by Lei Vishnu
I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of the most innovative and adaptive DJ's of the world, Steve Lawler, on my birthday. With his new CD release Dark Drums 2 and the creation of his record label Harlem Records not to mention about 4 weekly events around the world Steve is a busy man. In spite of his hectic schedule and world renowned status, Steve was extremely down-to-earth and easy to talk with. It felt at times like speaking to an old friend, however this old friend is a genius of sorts when it comes to the electronic music that he loves. He shared the knowledge and experiences on his journey that has brought him to his current position smack dab in the center spotlight of the EDM community. Steve's journey has been an amazing one that always remained tied to his love for the "Bump bump bump" of the drums and basslines in his music.
Lunar: Tell me the history of how you got started.
Steve Lawler: I will be brief, but it will be very hard because I have done a hell of a lot in the last ten years. In 1989 I started playing illegal parties, and that is how I really got started playing in front of people. Then I moved on to play at local clubs around Birmingham [England] where I am from. I worked at a record shop for a little while. Then I went on tour with a local club, Club Night, which was a national tour. I then went to Ibiza with a residency at Café Mambo and played at all the clubs on the island as a guest. The next year I came back and maintained my residency at Mambo and also gained a residency at Pacha on the roof terrace. From there I got signed on with Cream with the agency and as a resident at the club in Liverpool for a year and a half. And between all of this I played gigs all over place all over the world.
Lunar: What projects are you working on now?
Steve Lawler: I just finished a remix for Silicon Soul for a track called "Right On." Right on. That is coming out on Virgin with a dub and a vocal remix. Also at the moment, I am trying to just settle myself down to get through the summer because I have four or five gigs a week. The summer is just a busy time with festivals with God knows who here, there and everywhere. It is a great time to enjoy being a DJ with so many people out there at clubs in Ibiza, New York, Israel and Barcelona. I need to sit down at some point and concentrate on releasing my second single.
Lunar: Tell me about your record label Harlem Records.
Steve Lawler: I have been thinking about it for the past year or so. It all came to focus at the start of this year. The last three months I have been signing tracks left, right and center. Three of them are from America. Three from Italy. Peter Bailey is from New York, and Bruno Masciano and Peter tha Zouk are from Italy. Currently they are all unknown, but in the next year or so, I see them really making an entrance on the scene. Then I also have one from England in the works.
For now, I have had people I know from England doing the remixes. I want the label to reflect what I do musically for myself, the kind of housey-tribal-progressive-type of sound. We will have a Web site up, but it is still in the works "www.harlemrecords.uk.co" so make sure you check up with it soon.
Lunar: I notice that your musical style has been very adaptive throughout the years. Your music has progressed as the entire Electronic Music Sound has over time, but you have always maintained your unique style. Has this been a conscious effort, or has it just turned out that way with you following along with the trend?
Steve Lawler: No, never. I never followed the trend. Music constantly changes and evolves, and I am all for that. Music has to change and move forward. The elements in the tracks that I like have always stayed the same for the last ten years, dating right back to when I would buy strictly Rhythm Records and stuff on R&S from Germany. I am really into big basslines and very much into drums. I only play records that I like, and I think that this is obvious to anyone who listens to my music now.
The Dark Drums 1 album that came out last year used a couple of tracks from Halo Varga and Hipp-e and that was the first thing they ever did. When no one else was doing it, I was using that drummy, dark, rumbling bassline. My music changes like all the rest of the DJ's in the world it moves forward but the elements have always stayed the same. I can't change what I like. I like it to be at House Tempo with a bit of Funk and big basslines and drums with vocals here and there. I like it to be a bit druggy and twisted. All of that has stayed the same, whether it is a bit more on the Housey, Tribal, or Prog-y. I guess the categorizing is down to the magazines.
Lunar: So do you feel like all this categorization and subgenres has been the creation of the media?
Steve Lawler: The magazines are the ones that make categories and genres, not me. They are the ones that make categories, not DJ's. In fact, they build categories around DJ's and around records. They create a style, like progressive, when really progressive is more of an attitude than a style of music. I mean a progressive DJ like Danny Howells may start off housey, then move into more techy music and end it with a more trancy sound. There are a whole lot of sounds of genres that the magazines like to use, but to Danny it is all music that he likes, and nothing more.
It is an interesting situation with so many sounds and styles with so many great choices. And I think I can speak for a few DJ's in saying that you just have to just go with what you love. I mean, when you hear Danny Howells he is such a great DJ and person he always plays funky...even when he is playing hard, there is always funk. And with me, there is always the drums. I love the drums. I just cannot get away from the drums! I love rhythm, and the best way to create rhythm is with drums and basslines. So you know, you just go with what you like.
Lunar: Your new CD, Dark Drums 2, did not seem as, well...dark as the first one. Is it all the time you have been spending in Ibiza that has lightened your mood?
Steve Lawler: The thing was, without even realizing it myself, the summer was near and I have a summer residency on the Space terrace. And you know, if I am playing in a dark room the music will be a lot more dark and twisted, and I will take myself a lot more serious. But when I am playing on the terrace with everyone half-naked with big sunglasses and big smiles, it would just not be right to play the same mood. It is not about being intelligent or getting into someone's head. It is about having a party and having fun! And that is the music that I was gearing up for because of the summer time residency.
The elements are the same, but more of an "up" vibe with a funky mood. The great thing about Ibiza is that all music sounds good there. [laughing] If I was to go out on the terrace and start playing all dark and deep, people would be like, "What are you doing?!" People pay good money, and I would not do that to them, because that is not what they are coming for. They are coming for some light, funky tunes...and that is what I give them on the terrace. When I play inside I do the darker, druggy set.
Lunar: Do you prefer smaller clubs or big festivals?
Steve Lawler: It is a difficult question because I prefer both. I guess I am greedy. Like the Space in Ibiza, the promoter asked if I wanted to play on the terrace or inside. And to be honest I love both, and so I just told the promoter I wanted to play both. Festivals and smaller clubs are the same. They both offer me something different. The festivals are very driving short sets that get right to the point. A smaller club warrants a long set; a long set warrants a journey and getting into it. I even like to attend both.
Lunar: Have you seen that you get a different fan reaction in the States versus in Europe? Do you play differently?
Steve Lawler: No, not at all. I guess sometimes at Twilo I would play a bit more progressive than in Europe, but that is generally because I have been going to America for years, and I know that a lot of the house and tribal stuff that I play in the U.K. would not go down in the States. The States are really big in the progressive bit. I love progressive house stuff. I love that tougher side, and Twilo was about that. I mean, you would have Carl Cox one week and Paul Van Dyk the next. I used to go in there for four hours and start out with some house...and then build...and then end with something more tough. But sometimes in England I would play the entire set of deep tribal house. In the States they need that progression.
Lunar: What records never leave your bag?
Steve Lawler: As sad as it sounds, there is one record that has not left my box for about 5 years. It is "Reach" by Lil Mo Ying Yang, by Erick Morillo and Lil Louie.
Lunar: What is it about that track?
Steve Lawler: It is tribal house. It sounds like a new record. It has always been my favorite club record. It has always been a big record, not like everyone knows it, but like it always makes people go off. It is perfect. There is a siren in the middle that sends the crowd into a frenzy. It has always done the trick, so I have always kept it in my box. It is a great way to play a big record without playing an obvious record.
Lunar: Any other favorites?
Steve Lawler: Well, none that haven't left my box, but there is one that comes into my box every summer for the last two years. It is DJ Sandy vs. Housetrap, "Overdrive." It is a record that came out on a German label called Cosmos, and then Positive signed it up. It is a really choppy record, again it is said but I would play it at minus six to get it to be a nice funky house record. This is perfect for the terrace.
Lunar: What tapes or CDs do you listen to in your car?
Steve Lawler: Mainly I listen to really chilled out stuff. I spend everyday in the studio, and then on the weekends I am out at the clubs. It is everyday of my life listening to house music BUMP BUMP BUMP constantly. So when I am in the car on the way home or when I actually get to put my feet up and get a glass of wine, I try to listen to chill music. I am really into a band called The Verve. Also Macy Gray.
Lunar: What are some people that have inspired you along your career?
Steve Lawler: Well, actually I was inspired last weekend by a guy called James Zabela. He was a Muzic [Magazine] Bedroom Bedlam winner and he was just signed to the agency I am on. I had heard lots of hype and praise about him, but was finally able to hear him last weekend. He was wonderful and inspiring.
Lunar: What about producers?
Steve Lawler: There really isn't one single producer that is easy to name out. But there is one great label, Junior, that has been coming out with some really good stuff. Producer-wise, there are so many different people that are doing great material. Robbie Rivera from America. King Unique...everything they touch turns to gold.
Lunar: What are some of your favorite DJ's to play with? Are there certain people that you are associated with and do tours with, or are you more solo?
Steve Lawler: I am more solo. I don't tour with anyone in particular. But there is the usual bunch that I like playing with Tenaglia, Pappa, Sasha, Digweed, and Howells. They are all my friends and all are people that I think are wonderful DJ's and I love to play with.
This interview was conducted August 22, 2001.
Dark Drums Vol. 2
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