Pure Filth and Screwface founder Sam XL discusses Coachella after-party, surprise guests and bass addiction
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Even if the name Pure Filth doesn’t ring a bell, chances are that your bell’s been rung by their obliterating sound systems over the last several years. Indeed, the booming sonic centrifuges provided by Sam Robson (a.k.a. Sam XL) have become the de facto gold standard at Los Angeles bass music parties, from the Low End Theory to the Bassface parties downtown, to the riotious campground Coachella after-parties. If it’s not a Pure Filth system, you might as well be using clock radio speakers.
Beyond the hyperbole lies empirical truths. Attend any one of the parties listed above, and you can’'t ignore the crowds of young people sucked into the maelstrom of disemboweling bass. The sound systems created by Pure Filth are loud to the point of causing tinnitus, but they offer a bizarre ablution. Consider it purification via the suffocating kickdrum and heavy wobble.
Friday marks the debut of the Pure Filth’s latest event, Screwface, a weekly bass music night held at Hollywood’s Club Gabah. Recruiting big beat scene names like Brainfeeder artists Lorn and Samiyam, and Alpha Pup boss Daddy Kev, the intent is to provide the most oversized sound possible in an undersized room. A DJ himself (Robson is one half of the Professionals, who also play Friday), the Pure Filth maestro spoke to Pop & Hiss about his new weekly, the Pure Filth stage at Coachella, and the rise of the Los Angeles bass music scene. So what exactly happened with the fake Coachella Pure Filth flier?
Basically, the guy who did the flier was a seasoned Pure Filth fan, who made the poster without any sort of reckless intent. He saw that the artists were playing in the tents, some of them whom we’ve had play our shows in the past, and he suspected that we’d had a hand in booking them for Coachella. And then someone else saw it and announced that it was our after-hours camp grounds lineup. Then people went crazy. I would’ve too -- it was a pretty great theoretical lineup.
How did you guys start the tradition of the Pure Filth Coachella after-parties?
I met Paul Tollett at Coachella probably about six or seven years ago. They had a dome set up inside the grounds, and he peeked his head inside, and we started talking about how great it was to stumble upon something like that at a festival -- and how wonderful it would be if something was popping the whole time, rather than just a few hours. So we started out building the dome outside the festival grounds -- in the parking lot -- and then started experimenting, eventually moving the dome right by the entrance.
We brought in Flying Lotus, Kode9, Daedelus and a bunch of other people.The problem with the dome by the entrance was the bleed-over from the main stage. When Rage Against the Machine played, it felt like we were a toothpick going against a giant storm. But at other times, our sound would swell up over the other stages. So it was an experiment.
Last year, we built a stage in the campgrounds, and on Saturday night, there were maybe 12,000 people there. So this year, we’re prepared -- we can handle 15,000 people with a bigger production. Another tradition that we always have that’s less talked about is on Thursday night, we always do a kickoff party for all the early campers. It’s been going on for the last two or three years, and we get kids from all over the world having a really great time.
So will this year’s Pure Filth stage be in the actual festival or just an after-party?
Both. They took a bunch of the stables where they normally have stables, right across from the Sahara and Gobi stages, resodded the grass and are going to let us do a stage there. Then we’ll host the party in the camp grounds like last year.
How did you end up getting into the sound system game?
The sound system originally came from some old speakers that I had left over from an old rave system after I stopped working at [defunct Melrose Avenue record store] Beat Non Stop. I took over the building and started the Temple of Boom, where we’d have BBQs once a month and bring in local DJs. Originally, we concentrated on drum and bass, but as time went by, we started getting into other forms of bass music.
One of the wonderful things about contemporary bass music is that people are wide open now. I’m old school enough to remember the early ‘90s when it was all mixed together. Then people started specializing and having to choose among whether they were going to DJ techno, house, D&B or jungle. Back in the day, people played what they wanted, and it’s good to see now that people don’t walk off the dance floor if someone drops a 4/4 techno beat.
What inspired the decision to start up Screwface?
I think people expected us to go to a big venue, but we wanted an intimate venue. To me, those are the best experiences, when you’re close to the stage and close to the acts and can mingle and talk to them. I hate the rock star thing, where people are up on the stage, and everyone’s supposed to hail whoever it is that’s playing. I’m a firm believer in artists being accessible to their fanbase. I still remember when I brought the Bug out to play a very small venue in Hollywood, and he absolutely killed it, and afterwards he told me, ‘These are my favorite gigs to play: undersized gigs with an oversized sound system.’
You’ve been able to book some of the biggest names in dubstep and bass years before they broke stateside. Looking back, was your intent always to book underground music?
Well, my rule is that I only book what I love. We’ve been putting on shows for years. We had Rusko and Skream before they were huge and on BBC1. You can look at our rosters -- guys like Kode9 and Mala played before most people in the U.S. knew what dubstep was. The roster speaks for itself. We never really asked for publicity either -- we just kept it underground. This is actually the first real contact with the media that we’ve ever had.
We’ve built up a very strong grass roots from doing the Low End Theory and the Bassface shows, doing it underground and trying to integrate a lot of local artists with out-of-state and overseas artists. When I talk to Flying Lotus and they come off tour, or Mary Anne Hobbs or Jakes, I know that they really look forward to playing their music on the right sound system. They want their music to be heard the way it was intended to be heard.
Are you going to still do the Bassface parties?
Definitely. We haven’t done one since July, mainly because my wife and I had a child and we’ve been spending a lot of time with. However, people are hitting me up on Facebook to the point where it feels like they’re almost addicted to the bass. So we’ll come back, and we’ll start the weekly.
It’s been wonderful to watch the scene become established. When we first start doing these shows, it was a hard-core and small group of people. It’s been phenomenal to get to see the Low End Theory doing tours in Japan and having a night in San Francisco. It’s pretty thrilling to be getting to do a main stage at Coachella. Paul Tollett’s been really supportive and has a lot of input. It’s wonderful to work with someone who’s interested in far more than just huge headliners.
So will the Pure Filth stage inside the festival go on all day?
Yes, it will run concurrently with the other stages. The after-hours will probably go until 3 a.m., but we’re still waiting for all the details. We’d like to see both of them become part of the actual structure of Coachella. There’s something for the campers right on their doorstep -- you can see Free the Robots or Take or Nosaj Thing and Daedelus in an intimate setting. And there’s also the possiblity of random things like Flying Lotus doing an ambient live set. We’ll have surprise guests on our main stage and at the after-hours. I love the idea of stumbling across random little treasures that you didn’t expect to find.
-- Jeff Weiss