I think one of OWSLA’s key strengths is the medley of different personalities, tastes, and styles driving it. You might not expect the label manager of one of the most influential bass music outlets to be a certified house head, but, if you’re lucky enough to catch a Blaise James set here in LA, you’ll find yourself locked into some seriously next level groove curation. He’s the much needed glue holding the thriving imprint together, whether it be through helping with the launch of a new pop-up shop, coordinating an extensive Wiwek short film project, or brainstorming one of the brand’s live events. OWSLA wouldn’t be OWSLA without Blaise.
Get to know him in our interview below and dig into his excellent NEST HQ MiniMix.
What were some of your first encounters with dance music?
Probably college. I was a late start with it… I grew up in a suburb of Atlanta and moved to Tampa halfway through high school, but both places were small towns and the soon-to-be “electro wave” hadn’t really taken hold yet, so although I was always a ferocious consumer of music, it was mainly hip-hop and rap growing up. When I went to college in 2006, I made lots of new friends from Miami where obviously dance music and club culture are a big part of life. I want to say it was maybe a Girl Talk show in 2008 or so where I first saw him mixing up all those sounds into something you couldn’t not dance to.
He would play at a card table in the middle of the crowd and just rinse these mashups he made while jumping around with the crowd, and everyone was a sweaty mess. I think GT was the bridge for a lot of people into dance music because he was taking sounds you were already familiar with and just making them more danceable. The art of the edit or mashup is something we take for granted now as a fundamental element of dance culture, but we owe a lot to guys like DJ AM and Girl Talk who opened the flood gates.
What drew you to house and techno specifically?
I find the groove meditative in a way. It’s the rhythm of life. I like all dance music, but for me, when I’m DJing, nothing compares to a good groove and the way it can connect a room full of people.
If we found a mix CD from your high school years what would be on it?
How did you end up getting involved with OWSLA?
I was working at a streaming service called Grooveshark which was like a mixture of Spotify and YouTube. They brought in a guy called Mike Feinberg who had helped start Dim Mak back in the day, and I quickly realized I could learn a lot from him. Mike eventually introduced me to Sonny’s manager, Tim Smith, who was probably the only other person in the music industry who lived in Gainesville, FL. They had just started OWSLA about six months before that, and were looking for a young person who understood dance music to help manage it. I flew out to meet Sonny for the first time on tour in New Jersey… when I got there, he was trying to play music in his hotel room and needed an aux cord. I happened to have one in my bag, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I got the job. I still keep the aux cord on me at all times, just to be safe.
How have you seen the label grow since you’ve been here?
Like crazy! My first week on the job, we broke 20k Likes on Facebook and it was a huge deal. I was the only employee of OWSLA for about the first year, working off a DSL internet connection in a converted shed in Tim Smith’s backyard alongside Tim’s assistant Kleos. We used to pee in the woods behind the shed, and Tim would always warn us to “keep your head on a swivel!” while doing so because of the prevalence of snakes and other creatures. Over the past four years, the team has grown in just about every way imaginable, but the most rewarding aspect for me has been the development of our visual brand. At the beginning, we had to fight the perception of being “just a dubstep label” — we didn’t know what our brand looked like, but we knew it was more multifaceted than that. The artists on our roster have always been incredibly diverse, so it wasn’t as easy as creating a one-size-fits-all solution. Eventually, with the help of some of our massively talented creatives like Liam Underwood, Jas Davis, and Melissa Gross, the vision became clear. Over the past year, we’ve really stepped up our fashion and film operations significantly, and it’s been really dope to watch sort of a common thread emerge throughout both, and that is the reflection of the culture and lifestyle around us. Most of our photos, videos, ads, etc. are just our own friends doing stuff we normally do. More than anything though, I think the the best part is that I can now pee in luxury, in a fully enclosed and private bathroom with running water, devoid of any insects or wildlife.
Why do you think OWSLA remains one of the strongest labels and brands out there right now?
Simple — because we care. It’s easy to put in the extra time and effort when you’re doing something you believe in and you’re doing it with people you care about.
How would you describe the culture of LA right now? What will people remember about it?
It was lit.
What’s one of your favorite memories from traveling around the world so far?
Man, oh man, ummmmmmm…… two years ago we happened to be in Italy on my birthday. I’m Italian so I thought that was cool enough, but directly after the show we flew back to LA with a pit stop in Vegas, so I got to time travel and had something like a 36-hour birthday. The past four years have been filled with moments like that, but the people you’re with is really what makes the difference. For every one glorious or extravagant moment like that there are 10 more moments made up of routine daily life in the company of friends — like getting a coffee in the Arts District in the morning — that are equally special.
What’s the hardest part about helping run a label?
For a while, it was the constant threat of having my genitals bitten off by a snake or wildebeest while urinating in Tim Smith’s backyard. Now, I think the hardest part is that everything is uncharted territory. We are constantly figuring things out, finding ourselves, making mistakes, and sometimes even making progress. But art is not a science – there is no formula you can use or strategy you can copy to get where we want to go.
What is your ideal crowd or party atmosphere to play to?
Like 300 people in a tiny club with low ceilings, a Funktion One setup and no cameraphones.
Who are the best DJs you’ve seen this year?
This kid Skrillex is really one to keep an eye on. He is gonna be big.
What should we be eating / not eating right now?
I’m glad you asked, Joseph. Just for NEST HQ readers, I’ll share my exclusive morning smoothie recipe. It’s stacked with plant protein and totally raw and vegan. Listen up, kids, because this is a MAJOR KEY to running a successful label:
1 organic avocado
1 organic banana
1 teaspoon raw almond butter
1 teaspoon raw local honey
2 scoops EPIC plant protein blend (the rice and pea proteins in this blend combine to create a complete amino acid profile unrivaled in 99% of plant proteins and on par with that of meat, eggs, etc.)
1 scoop Nutiva hemp protein
Orgain high-protein almond milk
*blend in NutriBullet, loudly while people are making phone calls
What can we expect in this mix?
NEST HQ MiniMix: Blaise James Tracklist
1. Goldfrapp – Strict Machine (Jamie Jones Remix)
2. Marc Spence – Gonna Be (Original Mix)
3. Dateless – El Viento Tropical
4. Mihalis Safras, Cj Jeff – Yellow Sun (Original Mix)
5. Green Velvet – Flash (Latmun Remix)
6. Quentin – A Lister (Tommy Vercetti’s Tribal Mix)
7. Alex Metric & Mark Yardley – Ilium
8. Harry Romero – RUDE ft. Jessica Eve & RT (Extended Mix)
9. Uffie – ADD SUV ft. Pharrell (Armand Van Helden Vocal Remix)
10. Maceo Plex – Stay High Baby (Original Mix)
11. Justice – Safe And Sound
12. Mr. Oizo & Skrillex – End of the World