Droog is made up of three guys who live in LA. And they're not what you think.
Simply put, the sound has taken over. Completely and without question.
So one might expect that the trio who shepherded that sound into Los Angeles and curated its growth into the de facto house sound of the city are reaping the astronomical benefits of their sudden success.
What you have to do is really push yourself forward. Its like a three- or four-pronged attack, if you will. DJing in a way that’s prominent and noticeable by other people, releasing music on the label, making music and throwing parties. -Andrei Osyka
I mean, they have played Fabric. They played the massive BPM festival in Mexico at the end of 2011. They throw swanky parties downtown on The Standard rooftop all summer long. Their label Culprit is becoming as synonymous with quality house music as Crosstown, Visionquest or Hot Creations.
Yet in many ways, they are just like you and me. They just happen to have far superior taste in music.
Justin Sloe, for example, had to request time off from his day job as an IT administrator for an education non-profit to play the Fabric gig. Brett Griffin used to have a high-paying job as a lawyer but quit to devote more time to the music and has had to sacrifice things like eating out to make it all work. Andrei Osyka is in charge of the day to day for Droog and still personally answers RSVP emails to their events.
As such, meeting them for a photoshoot was a relaxed, collaborative process. We chatted about music as we walked around the western edge of downtown during rush hour. They offered suggestions on which bridge was better, 6th Street or Wilshire. Nobody tried to give me their best Blue Steel during the shoot. There was no stylist or makeup artist in tow.
The spot for drinks and some grub afterward was as lacking in pretense as their collective demeanor. None of them are primed for superstardom and it's absurdly endearing.
But those who modestly claim to have fallen into the right place at the right time are usually quick to gloss over their own work ethic, dedication and forward-thinking sensibilities.
It was only a few short years ago that house music in Los Angeles was still rooted in the early 2000's vibe championed by Marques Wyatt and Doc Martin. Those guys deserve the utmost respect, but it was undeniable that house music in LA had stagnated.
With the advent of Droog and their cohorts, the scene underwent a decade's worth of evolution in about two years. The evidence is all around.
Doc Martin playing tracks first heard on Art Department's essential mix at the Sublevel New Year's Eve party. Droog's first nighttime venture in a while absolutely blowing the roof off the newly remodeled Los Globos in Silverlake with Tale of Us. Culprit attracting high-caliber talent such as Burnski, Konrad Black and Tom Trago for a Subb-an remix.
I sat down with the most accessible "it" trio imaginable over some beers and some tacos to discuss their rapid ascent, what the future holds for Droog, and some of the finer things in life.
You guys have obviously had quite a year in 2011. The Resident Advisor Top 100 poll is littered with all of your cohorts. Tell me, what has the ride been like over the past year, two years?
Andrei: How’s the ride been? The ride's been fun. [Chuckles]
So did you see it coming at all? Was this all part of the plan?
Andrei: I think somewhat consciously part of the plan. Not that our type of house music would dominate the noncommercial kind of dance music, but there were things already being set in motion in the beginning of the year that we thought, from our perspective, could do something exciting. What you have to do is really push yourself forward. It's like a three- or four-pronged attack, if you will. DJing in a way that’s prominent and noticeable by other people, releasing music on the label, making music and throwing parties.
Making music was probably the biggest breakthrough for us. The parties under the guise of the label have been instrumental, too. It has been a steady ascent over the last five years, meaning every year is better than the one before this one, and 2011 was definitely no exception. It was the first year all the things that we do combined and have conspired to create an environment where we felt that as—I hate to use the world “artist” too much because we’re all just developing our artistry—but as people involved in dance music, it’s the most visible we’ve been and most recognized.
Our brand has reached critical mass where the years of personal door-to-door, promotional hand-to-hand combat isn't necessary now. The success of the parties and the label has had a huge halo effect and that’s something we really want to carry through in 2012.
Brett: It's weird; it doesn’t feel much different than last year. The thing is, once it starts happening, once you start getting booked at parties out of town, you're always still hungrier for the next level. That’s not to complain, but that’s just a mental note that there’s still a lot of good work to do. We have a lot of production that’s in the works right now, remixes that we’re doing, original production that I really feel is what’s going to take us to the next level in terms of branching out, getting our names on other labels and cracking open a few markets that are super hard to crack open like Germany and Ibiza. It's important to be apart of those sorts of global music centers. Thus far, the one we’ve been most a part of is London. We get to go to London more because Crosstown has a home there and so many of our friends do, but there’s a lot still left to be done, definitely.
Andrei: Not to underestimate the effect of Crosstown, but specifically in the UK market, with every Culprit release, cumulatively, we’re moving forward and getting more and more recognition for the consistency and uniqueness of the music that comes out.
Justin: Before we touched a few places in Europe, now we’re getting into South America, we’re getting into different parts of the US, a little more worldwide then we have been before and it's kind of cool.
...Out here people realize that they have to make something for themselves or nothing will ever happen. It’s a bit like the evolutionary trend, where animals that live on islands tend to evolve and take over the island. -Brett Griffin
So as far as the sort of master plan, how did you convince Damian Lazarus to come out to Los Angeles and rope him into getting Culprit off the ground?
Andrei: We really can’t take credit for him coming out. I think it was a combination of factors. I think what we were doing here was appealing to him and I think he needed a change of scenery. Late 2006 to early 2008 was a really difficult time for Crosstown and a few other labels. The vinyl market collapsed and those who invested heavily into it were unable to maneuver out of it. So the fact that the label was going through a tough period, and he was trying to refresh himself, refresh the brand, and he saw on a personal and creative level that he liked what was happening here with us was great timing.
He came and hung out with us many times before he moved here. He saw that there were elements that already existed in LA. There was the weather and the increasing number of cool people that congregated around us, our parties and after parties. The after party scene was a big thing for those coming from Berlin and London where they keep going round the clock. An ability to carry on after parties and hang out on a more intimate level with people that you like is a huge thing. So all of this kind of conspired at the right time for him and he decided to change it up. I think it was definitely something that he felt was coming somewhere from within himself, and for us I don’t think there has been too much overlap. A lot of people assume that Culprit is very intricately tied with Crosstown. He’s a more established brand and it's important that we’re associated with the same movement, if you want to use that word. But we like to think we have a different and distinct vibe and have followed a different path. At the same time, I don’t think it’s a complete coincidence that he moved here, and the renewed energy and other factors have contributed to Crosstown's revival to the extent that it’s now the preeminent label in noncommercial dance music, really.
Brett: None of us are from L.A. We all came here for a reason, too. There isn’t a lot of selling you need to do on LA when it's winter and they see that they can go to the beach.
What is it about LA and the underground scene here, the noncommercial scene here that you think is making it thrive so much?
Brett: From my perspective, I think a lot of it has to do with its relative isolation. LA is the second city to no one in its own view. I think being all the way out here so far away from New York, it's not like D.C. where New York is just a jump away and everything just flows from New York or London or whatever.
You know, out here people realize that they have to make something for themselves or nothing will ever happen. It’s a bit like the evolutionary trend, where animals that live on islands tend to evolve and take over the island. We have lived in a relative island. LA is a strange place in that there have always been huge parties here, dance music has always been very popular and the largest dance music parties in the country are still happening in California. But we’re talking about raves and so that overt presence combined with relative isolation I think means that people who want to do something a little bit different realize they have to get out and do it on their own.
That was always our idea. Our residency at the Avalon, for example, really helped give us a nice beginning. Our idea was always that, well of course the people at Avalon are not waiting to hear the music that we’re playing but if we give them a chance, five or ten percent of those people are going to go “this is really cool, it’s something very different."
You talk about LA’s isolation, but what about within the city? A lot of esoteric scenes have connected with each other and with larger audiences through social media in the past few years. What do you think about Facebook and social media's role in advancing the scene in LA?
Justin: Well, I think for all small movements it’s been incredibly useful in connecting people together who don’t have any other connections. We have people adding us on Facebook from Romania, South Africa and stuff like that. How would we connect with them otherwise? They heard about our party, they heard one of our tracks. LA is a tourist destination so when people come here they think “Maybe I can go to one of their parties,” or “Maybe I’ll hit them up and see what’s going on.”
Brett: I'm intrigued and I think you’re on to something about this sort of the democratizing effect of social media for publicity and PR. I think to some degree, before, getting your name out there would’ve required getting into a magazine or landing a comp CD, that sort of thing. But these days I think even small parties are able to tap into a much larger fan base. We all actually started from a very early, nerdy version of this same kind of thing where we were all on the same message boards for dance music.
Andrei: That’s how we all met each other essentially. I mean we all met by going out, but we were also all on the same message boards. Promoting ourselves and promoting our ideas through the computer has always been apart of something we did whether it was posting up FTP links to mixes which you don’t have to anymore, you can just post it on Sound Cloud but you know I still have some of Justin's old mix CD’s that he actually used to give out as Christmas presents an actual CD and so I’m intrigued about the way that has changed everything.
You really have to cultivate that base of people that are going to show up at your parties because it's your party and no matter where, what or when, you know a certain group will show up. The more you can touch those people everyday without them being at your party, you never know…some random person at your party might like the same book that you were reading, something like that.
Justin: When I moved out here to LA from Boston, I was already on those message boards. They were based on the West Coast so I moved out here. I was DJing every once in a while in Boston but not very consistently. I had some gigs, some were shitty. When I got out here I was basically starting over but I knew some people out here that were kind of into the same music so I at least had some people that I could go to a club with. The people I did know who weren’t into dance music…we go to a club and I’d be the weird guy dancing in the corner, but with that I got to start sharing mixes. This is all in the early days of social networking. Now its more expansion, more global and there’s no end in sight.
Brett: I think we all also strive to maintain a sort of neutral ground—you really don’t tend to come across any political/odd rants on our Facebook. A rant every now and again about the bus on Facebook from me but you know we all strive to keep it, to give people an idea about all kinds of things that we like that people can read and sort of makes you friends before you essentially meet in a way, which is what you were talking about with books and other kinds of music, all of that is a sort of part of us. We’re actually super good friends. None of this would’ve worked, I don’t think, if the only thing we had in common was that we all kind of liked roughly the same music and could get along for two hours in a club. I don’t think it would’ve gone as far as it has.
It must’ve been awesome when you guys first started out having three people in the same collective: three people to promote, three people to DJ, three people to take care of all the headaches. Tell me now about some of the growing pains you guys are experiencing being three in one collective.
Brett: The growing pains are fairly obvious in that it cost two to three times as much to send us to a side location as any one DJ. We mostly work on rotation. We’ll all go for exceptional opportunities. Getting to play in Ibiza at Space or something like that, or D.C. Then we would all try and go even if we meant we wouldn’t make any money because it’s just not fair that only one or two of us experience that.
Justin: Keeping it to a cap even on “another level” gigs, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of balancing it all.
Brett: Certainly a growing pain that I’m sure we all go through when we get an e-mail from our agent that says the offer's for two people, probably all of us spend the next three hours of that day thinking about what’s going to happen, who should go, who shouldn’t go.
Justin: You know this past weekend I played at the Vanguard, I opened up and they were pretty gracious with promotion. Granted you know, they might be able to do that to more than one person but you know, we get some opportunities.
There are times when we are all traveling which is much nicer when all of us can get out of town, maybe one of us is going to a smaller gig somewhere else, the other two are at a slightly larger gig. It's not like one of us stay home and do the local sort of thing.
Andrei: The better known we are, the more in demand we are and the more opportunities we’ll have to be constantly busy, so there will be more opportunities for everyone to play. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with establishing some degree of originality that in the long term can benefit everyone collectively and also can give each of us an outlet. It's difficult to imagine we’ll be DJing fifteen years from now. It’s difficult to imagine that our relationship, our dynamic, our friendship will remain the same. You have a bit of an individual identity and you have to push the collective name forward so there are as many opportunities as possible.