When Outward Bound Mixtape launched less than four years ago, it filled a gap that had been missing in Dallas for more than a decade. The weekly event focuses on the avant-garde and experimental sides of music, regardless of the genre. At first, it was more of a left-of-center open mic, but it has since evolved into a consistent venue for left-field musicians and ensembles.
Curated by Stefan Gonzalez at Crown and Harp, Outward Bound Mixtape became a central performance space for musicians pushing the sonic boundaries and existing on the fringe. It began to draw in a core audience of likeminded music fans that were hungry for left-field music that most venues did not prioritize in weekend slots. A year and half ago, the event relocated from Crown and Harp to RBC in Deep Ellum, where it is consistently moving forward.
That's partly because while area venues tend to stay within a fairly narrow array of genres — whether it be rock, country, Americana or metal — Outward Bound always mixes up its lineup. It would not be uncommon to see a hip-hop act on the same bill as an industrial power noise group.
“Genre-wise, we are all over the map," Gonzalez says. "A lot of people like to call it the experimental music night, but it's so much more than that. It's all over the map. I've hosted many different kinds of genres with a lot of them on the same night.
"I like to make it a blend as much as possible. Techno, folk, hip-hop, stoner rock, grindcore, performance art, poetry, harsh noise, ambient music, post punk, goth, industrial, straight-ahead jazz, glam rock, prog rock, psych rock, bedroom pop, avant-garde jazz, free improvisation, noise rock, hardcore punk, and the list goes on and on.”
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The staff at RBC has a passion for Outward Bound. Each week, RBC owner Tammy Moss is at the door greeting guests. Unlike the usual DIY spaces, where you might have to seek out these kinds of bills, RBC features top-notch sound reinforcement, video walls, and staff members who are familiar with the acts playing and are excited to be a part of the event.
"It's one of my favorite stages in Dallas, and the amount of space allows a lot of room to spread out," Gonzalez says. "I miss the Crown and Harp, but it was tiny and crammed when just 20 people would show up. RBC is a world-class space, in my opinion."
Equally as impressive is the large number of international touring acts that have made Dallas a destination tour stop by way of Outward Bound. Outward Bound has hosted bands and performers from all over the world, including Japan, Lebanon and Australia.
“My friend David Isick, who is originally from Houston, moved to Tokyo and started tour managing lots of bands he met over there," Gonzalez says. "He heard about Monday nights and booked the Otonana Trio through me, and now they've come back about eight times since. He's sent dozens of Japanese bands my way since Otonana Trio first played. We've had Tsu Shi Ma Mi Re, An Atomic Whirl, Nude of Silhouette, Salsa, Sakura Shock and many others."
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Outward Bound Mixtape has respectable turnouts on Mondays, no small feat for what might be the quietest night in Deep Ellum. The community that has grown around Outward Bound throughout the past four years has fostered relationships among disparate musicians from different parts of the music scene, encouraged collaborations and given new projects a launching pad.
“I've seen many one-off collaborations and improvisations, from duos to huge ensembles," Gonzalez says. "It had been very instrumental in getting the wheels turning in terms of a resurgence of musical experimentation in [the] Dallas area. Then again, bands and projects like Mannequins With Kill Appeal, Seres, and Schmeckelhead formed or played for their first time at Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions.”
A standout bill just last week featured a powerhouse collaborative trio of Aaron Gonzalez on contra bass, outstanding avant-garde vocalist Sarah Ruth and Houston-based psyche rock guitar legend Tom Carter of the Charalambides.
With an upcoming show from Japan’s Zynius on Feb. 26 and a stacked April calendar featuring Houston’s Tearful Moon, Sluur from El Paso, Austin’s Bloody Knives, Baltimore’s Curse and Bathhouse from Dallas, Outward Bound will round out its fourth year in existence as an epicenter for adventurous music that any major city would be lucky to have.