By Patricia B . Dwyer / Portraits by Paul Body
Nothing less awesome than a part-giraffe, partzebra, part-horse zoo animal could explain the tribal electronic dance party that emanates from Okapi Sun.
Leo and Dallas comprise the electro-pop twosome that's been inciting sweaty dance fests at venues across the city. Armed with a quiver of instruments including a viola, synthesizer and DJ mixer, the two are a breath of fresh, wild air on the local music scene.
"There aren't a lot of electronic music projects in San Diego right now," says Leo. "We haven't really run into anyone who can resist the Okapi Sun magic."
In 2011, Leo (then Maren Parusel, the name she was born with in her home town of Tu?bingen, Germany) won Best Pop Album for "Artificial Gardens" at the San Diego Music Awards, having moved to California just five years prior. At the time, Dallas (then Gabriela Sanchez) played keyboards and viola in Parusel's band.
Their sound back then was a less-electronic, indie rock version of the untamed tunes they create together today. Inspiration for the new band came when the two saw an okapi at the Los Angeles Zoo.
"It has zebra stripes on its legs, and the physique of a horse It's an amazing visual mixture," says Dallas. "That magical beast started singing to us. And the rest is history."
The okapi's hodge-podge physical mash-up represents the duo's current genre-mixing musical stylings. Both have classical music educations (Dallas earned a Music Education degree from Point Loma Nazarene University; Leo is a classically trained pianist), and neither can deny their lust for pop music.
"We write what we feel," says Dallas. "And I guess we constantly feel like dancing. It's all just one big dance party."
Unlike many pop acts, this fashion-forward pair uses actual instruments to create every beat, clang and tone in their songs. Often singing through a Vocoder, which lends computerized effects to their voices, Okapi Sun has an electronic sound with hands-on musical backing.
"If we each had another arm, there would probably be even more instruments," says Leo.
As the sun shines on their burgeoning careers, it seems Puma, too has seen the light, having recently licensed Okapi Sun's song, "Wasteland," for use in the company's advertising campaigns. There's also talk of using the women in promotional photo shoots for the brand.
Okapi Sun, which formed in January, has been nominated for Best Pop act at the San Diego Music Awards (to be held October 9 at Humphreys by the Bay, on Shelter Island). The band played the famed SXSW musical festival in Austin earlier this year and plans to release its first full-length album in 2014.
As Leo puts it, "All in all, we're just dancing along."
Where to soak-in the Okapi Sun in October
10/4: The Void (Normal Heights)
10/5: Hard Rock Hotel San Diego (Gaslamp)
10/13: The Casbah (Little Italy)
10/31: Belly Up Tavern (Solana Beach)