After Flirting With Mainstream Success, Shlohmo Is Back to Making Weird, Dark Music
Photo by Amanda Lopez
Shlohmo looks relaxed amid the controlled chaos. It's 2 p.m. on a Friday and he's just woken up from a long night of partying. An airport roller bag stands at attention in a corner of the Melrose Avenue office space from which he co-runs the label/clothing line Wedidit Collective. A giant garbage bag sits nearby, holding a stash of clothes and sneakers.
The L.A. beatmaker recently got back from a tour, and in a few days he'll hit the road again for a run of dates through Europe. But right now he doesn't have time for cleanup, nor the interest.
Instead, the rangy 25-year-old — who was born Henry Laufer — pulls on sweatpants and a black hoodie bearing the stenciled rose logo that's also on the cover of his latest full-length album, Dark Red. Rocking a shaved head, he sounds a little congested but is in high spirits as he talks about his latest, brutal effort.
"It makes me happy when someone's like, 'Oh my God, that was overwhelming,'" he says, making a celebratory cha-ching motion with his arm. "That's like, 'Job's done!'"
Shlohmo has had an eventful four years. Rising from the vaunted Low End Theory scene, he's toured the globe, garnered tons of buzz and collaborated with Def Jam–signed R&B singer Jeremih. But lately, it seems the producer has been following his own strange and intriguing path.
He's passed up potential big-label signings to focus on building Wedidit, a burgeoning enterprise he runs with a tight-knit group of friends, including fellow L.A. beatsmiths Groundislava and RL Grime. Meanwhile, he upended expectations and riled critics with Dark Red, a skull-fuck of an album that abandons the mainstream-leaning sound of No More — the EP he dropped with Jeremih last year — in favor of short-circuited beats, horror-movie mood swings and outright synthesizer abuse.
Shlohmo — who's playing at FYF Fest on Saturday, Aug. 22 — has always used sonic decay as his artistic template. A skater kid and visual artist brought up in West L.A., he cites both fashion designer Miuccia Prada and doom-metal band Electric Wizard as sources of inspiration. Since he first started posting tracks on MySpace in the mid to late 2000s, he's reveled in exploring the bounds of audio, describing his current home studio as a wonderland of haphazard setups and battered gear.
"Bad cables. Bad connections. Nothing's grounded, and it just sounds cool," he says. "Everywhere else I go, it's like MIDI controllers or very nicely plugged-in old synthesizers and stuff. For me, it's rad, but I'd rather be able to plug that synthesizer into something that it doesn't want to be plugged into and fuck it up."
On Dark Red, Shlohmo achieves new heights of fucked-up-ness. Written during an intense period — in an interview with L.A. blog Passion of the Weiss earlier this year, Shlohmo described a time of hospital visits, funerals, excess partying and self-examination — the hourlong record courses through a marathon of emotional ups and downs. Guitars wail mournfully; synths sound like they've been corroded with acid or beaten with sticks.
The album, which came out in April on Wedidit and True Panther, sounds much darker than Bad Vibes, Shlohmo's 2011 breakthrough. That full-length debut had plenty of hostile themes (see track titles like "Trapped in a Burning House" and "Your Stupid Face"), but the bewitching beats and warm electronics softened the blows.
However, as far as Shlohmo's evolution goes, Dark Red is hardly unprecedented. Just consider "This Is How Wedidit," his 2011 remix of Montell Jordan's classic party banger "This Is How We Do It." The festive New Jack beat is ripped out and replaced by an eerie synth incantation, which could leave clubgoers lying in the fetal position on the dance floor.
Nick Meledandri, who helps run Wedidit, says his close friend has long had a provocative side. The two met at Santa Monica's progressive Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, where as middle schoolers they loved defacing their Latin textbooks. As they grew older, Meledandri says, they would bond over gritty albums like Three 6 Mafia's lo-fi horrorcore opus Mystic Stylez, cranking up the volume in Laufer's Civic until the speakers trembled with distortion.
"He's just got a high standard for everything, and I feel like he's constantly disappointed by humans," says Meledandri, better known to Wedidit fans by his DJ name, Nick Melons. "To focus on or listen to that kind of stuff, I think, is more realistic to the world that he pictures — rather than, you know, airy, poppy, happy shit.
"He's a very dark dude at the end of the day," he adds. "I think he finds truth in that shit and does not find truth in other things."
It's not that Laufer is a completely tortured soul. At Wedidit headquarters, he's funny and talkative, cracking jokes while rolling up a generously proportioned spliff.
Last year, he hit a career speed bump when Def Jam backed out on plans to release his and Jeremih's No More EP. The two ended up releasing it for free online, and though Laufer initially seemed to lash out at the music industry over what happened, now he shrugs it off.
"I think the outlook was probably always the same. You knew they were salt from the get-go," he says now of Def Jam. "'Major Label Kills It and Is Very Nice!' — I don't think that's ever been the story. So I wasn't surprised. It was just one of my first times dealing with what can go wrong with having such a large system."
Laufer says the Def Jam experience hasn't ruined possible future collaborations for him. But he clearly wants to supersede the usual business barriers and build his own thing. In recent years, he's helped turn Wedidit into a full-time operation. Its label side gives the team members greater control over their own releases, while the merchandising lets Laufer and Meledandri explore their warped take on street fashion.
When an L.A. Weekly photographer stops by the Wedidit studio for a shoot, Laufer rummages through his big garbage-bag clothing stash and pulls out one of Wedidit's latest creations, a black T-shirt bearing a twisted Photoshop collage: palm tree, skewed anime character, cartoon wolf smoking a cigarette, punctuated with the words "DON'T COME ANY CLOSER" in all-caps cursive font. The tee looks like something you might pick up at a swap meet on the outskirts of Hades — a fresh, visceral and vaguely unsettling spin on trash culture and cheap factory design.
Imagine how the world would look if this former art student, who once had plans to start a career in painting, drawing and printmaking, had ended up in a more service-oriented creative field. What if Shlohmo was one of the people who designed, say, our office chairs? Or picked the color schemes for our hotel rooms? Or designed a fall line for Target?
Certainly life would be weirder, but it'd probably be more interesting, too.
"I just don't need much, and I end up fucking up a lot of shit just by accident," he says. "I have a lot of nice things that are all beat to shit. So I guess that's my aesthetic."
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