While other American cities often take the headlines thanks to their house and techno legacy, the Los Angeles house and techno music scene is very much on the rise. Names such as Todd Edwards, Doc Martin and Marques Wyatt are easily identifiable stars, however there is a rising crop of fresh talent bubbling up and starting to get recognition in international waters.
Imprints such as Acid Test, L.A. Club Resource and 100% Silk have been outputting some of the most desirable underground cuts in recent years, and names such as the DJ Dodger Stadium pairing, Delroy Edwards, Gifted & Blessed and Seven Davis Jr. have all become part of popular consciousness.
Also breaking through in recent years is Nikola Hlady, better known as Cromie. Paired up with good friend Sage Caswell, their breakthrough 12″ – the stunning Vines/Pyrex – displayed a vibrancy and energy missing from the throwback house sound that was dominating at the time.
Since then, Cromie followed up with some a solo release on Peach before hitting Amadeus Records recently with the At Interfaces EP. 2016 is holding promise already with a widescreen remix of Portland based alt-pop singer/songwriter Natasha Kmeto, so we took the chance to check in with Nikola to find out what what’s on the menu for the year, the LA scene and what it is like to be living in the US in the election year.
Interviewed by Simon Whight
"I'm glad that I remain stimulated by not only the music, which will always be the case, but also the context in which I get to experience it socially."
As a Brit, my iconic music hotspots in the US would be Detroit, Chicago and New York. My knowledge of LA is limited to it being one landmark on the Global Underground series in the distant past, so what’s the scene like there?
I feel like I can best, and only, answer this question based on my experience with the scene here in LA; going out to plenty of parties and events, building up a community to the extent where a majority of my social life involves other musicians or others involved in the culture, and coordinating a number of underground parties myself.
Really, these activities here in LA represent nearly the entirety of my involvement with dance music culture, so it is difficult for me to draw comparisons to the other cities you mention, both now and in the past. With that being said, I think it is an exciting time in LA, or maybe I’m just excited to be involved, or maybe both.
I’ve definitely expressed that enthusiasm about LA before, so personally, I’m glad that I remain stimulated by not only the music, which will always be the case, but also the context in which I get to experience it socially.
I can say for sure that there is an overabundance of quality events on most weekends, at least for my appetite, with both old and new local DJs and crews furnishing the parties and playing alongside what feels like an increasing number of out of town DJs from the US and Europe.
"The city is very large, people are separated from one another and getting around is difficult because of the traffic. * I think that precisely because of that, you can have this robust and ongoing warehouse scene happening."
The parties where you can hear the best and the most quality dance music mostly happen in warehouses, or other similar raw spaces, east and south of Downtown LA. Often, promoters will make use of the same space for events month after month, which provides for some familiarity.
With overlapping email lists and social networks, these parties feature casts of both familiar and unfamiliar faces, which allows for some continuity but also keeps thing fresh. Connected to, but also aside from the parties, is the number of artists and musicians you can connect with living in LA.
I feel like people will always be talking about New Yorkers and San Franciscans moving to LA, which is fine; a good number of my cohort did not grow up here and I can point to numerous people who only recently came to city were able to make meaningful contributions to this place.
And the fact of the matter is that the city is very large, people are separated from one another, and getting around is difficult because of the traffic. I think that precisely because of that, you can have this robust and ongoing warehouse scene happening.
In a very literal sense, the city becomes decongested at night; getting to a relatively remote location where you know all your friends are going to be becomes easier and there’s enough space where for the most part you can have a loud party that goes all night without causing an issue.
"The reality is that this country is deeply unequal along lines of race and class and has been since it came into existence. * This divisive and low brow presidential race certainly isn't helping as now you have people being stoked to air their grievances in insensitive, hurtful and racist ways. "
There’s a lot of tensions in the US at the moment between the Presidential race and the magnifying glass on shootings and police aggression. What’s it like to live in this environment at the moment?
Oh man. Well, unfortunately I think things are pretty toxic at this moment. A scary part of it is I think that many people had or have a notion that racism in the US isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. The reality is that this country is deeply unequal along lines of race and class and has been since it came into existence is front and center at this point.
This divisive and low brow presidential race certainly isn’t helping as now you have people being stoked to air their grievances in insensitive, hurtful and racist ways. The spurring of the kind of rhetoric we’re hearing by the candidates is certainly intentional, and it’s all just so amplified and arguably more harmful because of how we communicate with each other these days. At the same time, the big picture is that affording an equal or better quality of life than that enjoyed by previous generations is becoming more and more difficult for everyone but the wealthy.
While the broadening awareness of social injustice, abetted by personal cameras, social media and the internet, is a positive thing, it must be accompanied by a proactive speaking out against racist people and acts.
"The spurring of the kind of rhetoric we're hearing by the candidates is certainly intentional, and it's all just so amplified and arguably more harmful because of how we communicate with each other these days."
This is especially the case for a white person, like myself, who benefits from the status quo of privileging whiteness. It’s even more important to do so if you’re trying to be engaged in dance music and dance music culture. There’s certainly something to trying to advance this culture and build community in an inclusive and sensitive manner, it has such a beautiful history and spirit that it’s a shame to do it any other way.
In terms of how it impacts day to day life, LA is fortunately a place where you can find people who share your values and can push you to deepen your understanding of and sensitivity to how racial injustice impacts peoples’ lives.
A lot of these people are in the dance music community and it’s one of the things I love most about this place. While that’s great, the imperative is to denounce racism and other forms of prejudice wherever it’s found and to treat everyone with respect. Night life is certainly a good place to operate in accordance with those values and it’s even better when they are shared by others in that community.
"I can identify my main influences as black American music, and how it's been interpreted and expanded upon by others all over the world."
Your productions have a huge amount of energy to them, where do you draw your main influences from?
I think I get quite restless when I’m making music. Combined with my tendency to overthink things, the end result tends to be tracks that have a lot of movement and changes, and also, hopefully, good energy.
I think it’s also a consequence of getting to house and techno via hip-hop, electronica, and in a very direct way, dubstep. At the same time, I listen to loads of mellow deep house, both really melodic and musical stuff and calm, hypnotic stuff, but the music I make ends up being a bit less subdued.
Musically, I can identify my main influences as black American music, and how it’s been interpreted and expanded upon by others all over the world. I mean, pretty much, as long as it’s funky.
There wasn’t really a prevalence of, or community around the kind of music I was drawn to in the place where I grew up, Salt Lake City. So the discovery of hip-hop and r’n’b and electronic music and even rock was a pretty personal journey with just a few others who were into the same thing and were along for the ride.
"A lot of the music I've loved is pretty dense and full of switch ups and changes, is funky and hype, so I think naturally comes out in my music."
Fortunately, my discovery of music was enabled by the internet, as the height of Napster and Limewire happened when I was in high school and already very into music. It was around that time that I had my first encounter with UK post-garage dance music; I think I came across a Kode9 mix. It was very exciting, but for whatever I never fully followed the thread at that time.
A few years later, I became enthralled with dubstep, and was following closely as it kinda splintered out towards house, techno and other directions. Then I fell completely in love with the UK Funky sound, and not long thereafter other worlds of house music opened up to me and it made a lot of sense to me given my musical history.
A lot of the music I’ve loved is pretty dense and full of switch ups and changes, is funky and hype, so I think naturally comes out in my music. Otherwise, I want my music to feel like how life is, pretty much; sometimes it feels great, sometimes you’re left wanting more, and you gotta deal with going from one feeling to the other.
"The mix making process starts when I decide I'm going to put together a mix."
You’ve put a huge amount of effort into pulling together this podcast for us, what was your approach for making it?
For me, the mix making process starts when I decide I’m going to put together a mix. Then as I’m listening to music, I’ll always been listening from the perspective of what will work in the mix, even as I don’t have an overarching concept or theme for it.
The theme or sound of the mix then tends to emerge in listening from that perspective. I mean, I try to immerse myself in music as much as possible, so it’s just a matter of picking out the most charismatic tracks that fit a vibe I’m feeling and being creative in finding a way they all work together.
The mixes I like best draw connections between new and old dance music, so that’s also something I’m always thinking about in preparing a mix. In this case, the mix is a bit heavier on newer tracks, just ’cause I’ve been getting sent great music from friends and collaborators. Along with some new music from other artists whose music I’ve been enjoying for a long time, it’s a blast to mix it all up.
I mash tracks together until I come up with a good flow, sequence the tracks and then record them live. For this mix, like with many others, I borrowed my homie Jon’s (IA Mix #068) Serato box for the files, grabbed some recently purchased records and recorded the mix on a sunny Sunday afternoon looking at my garden. I really love engaging with music in this way.
"It’s a complete trip and a privilege to even be in a position where people want to spend money releasing and buying and listening to my music; I’m deeply grateful."
How 2015 was for you in general, did everything pan out as you’d hoped this time last year?
Yea man, I can’t complain. I mean first of all, it’s a complete trip and a privilege to even be in a position where people want to spend money releasing and buying and listening to my music; I’m deeply grateful. And personally, it’s a very gratifying feeling to work together with friends, deepening relationships through music, and putting together a product like a 12″ and sharing it with the world.
So to be able to put out another solo record this year, and have a collab with new friends Sebastian Vorhaus and 4004 on their new label, both on wax, along with other music that was released digitally, was great.
Otherwise, last year was full of change for me; I’ve got a new job with a schedule that’s pretty favorable to making music, though I feel busier than ever, and moved my music gear out of the apartment into a practice space.
All in all the year was full of significant, but positive adjustment. With adjustments to those changes made, I am enjoying making music alone and in collaboration with friends more than ever, it’s tight.
"Throwing the States of Being parties over the last three years has also been a super gratifying and insane wild ride...and a way to create times and spaces that are shaped by a shared vision and ideal."
Now that you’re back in gear with the recent release on Amadeus, what’s on the cards for 2016?
In the near term, I’m going to do a couple more mixes for some local outlets. Then in the not as near term but still soon hopefully, will put more music out on Amadeus.
Urulu/Taylor is a great buddy, and like I said, it’s so much fun to work with friends to get your ideas out into the world. These days I guess I’m working about half-half on solo and collaborative stuff. At this point, I have some fun collaborative projects with artists I love that are substantially complete, so I’m eager to see what we can do with those.
On a local level, I’m involved with a party called States of Being. We do events somewhat sporadically, but just had a great night this past weekend with Kassem Mosse who played a live set, as did Gifted & Blessed.
Throwing the States of Being parties over the last three years has also been a super gratifying and insane wild ride (for instance, at this last party, a car exploded in front of our not-quite-legal venue, bringing fire fighters and cops to the location, who thankfully did not shut down our party, but did give us a proper scare), and a way create to times and spaces that are shaped by a shared vision and ideal.
Photos courtesy of Damon Eliza Palermo and Sinziana Velicescu.
1. Iron Curtis – Operator 123
2. Room Below – Freedom
3. Obsolete Music Technology – Incite (Another Mix)
4. Sage Caswell – You Can Waste My Time
5. Francis Inferno Orchestra – KAMAKAMA (Sleep D’s Mycelium Mix)
6. Natasha Kmeto – Closer Comes My Love (Cromie Remix)
7. Wrong Copy – 1 In To 5
8. Garrett David & Adam Rowe – Summit (Smoov Mix)
9. Ata Kak – Bome Nnown
10. Urulu – Orion
11. Colonel Abrams – Release the Tension
12. Hizatron – Von Glooperstein (Mr. Scruff Remix)
13. Neville Watson – Smacked Out On Smudge
14. Lost Tymeeez – Every Day (USG Unreleased Mix)
15. A Band Called Flash – Mother Confessor
Discover more about Cromie on Inverted Audio.CromieAmadeus RecordsPeachElectronicHouseTechno