Los Angeles clubbers and lovers of EDM in general can't fail to have become familiar with the name SLANDER over the eight and a half years since they launched in 2010. The local project's name (stylized, we're firmly told, in ALL-CAPS) has become ever-present on L.A. bills. Meanwhile, the duo of Derek Andersen and Scott Land have been seeing their online followers grow at a dramatic rate. These are exciting times for SLANDER.
A recent spike in their fortunes has coincided with a slight shift in style, from the “heaven trap” that they have up to now been closely associated with (in fact, their own blend of trance and trap) to dubstep. Collaborations with the likes of RIOT, Spag Heddy and Dylan Matthew on their recent EP The Headbangers Ball have been embraced by loyal fans happy to see their boys evolve.
For Andersen and Land, it's all been very organic. As is the case with many electronic music artists, they've been soaking up everything they hear, and their own music has naturally been affected. The two undeniably handsome yet egoless men take it all in their stride; humble and unspectacular in their demeanor, SLANDER radiate a vibe of normality, that they're simply regular guys, friends. It's in the studio, and onstage, that the magic happens.
Of course, it hasn't always been that way. Land and Andersen initially met when both were studying at UC Irvine, and Andersen began hanging out with Land's fraternity.
“This is right when the rave scene started getting big in Los Angeles, and there's a really big one called Together As One,” Land says. “Derek and I hadn't really met at this point but we both went to this event with separate groups of people. Our groups had both situated ourselves in the same area to watch the show. Derek recognized our group as being a part of UC Irvine and came over to hang out with us. I remember talking to him there — that was our first interaction. He told me about other fraternities he was checking out, and I told him to come out for the winter quarter. He and I really connected, with electronic music kind of the key component that brought us together.”
This was the New Year that went from 2009 to 2010. The two became firm friends and, by May of 2010, were DJing together.
“I was pretty introverted and I remember Scotty was easy to talk to, extroverted, and at that time when we met at the concert I didn't have too many friends at the school,” Andersen says. “I was still a freshman and had only been there for three months. I had the friends that I came with separately, and it felt good that this guy was giving me the time of day and having a meaningful conversation with me. Not many people had done that at the school at the time because I was too scared to talk to people. So that was my first impression. He was friendly and overly nice.”
Music, of course, is the great connector. Whatever the genre, people have bonded over shared tastes since the beginning of time. Land and Andersen didn't have immediate plans to form a project together — they became friends first, Andersen joining the same fraternity as Land. From there, things moved fast.
“At the point I met Scott, I had been listening to electronic music for like a year already,” Andersen says. “I was deep into it. Once I had a good collection, I wanted to DJ. The other reason I wanted to DJ was because at all the frat parties I was going to, they would only play hip-hop and I was super into trance. That was literally the opposite vibe I was going for. I realized I wasn't having a good time because I wasn't into the music. I just noticed that about myself. Everybody else was having a good time, and I noticed that if I wasn't super into the music, I wasn't super into the party.”
When the fraternity was looking for a house to host a party, Andersen offered up his, with the condition that he could DJ. That event went well, and the next frat party saw Andersen and Land DJing together, something they continued to do for the next year before landing their first club gig.
“Me and Scott were so stoked that we got a real gig,” Andersen says. “I still remember that night. It was really fun playing for our close friends — there were only 100 people there. I wanted to keep doing it, so we started weaseling our way into other Orange County clubs, playing the side rooms for like five hours straight. We had to bring our own speakers, set everything up ourselves, and they let us do our thing while everything else was going on. We did that at Sutra, which is an old club in Orange County that's closed now. The first time we played there, they let us play in the side room. We just played trance shit. It was really fun, and those are our first club experiences.”
The fledgling SLANDER performed small sets in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles as they experimented with their sound and built up a following. Two years later, they reached the point where people were coming out specifically to see them.
“I graduated college in 2012, and I started working for my dad at a normal office IT job,” Andersen says. “All I could think about was music. That voice in my head would not go away. I knew we needed to figure out how this shit worked so we could make a living off of this DJing thing. I knew if we were going to do it, we'd have to learn how to make songs.”
Andersen spent months watching songwriters and producers work, hanging on their shoulders for hours each day. And then he found Icon Collective, a music production school in Burbank.
“I remember walking in the door of the school, and there were a couple of couches in the lobby and five to 10 kids on their laptops with their headphones on,” he says. “I knew this was where I needed to go. It was a school specifically for electronic music. This is the USC for DJs. I had to figure out how to be in this collective of people. It took me a year to save my money, and tell my dad that I wanted to do music instead of his business. I was so scared to tell my dad about this other career path, and I remember when I told him my idea, he was super thrilled. He told me that he worked his whole life so that I could do what I want. That always resonated with me. He was super down to help me pay for some of the school and help me go there, let me get off work a little early so I could go to the school. So I went to the Icon Collective, and it changed me as an artist and a person.”
It was there that Andersen met the local DJ, NGHTMRE, and that relationship remains a fruitful one to this day. Back then, the pair swapped ideas and knowledge, playing an important role in their respective musical educations.
“Our first big song was a remix that we did with NGHTMRE,” Andersen says, referring to Showtek's “We Like to Party.” “It came out super organically. I made this stupid remix and put it on Facebook, and he sent me a message saying that he'd remixed the same song. It was the perfect moment. It's meant to be. We went in together and finished the song in the studio at the school, put it out, and then got 300,000 plays in the first few days. A million plays after a month. Before that, the most plays we'd had on a song was 50,000, and that was in a year. So getting a song that had 300,000 plays in a week was unheard of for us.”
“The SLANDER boys and I met through music school,” NGHTMRE says. “Derek and I were in the same classes together, and we immediately noticed our similar tastes and began working together. Derek and Scott have always had the musical ear and the vision of what they wanted, and over the last few years especially, they've developed their engineering skills to be as strong as anyone else in the bass music world. The boys always know exactly what vibe works best during their live performance, and I think that's an advantage they have over many other artists.”
So that's how they did it. Hard work, smart collabs and a healthy splash of good fortune. They put out the Nuclear Bonds EP with NGHTMRE in 2015. That was followed by their own Duality EP the following year, and Dilapidation Celebration with Kayzo in 2017, before The Headbangers Ball last year. Progress has been sure and steady, and absolutely undeniable. But it was this last EP that saw them shift to a dubstep sound, with shades of drum & bass influences.
“That's one of our loves right now,” Land says. “We went to Coachella, and the first time I saw Sub Focus was life-changing. That opened the doors to that genre for me. We play a lot of it in our sets, and it's a genre that I feel is super underappreciated in America. That's one of the genres that I love listening to, hanging with my friends or whatever.”
“There was one song we did [with NGHTMRE] called 'Power,'” adds Andersen. “Back when that EP was made in 2015, drum & bass was even smaller in the States than it is now. But we wanted to wait to mix it into our sets. When we're at EDC and hanging out at a festival, and there's another artist either known for drum & bass or plays a lot of drum & bass, we always go and check 'em out for sure.”
That, plus their own trademark heaven trap, has resulted in a new melodic dubstep sound that is proving massively popular.
“I noticed this past year that [the trap] kind of sound was really diminishing in popularity,” Land says. “In my tastes, too, it was diminishing. I wasn't liking it as much as I did. When it first started, there were tons of people making super innovative sort of stuff and it was super exciting. But then it got to this point where there weren't a lot of new artists making it. That was happening with dubstep. A lot of people were making super innovative shit and making it cool, and making people move. As DJs, every time we play, we were watching the crowd to see which songs work and which songs don't. Trap songs were getting less of a reaction versus dubstep songs. Our tastes started leaning in that sort of direction.
“Our fans weren't really mad that we shifted into a different genre,” Land adds. “We've gained a lot of new fans from it, too, so it's been cool to watch our sound grow over the years. We're in this dubstep realm now, and there are lots of cool possibilities for new stuff.”
The world of dubstep has seen plenty of changes over the years, as its mainstream popularity has increased. The audience has widened, as the genre has veered away from the “boys club” vibe that it once firmly held.
“I think it's really growing still,” Andersen says. “I feel like a shift happened where there was the Skrillex kind of dubstep in 2011, and during that it was super big, but I remember only guys liked dubstep at that point. Aggressive, 'brostep' and all this kind of stuff. It was very aggressive and manly. But now, over the past year and a half, a shift happened where girls started liking dubstep. Even two years ago, 18-year-old girls were super into rhythm and dubstep, and that was something I'd never seen before. It triggered something in my mind. Fifty percent of the population is about to like this genre.”
Andersen says his own move from trap to dubstep was a no-brainer. It's the next energy level up, the next crazy genre.
“I feel lucky that our project has blossomed through that change,” he says. “We kept things alive by evolving. That's what I noticed about the great electronic acts. They don't stagnate. I made that a goal with our project. Make sure we're staying on top of stuff, evolving with the times, and making the music we want to make. It's a really cool time for dubstep in America for sure.”
NGHTMRE agrees. “In the United States, I've personally witnessed the bass community explode over the last five years,” he says. “As it has become more and more crowded, only the best engineers and producers have continued to grow. What is really exciting to me is to see such rapid growth internationally. Asian and European markets are beginning to really enjoy bass music as well. Every time I return I can see a noticeable, positive change in how the bigger crowds receive our style of music.”
“I love bass music,” says English DJ Gammer. “I love how there's so many different styles and it's like, woo, you can do what you want as long as there's a fat old booty bass.”
SLANDER will certainly look to woo their audience when they play two consecutive nights at the Hollywood Palladium on Jan. 11 and 12. Naturally, they'll be bringing their finely tuned Headbangers Ball show.
“We've been taking it all over America and Canada the past four months,” Andersen says. “A lot of dubstep, a lot of our original songs, and some new songs that we haven't played before. We're gonna have this crazy new stage production that we haven't used before. Scott and I, it was our goal to play the Palladium when we first started to DJ. We did two sold-out Palladium shows in 2016 but that was a collab with NGHTMRE. The shows are on track to sell out, so we're excited about that.
“We live in L.A., so playing in L.A. is so much more meaningful to us. Coming home and feeling that support — this is where we came up as DJs playing all these shitty little fucking gigs at local clubs in L.A. To be on that journey and finally get to these places we've been dreaming of is awesome.”
It'll be a great way to kick off 2019, but it won't be the last we hear from SLANDER this year. Land says we can expect some crazy music projects, though he's keeping a lid on it.
“We have lots of cool stuff planned with NGHTMRE for  — we just started a record label with him called Gud Vibrations two months ago, so we're excited to release music on that label and build up some more artists,” Land says. “We have some cool SLANDER stuff planned for the end of 2019. [This] year will be about quality over quantity.”
SLANDER perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Hollywood Palladium.