Bedroom beat producer Henry Laufer may be a San Francisco resident, but he's an Angeleno through and through. Born and bred in "L.A. proper," the laid-back artist better known as Shlohmo moved to San Francisco last summer after spending a year in the Oakland dormitories of the California College of the Arts, where he's a printmaking major. Although he has enjoyed his time in the Bay Area, it's clear that his cultural and musical base is farther south.
Laufer is an unabashed disciple of the Los Angeles beat scene, whose DJs and producers operate in the gray area where abstract hip-hop, IDM glitch, wonky dubstep, outer-space funk, and avant-garde electronics intermingle and morph into inventive new sounds. Championed by online radio outpost Dublab and arguably headquartered at weekly L.A. party Low End Theory, the scene has birthed Flying Lotus, Daedelus, Nosaj Thing, and, now, Shlohmo.
As with many artists from that community, categorizing Shlohmo's sound is no easy task. His music incorporates breezy, shuffling instrumental hip-hop and warbling bass workouts. On his debut album, Shlohmoshun Deluxe, "Tomato Squeeze" and "Antigravity" layer tinkling, shimmering melodies over meandering beats. "Teeth" balances burbling, organic instrumentation with buzzing bass, and album standout "Hot Box the Cockpit" colors synthy future-hop with nature sounds and ghostly vocal loops. When asked what kind of music he makes, Laufer says with a laugh, "I usually tell people, 'Stuff you won't like.' A lot of people look at music from a really square standpoint. It has to sound a certain way, and if it doesn't, then it's too weird to listen to."
While Laufer spends his free time these days crafting next-level beats, he was a punk rocker growing up. His love of skateboarding initially expanded his musical horizons. "My first experience with electronic music and hip-hop and all that stuff was through skate videos," he says. Inspired by otherworldly tunes from Amon Tobin and DJ Shadow, he moved into DJing and then production, the latter partially at the behest of his father, who is a songwriter and producer. (Mom is a visual artist, so the Laufer household is clearly an artistic one.)
Equally important was Laufer's acquisition of music production software, as previous efforts to make music — he can play piano, guitar, and bass — left him unfulfilled. "I loved playing bass, but when you're by yourself playing bass, it's very unsatisfying," he says. "When GarageBand first came out, I was like, 'Oh, shit, I can combine all the elements myself.'" The Reason software program eventually supplanted GarageBand, only to be replaced by Ableton Live, which he uses to compose music and perform live. For all these technical upgrades, he maintains an affinity for lo-fi production techniques, from low-grade field recordings made with his laptop's internal microphone to his beloved "garbage" studio monitors. "I just got real monitors, and I can't really make anything that sounds as good," he says. "I'm just going to keep mastering on the shitty ones."
In 2008, Laufer and some of his childhood homies founded the Wedidit Collective. Initially created as a way to promote their own sounds, Wedidit now maintains a blog and has grown into an online exchange for like-minded producers around the globe. "I can't tell you the last day that I didn't download a free mixtape off of MySpace," he says.
Shlohmoshun Deluxe is released next week on L.A.'s innovative Friends of Friends label (and is already receiving the support of BBC Radio's Mary Anne Hobbs), so there's a good chance Laufer will soon be hearing his own tunes on plenty of mixtapes. Not that it's going to his head. "I'm definitely not party dude, I'm not club dude," he says. "I make music without any sort of intention other than pushing my own expression."