[DOWNTEMPO] Doug Appling, known in electronic music circles as Emancipator, has just been on what he calls a "little adventure." He's currently in Costa Rica, where he performed at the music- and art-focused Envision Festival. Before the show, Appling went a bit wild, getting on a zip line and zooming through the trees, past hordes of howler monkeys. 

“Nature is what spurs my imagination,” he says over the phone, still giddy from the experience. 

Strange for an artist who, at his most natural, will throw in samples of dripping water behind a trip-hop beat. But in the last few years, the Portland-based downtempo producer's international popularity has grown to the point that he's become a staple at outdoor electronic festivals, which, he says, is the ideal environment to experience his music. "My music is made to mesh with nature, not represent it," he says. "Festivals are a fusion between the feelings we have inside and modern humanity and technology, which is how I see my music.” 

Sonically, the music of Emancipator inspires a smile and bobbing head, but there's none of the hard-hitting beats associated with, say, '90s trip-hop forebears Massive Attack. Instead, Appling puts melodies and harmonies in the foreground, with minor chords on piano, guitar and violin reinforced by plinking bells and hammered dulcimer. They're the perfect jams for relaxing poolside—or chilling out at a hot festival.

Emancipator played a dozen such festivals last summer, and will play a dozen more this summer, including Wakarusa Music in Arkansas, Electric Forest in Michigan and Lightning in a Bottle in Southern California. Festival junkies will recognize this circuit as more focused on jam bands than events like Coachella or Bonnaroo. "I got my foot in the door with the jam-band scene, but ever since I've tried to escape it," Appling says. "The main goal is to start my own thing, with my own people."

Last year, Appling took a step in that direction by starting his own label, Loci Records, on which he released his latest album, Dusk to Dawn, in January. He says the goal of the label is to be an outlet for a sound he can't quite put a finger on, one that combines world and classical music with the clean sound of chillout, and one that puts some distance between his music and the "jam band" associations.

Whether Loci will simply be Emancipator's vanity label remains to be seen. Given that Appling's mood is as chilled out as his music, though, the label's main purpose will probably be exposure, not profit. For him, it's not about cashing in or impressing anyone. It's about making the right music for the right time and place.

"Context is everything," Appling says. "If I'm playing a sunrise set, it will be uplifting. Everything will be different if I'm opening up for a group like STS9, or if I'm playing my own tours. The same songs can have so many different meanings."

SEE IT: Emancipator plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., on Friday, March 8. 9 pm. $16 advance, $20 day of show. All ages.