The rapid rise of Shlohmo, appearing at Low End Theory tonight
It’s difficult to argue against the merits of extended vacation. Especially if you’re Shlohmo, aka Henry Laufer, the 20-year-old beat wunderkind who created “Shlomoshun Deluxe” last summer on a four-month break from San Francisco’s California College of the Arts.
Armed with a laptop, an iPod microphone and a copy of Ableton software, Laufer distilled dank dubstep, the hulking bass and mutant groove of L.A. beat music, glitchy Warp Records IDM and an array of found samples into a precocious debut that earned effusive raves from XLR8R magazine, taste-making British BBC-1Xtra DJ Mary Anne Hobbs and Low End Theory co-founder Daddy Kev -- the latter of whom recently tabbed him with the unenviable task of following turntablist titan D-Styles on the club’s monthly podcast (where Shlohmo acquitted himself nicely).
Oddly enough, this was never the plan. Always inclined toward a career in painting, Laufer started taking beat-making seriously only last summer, when two semesters of dealing with excessive art school pedagogy left him alienated. The offspring of a musician father and a visual artist mother, the Crossroads graduate had loved hip-hop and electronic music since discovering them via the skateboarding video soundtracks of his youth, an obsession further inculcated by the discovery of Low End Theory at age 17. But the idea of joining his heroes onstage seemed remote until Leeor Brown, the impresario behind nascent local powerhouse Friends of Friends, discovered Shlohmo’s MySpace page.
Though the two had met during Laufer’s internship at the avant-garde Internet radio station Dublab, the producer had largely kept his sonic experiments private. That changed when Brown offered a deal and enlisted Low End Theory staples Tokimonsta, devonwho and Low Limit to remix the standout tracks from "Shlomoshun Deluxe." By the time spring semester commenced, the album’s eerie ennui-riddled beats already had Shlohmo hailed as an avatar for the second generation of beat junkies emerging from the Lincoln Heights locus.
Reached by phone directly before a flight home to rock Wednesday night’s Low End Theory, Laufer discussed balancing school and fledgling stardom, how he got his name and why “Half Baked” isn’t as good as he remembers.
How did you end up with the name Shlohmo?
It was total chance and probably not that interesting. I just liked how it sounded and there was this old Jewish dude named Shlohmo who lived down the block from me. Originally, my name was Henry from Outer Space; a lot of people liked it, but it seemed a little too gimmicky. Shlohmo was pretty plain but seemed to have a lot of personality.
How did you first start getting into beat music and the Low End Theory scene?
Hip-hop felt like it had hit this dead spell around 2006 and 2007, and other than Madlib and J Dilla, I was mostly listening to electronic music and house. Then a friend turned me on to Flying Lotus. I’d already known about Daedelus, but I wasn’t aware that there was a place you could go each week to see them. The moment I turned 18, I was there every week and it definitely fueled my creative juices.
Has it been difficult to balance the demands of school and making music and promoting your album?
Definitely. At this point, I don’t feel that dedicated to school. I understand the point of going to art school for design or something practical, but I’m studying painting and it’s hard for someone to teach you how to paint. As time goes on, I’m finding myself drifting more towards the music.
Were you always more serious about being an artist?
It was always about art and as soon as I got to art school, it became more about making music. It just sort of happened. I never looked at making music as something serious, which is maybe why it became serious. My school got out a month earlier than all of my friend’s schools, so I just had a month alone to myself without my friends, where I could sit and meditate about what I wanted to make. It wasn’t about what people wanted to hear, it was about what I want to make right now.
You also started the Wediditcollective when you were still a senior in high school. How did that come about?
It’s just a collection of musicians and artist homies of mine who come from all over the southland: L.A., Long Beach, Inglewood. I’ve known Juj for the longest time; we’ve been homies since we were 4. I met a lot of the cats in high school. I met Elan through MySpace. I didn’t even know he was from around the same area at first, but he makes dope [stuff], so I wanted him involved.
You’ve sampled the movie “Half Baked” extensively in the mixes you made for the Low End Theory podcast and Mary Anne Hobbs. Are you a big fan of the movie?
I definitely was when I was younger, but then I went back and watched it a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I realized that it just isn’t that funny anymore.
What are your plans for the future? At the expense of having your parents read on a blog that you’re dropping out of school, are you going to stick with higher education?
My parents are rad and understand everything. I’m definitely taking next semester off, maybe next year. In general, even if I didn’t have the music thing, I think I’d take some time off to figure out what I want out of school. I’ve been watching a lot of people floundering around, spending so much money to have a room where they can paint in. I don’t know if I’m doing the same thing or if I’m different. At this point, I’d rather have a day job than make a living trying to sell painting. That’s what I dig so much about the beat scene. When you’re first starting out, it’s so comforting to go to Low End Theory and see such a cool vibe. People aren’t dressing up in costumes.
-- Jeff Weiss
Shlohmo and Ernest Gonzales tonight at Low End Theory at the Airliner, 2419 N. Broadway. 9 p.m. $10.
Photo via Wedidit