OWSLA GM Blaise DeAngelo Talks Label's Five Year Mark & Moving Beyond Music
Since Skrillex announced the formation of his label OWSLA in 2011, it has quickly grown into a small creative empire, expanding to incorporate a blog/free music imprint, Nest HQ, a publishing arm that recently contributed beats and writing to albums from Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, and a fashion wing, OWSLA Goods. The label's stamp of approval matters — it provided early support to producers like Zedd, Dillon Francis, Porter Robinson, and Marshmello, all of whom have become headlining stars.
That's an impressive resume, but according to Blaise DeAngelo, OWSLA's general manager, this is just the start. "We have huge, huge goals," he tells Billboard Dance. "What's next [for OWSLA] outside of electronic music? How do we take the lessons from electronic music and apply that to the next thing?"
DeAngelo has been helping steer OWSLA since 2012. He had discovered electronic music several years before that while enrolled at the University of Florida. "I had never heard anything like it," he remembered. "This makes all the other music we were playing at parties seem like a joke — like noise." After school, he landed a job in artist relations at Grooveshark, the now defunct music streaming site that had more than 100 employees and 30 million users at its peak.
In 2011, when Skrillex founded OWSLA with Clayton Blaha, Kathryn Frazier, and Tim Smith, electronic music had not yet slugged its way into the American mainstream, which didn't make it easy to find employees. "They had to find someone who knows about this style of music, because not everyone did," DeAngelo says. "'EDM' wasn't a household phrase." He connected with Smith through a mutual friend, and after meeting the other founders, started to work with Smith at his house in rural Florida.
The extent of OWSLA's operation, relative to its current status, was almost laughable at the time: DeAngelo describes it as "me and Tim Smith in literally a converted-trailer-barn type thing in the back of his house in Gainesville, Florida. We didn't have running water — me and Tim used to pee outside in the woods. Our plan was like: email Beatport about a release, get the thing out, make sure it's spelled correctly. Cool, done, good job."
Surprisingly for a label in the electronic music world — generally thought to be forward-thinking, with an interest in the latest innovations — OWSLA also faced some serious technological impediments. "It was so rural that we didn't even have broadband internet," DeAngelo remembers. "We were running the entire label on DSL. It was so slow I had to actually go home to my apartment at night, which was closer to the more urban parts of Gainseville, and upload our releases to iTunes, because the internet wasn't even fast enough at the office."
It's a little different these days, and not just because DeAngelo has a better connection. "Now I'm managing a team with different departments — we're creating videos, social content, clothing, organizing events," he says. "Traditional label services are totally self-serving at this point; artists can do them themselves. We're starting to see ourselves as more of a creative partner. There are different ways of participating in an artist's career. We try to be whatever it is that they need at the end of the day."
Of all the label's expansions, DeAngelo suggests that the most recent addition, OWSLA Goods, has been the most important step for "transforming and developing the brand." "About a year ago, we started really looking at our merch operations as a stand-alone business and lifestyle brand rather than just 'oh, let's make some t-shirts for artists,'" he explains. "We got in touch with Melissa Gross — she grew up in the American Apparel world — and we brought her in to revitalize the clothing side of OWSLA."
The impact quickly spread to the rest of the operation. "Instead of only having the kids who want to rave at the shows, now we're tapping into a broader audience of people who are interested in fashion," DeAngelo says. "It became more well-rounded: you started to see more females, more all-ages type of crowds. We have people from 15 to 55 at these pop up events, which was what we always wanted."
"It shows people what we've been saying for years: OWSLA is so much more than a dubstep label or even just a record label," he continues. "OWSLA is a label period. It's a label like Lacoste is a label."
A keen observer might have predicted OWSLA's interest in multi-dimensionality: even when the label was solely focused on music, there was variety at play. The same year DeAngelo came aboard, the label started releasing music from Hundred Waters, a willowy, sinuous vocal act. In 2013, OWSLA put out Blood Diamonds' Osaka, a chirping pop EP. (Blood Diamonds now goes by BloodPop; he's a writer/producer on Bieber's Purpose and Gaga's Joanne.) This year, OWSLA offered Mija and Vindata's chipper mantra "Better" along with Mark Johns' muted, inward-looking Molino EP.
"We were only ever trying to sign amazing artists who are amazing people deep down," DeAngelo says. "Our tastes have evolved, but that's always been the common thread." In 2017, he predicts, "you're gonna hear a lot more from us about a new direction from OWSLA."
"We don't want to just do the same thing over and over," he adds. "In ten years, if OWSLA was a pizza parlor and we were all working in the kitchen, I'd be just as happy doing that. Who knows? We could be making rocket ships in ten years."