Two days after the vernal equinox, the climate on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel still felt like a Southern California winter. A pool known for hosting large numbers of well-toned, uberfit loungers sat empty, its water level teetering on overflow thanks to rain that came and went throughout the night and into the morning. But, by 3 p.m. on a Sunday, the first day of local DJ crew Droog’s monthly residency at the trendy hotel, a crowd had huddled together on the warmest side of the roof, removing their sweatshirts every time the sun peered out from behind the neighboring high-rise buildings, only to bundle up again when when an icy wind darted across the deck. It was not the ideal day for a poolside party filled with folks acclimated to warm weather, but it was every bit as fashionably L.A. as one would expect for a hotel that has spent its fair share of time on the celebrity-culture Zeitgeist.
In some ways, Droog is the ultimate L.A. story: three guys, all from somewhere else, who ended up in the city for reasons unconnected to their current status as up-and-coming DJs. They met through the usual channels, electronic-music Web forums and clubs, eventually began playing together and, with some nudging from a friend/manager who daylights as a movie producer, took over the town. First there was the Avalon residency, playing alongside the world’s top-ranked DJs. Then their own parties exploded on the scene, events that have featured the U.S. debut of many a major European DJ. Now, Droog begins the 2009 party season not only with the Standard residency (which will last through October), but with its own record label, Culprit, which launched at last week’s Winter Music Conference in Miami.
Yet, at the same time that Droog is tearing up the local scene, there is something about the collective that is strikingly out of step with what people might think is going on in town at this very moment. There are no 15-year-olds in neon sunglasses screaming for Steve Aoki, no wasted celebrities waiting for the flash of cell-phone cameras, and definitely none of the top-heavy blog house that’s become a staple at clubs citywide. As with local crews like Compression and Droid Behavior, Droog is working with techno in the Detroit-Berlin vein, a style that few people thought would find a home in Los Angeles. It is this gap between the perceived view of L.A. clubs and what Droog is doing that led to a yearlong “gestation” period between conceiving the label and launching it.
“Everyone who comes to L.A., they always have an idea of what L.A. is going to be like,” says Droog member Brett Griffin. “That’s not just in terms of music. They come because they want to go to the beach and they have all these ideas of what L.A. is all about. As a label, we had to deal with all of this. Do we want to be an L.A. label? Do we want to be in Hollywood? Do we want to answer the criticism that people in L.A. are shallow, so we need to do something deep?”
Once the name Culprit (“it gives you an immediate sense of identity,” says Droog’s Justin Sloe) came into place, the label itself began to make sense.
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“The idea is to have a balance between the truly local, homegrown — not necessarily indigenous to L.A., but people who are based in L.A.,” says Droog’s Andrei Osyka, “and people who come from outside of L.A. but have a special affection and connection to the vibe that is happening right now in L.A.”
It all begins in an alcove nestled in the living room of Droog Headquarters, a space big enough for a few chairs and two tables filled with DJ and studio gear. After the official events end, this is where out-of-town DJs come to keep the party going. During the day and into the weeknights, this is where Droog and friends like Lee Foss, Lee Curtiss and Jamie Jones have been recording. When I stopped by the house one late-winter evening, Foss, an Angeleno via Chicago, was holed up in the booth putting the finishing touches on “H.E.A.D.S.,” a collaboration between him and Londoner Jamie Jones that will appear on Culprit’s debut EP under the name Hot Natured. The Droog members say that much of their label’s material will stem from this homey session.
“I think that our main goal is to make sure that everything happens in an organic way,” says Matt Zamias, who doesn’t DJ, but whose help in organizing Droog events and handling business and promotion matters has made him a member of the collective. “We want to make sure that there is a representation of what is happening.”
Droog plays the Standard Hotel on April 5 with special guests Matthias Tanzmann (Moon Harbour) and Simon Baker (Infant, Cocoon, Get Physical).