Wearing a baseball cap and a button-down shirt, L.A. native Henry Laufer, aka Shlohmo, played a packed show at the ’Sco on Friday night. Looking much like any Oberlin College student, the 23-year-old played a crowd-pleasing set of low-key electronic music while students rallied around the stage, dancing, swaying and gyrating. With a musical style that can best be described as a blend of synth-funk, hip-hop and heavy bass, Shlohmo’s set made for a sweaty night at the ’Sco.
Laufer’s interest in electronic music started when he was about 14. He grew up listening to artists like DJ Shadow and M83, and became inspired to start making his own beats at a young age. Yet without much direction, Laufer’s interest in pursuing electronic music didn’t start until a few years later. At 17, he and his friends discovered Low End Theory, the weekly experimental hip-hop and electronic music night that takes place every Wednesday at the Airliner in Los Angeles. Inspired by the fusion of musical styles that he encountered there, Laufer began making his own beats in earnest, drawing upon the influences of renowned producers like Flying Lotus and J Dilla.
Several EPs later, Laufer is still honing his atmospheric sound. For his most recent EP, Laid Out, which he is currently promoting on tour, Laufer looked to New Order for influences. He refers to their stark, gothic sound as one of the main places from which the EP draws its mood, while the melodies of Laid Out also owe a great deal to rap and R&B. Although the fusion of such radically different sounds might seem counterintuitive at first, their compatibility was evident on Friday night, as dark but smooth and melodic tracks like “Bo Peep (Do U Right)” — Laufer’s collaboration with R&B crooner Jeremih — enveloped the ’Sco.
Sensual and ethereal, Laufer’s set was characterized by a certain sense of wistfulness. Influenced by the chopped and screwed sound of Southern hip-hop production, Laufer’s music puts the original tracks it incorporates into halftime. Sampling slowed down versions of pop and R&B favorites like Christina Aguilera and Aaliyah, Laufer’s music struck a special chord with some of the audience, most of whom grew up singing along to “Genie in a Bottle” and “One in a Million.” Yet it wasn’t as easy for the audience to hum along this time around, as Laufer’s slowed down style of production created an aura of suspense. By incorporating gradual climbs in tempo, he would prompt the audience to expect a heavy bass drop at its peak, only to switch over to another gradual rise in tempo and repeat the process again.
Opening the evening, Chicago-based producer Kuh-Lida played an energetic set of his own brand of electronic music. Bumping, swaying and full-on dancing behind his soundboard, Kuh-Lida delivered an engaging set that had some students arguing that he played a better show than the main act. The solo project of Conservatory senior Myles Emmons, Kuh-Lida was a familiar face to many of the students at the ’Sco. His particular brand of electronic music fuses R&B vocals, world music and homemade beat production into an infectious sound that prompts listeners to get up and dance. And that was just what the audience did on Friday night. When Emmons first took the stage the crowd was smaller and consisted mainly of his friends and some others milling about, but by the time he left it, the room was packed to the brim with people — and not a single one was standing still.
Watching Emmons perform is a unique experience; his on-stage persona resembles that of a mad scientist as he exuberantly spins, scratches, shimmies and shakes about, making it impossible not to smile and start experimenting with some moves yourself. Emmons spun a mix of old school samples and original recordings, with his use of the beloved R&B classic “My Boo” by Atlanta’s Ghost Town DJs sending the audience into a frenzy, and his original track “So Sweet,” which features vocals from Novelty Daughter ingénue Faith Harding, also proved to be a crowd pleaser.
In many ways, the two artists were well matched; both supplied their own blends of R&B vocals and infectious beats that had heads nodding and hips moving. Yet what Kuh-Lida brought to the table was something that Shlohmo didn’t quite deliver: energy. While Shlohmo’s brand of slowed down, screwed electronic held the audience captive in nostalgia, Kuh-Lida’s vibrancy felt more appropriate for a Friday night. Shlohmo played his music for himself, while Kuh-Lida played for the audience: laughing, smiling and dancing right along with them.