Raised in Westminster, Joshua Thompson — known on stage as Laika Beats — has had eyes and ears on the Denver underground music scene for quite some time. Like so many music lovers, Thompson grew up in a home with stacks of CDS and vinyl surrounding him, which reflected his parents’ passionate disposition towards a wide variety of musical genres. This included groups like Nirvana and Three 6 Mafia, which expanded Thompson’s understanding of music and society. His youth was spent learning piano and guitar, but pursuing a musical career was not his goal when he enrolled at the University of Colorado Denver. Nonetheless, fate intervened when Thompson’s roommate, a music major, took him to his first rave. That’s when he fell in love with the electronic music culture.
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Now, Thompson is essential to the Denver scene, playing local venues and taking other local artists along for the ride. His fan base has spread to Seattle, Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, where hip-hop enthusiasts and rave-goers cling to his sound and the deeper meanings intertwined.
As some history buffs may already know, “Laika” is the name of the dog that was sent into space by the Soviet Union in 1957. After listening to the Gorillaz and Spacemonkeyz remix album, Laika Come Home, Thompson discovered a documentary on Laika and was so enthralled with her story that he began using the name as his graffiti tag. He even features a sample on his track — “Space Dog” from a documentary that highlights the emotional aspect of sending a living creature into space. Unfortunately, a standalone “Laika” was not the easiest to flow with or create symmetrical designs for. So, when music became a very real career opportunity, he adjusted his stage name to Laika Beats.
The dark reality that Laika (the space dog, not the artist) did not survive the full experiment struck Thompson in a very emotional way. He began to have existential thoughts about the careless loss of life, and the striking misrepresentation of the event in the media. Furthering Laika’s name and bringing this story to a wider audience is Thompson’s own way of rebelling. The value of life in this consumer world weighs heavy on Thompson’s mind, a concept to which many of his listeners can likely relate.
These philosophical aspects of Thompson’s life have been intertwined with his music since day one. Thompson described his experiences struggling with anxiety, feelings that often manifested as “dwelling on things and being embarrassed or nervous about the future or past,” Thompson said. Thankfully, he’s worked to overcome such thoughts throughout the years and continues to do so today.
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As can be expected from a high-caliber creative mind, Thompson’s lyrics are concise and extremely intentional. His recent single, “Only Now” — which sees Thompson exploring his relationship with the illusive construct of time — is a prime example. “The past and future are irrelevant because you can only control the now,” Thompson said.
His passions outside of music, which primarily include skateboarding and snowboarding, influence his creative mindset as well, explaining that, “Skateboarding forces you to be in the moment. You have to be so aware, and that attitude has helped me make new music.”
As his fanbase grew, Thompson found himself trying to make the same songs over and over again in hopes that his fans would come back for more. Artistically, this didn’t sit right with him. Eventually, he shifted his focus towards creating songs that he was proud of, rather than pleasing a specific audience. This led to a major change in Thompson’s perspective, particularly towards a focus on himself and keeping both the mind and body healthy.
Thompson yearns to create music that will inspire people to “go down that huge stair set,” send that gnarly ski trick or motivate heavy weight lifters to complete their workout. “I want to make music that motivates people to do what they love to do, get outside and go hard,” Thompson said. Ideally, these activities will help maintain a healthy body and soul in the very way music does for so many.
Hip-hop heads may notice Metro Boomin and Three 6 Mafia’s influence in Thompson’s heavy 808s scattered throughout his catalog, a sound he defines as “hip-hop electronica.” This genre-defying sound is achieved through careful attention to beat production and pushing his creative and technical limits in his studio. Lately, his main focus has been finding ways to combine a lighter, “pretty vibe” with the heavier “club vibe” he occasionally gravitates towards.
In his youth, Thompson was inspired by trap and club music that brought people out of their shells, but as he got older, he developed a love for artists like Pretty Lights, whose melodic wave sounds take listeners on an emotional experience.
Recently, movie soundtracks have also been a huge inspiration for Thompson. Films like Inception, with drastic chord progression-filled soundtracks, catch Thompson’s ear and influence the cinematic build-ups in his songs. These portrayals of emotion through sound in movie scores seem to affect Thompson similarly to live performances.
Growing up around Denver, Thompson had access to a plethora of live music across all genres. As soon as he was old enough to go to shows, concerts became a huge part of his life. Thompson is particularly inspired by performers who play entirely original content during their sets. Thompson described performing as one of his favorite things to do and emphasized that he sees his work as a “live producer” as a unique aspect of his career. Many of his songs begin on the piano, then evolve with drums and vocals, although their placement is unique for each song. Performing live takes this to a new level, and every Laika Beats show includes a reproduction of his music with a fully unique and authentic flair catered to every live crowd.
Laika Beats will be playing at Your Mom’s House for the first time on February 25 with ToOch, Saumii, Coalesc and Dumatrix. Thompson is ecstatic to build the underground music scene and loves performing at local venues that contribute massively to the Denver culture. Or, if you are looking for nearly instant gratification after this read, check out the recently released Laika Beats remix of “Dystopia” by recent Red Rocks headliner, Maddy O’Neal and Honeycomb, released last Friday.
All photography by Roxanna Carrasco. Full portfolio here.