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Shlohmo, beat scene maestro

Erika Miyagiwa

For most of his six-year career, Shlohmo has been on the outside looking in. And for the 24-year-old Los Angeles native, that view suits him just fine. 

You can’t argue with the results thus far; since emerging as a prodigious new talent in LA’s fertile beats scene as a teenager, he’s followed artists like Flying Lotus and Daedalus in creating richly textured, defiantly weird instrumental electronic music that defies singular categorization (more on that later). His 2011 debut studio album, “Bad Vibes,” since followed by two EPs, helped establish him as an innovative producer and allowed for more opportunities to record in the preferred solitude of his home studio without outside interference.

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All that makes his first collaborative project, a forthcoming EP with Chicago R&B star Jeremih set for release by Def Jam, more than just the next of many releases on his plate. After years of being considered underground or avant-garde, Shlohmo’s sound is about to step onto a much bigger stage. 

“I’m used to when I want to make something, I just make it. I go to my room and I don’t have to talk to anyone about what I’m trying to do or how it sounds,” says Shlohmo, born Henry Laufer, over the phone from a stop in Portland, Maine, on his current tour, which arrives at Brighton Music Hall Tuesday. “It was a big learning experience working with a major label and a major label artist, where you have to figure out budgets and dates and get people in the studio together. It was definitely a different creative process than I’m used to. I’m not trying to make it sound like just me or just him, it’s about trying to find that equilibrium of some sort between both of us.” 

From his pre-“Bad Vibes” EPs up through his most recent release, “Laid Out,” Laufer has allowed his various influences — ambient, hip-hop, European dubstep, and R&B among them — to flow naturally through his music. “Laid Out” opens with the haunting “Don’t Say No,” where the just-above-whisper vocals of guest Tom Krell (of How to Dress Well) float through Laufer’s eerie, spacious instrumental. Contrast that with “Later,” where a distorted vocal sample becomes a centerpiece for him to adorn with frantically popping snares worthy of a Southern trap anthem.

“My music is obviously changing,” he says. “I’m getting older, more [stuff] is happening so the music will definitely follow. But I feel like it’s all coming from the same place. It’s been called chillwave, witch-house, EDM, whatever the trend is for that year, but then all the [stuff] around that trend fizzles out and my music is still going, and people have to come up with a new name to call it the next year.”

Now it seems as if the listening public’s tastes in R&B have caught up with Laufer’s own personal aesthetic. A new generation of stars like Miguel, James Blake, and Frank Ocean have helped steer the genre away from bright, expansive productions and closer to a darker, more atmospheric and coldly sensual electronic sound that fits naturally into Laufer’s wheelhouse. The two cuts with Jeremih released to date, “No More” and “Bo Peep (Do U Right),” underscore that vibe, the former twisting the singer’s soft tones around a snarling reverb bass growl and glitchy pulse. 

‘It was a big learning experience working with a major label and a major label artist. . . . It was definitely a different creative process than I’m used to.’

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Laufer says, “I have always loved R&B. All my favorite productions over the past years have usually been R&B songs. There’s so much room for new [stuff] to be done. It’s such an open field to work in, there’s a lot of space, a lot of pockets.” 

His ability to find a blissful creative space outside of any strict genre boundaries has been one of Laufer greatest assets, but also a challenge when it comes to creating a live show. 

“I think when I started making music, I never intended it to be played out in a live setting,” he says. “ ‘Bad Vibes’ is kind of a hard album to translate into any given live setting that I’m plopped into that night. I try to find a good common ground between what would be a sit-down, listening, gather-your-blankets party and a kind of in-between phase where people are moving but not crowd surfing. I tried a lot of different things. Back in the day, I was trying to play out all the ‘Bad Vibes’ stuff. I was bringing my guitars to dubstep parties that I was asked to play and it was bad, people would throw bottles at me. So it was a lot of trial and error. When people throw bottles at you, it’s not all bad, you’re probably doing something right.”

But times are changing, and Laufer has noticed. 

“It’s really easy to see the trajectory,” he says of the current music industry climate. “[Katy Perry’s single ‘Dark Horse’] is literally an RL Grime bite. It feels weird to say it but there’s a lot of eyes on the crew. People like Baauer and RL Grime have completely permeated pop culture. It’s a lot of industry [stuff], a lot of A&Rs and in-house songwriters and producers hear what’s popping on the underground electronic circuit and think, oh, the Kardashians are going to like this one. That’s how it’s been for a long time. But its funny now that it’s us and our friends that are being exploited for the radio.”

Martín Caballero can be reached at caballeroglobe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero
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