Interview: Samo Sound Boy
Posted in Interviews
Becoming known through the unknown
"If you can describe the music you're making with one or two genre names, chances are it's probably not that interesting." Samo Sound Boy is the kind of guy that revels in the unknown. When he was 20-years-old, he purchased himself a one-way ticket to Argentina, enrolling in an art school but ascribing to the fruitful South American scene instead. "I wound up spending a lot of time just exploring the city and meeting a bunch of really interesting people." While about his journeys, Samo would eventually stumble upon a dingy Nigerian nightclub called Fugees 99 that would introduce him to the expansive world of DJing and quite literally change his life forever.
Fast-forward a cool six years, and musically, Samo Sound Boy has sticked to his vagabond ways--a genre-defying drifter who thrives on constructing his own lane. "I'm interested in seeing where I can take (dance music) and how much room there is to create." Making sizable impacts in the production world with releases on Palms Out Sound and Trouble & Bass, and known for his climatic, full-throttle DJ sets, Samo has built an esteemed reputation for himself over the years--matching incomparable style with a connoisseuring ear for the fresh and cutting-edge. And in 2011, he would go on to combine these two qualities in the creation of Body High, his very own record label in collaboration with LOL Boys affiliate Jerome Potter. Since its introduction, Body High has proved to unearth some of the most forward-thinking producers in dance music today, shoveling out critically acclaimed releases at an expeditious rate and giving music that doesn't have an umbrella to latch onto a welcoming home. For someone who sort of fell into the world of dance music, Samo Sound Boy has done more for the scene than he could've ever possibly imagined, implementing integrity back into the genre and proving that if you stay true to yourself, you can be successful because of it.
You just recently moved out of your apartment in Echo Park (Los Angeles), correct?
Yep, I relocated to Korea Town, which is just west of Downtown, so not too far from my old place. The Body High studio use to be in my old apartment, but since my new place doesn’t really have room for it, we’ve moved the studio to this spot near Macarthur Park. It’s in this weird, rundown building with few neighbors so we can make a ton of noise and not have to worry. The coolest part though is that it has three adjoining rooms—one that’s the new Body High studio, another that’s rented out by Max Martin who—aside from being an artist/designer on his own—does all the visual stuff for Body High, and the other is going to be rented by Daniel from NGUZUNGUZU.
You’ve talked a lot in the past about how moving to Los Angeles was--creatively--one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. Now that you’ve been there a few years, does the city still provide that same initial energy?
Oh, most definitely. I know it probably sounds over the top, but I feel like that more and more every day. It’s just endless. LA is so much apart of what I personally put into my own productions, and that goes for everything we do with Body High, too. I don’t think it would’ve all came together like it did (for Body High) if we were in a different city.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from the East Coast. I was born in New York City and lived there when I was growing up, then moved to New Hampshire when I was in high school. I eventually moved back to NYC for college.
Musically, did your parents have much of an influence on you growing up?
My parents were both artists. My mom was an actress when she was younger, and my dad was—and still is—a writer. They both did stuff independently in creative fields, so I grew up thinking that that was pretty normal. Even though it wasn’t really music, they definitely had a big influence on me to go out and do stuff that doesn’t have a set plan.
In middle school and high school, what were you and your friends listening to?
Oh man, it’s almost too funny to think about. We really just listened to hip-hop ALL the fucking time. We didn’t know or care about anything else. Dance music was literally the last thing on our radar. I think I had a subscription to The Source Magazine in like 6th grade. I was definitely the quintessential nerdy, white hip-hop fan.
I talk to a lot of DJ’s/producers in your realm, and almost all of them credit hip-hop in some form or fashion for starting them off or having a big influence on them growing up. In your eyes, why is it that hip-hop has such a big appreciation amongst dance music artists?
I think it’s just one of those things about growing up in the U.S. If you are from America and was raised in the 90’s, chances are hip-hop was a big thing for you. And in terms of that translating into electronic music, at least for me, electronic music provided a lot more room to expand and create my own lane. When I first started creating music, the idea of making typical beats to sell online to some shitty rapper never really appealed to me. Dance music allowed me to be a producer without depending on vocals, and I think that’s why a lot of people get into production—they get to make solely what they want to hear without any constraints.
I was taking a look at your ancient BlogSpot Bort Sampson, and—amongst posts about Lil Boosie and DJ Quick—you showed a deep appreciation for Buddy Holly, most namely his Apartment Tapes collection. Talk to us about that.
Yeah man, Buddy Holly is just one of those old artists that’s really interesting to me. That Apartment Tapes stuff was all apart of this limited edition box set of rarities and B-sides that is basically a collection of songs he recorded in his apartment right before he died in the plane crash. And when I got that box set, I also began getting deeper and deeper into who Buddy was. Like he was known to be much more interested in being in the studio and experimenting with production techniques than touring and being a celebrity, and I found that really cool. On that box set, there are versions of songs in it that feature him slowing down the tape, and creating these weird, trippy renditions that are basically what we consider chopped & screwed music to be today. I don’t know, It’s just cool to see someone like Buddy Holly fucking with production and sound in that way. But it’s also really sad to know that that side of him was really going somewhere right before he died. He was way before his time.
What’s one of your most prized vinyl?
When I was moving the studio to the new spot the other week, I started listening back into my collection, and one of the things that’s definitely near and dear to me to this day is the original DJ Blaqstarr Supastarr 12’’. It was the second ever release from Mad Decent, and I was actually an intern there at the time it came out. The internship was unpaid, but I remember they gave me like three or four copies of the record and were like, “We can’t pay you, but sell these on EBay.” I never did, I think I just gave them to some of my friends. I still have one copy though, and the other day I was reminiscing on just how fucking ill that record was and still is. When I was at the point where I finally sat down and started learning how to produce, that record, those tracks, really stuck in my brain. All that shit he nailed on that EP are still to this day all the things I try and go for in my own work.
As the story goes, when you were 20, you moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where you first picked up DJing. Give us a quick rundown of how that all happened.
Well after high school, I found out about this really cheap college for fine arts in Argentina from an older friend who had went there and loved it. On a whim, I decided to make the trip, but the whole school part of it ended up being a total disaster. Not only was everyone in my classes younger than me, but I was also just way worse at art than everyone else. While the whole academic side was falling apart though, I wound up spending a lot of time exploring the city and meeting a bunch of really interesting people. I eventually stumbled upon this weird little spot called Fuguees 99, which was owned by these Nigerian guys and was kind of like a reggaeton/hip-hop/dancehall club. It was really amazing, and after going there, then forgetting where it was, then finding it again, I decided to make it my spot for the rest of my time in Argentina. One night I ended up meeting the sole DJ there, DJ Alex, who although didn’t speak a lick of English, was really into American hip-hop. I told him I was from America and was also into hip-hop, and there was almost this kind of miss communication where he thought I said I DJ’ed hip-hop, and next thing I knew he insisted on me to be his opener. Never DJing before in my life, the following night I burned a bunch of CD’s, went down to the club, tried mixing, and was absolutely horrible. The great part about it though, was that he didn’t really care. He was just psyched to have somebody to warm up for him while he smoked weed in the bathroom. So while the janitor would be mopping up the floor from the night before, I would be up their, train wrecking and accidently turning the music off. But I stuck around, watched DJ Alex kill it every night, and after awhile I eventually somewhat picked it up.
For an aspiring musician of any kind, would you recommend having a kind of worldly experience like this and learning about other cultures musically?
I mean it’s interesting, because now looking back if I would have came to LA at that same time instead of Argentina, I probably would have had a somewhat similar experience. I think it’s all about making the most out of wherever you are and finding your place. That was an amazing experience for me because it allowed me to get the practice and learn how to DJ in a way that there wasn’t that much pressure. It worked out really well for me in that regard, but musically what was going on there wasn’t necessarily more exciting than anywhere else. I think it’s all about just sinking into where you’re at, to be honest.
When you came back from Argentina, you didn’t straight up become a DJ yet, did you?
When I came back to the States, I definitely wasn’t a legitimate DJ yet at all, but I came back with the mentality that I wanted to continue it. I got a summer job doing some construction for a friend’s dad, and eventually bought myself turntables. I still didn’t have much of an idea of how to be a DJ and get gigs yet, but I continued practicing and when I went back to college in the fall, my friends and I began throwing little parties and stuff where I would play and get practice.
How long until you picked up producing?
It definitely took awhile. I had a couple friends who knew a little bit here and there who would help me out, but a lot of it was just me figuring it out on my own. Nowadays there are so many things out there like YouTube tutorials and what not that you can watch and easily figure out the basics through, but for me it was shit ton of trial and error. And when I say error I mean crashing and burning. The first EP I ever put out was for this tiny label in Western Canada. I listen back to it now and it’s just the most amateur shit ever. It’s funny that I even put that EP out because in 2012 there’s people who’s debut EP’s are immaculate. The level of production that people are achieving by themselves, at home, on a single laptop these days blows my mind.
I know you now have your own label to release material on, but your last imprint Trouble & Bass was a major proponent for you in getting your career off the ground. What did you gain most out of your time with T&B?
I can’t even begin to explain the things I learned with those guys. Luca’s (Drop The Lime) attitude toward making music is still one of the most lasting things I’ve picked up in my time as a producer. He’s a really big proponent of artists just doing their own thing, and being true to exactly who they are. He gave me a lot of confidence to make the stuff and decisions I wanted, and to create my own lane. And when I was starting to think heavily about Body High, I would talk with Luca about it a lot and he was always extremely supportive. He thought it was something I should definitely pursue, and that was really cool for me because I think a lot of labels try hard to take complete control of their artists. T&B was really great about it all, and we are still really close to this day.
What are your thoughts on genre categorization, and the importance—if any—it has in today’s industry?
The kind of stuff I like is the stuff that doesn’t fit or pertain to any specific genre. I’m interested in artists and labels that are creating their own identity and their own sound. Furthermore, I think that if you can describe the music you’re making with one or two genre names, chances are it’s probably not that interesting. The importance of genres, I think, is they provide a jumping off point, but it shouldn’t really go beyond that. In terms of Body High and what I look for, the artists I admire most create their own sound.
When you approach creating a track, are there any key characteristics you try to go for every time?
All the stuff that I produce I inherently make with an ear for the dance floor. That’s just my style. My nightmare would be if people could only hear my music on iPod headphones. The shit I’m making, it's really for the clubs, but I’m also interested in seeing where I can take that and how much room there is to create within the club setting. Another big thing for me is stripping stuff down—I really don’t like excess in dance music. When I’m producing I will make a track, then take 50% of it away, and then it will be done. That’s kind of my style, but when I think about it, all the best shit out there right now is the minimal stuff.
Like many DJ/producers you have a load of EP’s to your name, but no full length LP’s. Have you thought about ever putting together a solid, album-styled piece of work?
It’s interesting, because I definitely think about it, and wonder if I’m even capable of something like that. But one of the things that gets me so excited about dance music is how quick and fast it changes. The dance floor needs new tracks and new energy constantly. It doesn’t have to, but in a lot of ways that kind of mentality goes against the idea of making a full album. I think it would be really cool to make an album and sink into one piece of work, but right now it’s just not where my head is.
In a feature for XLR8R last year, in relation to the U.S. dance music scene, you stated, “There's nothing like a Rinse FM. There aren't these legendary nights that are dedicated to more forward stuff...in the States it's really this uphill battle to be a forward club-music producer, making this stuff that doesn't really have an umbrella for people to latch onto." Not even 12 months later, do you still feel similar about these sentiments?
Honestly, even just since 2012 I think it has gotten a whole lot better. A really good example of that is taking a look at how successful SXSW and WMC was for forward electronic music this year. We had a party on the Tuesday night of SXSW with Sound Pellegrino and were really nervous that it wasn’t going to go that well. But it ended up being one of the most talked about nights of the festival, and having the success it did was really inspiring and opened up a lot more possibilities for us in terms of what we feel we can pull off. We’ve only been playing in Austin since last year, and even then we were playing weird, out of the blue parties that weren't really our scene. To be able to go down there this year and put on our own party that’s strictly our sound, and have people there actually having fun, it was crazy to say the least. That’s got to be one of the best moments of the year for me so far.
How did you and Jerome from LOL Boys first meet and build the relationship to collaborate on DJ Dodger Stadium and eventually start Body High?
We first met out in LA, during the time we both were putting stuff out on Palms Out Sounds. We started hanging out a lot and always talked about getting in the studio together, but it never really happened for the first year that we knew each other. Then, getting booked for the same parties at SXSW and WMC in 2011, we got pretty close, and eventually came back to LA and finally sat down and worked on shit. It was great because things came really quick for us. Production can sometimes be really painstaking and torturous but we didn’t have any of that. There were no slow moments and neither of us allowed the other person to get frustrated or feel blocked with anything. So we just kept rolling with it. We’d get together for like three or four hours in the afternoon and have a track by night. We did this for the entire summer last year and wound up with all these tracks that eventually became our first DJ Dodger Stadium release, Stadium Status.
In terms of how Body High originated, having my own label was something that I had always thought about, but never really knew when the time would be right to go about it. But after Jerome and I finished those DJ Dodger Stadium tracks, it just clicked. We could’ve demoed them around and gotten them onto some other label, but it didn’t feel right to do shit like that anymore. It made perfect sense to just release them ourselves, and take things into our own hands. We got this sort of empowering feeling from it all, and soon after, we realized there was so much amazing stuff coming from our friends, we figured we would use the tracks we made to break the seal and work with all these people we’re close with, and try and give their stuff a better home.
Lastly, let’s break down the whole Body High team. I’m going to name off each person from the label and you tell us in short what each member, in your opinion, brings to the table.
Myrryrs: He’s got a sound that’s a bit different than the other stuff on Body High. His release with us is one of the few releases we’ve done that I think can be appreciated well outside a club setting. Don’t get me wrong, those tracks are absolutely monstrous, but they are also really personal and introspective.
Todd Edwards: From an outsider’s perspective, I think Todd seems like the strangest release we’ve done. He’s a legend, and has a die-hard fan base that obviously had never heard of Body High before the Shall Go release, and I think it threw a lot of people off. The pairing even felt kind of crazy to us. But he’s already done so much for dance music, and was at this point where he needed a fresh outlet. Because of that, working with us made a lot of sense for him. It helped us explain some of our history, but also gave him a way to bust out of the traditional stuff he’s been making for so long.
DJ Sliink: Sliink comes from “Jersey Club” music, and although that’s still a big part of him, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He’s taken that sound and gone even further with it, and launched himself onto an entirely different planet. His Vibrate EP was so big, that we’re actually putting out The Vibrate Remixes this summer, which is going to be a remix compilation of most of the tracks off that release. So far we have Dubbel Dutch, these guys from LA called Delivery, and Sam Tiba on the remixes, with a couple more in the works.
Jim-E Stack: Jim-E’s like the definitive model for why Body High exists. He’s a young producer, creating his own sound/making stuff that can’t be classified, and just needs a place where it can fit in. That’s Body High right there in a nutshell.
DJ Funeral: There are a couple projects on Body High that have secret identities, and Funeral is one of them. I don’t want to explain too much, but those projects are producers who people know, but are a way for those producers to step outside the box of what they're known for doing. That’s all I will say about that.
DJ Soulja Man: Another secret project!
Nadus: Nadus is working on his debut Body High release right now. He's a member of the legendary Brick Bandits crew from Jersey, but his stuff is way unclassifiable. Also as a DJ he has one of the most exciting, all over the place styles I've ever seen. It's a style that really embodies just a futuristic, genreless, passion for music. He's the best.
Floyd Campbell: The next release on Body High. The way I was describing Jim-E Stack applies to this guy a lot. Floyd’s never released anything before, but his upcoming EP is absolutely insane. He had sent me demos before Body High had even existed, and when the label got underway he was one of the first people I went to. He does visual art for a living, but showed a lot of potential musically and is someone Jerome and I have been working with in perfecting his sound for awhile now. People are going to see, the ideas he has are so original and advanced compared to a lot of people putting out their first EP’s. It doesn’t sound like anything else out there.