Henry Laufer, also known as Shlohmo, is just getting started. At 24, he’s been messing with a laptop for six years and, over the last few, has made some serious waves: namely bomb collabs with How To Dress Well (his homeboy Tom Krell) and Jeremih, the super-sexed up Chicagoan and provider of “Birthday Sex.” Even though Shlohmo’s got rave reviews under his belt for EPs like 2012’s Vacation and last spring’s Laid Out, he doesn’t really seem to care. He’d rather you find his disc in a crate of budget buys at your local record store 20 years from now. At least then you’ll listen with open ears and not because you read some buzzy blog post about him and his beats.
The Shlohmo sound is a lovely addition to a genre that seems to be building in momentum and listenership, with champions like Rhye, Autre Ne Veut, Active Child or Darkside. Swirls of R&B and vintage hip-hop—okay, vintage to folks in their early 20s—chill at the forefront, with glitchy trip-hop and synth notes rounding it out.
“A lot of the songs I end up making are inevitably influenced by Timbaland and Jermaine Dupri and all that shit,” Shlohmo tells PW on the phone from Chicago. “I’m a huge fan of early 2000s and late ‘90s R&B. I’m pulling a lot from that rhythmically and tempo-wise.”
His newest tracks have earned some well-earned buzz, whether he likes it or not, including a video for the outstanding How To Dress Well-featured “Don’t Say No,” or the Jeremih split “Bo Peep (Do U Right).” He may collaborate well on those tracks, but it’s not always as organic as he’d like. Shlohmo isn’t really into lyrics. He thinks more in terms of sounds and believes anything he’d write would invariably end up corny. “My vocals are there sometimes, but I never really write lyrics,” he admits. “I don’t fuck with lyrics. I don’t feel comfortable. A lot of the things I would try to say with my music are things I would never try to say with words.”
The Krell team-up was fine ‘cause they’re boys. But with Jeremih, Shlohmo made a remix of “Fuck U All The Time,” Def Jam loved it—as did lots of fans, and it slowly became a team effort. And as it turns out, Shlohmo’s not afraid to be real about the nature of remixing. “Sometimes I’ll do stuff that I just like a lot to make it sound different,” he says when pressed about his extremely proficient remix work. “But a lot of time, it’s major labels asking for me to do them, and it’s money in my pocket.”
Working with rappers is especially confusing sometimes, he says, because he’s not so sure they know what to make of him. “They don’t really understand me, and I like having that voyeuristic aspect of rap music. Especially like cocaine rap,” he confesses. Cocaine rap? “Music about bricks,” he says. Right, right. I sing him a couple lines of Future’s “Move That Dough” and told him you can’t walk from point A to point B in Philly without hearing that chorus now. I think maybe that’s cocaine rap.
What of his JBs performance on Saturday? “It’s just me and a computer,” Shlohmo says—and he’s cool with that. Although he’d like to make some records that are built specifically for tours, it’s no longer uncommon for a musician to take the stage with only a laptop and lots of chords. “It’s something that I’ve been learning how to deal with since I started performing. Performing was never something that I had in mind when I was making music.”
On-stage, he may not pop-lock or soulfully coo through his set, but it says something that Shlohmo can just spin a smart collection of his prolific bag of remixes, collabs and original material into one seriously scintillating setlist. Still, he hopes that people don’t come to the show simply because they’ve read about him. He’d prefer it’s because they like his output. “Even good reviews aren’t about the music,” he points out, admitting to having heard of artists ad nauseum but never really listening to their music. “I hope it’s not having that effect on people who might listen to my music.”
We don’t recommend waiting two decades to get into it. He’s here now. And when Shlohmo takes the stage Saturday night, it’s sure to be pretty magical—a lovely, dreamy pastiche of everything from graphic drug tales and Timbaland’s ‘90s rap to Massive Attack-like ambience and R&B-informed sonicscapes. It’s almost guaranteed to lull you into a purple-colored haze, one thick with sexiness and the upstart’s own devil-may-care attitude. Go, Shloh.
Sat., May 10, 9:30pm. $12-$13. With Jim E-Stack + D33J. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. johnnybrendas.com