how shlohmo went from fairfax streetwear rat to global producing phenom by 25
We talk Kardashians, Kawakubo, and kush with the brains behind one of the most rapidly rising collectives in music today.
Photography Eric Chakeen
"I'm late on the last three episodes of the Kardashians, our tour bus has such shitty internet," Shlohmo, the 25-year-old producer, tells me as the wafting stench of Bay Area piff he's packing starts to dissipate. We're backstage at Irving Plaza, the downtown venue housing the third stop on his newly embarked tour. I'd asked about Bruce Jenner, having heard he's a fan: "My favorite photo is still the one where he's smoking a cigarette with the nails on. I genuinely support Bruce, I think what he's doing is incredible."
It's surprising the LA-born and bred producer has had time to keep up with any of the clan's antics, let alone its current slew of paparazzi problems. Born Henry Laufer, Shlohmo got his jump treating a bevy of Drake tracks to slowed down, slightly sinister syrup twists that have since become his signature. Following the release of his 2011 debut album, he generated buzz banging out a series of edits for the likes of Flume and Laura Mvula. But it wasn't until his chop of R&B crooner Jeremiah's nocturnal anthem Fuck You All the Time racked up a cool 9 million plays on SoundCloud that the spotlight really started to shine. The pair teamed up on a collaborative EP, but when the Chicago singer's label shelved the project, Laufer dropped the ironically titled No More on his own, for free.
Last week marked the long awaited release of Laufer's second album, Dark Red. Although it's certainly spurred on by a dissatisfaction with pop-minded production, the outstanding record speaks more to the series of personal losses Laufer endured over the last two years. "I went from a collaborative pop effort to, basically, its antithesis," he explained.
Consequently, Dark Red's reviewers have had a lot to chew on: 11 aggressive—at times, abyssal—tracks twinged with foreboding synths, pounding hi-hats, and dashes of drum n' bass. The record is many things, but according to Laufer himself, it's no pity party: "A lot of the things that have been written about it so far seem to communicate, 'Oh I'm so sad,'" he said of the music media's recent attempts to decode his influences. "Death and hospitals are things everybody in the world deals with, so this record wasn't like 'I'm so special and sad.' I wasn't pitying anything," he said. "I didn't have to try too hard to make it dark."
But darkness sits squarely in the realm of possibility for a dude who rocks a tiny gold gravestone pendant on the regular. "I think that's where I wanted to go anyway—I haven't been enjoying light music," Laufer said with a little laugh. But there's something to be said about the expressive power of dealing with your demons, and Laufer agrees. "The things that really say shit aren't just happy and existing. It sucks, but sometimes the only way to say something meaningful is to fucking sock someone in the face or kick 'em in the nuts, you know what I mean?"
Shlohmo might be dealing with darkness, but he's not in it alone. He's the ringleader of the WEDIDIT collective, a buzzy band of buddies he's known forever. On the management side of things sits Nick Melons, who's kicked it with Laufer since they were 12. WEDIDIT also counts producers Groundislava, D33J, and RL Grime among its OG members while imports including Canadian Ryan Hemsworth and Portugal's Purple have since joined the fold. Thanks in large part to the communicative powers of the internet, the friends have transitioned from 17-year-olds spinning their high school's house parties to the hive brain behind a rapidly rising record label.
But it's not just WEDIDIT's productions—welcome breaks from the Dance Dance Revolution-ripped anthems presently dominating the EDM ecosystem—that have encouraged so much fanfare. Shlohmo has also lent his penchant for insidiously humorous, off-kilter visuals to developing the collective's successful merch-cum-clothing line. "I remember when Supreme moved in to my neighborhood," he explained of his aesthetic origins. "Nick's older brother started working there, and when we'd come by, they'd call him Bay Bay Melons because we both looked super young; it was like smoking weed with a baby." he laughed.
Before long, he wasn't just hooked up with a summer job at the skate empire's Fairfax St. outpost, but with a gateway to exploring different facets of fashion: "There's definitely so much inspiration from there that's populated our brand," Laufer explained. "Branding, merchandising, all that shit isn't my main interest, but I find so much creativity in it."
These days, Laufer still rocks with the 'Preme team, but he's also well versed among the industry's upper echelons: "I've always been a Kris Van Assche fan, everything Nicolas Ghesquière is doing with Louis this year has been crazy, and Rei Kawakubo is awesome." He waxes a fondness for Japanese techiness, and we share some choice words for Galliano, but understandably, his real love is Raf. "It's almost cliche at this point, but to me, Raf is just it. Even more so than his own line, I think what he's been doing with women's Dior is just amazing."
He hasn't seen Dior and I yet, but you can blame that one on the bus internet, too.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen