In North Hollywood there’s an industrial stretch of Sherman Way whose pallid infrastructure forms the low end of a gradient that fades into a dreary, gray sky. A husky, preteen boy is casually pedaling down the sidewalk on a rusty Schwinn 12-speed, wearing a U.S. military ballistic helmet. Forgotten car parts and skeletons of household appliances lean against the side streets, forcing automobiles to park in unorthodox configurations. An aromatic cocktail of urine and unsavory refuse exhales down a dead end lined with auto repair shops and warehouses.
It’s on this dead end that an unassuming door, marked with the letter "X," barricades Drezo’s new music production studio from the dilapidation outside.
His dystopian surroundings are emblematic of the sound outlined in his new industrial-dance EP, Jaded. The tracks are abrasive, macabre and lined with the invigorated groove of a coked-up disco.
“I describe the EP as: ‘Dead’ is the old me,” says Drezo, born Andre Haglund. “‘Real’ is the current. It’s electro. It’s funky. It’s deep. Then ‘Jaded’ is the future of the project. A lot of that evil downtempo.”
The old Drezo was an Arizona high school state champion in lacrosse. He was the MVP of the final game and had offers from several East Coast schools. But he threw his life into retrograde when he gave it all up, announcing to his coach and parents that he wanted to be a DJ instead.
He enrolled at Arizona State University to appease the stereotypical young-adult narrative, but his mind was preoccupied with starting a career in music.
“I was selling weed,” he reluctantly admits. “I stopped that and bought a bunch of DJ stuff. I cashed out. I was the only one my friends knew that had a whole setup — a whole PA system. That was right when EDM was blowing up at ASU. I would try to DJ any party I could. Any birthday. Any event. I have so many terrible stories about girls spilling drinks on my shit and it breaking. I DJ'd an orgy once. It was a birthday party that turned into an orgy.”
Drezo’s DJ career plateaued when he realized his idols were writing their own music, so he left ASU after two semesters and decamped to Scottsdale to study music theory at the local community college. He was working several “shitty jobs,” including standing outside clubs and flyering unsuspecting patrons, but a friend from ASU, bass producer Protohype, convinced him that he would need to make the trek to L.A. if he was going to take music seriously.
Broke and washing dishes at the Addiction Bistro in West Hollywood, he got his break when Dillon Francis came across a remix Drezo did of GotSome’s “Bassline.” He hadn’t fully executed yet on his signature gothic style, but it was nuanced enough for Francis to send the track to other DJs and garner it some attention in the production community.
As a producer, Drezo is the antithesis of EDM. What hipster purists hate about the artistically hollow, mainstream sound that dominates EDM festivals is what fuels Drezo's passion to cultivate a more nuanced noise.
“There are compromises you have to make,” Drezo says of playing to different audiences. “You have to read the crowd. Sometimes you are playing for a more mainstream crowd, but being different is great. You can still do that and be different. My goal was always to bring the sound I wanted to the mainstage and [figure out] how to compromise with those people and make those people fall in love with that shit, more than the 3, 2, 1 ..." He does a countdown, mimicking the formulaic drops of mainstream EDM. "You already know; everyone knows. There are people pushing those limits. Those are the things that are good for the scene.”
Drezo’s qualms with the dance-music scene stem from his eight-year climb in the industry, during which he witnessed only a faint progression in EDM’s staple performers. Being an anomaly in dance music has given him the ability to stand out, but it also has made it difficult to align with labels and promoters that are willing to take a risk on his aberrant sound.
Despite a lack of record-label releases, Drezo has three tracks that have garnered over a million plays on SoundCloud, and he’s been a regular with Gary Richards' HARD Events. Richards focuses on eclectic lineups because, as Drezo says, “People want weird. They want what’s different.”
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He’ll be making his second mainstage appearance at HARD Summer on Saturday, Aug. 5, as a part of DJ Snake’s “Pardon My French” mainstage takeover. Once again, Drezo will have the opportunity to dismantle the preconceptions of a festival crowd and move EDM into uncharted territory.
“Everyone that made it before 2012 has this weird pass,” says Drezo. “They don’t have to do anything anymore. You know what sucks? I’ve met a few of them and they’re pretty cool. They’re kind aware of that bullshit and they do it to their advantage. It’s their livelihood. I get it. But they’re not doing anything to help the scene. They just have this past where they can make a shit-ton of money and not give a fuck. It’s really irritating.”
Drezo plays the HARD Stage at HARD Summer on Saturday, Aug. 5, at 3:05 p.m., at Glen Helen Pavilion and Regional Park in San Bernardino. Tickets and more info at hardfest.com/hardsummer.