News & Politics

A New Record Label Documents DC’s Most Challenging Sounds

Outside Time hopes to capture a vibrant local experimental-music scene.

Nate Scheible, whose new recording is the first release on Outside Time. Photograph courtesy of Outside Time.

Is a recording of somebody’s footsteps music? That’s the kind of question Jonathan Williger wants to explore with his new label, Outside Time. The DC-based project, which launched in February, is devoted to experimental sounds of the sort that require close attention and an openness to the unusual. “Being challenged by art is one of the most powerful things that a person can experience,” says Williger. “Grappling with some sort of creative expression and being like, what is that? That’s a very powerful experience. The magic and beauty of art comes from the attention you pay to it.”

The footsteps recording is part of Outside Time’s upcoming second release, by the Irish artist Natalia Beylis. She recorded herself walking around an area near her home that used to be a forest but was clear-felled in 2018 (it’s since been replanted). “The most important bit isn’t the sound of her foot hitting the ground, it’s the fact that there’s no other sounds around her,” says Williger. “The whole ecological system has been destroyed. It’s those types of connections that really drive me to spotlight this music. Listening to music is a way of exploring how we interact with each other and with the world and with our form of existence, not to get too heavy and deep about it. That is a driving force for how I want to curate the music that comes out on Outside Time.”

Photograph courtesy of Outside Time.

Williger is a former music publicist who these days works as the marketing manager for the Smithsonian Folkways label (he’s an executive producer on their fascinating recent Matmos release, Return to Archive). When he moved to DC for that job in 2018, he fell in with the experimental-music scene whose home base is the DC venue Rhizome. Part of his goal with Outside Time is to increase awareness of that vibrant community, both in DC and outside of our area. The label’s first release is an album by Rhizome mainstay Nate Scheible, called or valleys and, that’s available as a digital album on Bandcamp (a physical version, released on cassette, has already sold out through the label, though you can still find copies at local record stores). It’s an indescribable mix of found recordings, live instruments, and electronic sounds.

Plans are also taking shape for an album by local musician Alma Laprida, who has recorded a 90-minute improvised performance using a trumpet marine and a subwoofer to produce room-vibrating sounds. And for another future release, Williger is interested in what he describes as “domestic folk music.” “I’ve been going around to friends’ houses and recording the songs that they sing to their housemates or their partners or their kids, collecting these very private sounds and songs that are totally canonical in whatever household they live in, but are just never heard by anyone else. It’s just really private music.”

For now, Outside Time’s releases will come out digitally and on cassette, although Williger says there will likely be vinyl records at some point. He’s also been curating Outside Time events at Rhizome since 2022; the next one is a May 19 performance featuring claire rousay and local musician Rachel Beetz. “I’ve spent my career working with musicians who push boundaries and have expansive definitions of what music is,” he says. “DC has a scene that really felt supportive of people wanting to try new things: people just starting out, young people, people of color, a lot of groups that are marginalized in many other places. And here, I found that this type of music was embraced. It’s a small community, but it’s one that’s extremely open and extremely friendly. I found that to be really inspiring. And seeing this amazing community of local musicians that I think is underappreciated on a national level, I was just like, you know, I want to do more. I want to show the world how we do it here in DC.”

Politics and Culture Editor

Rob Brunner grew up in DC and moved back in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.