Christopher Lawrence goes Around the World
by Brett Abramson
Photos by Martynas Simokaitis and Troy Rasey
Trance and Christopher Lawrence go hand in hand. Anyone who attended the Liquified event at eleven50 on March 9, 2002, got the chance to hear why he is so renowned, as he tore the club to shreds. With so much adulation over the years, I was incredibly impressed by Christopher's warm, down-to-earth nature when I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss what has been happening in the year and a half since Lunar last spoke with him.
Lunar: Talk about Around the World and what may be different about this project than others you've done before.
Christopher Lawrence: This is my favorite CD so far. It's the most mature. I have ones that came out earlier that I really liked, and at the time those were my favorites, but I think that trance music and progressive house music have undergone a big evolution in the last couple years. I mean, it went from being completely underground, to going entirely commercial, and there was a lot of really cheesy trance that came out. But that happened to house music. It happened to everything. And in response to that, trance got really deep and it became deep progressive. I think that that kind of ran its course. It had to do that to get away from the total cheese. What happened is the cheese just got too cheesy, and the deep progressive just got too deep. It's some of the best-produced music, but it just doesn't work on the dance floor.
But it had to happen, and out of those two splitting, I think there is a new trance with a new term called 'power progressive.' It's trance and progressive, but it's more like what underground trance used to be, or progressive with a bit of energy. That's what we really need right now. I think a lot of people lose perspective as to why they go out; they go out to have a good time. You want intelligent, mature music, but you also want music that has a bit of energy and a bit of fun to it as well. So getting back to Around the World, it was an opportunity to put together a CD with some of the more forward thinking progressive house and trance. I think because trance has gotten a lot deeper, it's a lot more mature sounding CD, but it's also not so far to the left where its lost the power and the energy. It's a good balance, and I think that that's the direction that progressive house and trance is gonna go. A lot of people lose perspective, and they forget that we were all young once and went out and had fun. Yes, our music taste has matured, but that doesn't mean that we have to lose sight of the fact that it's also about having fun. It's not about alienating other people; it's about including other people.
(As a comical side note, a strange, random woman sits down right next to us, directly in the way of the photographer and acts as if no one else is there. After a few minutes of sipping her coffee, she stands up and walks away, leaving us dumbfounded and laughing with bewilderment!)
Lunar: I see there are two tracks produced by Mark Lowndes on the CD. Can you give us some background on this relatively unknown producer from Dublin?
Christopher Lawrence: I've never met the guy. I don't know anything about the guy. I got this CD that just had seven hand-written tracks written on it and a phone number. And that was it. There were two incredibly amazing tracks, better than anything I'd heard in a long time. So I told the person at Moonshine who is in charge of licensing that we've got to get two of his tracks. So they hunted him down and found him and he's just a guy that lives in Ireland. He's got his studio and he's making music and he's brilliant.
Lunar: Does he have anything released?
Christopher Lawrence: He's got one track that came out last year and that's it. I really want to get a hold of him and say, do you have any new stuff? So that's one of the great things about putting together a CD like Around the World. It draws on music from around the world, and it's from new producers from around the world. So there's a lot more to it than just me traveling around the world. This is about the music being around the world.
Lunar: When I was looking at the track selection, I was impressed that it wasn't just all big names that anybody could have put together.
Christopher Lawrence: I try and avoid that because there's gonna be an MTV advertised "Trance Anthems 2000". The thing is that I think there is better music than you're gonna find on those. That's what I try and do when I put together my CDs is find the music that's out there that I think is actually the best music. Maybe it's not the most obvious stuff. There's probably no artist on there that people are gonna go, "Oh yeah, he's the number one selling artist." But I think that these are better tracks than the number one selling tracks. Hopefully these guys will be the big selling artists next year.
Lunar: Do you prefer playing at intimate club atmospheres or massive festivals?
Christopher Lawrence: I like them both for unique reasons. I love clubs where it's more intimate and it's one room, and you've got control over that room. Generally the sound system is much better than you're gonna find at a one-off event. You can experiment a bit more. You have a little bit more freedom, and for that I love playing the more intimate clubs. On the other hand, there's nothing quite like a massive. When you get up on stage and you look out and there's ten, fifteen, twenty thousand people in one area going off, you can't beat that. That's where we come from, and my heart is still there. It's really nice that we live in a country that has both. There's a lot of places where they don't have massives or raves anymore. It's getting difficult in America, but we still have them.
Lunar: You've said before that crowds around the globe have pretty much the same reaction to this music. Does this mean that you play the same style, no matter where you are in the world, or can you tell that some cities like it darker and harder and others like it more progressive?
Christopher Lawrence: I generally play the sound that is my sound. When I am playing in foreign countries I prefer to play the sound that I'm most comfortable with. Even if there is a dominant sound in a particular city and they really like techno for example, like Melbourne Australia, if I was to go there and tailor my set and play techno, the people that are coming out to hear me, aren't going to be hearing me. They are going to be hearing something that any number of their local DJs would be playing.
So my feeling is, I would rather go and play my sound in a city that maybe isn't known for the style I play, just because it gives people an alternative, in the same way that if I was going to hear Carl Cox in San Francisco, I'd be really disappointed if he played housey. I came to hear Carl Cox and you're playing funky house! See what I mean? So I think that as a DJ your responsibility is to play your sound. Now within that, if I am playing in a place that likes techno and likes it banging, obviously I am not going to play my more delicate sounding progressive stuff because I just know that that's probably not going to work. I'll play the more banging stuff, but within my style.
Lunar: Right now what tracks are always jumping out of your record box every time you play?
Christopher Lawrence: There's a track that's on my CD by Replicant called "Conspiracy." It works everywhere, every time. It's a complete winner.
Lunar: What (label) is that on?
Christopher Lawrence: It's on POD. It's a few months old, but it's brilliant. Actually, my wife did a track under the name Mile High on Moonshine called "Night Fever," and I did a remix for it. I went in and spent a day doing the remix for her. I was happy with it, but it was her track, and it works for me really well on the dance floor, so I am really happy with that one.
Lunar: Your mix?
Christopher Lawrence: My remix. And I play her mix as well. Her mix works really good. She did that with Dave Aude at Moonshine, and I'm happy with both of them. What else? The Mark Lowndes one, "The Curse," that's on my CD. I'm sure that will be coming out soon. That's a phenomenal track that works every time. I'm still playing it off of CD.
Lunar: So are you incorporating CDRs more into your sets? Do you see things heading that way?
Christopher Lawrence: Yeah. CDRs give you the option that you can get tracks before they're on vinyl. As a producer, I can test out tracks before they are put out on vinyl, which is really nice. Because there is nothing like finishing a track and thinking this is done, it comes out on vinyl and you think the bass is way too heavy or I can't even hear the mids. Now you can test drive them. And then beyond that I just got Final Scratch a couple weeks ago. That's the system where you are using a laptop as your record box. It's all audio files on there, and then you've got two vinyl records, but they've got time code on them, as opposed to music. So you just sync them up with the track, and there you are. So I think that's going to change things as well.
Partly DJs have been holding the development of this music back because we've been comfortable with vinyl. Who wants to change? I think that there's a lot more that can be done than just playing two records. You can edit tracks. Like Richie Hawtinthat's taking it to the extreme. Obviously I wouldn't be able to do that with the records I play. It couldn't happen. It would sound like mush! But that's saying this can be done, and you can do things other than play every record start to finish. There's other options than just vinyl.
Lunar: Yeah, I'd be very interested to hear how a trance DJ uses Final Scratch. Maybe you'll be the first.
Christopher Lawrence: Yeah, because I don't think there's any other trance DJs that are showing any interest!
Lunar: The "Hook Sound" that was so instrumental in the evolution of trance has changed dramatically in the last year or so. How do you feel about the new direction the label has taken?
Christopher Lawrence: I like it. It's taken the Hook sound, but taken it towards the deeper progressive. But I was just in the studio with Chris Cowie from Hook a couple weeks ago. We were working on some tracks, and I was just really bored with that deep progressive sound. I think it's time to come back around to that classic Hook sound. We were talking about it and saying that because the classic Hook sound didn't date the cheesy, it can be updated. If you play the old Hook stuff, you can obviously recognize it, but with that powerful progressive trance sound, it's time to come around again. Everything goes in cycles, so we are going to go back into the studio and try and make some more of the classic type Hook sounding stuff because I think it will work really well on the dance floor.
Lunar: With such an insane schedule, is it easy to relax when you have time off, or do you are always in the "on the go" mode?
Christopher Lawrence: Oh there's no time to relax. I get home on Sunday night, and I feel like I have to keep going and going and going. I find it really hard to sleep the first two nights I'm home, and there's so much I have to do before I go back out on the road. There's records to go through. There's all kinds of business type meetings. And then there's just the laundry and paying bills! So I haven't had much of a chance to relax in a couple years. I'm hoping that after the Around the World tour, towards the end of summer, I'm hoping to take maybe three weeks off and not do any events at all and just relax. Because right now relaxation just isn't an option.
Lunar: So when you do get those rare moments, what do you do to relax?
Christopher Lawrence: Well, I like to go to the ocean. My wife and I live in L.A. So we'll go to Santa Monica and just walk along the beach and have lunch or dinner out there. It's funny, but just taking myself out of Hollywood, where the record stores are, where my studio is, where I live, and getting away from the phones and stuff, just taking a half-hour drive and going to the ocean makes a big difference. Little things like that. I like to read. Right now I'm reading Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. I love classics.
Lunar: Do you ever still get the chance to go out partying like a normal clubgoer, not Christopher Lawrence, the DJ?
Christopher Lawrence: Rarely. That's what the Winter Music Conference is for. Everybody becomes anonymous there. This year I'm actually only going to be there Saturday, Sunday and I leave Monday. With this tour going on, I'm doing four events (in Miami)two Saturday, two Sunday and then back on the road on Monday. I don't know if I'm going to get to party. I was really looking forward to the conference this year, but I don't know.
Lunar: How has the working relationship between you and your wife, Sara, been evolving now that you've been working together for a while now?
Christopher Lawrence: Fantastic. It's really good. She used to do all my bookings until about a year and a half ago. Then I went with AM Only, and she oversees everything. She is my contact with my booking agent, with the labels that I do my CDs for. She makes sure that everyone is doing their job properly. It's even better because now she's going into the studio, and I am looking forward to the day where I stay home and she can go out on the road! Well, I guess I could just go along with her. I won't be playing records. I'll just get to go and party. I'm waiting for that day. In fact, Moonshine just called her to ask, "When are you going to do your follow-up? You're first one did really good." So hopefully she'll do some more.
Lunar: You frequently play here in Atlanta. Now that you've had many nights to judge, what are your impressions of the scene here?
Christopher Lawrence: Oh, it's great. I'm really impressed with the club scene that's developed here, because a few years ago when I was coming here, it was only the one-off events. There was, as far as I could tell, no clubs, and in the last year the club scene has really developed. Which is good because you've got people that started out going to the one-off events ten years ago. Now they're in their late twenties and thirties. Maybe they prefer to go to a place that's smaller, there's a bar, you can dress up nicer. There's not going to be cops running in and searching your purse. I think it's a really healthy scene here in Atlanta.
Lunar: I've read your impressions of what this music means to you, and I completely agree with your feeling that it can express all those things that words cannot. Because this music can be so emotional and powerful, where do you think the line is drawn between emotive music and cheese?
Christopher Lawrence: You know, it's just a thing you feel. I don't know how to explain it. It's something about the music itselfthe way it sounds. It just sounds thin and empty and contrived if it's trying to make you feel something, as if someone sat down and said, "Gee, what can we do to make people feel this way? Let's do this." Instead of it just being sincere. I think that's the difference. There's a sincerity that you can feel, in the same way that when you are talking to somebody, you can feel a sincerity or you can detect a falseness. It's nothing you can put a finger on. You just know, and I think it's like that with music. It's either sincere or it's false, and you can tell when it's cheesy.
Lunar: You've been labeled as America's top trance DJ. What up-and-comers do you see on the horizon?
Christopher Lawrence: There's DJs out of LAthere's Alicia, there's Nicolas Bennison. Out of Tokyo there's DJ 19. Form Melbourne there's Mark James.
Lunar: Is that Mark James that produced "Hear Me?"
Christopher Lawrence: Yeah! He's a fantastic DJ. We were just on tour, and we played together every night. There's so many. C.L. McSpadden from Phoenix.
Lunar: What's the silliest request for a song that anyone's ever asked you for in the booth?
Christopher Lawrence: There's been some really bad ones. But the one that comes to mind is, I was playing at this club, and this girl said, "Are you gonna play anything other than this? Are you gonna play any B-52's?" Where did that come from? The B-52's! This was just like a year ago. How long ago was it that they were even contemporary? What time machine did she come out of? I would be one thing if she asked for Britney Spears or hip-hop, but the B-52's?
Thanks to Natalie at Moonshine and Christopher Lawrence for taking time out of his insane schedule to talk to Lunar.
Around the World
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