By Stefan Nickum
Early in the morning outside Seattle venue The Baltic Room, Los Angeles producer Henry Laufer (a.k.a. Shlohmo) leans like a kickstand against a dark storefront entry. It’s Saturday, the fourth night of Seattle’s Decibel Festival, and Shlohmo is insulated between friends and cohorts while festival goers mill about; the group oblivious to the sidewalk commotion, and indifferent to the music spilling out from the club. Like high school wallflowers claiming an old, mangled tree off-campus, Laufer and his friends riff like a group AIM chat—a complex nexus of cultural references that, while pithy, remain just shy of outsider comprehension.
Among the cast of characters outside the club that night are Laufer’s childhood friends, themselves DJs and producers. Laced in a bucket hat, Polo button-down and two dazzling green smiley-face earrings is Jasper Patterson (a.k.a. Groundislava), the comparatively tiny Djavan Santos (a.k.a. D33J) beside him—bleached black hair underneath a Goosebumps cap and mile-a-minute delivery, playing pimp to whatever Groundislava may quietly be selling. Along with Shlohmo, the 3 make up one-half of Los Angeles label, collective, and fuck you crew known as WEDIDIT. Missing that night is label manager and original member Nick Meledandri, Henry Steinway (a.k.a. RL Grime), JUJ (unable to be interviewed for this piece), and recent WEDIDIT signee and Halifax, Canada-based producer Ryan Hemsworth—Steinway and Hemsworth with the only official WEDIDIT releases so far.
Shaped by alliances formed in high school growing up in Los Angeles, the WEDIDIT team has watched their for-us-by-us philosophy become an in-demand platform as its founders Shlohmo and Groundislava have built international audiences through critically acclaimed records, one-off bootlegs, and savvy Internet antics. Back in February Shlohmo was tapped by Canadian R&B luminary Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd) for an official remix of he and Drake’s “Crew Love”—a move that helped catapult him into the international limelight, and underscored the versatility of his sound. Despite his growing relationship with pop music, Shlohmo’s own productions are deeply felt, with tracks like “Big Feelings” dripping, creaking, and loping down Highway 1 on Bay Area medicinal.
WEDIDIT, then, is as much a sum of its parts as it is a reflection of Shlohmo’s large following; an albeit reluctant leader whose autonomy seems in perfect harmony with the synthesis of his crew. “It started in 2007-2008 as not even a thing,” Shlohmo reminisces. “It was literally just me and 3 or 4 of my friends who went to high school together, and we would just drive around and yell shit at people.” In fact, the WEDIDIT name is the result of a particularly inspired moment. Shlohmo explains, “We started thinking, well it’s funny to yell at people because the go-to is offensive shit, but we were thinking what would be funny is to yell things that people can’t get mad at. Like, ‘HEY NICE DOG!’ or, ‘I LIKE YOUR HAT!’ but say it in a suggestive tone. And so one of the things that my friend started yelling was ‘WE DID IT!’”
Manifesting ideas out of stupidity and chaos is the central tenant of the WEDIDIT ethos—their tagline “professionally unprofessional since 1990” is the tie that binds. But more than any philosophical vision, ironic or not, is WEDIDIT’s place in the context of experimental music collectives that feels refreshing and fun without lacking depth. Many of the most aesthetically consistent and forward-thinking labels to emerge in the last 5 years are born from an organic intersection of music friends—Trouble & Bass, Fade To Mind, Body High, Dutty Artz, Night Slugs, et al.—and while those labels have taken their craft and aesthetic quite seriously, WEDIDIT is always subverting the complexity of their music and interests with what Shlohmo claims is (in Riff Raff tone) “dumb shit.”
On the WEDIDIT website, for example—originally a blog for their friends to stay in touch, or test demos—you’ll find the website banner to resemble a back-page classified for a questionable medical marijuana dispensary. Next to WEDIDIT sits a yin-yang symbol, and below the telephone number “(911) 420-6969.” When I asked Shlohmo about the yin-yang, he said, “I mean, now it’s being re-appropriated everywhere, it’s very Internet Tumblr shit…And to me that’s always been an ironic symbol that represents Nickelodeon commercials, or the Venice boardwalk—you know, shitty things of the ‘90s.”
WEDIDIT isn’t alone in the repurposing of ‘90s pop culture—much of emerging fashion, music, and art seems to reference the sci-fi tendencies of ‘90s rap videos, a My So-Called Life ethos, or Clueless cheerleader outfits. More than any of these aesthetic springboards, hip-hop emerges as the most central of the WEDIDIT member’s influences. Nearly every member has turned out a surfeit of rap and R&B bootlegs that explore a wide spectrum of feeling. From Shlohmo’s rugged, ferocious flip of Khia’s “My Neck My Back” to D33J’s recent “Drowned Radio Mix” of Drake’s “Over My Dead Body,” there is hardly an emotion left uncovered. On Ryan Hemsworth’s Last Words EP, and second WEDIDIT release, tracks like “Charly Wingate” are structured around an arresting female vocal, yet unfurl into high-hat flurries and bass knocks á la DJ Toomp. For last week’s revered FACT mix series, Hemsworth turned in a mix packed with his own bootlegs of 2012’s rap & R&B favorites like Jeremih’s “773 Love” or Future’s “Turn On the Lights.” From start to finish the mix paints a picture of mixed emotions—porous, hard, and awash in introspection. When asked about what he shares with the rest of the WEDIDIT crew Hemsworth says, “We all have different influences, but I know for sure it’s that we’ve all grown up in an Internet age. We just digest everything we see online, video games, horror movies, and weird art—like we’ve all got weird taste.”
Call it weird, but in a particularly notable Instagram capture from Shlohmo’s account, Groundislava is pictured next to Laufer wearing all black and neon green—a Nike Foamposite sneaker against his ear like a telephone, an XBOX 360 t-shirt with a lone AK-47 beneath, and Nike football gloves framing a thick gold chain flopped from his neck. “We love fashion, but we love our fashion,” Groundislava states. “We’re all about just doing our thing, and doing us, so it’s tight to like maybe fuck with some fashion shit and then incorporate your own shit into it.” WEDIDIT members already rep WEDIDIT gear (ying-yang t-shirts, patches, beanies), and plan on making 3M-covered trench coats.
Groundislava is WEDIDIT’s requisite gentle giant, and probably the least similar in musical style. A house-head since day one, much of Groundislava’s work has the kind of gospel synth styles of early Chicago house—light, illustrious, introspective. But even as Groundislava’s music contains the emotional depth that many of his WEDIDIT peers lie in—it’s never with out a kind of cheeky irreverence. On Groundislava’s track “Cool Party” from his recent Feel Me album on Friends of Friends, it opens with a mixture of wan chimes and ’80s synths before escalating rapidly into a drop preceded by the words “oh my god,” after which a thick 808 bassline and OG Nintendo-era Zelda melodies come in to break up the melancholy.
These qualities not only extend to WEDIDIT’s music, each bring a heartfelt fanboy to their live performances, dissolving much of the cold, sour distance so many professional DJs often bring to electronic music audiences. Of Groundislava’s own performance he says, “The more and more I make music the more I realize that the live performance is really about the crowd, and it’s about having a good time because I feel like the crowd first and foremost vibes with how you’re feeling and how you present yourself and the energy you give off, so I love going out there and having a good time and whenever I do the crowd always tells me, or shows me that it’s a better show.”
Last month, Boiler Room’s popular live streaming video series came to Los Angeles for one of the first sessions outside London. On the bill that night was Shlohmo in the top slot, Groundislava, RL Grime, and WEDIDIT extended fam Jerome LOL and Salva. Before this piece was even a thought, I stumbled onto Boiler’s Room’s live stream of the event, where I witnessed the messiest, geekiest, and outright fun Boiler Room performance I’d ever seen. Just one of the many epic moments during that night’s Boiler Room involved WEDIDIT’s RL Grime (Goosebumps’ RL Stine reference), who’s set started with an airhorn loop and bass kick that built and broke just as French Montana’s “Pop That” made the Boiler Room crowd fall across my computer screen in unified praise. Steinway knew every bar from the track’s big list of features (Lil’ Wayne, Rick Ross, Drake, etc.), and continued his set that was as bombastic as it was nuanced and wide-ranging—Steinway jumping, lip-syncing, and crowd pleasing the whole way.
RL Grime’s music is a definite departure from his alter ego Clockwork—a Dim-Mak associated, electro-house heavy alias he once tried to keep secret. However, it’s clear that Steinway has learned how to work a crowd, touring the world as a Dim-Mak member. For WEDIDIT’s first-ever official release Grapes, Steinway showcases big, uncompromising synths that incite terror as much as they go hard. Yet on tracks like “Treadstone,” the paradigm shifts slightly with a sunny intro before falling into Southern-style snap & roll. Steinway, like many in the WEDIDIT camp, cites Southern rap as a primary influence (a.k.a. trap music, if you aren’t already hating). “Hip-hop is something that anyone, anywhere in America can relate to. And since Lex Luger came around and he started—and I hate to use this word—but started bring trap back, I’ve been really excited about hip-hop. I mean, I grew up listening to Young Jeezy and Manny Fresh, so now it’s just me being able to look back at what I was into and make stuff like that.” RL Grime’s most popular track “Trap On Acid” has been played frequently on LA’s Power 106 radio station, even making it into the hands of Miami rapper Pitbull for use on a new track entitled “I’m Off That.”
The night I interviewed Shlohomo, Groundislava, and D33J they were intent on getting into a show was playing down the street. After getting my interviews the crew disappeared for a couple hours, returning just before their scheduled set that night. When I found D33J in the club later, his eyes glazed and body moving fluidly to the bass, Santos said they had just returned from a bottle of Hennessy with Tesfaye after his show. He seemed star-struck, or intoxicated, it didn’t matter, as the WEDIDIT ethos always seems to embrace these moments of impromptu weirdness with stride.
“I’m kind of bipolar, so I’ll have a month where I’m fucking with this kind of shit, and then I’ll have another month when I’m on some other shit,” Santos says of his own music-making process. D33J recently signed to venerable hip-hop label Anticon. His music has the kind of languid, Venice Beach palm tree haze that hangs over much of the WEDIDIT sound. And it’s not hard to imagine an artist like The Weeknd getting over a D33J production, Tesfaye’s aching, angelic voice resting rests comfortably in D33J’s moody schizophrenia.
Back in the Boiler Room, Shlohmo finally takes to the turntables—a plaid scarf tucked under headphones and a fitted. Groundislava grabs the mic to introduce: “Ay, I hope the haters are watching. Yeah, I hope you watching.” Shlohmo taps the spacebar on his computer as the melancholic keys enter from Rich Boy’s 2006 anthem “Throw Some D’s.” As Rich Boy finishes saying “Get money. New money,” Shlohmo pitches everything down to chop & screw syrup, his head nodding as if his childhood favorite The Misfits just took a 1980’s stage. As Shlohmo rolls through messy transitions of crowd pleasers and unreleased WEDIDIT tracks D33J comes to his side with a blunt and a baseball bat. Just as Shlohmo pulls hard on the blunt the crushing falsetto of Jeremih’s “Late Nights” comes on. Shlohmo’s eyes close, his head shakes, and smoke exits through his nostrils as D33J’s bat bobs and sways with Jeremih’s first verse: “Late night, just another show / bad bitches showin’ me their underclothes / they be on Twitter like ‘you tore it up, you tore it up, you tore it up.’” The song is as boastful as it is heart throbbing—the message rote, the production complex, and I imagine a car full of teens on a muggy Los Angeles night, blasting “Late Nights” and shouting “WE DID IT!” to Venice Beach roller babes, air horns and suggestive tones rippling like sine waves behind them.