisions taking the story the album tells and turning it into a entire collection of multimedia projects.

“We both see us creating a whole series out of this album almost like filmmakers, or almost like comic book makers, where we want to create an entire series or saga that starts with ‘Supertoys,’” Morris said.

Morris’ main role in the process is to take Raybon’s ideas and writings and turn them into fully fleshed-out songs complete with the electronic, cyberpunk sound both of them love to feature in their work. He also acts as another creative voice, helping to develop the larger narrative and concept of Raybon’s ideas.

Music, in its purest form, is a human device created for storytelling. Every song, every symphony, every record has a story to tell. Raybon is taking this concept to the next level by turning his music into full-blown mixed media projects. The young artist is looking into the future of music and realizing his vision one step at a time.

Raybon’s idea for a science-fiction epic created through music and other art forms comes from his love for everything retro. He draws inspiration from ’80s music, movies and culture, such as the soundtrack of “Bladerunner.”

The last piece of Raybon’s concept is the visuals, created by Virginia-based artist Craig Snodgrass. The two met after Raybon saw a display of Snodgrass’ art in Staunton and got in contact to talk about a possible collaboration.

“As we got to know each other a little bit better and what his project was, he explained that behind the album, there’s also a narrative, which kind of comes across as a cyberpunk Pinocchio tale,” Snodgrass said.

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One of Snodgrass’ most prominent roles in the “Supertoys” project is world building and fleshing out characters for the science fiction universe Raybon has imagined. His work gives visual life to the music that Raybon and Morris produce.

All three members of the trio have important roles to play in the development of Raybon’s vision. Instead of limiting themselves to staying within the lines of the music industry, they’re looking to expand Raybon’s concepts into multiple creative outlets, such as film and video games.

“I think we can do a lot, just beyond [Raybon’s] music,” Snodgrass said. “I think we’ve established a good set of intellectual property … that could be looped into anything from comic books to animations to film and even to taking [Raybon’s] music performances to another level.”

Raybon’s concept of turning his music into a multimedia project makes him a uniquity in the music industry. He admits that his music may never be “the most popular thing ever,” but that’s not what he’s concerned with.

“It’s about carving out a spot for myself within this niche,” Raybon said, “and building up my audience a little bit and just trying to make the best records that I can make.”

Contact Jake Conley at conleyjm@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.