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Droog: A Pocket Of Resistance Against The Tidal Wave Of Pop Music

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Photos by Chris Nelson

This is part two of our Droog feature. If you missed round one you can read it here.

We’ve always wanted to be a part of a global scene while being deeply rooted in LA. -Andrei Osyka

How has success affected some of your other friendships/relationships outside the three of you?

Brett: Other peoples’ success?
Andrei: We hate those people.
Brett: We don’t like their success.
Andrei: We’re just on the cusp. I think this year, is the first year – in print this is probably going to come off as dick-like but...might as well speak my mind. This is the first year where we started to separate ourselves from the local scene. Not purposefully, not like “we’re better than you,” but there are people who aren't our direct competitors but who are still will-wishers who have said some eye opening things like “you’re the first guys who organically sprung up from our scene and done the international thing since Doc Martin in the late 90s.” Of the last five or six years, at least, we’re one of the very, very, few. It creates both more respect and maybe also more tension for the rest it’s difficult to say. It depends on whom you're talking to.

I think it's only you guys and the DROID guys that are getting booked outside of LA at this point.

Brett: Well, yeah, that are still local products. There have been others that are from here. Christopher Lawrence comes to mind. I don’t know what he did for the local scene itself, if he was part of the local scene to start. But he and others in that era had a name.

Bringing people here as promoters, DJing with them, showing them what we could do, get them to make music with us and for us, and then use that as a springboard to go elsewhere. That's how we bridged the local/international divide.

I agree that in terms of success, it’s just now beginning. This upcoming summer will be a trying time because we’re going to have our parties going full-steam and hopefully the number of gigs will continue to build. That’ll be the time when we'll have to start making choices or commitments about what we do here and what we do for the scene here…
Justin: … and what we do with our careers.
Brett: Yeah.
Andrei: And no matter what has happened, we’ve always pushed LA as where we’re from. We’ve always wanted to be a part of a global scene while being deeply rooted in LA. Just about every interview we always try to bring up LA as a place that metaphysically and physically inspired us as the city that we love. That we're firmly planted here.

There’s a question that a lot of European interviewers inevitably ask us: “Now that you’re in demand in Europe, are you going to move there?” Uh, not really, I mean so that we can be one of the many 500 talented acts who are based there? That sense of belonging to LA would be severed or compromised.
Brett: That having been said, I’m still working on these guys to get to move to Berlin.
Andrei: On record, I ain't moving to Berlin. I don’t want to go there. I don’t hate it but I don’t like it.

I suppose anybody who has met me probably thinks I’m a bit acerbic or sarcastic, a bit mean or that I even come off like a dick. You know, it’s not purposeful. I think a lot of comes from my background of being an attorney, sort of cutting to the quick of things... -Brett Griffin

It's hard once you’re identified as a trio to get a sense for what each of you does outside of the music so tell me, what do you guys do with your free time, what would you say defines you? How would a family member who knew little about your music describe you to someone else?

Justin: I’m kind of a joker; I’ve kind of always been and will always be. Beyond that—I like making fun of people and their flaws and I get really upset when they try to do the same to me.

I have a day job, I’m a database administrator, I work at a non-profit—we were talking about that earlier and in a way, I guess that keeps me grounded because I know that Monday through Friday, 9 am to whatever I’m going to have to be there doing that. It sucks in a way because it keeps me from really getting involved with more or doing what I like to be doing but at the same time it pays my bills, gives me health insurance, which turned out to be a big deal because last year I had my shoulder dislocated. It keeps me sane, too. Having to do that everyday or every weekday, keeps you kind of focused like on not getting too crazy, getting too drunk. One of the other things I like to do is drink beer.

What’s your favorite beer?

Justin: [pauses to reflect on countless beers drank] One of my favorite beers is a Belgian beer called Mumford’s Ten, its made in small batches by these monks. There’s still a bunch of beers in Belgium made by monks and Trappist monks. Mumford’s Ten is a dubbel, pretty high alcohol content. It’s amazing.

Who's next?

Brett: For me, I spent nine years working as an attorney. I haven’t worked in the last two years but I was like a trial attorney as well. So I was going to court all the time. I did plaintiff’s work, private stuff, so I represented people who were in accidents; I worked in a number of fields of litigation. I would say that was my primary defining characteristic. Previous to the music being full-blown, so for a good four or five years while we were trying to get things going, I was also a lawyer by day.

In terms of personality, I suppose anybody who has met me probably thinks I’m a bit acerbic or sarcastic, a bit mean or that I even come off like a dick. You know, it’s not purposeful. I think a lot of comes from my background of being an attorney, sort of cutting to the quick of things—you know I’m actually a really nice person, very caring, but I think these guys ultimately have tested that. [Laughter] Fairly cerebral as well, I suppose, I like to talk about something that’s not necessarily party discussion, you know? I don’t mind talking about those things at any time.

Atapy "Remember" (Inxec vs Droog Remix)

Have you read any good books lately?

Brett: You know it's funny; Andrei and I were just talking about this last night on the way back from the airport. When my law career kind of ended, I stopped reading non-fiction books. I went back to reading sci- fi and fantasy. Like Hugo-award-winning fantasy, the best stuff, but still it's about dragons and spaceships.

I like that kind of stuff because in many ways, it’s an escape; it keeps you from thinking about what’s really been a fairly difficult shift in careers. I went from making a lot of money but working really, really hard to still working really, really, hard and not making a lot of money.

So are you just focusing full-time on Droog?

Brett: Just music. I mean I focus full-time on partying, but Droog and the music also has to be in there somewhere. One last thing, I also run a copyright business. Doing Internet take downs for music labels, that’s something that’s also legal related.

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The real thing is that all of this is driven by advertising money. File sharing sites like Orion, FileSonic, FileServe…they pay people to upload pirated music and pay them per click, per download. They get a hundred dollars for each one thousand downloads across any open file that they upload... -Brett Griffin

So you must be a huge fan of 0daymusic.

Brett: I looooooove 0daymusic, it’s one of my favorite music websites. [Mops up sarcasm with a napkin.] That’s all I do. I’m actually in the middle of developing a business plan for a sort of non-profit to deal with that situation because electronic music labels are completely under the radar, there is nobody like the RIAA giving them shit about them because they're not registered, they're not members, so there’s a proliferation of these sites that just pirate dance music and no one can get together and take the time to get them taken down. We need a non-profit, an industry-wide group that represents all those people that say, “we don't sell a million albums individually, but collectively we do and this level of piracy is unacceptable.”

Do you think about there’s a corundum though? Somebody like Pretty Lights got huge by giving away all his music for free. To a certain extent, there’s a lot of people that are broke and can’t afford to buy a lot of music, so does giving it away make sense for publicity purposes in this day and age? Or, to be even more extreme, does easy pirating give more exposure to your music where people wouldn't have heard it any other way?

Brett: You know, Andrei probably has a perspective on this as a label owner. From my perspective, I think that’s a misunderstanding of what’s going on. The real thing is that all of this is driven by advertising money. File sharing sites like Orion, FileSonic, FileServe...they pay people to upload pirated music and pay them per click, per download. They get a hundred dollars for each one thousand downloads across any open file that they upload and of course, FileSonic pays them because FileSonic gets clicks. That’s what it's all about. It’s not about people sharing. To a small degree, it's about people sharing music they love for other people that maybe can’t afford it, but a vast majority of it is about these large groups that just make money through clicks, they don’t care about music, they don’t care about it being free or that the music should be open, they just want to make money. They literally steal money for that reason.
Andrei: Our scene is already jocking for very scarce resources, meaning that the argument for those who don’t have enough money to buy music is a very slippery slope. I’m not defending the “music industry” at all because I think pop music is in a different realm as far as their profit margins. But as a person who deals with label matters on a daily basis and who has financed out of their own pocket, I don’t buy it. Those who don’t have enough money, guess what, our music is almost devalued anyways and it’s almost impossible to make money. Even the most advanced producers in the world—and I have a great example because I share a house with Martin Buttrich—in the heyday of the vinyl industry, he didn’t have to travel. Ever. He didn’t even care if he made music under his own name when he made it for somebody else.

The money that was available because you really couldn’t steal the music, it was such that you could exist as an artist and the industry itself was a little bit more sustained. Now some kids out there decide that $0.99 or $1.50 is too much to pay for a piece of music. People don’t want to pay for shit once you get into the habit. They don’t want to pay for music; they don’t want to pay to come into the party. It's way too much of a consumerist approach to something that's an art form and a labor of love over many years for many people.

That’s my rant. I understand if people have different perspectives.
Justin: You can fight it but you're not going to win. It's good to fight it. Like what Brett’s doing is a good fight and is certainly valuable. But for so many people to take these moral ground—not going to name any names—but they're the same artist who is using a VST plug-in that they got pirated, so it’s like what the fuck are they talking about, you know?


Ok, so back to the personal angles. Andrei, you're up...

Andrei: Like Brett, I come from a hardcore profession, right after college into venture capitalism and margin markets, all of that stuff. I also have favorable family circumstances that allowed me, still in my mid-twenties, to kind of live in a hippy-ish style for a while. I was based in Washington D.C. and cold turkey quit and moved to LA, took a shot at acting and then met these guys and kind of immersed myself into the music first as a hobby and starting five, six years ago as something more serious. It has become my predominate focus—90 percent of my waking time, to much of the detriment of my sanity, goes toward Culprit and Droog matters. There are certainly some people in kind of our subgenre who refer to us as one of the top five or ten labels and we do it as D-I-Y entirely. Damian has a team, he’s a top level person and so maybe when we get to that level of business a team will also be inevitable but right now, we very much do everything ourselves. To me, the business of the label, in particular the parties that are connected to it, is a full-time job. For all of us it’s a financially draining process and hopefully we’re kind of on a cusp of entering our slightly more evolved environment and hopefully there are greater things ahead.

These are people 24-, 25-, 26-years old who to them, dance music is what they grew up with and started making beats when they could barely walk and now their first release is when they're 14. We don’t know any of that. We started finding success at 30 so we have a lot to catch up on. Many people have said to us, “listen you’re kind of dreaming if you really think you can compete with these young ones.” So it’s kind of a fun challenge for us, like can we really do this, can we become one of the top 100 DJs? I think we can, I think we’re almost there. But it takes all of us, to some degree, at least for me it’s like—much to my girlfriend’s displeasure—a difficult balancing act.

What is it do you think about dance music? What is that magical thing that keeps you coming back for more despite the day jobs and the hardships and the overextension?

Justin: I don’t see this, even if we stay at this level and there’s really like no upside for the future, I really don’t mind doing this. Again I have a day job, I get to travel to weird places and stuff like that. I would love to not do the day job part and get to focus more on the other stuff but it's just...that’s what I like doing so I’m willing to sacrifice my other part of my life just to make it all kind of work. That’s for me I guess.
Brett: You know the snide answer would be the girls and the partying because it's fun but there’s something—it's that something that every artist who ever had a taste of success gets when you are connecting and emotionally influencing three hundred to a thousand people at the same time. That’s something that we really can’t describe, what “it” is when you play a song and all of a sudden these people are having the exact set of emotions...there’s no other way to do that and you don’t often have time to step back and say, “that’s pretty cool.” All of these people just felt what I felt for the first time maybe when I first heard this song or what I thought about this song and now they're all feeling that exact same emotion.
Justin: I definitely remember feeling that. We were playing at Fabric and I took a step back and And then I saw Brett doing the same thing and I was like “Get back, focus!”
Brett: Well, nah I was probably getting my moment in doing that same thing.
Justin: But it’s so hard to get that moment IN the moment, to step back and appreciate it, afterwards it's easy. In the moment it’s amazing but you're focused on what you’re doing that it’s not like you can say “Wow, that’s amazing. That’s a great fucking time.”

Everything is getting cheesier and cheesier, and more about the lowest common denominator, more streamlined, more idiotic. I kind of feel like dance music is an oasis of some sort... It might not be the most highly evolved culture. Let’s be honest, there’s drugs involved, it’s a nocturnal life... -Andrei Osyka

Do you think now that with everyone’s shortened attention spans, the era of the full-length music albums is over and that DJs have an evolutionary upper hand on the band? Bands being stuck playing the same songs from their albums for a show all of a sudden seems boring whereas a DJ has an infinite amount of music at his or her disposal.

Brett: Well, this was something I was going to talk about earlier when we got into the copyright discussion. I do think people who appreciate music are suffering from people stealing music because it has shifted everyone’s focus to touring as the only way to make money. They don’t make any money by making music and I think there are a lot of people out there who probably have some great music in them but for one reason or another are deciding that they have to tour Thursday through Monday so they're never in the studio and I think music as a whole is suffering because of that. It’s an interesting point that you raise up about the DJ versus rock bands. The problem is that rock bands start DJing. Indie bands can get paid $1500 for doing a DJ set and it's like “what?”
Justin: Well I think the bad thing is that ten years ago, if you were a DJ, you could play the same songs, just not necessarily every week. Now you can’t play a gig and play a song you played the night before or you can’t play something that’s been downloaded by all these bootleggers. Back 10 years ago there was a record white label that ten people had. There were no digital copies, there wasn’t like some kid in Uzbekistan who downloaded from some crazy website and has already heard it a hundred times.
Andrei: There’s still a feeling of freshness that goes together with dance music even though its thirty years old now, you feel like you're part of something. This kind of goes into another thing, but I know some people, including myself in interviews, have said, it's like a pocket of resistance against the tidal wave of pop music. Everything is getting cheesier and cheesier, and more about the lowest common denominator, more streamlined, more idiotic. I kind of feel like dance music is an oasis of some sort and you’re part of it. It might not be the most highly evolved culture. Let’s be honest, there’s drugs involved, it’s a nocturnal life, you don’t want to make it sound like the most incredible, sophisticated pursuit, but it still draws on the same sort of elements that were vital in the creation of dance music and it’s a resistance, it’s a marginal thing—it got started by black gay males and when it expanded beyond that, separation from the mass became even more vital. Most of the 200,000 people at EDC, they don't understand this, they just get the drugs or whatever. So to us it’s cool, it’s always cooler to be apart of a smaller club. I’ll be honest. Some people call it a Peter Pan syndrome, but hey, I don’t want to be old and boring and fat with a receding hairline and doing exactly the same thing as everyone else. Fuck it. Some people say it’s irresponsible or juvenile, I love it. Why not be a little juvenile.


Tell me some of your favorite restaurants or bars in LA.

Brett: My favorite bar in LA is probably Bar Marmont because its so pretty and if you ever want to take somebody from out of town to a place that’s not Hollywood in a sense that’s not really, really, crowded. And you might see someone, like, I saw Björk one night there on a Tuesday night; it’s just a great bar. I don't drink but I like the atmosphere.
Justin: It’s funny, we took, a few years ago, a few of us took Radioslave there. Rosario Dawson, she was dating the DJ there, so she’s the only person there dancing and she’s like amazing and she starts kissing the DJ. I told Radioslave, “Yeah, this happens all the time.”

I would say my favorite bar in LA is The Varnish. It’s just cool that even though I’m a beer guy, I love the old school cocktails there and the bartenders wear Dickies. It’s the back end of Cole's French Dip and it’s kind of a secret entrance. If you didn’t know about it, you probably wouldn’t go there but it’s not actually hidden, it’s just a back to the door at the rest of the bar. It’s like walking back in time, everything is candlelit, the bartenders are smacking away at the ice with chippers. When you order a drink they personalize it, ask exactly what you want. Just a cool place.

What about favorite restaurants?

Brett: I just love all the ethic food in LA so I mean it’s so hard. When I quit the law job, all the nice dinners stopped, I haven't been to a nice, nice, dinner in ages. It’s like I can’t afford it, like 50 dollars, that’s money to eat for the whole week so I usually go out to eat ethic food, I like to go eat Korean food a lot.
Justin: One of my favorite things to eat is tacos al pastor. The pork's on a spit. There’s a place near me called El Tacos Pastor and on the weekends they’ll bring the spit outside and they’ll take a pineapple and shove it at the top so the spit and the pineapple will just ooze its sweetness over it. It’ll get like a really nice char and the guy will go outside and he’ll put the tortillas on a griddle so they get a little warm and the guy will take like a sword and chop off the meat and use a mitt to catch it. You get the bits of char and the bits of sweetness from the pineapple and they give you this incredibly hot salsa and you get a few of those and it just sets you off, it's amazing. Goes great with a nice light beer.
Andrei: The two restaurants that have gotten a fair amount of my business in LA are Pink Pepper Thai, on La Brea and Hollywood. I love that place. I use to live very close and that was the post-party deliver of choice; they got a lot of business on the weekend. They have maybe my favorite coffee in the world, and I’m a coffee drinker for taste, not necessarily for the operative effect. The only place I’m comfortable with going to eat solo is Urth Café, it’s kind of played out since it’s been all over Entourage but I’ve been going there for 11 years. The other place is La Descarga—it’s on Western and Santa Monica. It’s basically an old cabana style bar, they have all theses rums and the vibe is like you get transported, it’s very different. I’ve only been there twice but I’m in total awe of what they’ve done there so I got to give them a proper mention.
Brett: I just remembered. I would say the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax. On the weekend, Saturday or Sunday for lunch it’s a goods pot—there’s a variety of food places to eat there, it’s kind of a good place to sit down and watch other people. It’s a good place to people watch, it’s sunny and you see everyone from Beverly Hills moms with strollers to tourists.
Andrei: Los Angeles congregating together.
Justin: It’s still a legit Farmer’s Market even though it’s next to the Grove, which is probably the worst fucking place in LA.
Brett: It’s the best/worst place in LA. It’s a total simulacrum of a place that really doesn’t exist.


Last question: what does 2012 have in store for you guys?

Brett: I’m going to try and sleep more in 2012.
Justin: I think the one thing that I will say about 2012 is that all of us would like to do more original production from either Droog or the members of Droog. I mean, every time I think of what’s the most challenging, the most difficult thing of what we do, it's getting into the studio. Andrei has invested a lot of money into the studio. Finding the sound that you like, you know it’s been two years that I’ve been doing music exclusively and now I’m starting to dream about making music and waking with “there’s a good vocal that I woke up with” or dreaming about beats, stuff like that. It's starting to happen, your brain getting re-wired to think in a different way and I think if we were to put together three or four EPs of just our own stuff and in some cases working with some people, that’ll be all I want to do in 2012.
Andrei: After all the work put into these past five years, this is the year that for me personally where it's very important for everything to reach a critical mass, where it's less about recognition or the adulation or any of that. Honestly, as pragmatic as it sounds, I think it’s time for it to be a viable career choice. We’ve had a lot of fun and we've been doing it for the love, none of it is forced or done begrudgingly. We might complain sometimes that’s just the way we are.

I think 2012, I said mainly for the last two-three years it’ll be another, hopefully big leap, some substantive leap, whether it’s production or the label really reaching the elite level or the parties getting even better. So in essence, 2012 is about taking everything to a higher level. To the next level.


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