Zak Burnside El-Dib, sole member of electronic project Octophonix, has moved around a bit. Born in Austin, Texas, he grew up here in Reno and moved to Los Angeles. Despite the changes in scenery, Burnside likes to keep his output consistent, like the reliable, repetitive 4/4 bass beat of the techno he grew up admiring.
His affiliation with electronic music goes all the way back to his days in utero. His father moved to the United States from Egypt, eventually reaching Austin to start a techno club. Burnside said that while his mother was pregnant with him, she would often stand next to the bass speakers.
“So I kinda got that thump-thump in my head forever,” he said.
Growing up with parents involved in dance clubs gave Burnside access to a plethora of inspirational records. He particularly took to techno music made between 1986 and 1990, with its repetitive rhythms and catchy synth melodies. The rhythmic patterns enthralled him the most, causing the young Burnside to tap compulsively on his knees in the classroom—like many drummers who had yet to gain access to equipment.
“Yeah, I was always one of those kids who was a tapper, you know?” he said. “Then I started out playing the drums. Then I moved to keyboard, then drum pads. Everything just evolved from there.”
Listening to Octophonix, you can still pick out a bit of the tapper in Burnside. He performs his music live on a drum pad, loaded with drum and synth samples. So, unlike with the average EDM DJ, part of his performance involves interacting with an instrument.
“The pad I’m using now, I’ve been using since around 2010, 2011,” said Burnside. “It took years of building muscle memory. I had to practice at it. I’ve definitely had some rage quits.”
After graduating from high school in Reno, Burnside left for Los Angeles, where he cut his teeth on live performance and developed his work ethic. He found plenty of work for TV ads, radio ads and iPad games. Burnside admits that the work wasn’t altogether fulfilling, but it gave him some valuable perspective.
“Just like with anything, it’s less about creativity and more about just a drive to do something in general,” he said. “At first, getting out of your element genre-wise is not fun. But the challenge became really enjoyable for me.”
Work was inconsistent in Los Angeles. For three months Burnside would work nonstop, then, for six months, he’d hit a drought. Eventually, he felt that he had learned all of the lessons the metropolis could teach him.
“At a certain point, you have to leave the dojo, you know?” he said.
Burnside moved back to Reno, where he said some of his best shows happened. At the Nevada Museum of Art, he opened for one of his personal idols, DJ Spooky.
Right now he’s planning two releases—a split tape with Reno electronic artist Tea Haze and a re-release on vinyl of his recent EP, Water Pop. In Reno he found the freedom to explore his sound in a live setting and to grow as a performer.
“It’s really fun for me,” said Burnside. “People get into it. There’s music that sends shivers down my face. If I can even do a fraction of that for someone else, that’s what I’m in it for.”