In 2011, it's been virtually impossible to escape the sounds of Culprit on international dancefloors. Not that you'd want to, because the Los Angeles-based imprint is responsible for some of the year's most banging cuts by tech-house luminaries like Lee Foss, MANIK, Shonky and Inxec.
Behind the label is Droog, a DJ threesome whose long-running parties have been instrumental in putting LA on the transatlantic EDM map. This year they also made their first leap as producers, releasing their debut Westbound EP with Inxec to immediate acclaim, and getting catapulted to the forefront of the international scene. It's safe to say this multi-talented trio is now firing on all cylinders.
Crossfade caught up with Droog ahead of their performance at Art Basel Get Lost to chat about the LA scene, Culprit's success, and what Miami can expect on Sunday at the Electric Pickle.
Crossfade: Who is Droog and how did the outfit first form?
Droog: Droog is a DJ and production collective based in Los Angeles, consisting of three handsome dudes: Andrei Osyka, Brett Griffin, and Justin Sloe. We came together as musical cohorts about 7 years ago and have since conspired to throw successful parties in Los Angeles, start and run a very decent record label, DJ wherever we are wanted (and needed, frankly), and now make some passable dance music.
What was the concept behind Culprit when you first set out to launch the label? Has that concept evolved since?
The idea was to create a more enduring vehicle for ourselves than the parties we first became known for. Through throwing the parties, we met a whole new generation of mega-talented young dance music artists who connected with our collective vibe in some way, and we tried to channel that via a label, and a label that has firm roots in Los Angeles and its culture. That central idea hasn't changed -- it's a good driving, motivating set of concepts and it doesn't need changing. The details, like the sound palette, the collection of artists, our visual content, evolve because we never want to stand still, but the overall mission is the same.
The Los Angeles underground music scene seems to be on fire right now, what with the whole "LA beat music" movement. How has living and working there shaped your musical sensibilities?
Los Angeles is a big influence. It's a city with such vast musical background and history -- some of the best records ever, across different genres, were made here. In some subliminal way, we want that to always be a factor. Just an overall ambition and imagination -- we strive for a bit more that the standard. The dance music scene has evolved for the better here, the more mainstream still dominates, but different sub-scenes are healthy and it's not so saturated here that you are overwhelmed with choice the way you tend to be in London or Berlin. It's s smaller overall scene, but it's vibrant enough to sustain us.
Are Droog and Culprit an organic part of that musical ecosystem, or do you see yourself more as a buoy in transatlantic house and techno waters?
It's both, actually. It's always been one of our main ambitions to take the LA-based house and techno a bit more global than it's been before. But we are firmly rooted within our core group of supporters. We still average a party per month in LA, so we are active locally as well as globally.
In your experience, what's the formula for getting an underground EDM label to the forefront of the scene and keeping it afloat, especially in this age of digital distribution and declining record sales? Do you think it's pretty much mandatory to use the three-pronged approach of establishing oneself as DJ, producer and label?
We definitely think that being all of those things, plus putting on our own events is part and parcel of running a successful label. There is so much competition for a more limited amount of spoils, that you have to try to get the edge anyway possible. Being constantly visible is the main way to keep growing. At the end of the day, putting out unfailingly quality music is still the single most important factor in gaining respect as the label. But in order to have that music be heard by the most amount of people, doing a 3 or 4-pronged approach definitely doesn't hurt.
How do you approach the selection of new artists and material for release? Is there a specific style or aesthetic you're seeking to define the label?
The approach is varied. It's a combination of working with some of the artists repeatedly, trusting into those who have helped shaped the label, like Hot Natured and Lee Foss, MANIK, Tolfrey & Inxec, etc., and always looking for fresh talent that hasn't broken through yet or are on the brink of greater things, like Subb-an last year, Lula Circus, Gavin Herlihy and Nico Lahs this year. Sometimes we just pursue artists we've always admired, and they respond to the label's ethos really well, like Jozif, The Revenge, and Shonky.
Was the transition from DJs to producers challenging for you? How did you approach that first studio project?
It was challenging because none of us had much of a background in making beats and we got into it fairly late in the game. But we have been doing it the right way, by learning everything from scratch ourselves, without going to someone to do it for us. We are pretty self-sufficient, but also found a great collaborator in Chris Sylvester AKA Inxec. Our work with him was pretty spontaneous and it worked out very well.
Why did you decide to release with Crosstown Rebels instead of your own label?
Two reasons: The four songs we made really seemed better suited stylistically for Crosstown, and also it was important to avoid any sense of bias which might have come with releasing our own records. We knew that Damian Lazarus is a tough critic and would only sign something if it were really great and worked for his label.
What have been your personal highlights of 2011 and what do you have in store for the outfit and label next?
It's been the most eventful and fun year for our project yet. Having the debut EP of our original songs come out on Crosstown and have an impact the way it did was a major highlight. There is a new level of respect that came our way because of it. Also, the season of the Standard rooftop parties we just had was the best yet, some of the best parties we've ever put on. The label is really buzzing, we have 6-7 full releases of fresh music ready to go, Droog (the producers) will continue to grow. We are gearing up for another season of rooftop parties -- not just in LA, either. Really excited about what's in store.
You've played in Miami before. How do the crowds here compare to the ones back home in LA or in Europe?
The crowds at the parties we've played at the Electric Pickle and Treehouse have been consistently great -- very knowledgeable and fun. The Miami scene for our kind of music is not as big as in the big European cities, but it's definitely one of the top places to play in North America.
WMC week's Get Lost installments are legendary by now. How will Art Basel be different and what can Miami expect from Droog?
We think it will be a similarly no-holds-barred vibe at Art Basel's party -- top talent across all rooms. The format will be a little different. Instead of starting as an after-party early in the morning and going all day until dark, it will actually start midday and go deep into the night. But the level of quality will be the same, if not better. All we can say is that Droog won't disappoint.
Crosstown Rebels present Get Lost Art Basel. Sunday, December 4. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.