Industry Insiders: Michael Smith, DJ of Found Sound
Michael Smith, private beat architect for Katsuya, Ferragamo, SBE, and The Standard, on drunken David Hasselhoff, the ambience of teeth brushing, Mark McGrath’s desperation, and MILFs in the White House
How did you get your start in Los Angeles? I started off DJing back in 2000, where, unlike today, LA didn’t have more DJs than housepets. Most DJs want to rock clubs and be the hero. I never cared if people knew who I was. I was in love with downtempo music because I could work, sleep, chill, and basically live to it. I looked to do completely different types of events: cocktail parties, art spaces, boats in the South of France, you know … and found a niche outside of the club that allowed me to take more chances and meet more people. Eight years later, I’m doing global music marketing projects for many of the world’s top brands (Diesel, Vanity Fair, Jaguar, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Cavelli, 20th Century Fox). Crazy!
What exactly do you do now? I construct sonic identities for a variety of hotels, restaurants, brands, and many other projects. I utilized the attention I got as a DJ in LA to start a company that does background music for restaurants like Katsuya, hotels like The Standard, and over 60 other businesses around the world. I take music and sound and put it together to define a unique voice for a business across platforms that make sense: in the background of a space, websites, in a film.
How does Los Angeles inspire you? LA has long had a bad creative rap. Having traveled to perform and work in top cultured cities from New York, London, and Tokyo, I can safely say that LA has the largest gathering of artists and the most productive pool across all media. You are seeing such interesting video art, electronic, and indie music, short films, and so much else now.
What kind of different moods are you trying to create, and how does the specific venue affect that? I like to use music that evokes a response. I DJ’d a party for Chanel in Central Park last month where they asked me to make people trip out, as it was for an experimental art exhibit called Art Mobile. It was located at a spaceship-looking building constructed for the project by Zaha Hadid. I was dropping obscure electronic music and scratching bizarre sound samples over it. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. The music, blended with the venue, equaled A Clockwork Orange’s Milk Bar meets the Star Wars Millennium Falcon.
What do you think makes a truly great party different from just a good party? You have to do something that people remember and keep hitting them with surprises. With an unlimited budget, I put together runway music and choreographed it for a Louis Vuitton event. We had a 10-piece orchestra going, and the runway was over an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Who’s your crowd? I have focused on a high-end lifestyle crowd who tend to love art and culture and appreciate great music. My music and services are really only known by celebs, socialites, and I guess you could say, tastemaker crowds.
Favorite Hangs: I love hiking up Will Rogers, looking at art on Chung King Road in Chinatown, dropping in for random shows at Spaceland, busting out karaoke with friends over on Sawtelle.
Side Hustle: Just worked on this political group that went to drag races and NASCAR events in the South stirring up democratic voters. It’s hilarious seeing the confused reaction you got from a guy in ripped jeans and a mullet not understanding why you wouldn’t want a “MILF like Palin in the White House.”
Any crazy shit go down while entertaining tastemakers in the city? Ha! Many stories here … I’ve had it out with Buzz Aldrin’s wife over “playing too loud,” got in a shouting match with Courtney Love while DJing over not playing a Hole song, had Lindsay Lohan pass out on my DJ booth … David Hasselhoff so drunk he knocked over his date, Jeremy Piven having a threesome on this guy I know’s driveway … the saddest was Mark McGrath karaoke-ing to Sugar Ray, and somehow managing to make his own terrible song … much worse … really, too many to count, and some that definitely shouldn’t be posted in cyberspace.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? Pushing the envelope in every way imaginable. We recently had a guy in a sound studio we were recording brushing his teeth, and brought in random foreigners talking in Japanese and German to each other. We were making sound samples for this new hotel called SLS I programmed the music for, where you will hear all of these weird noises going on while you are staying there.
What was the coolest event you’ve been involved with? The Walk of Style event. It was a celebration of fashion where they shut down all of Rodeo Drive. I worked with an Italian design team from Ferragamo to design music for their fashion show. They barely spoke English, so I was happy it came off at all. After the show, I opened for Kanye West, who came onstage with a full orchestra behind him and rocked it out.
Is there anyone you particularly admire in the city? I have always admired Brent Bolthouse. He’s managed to survive a brutal nightlife game, and keep at the top throughout and continue to expand. He was also great enough to help me get my background music business off the ground a few years ago when he recommended me to do the music for Katsuya.
Any secret spots in LA? Absolutely Phobulous on La Cienega has some of the best Vietnamese I’ve ever had. There’s a street in Laurel Canyon called Grand View that has a vantage point on the city that will blow your mind. And Mr. Teas’ ice-blended tea drinks are all bullet-proof.
Projections for the future? Art is about to get very challenging with the economy. Unfortunately, there will be a lot of starving people out there, but desperation and depression usually breed the best art. I think we have no idea the amount of talent and creativity about to break out in the next five years, and I’m excited to be involved in any way it explodes.
What are you doing tonight? Going around the clock on several hundred playlists for different clients. Literally, no sleep ‘til Brooklyn.
Photo: Donato Sardella