Booking Damian Lazarus for a Pickle anniversary party makes perfect sense, and not just because Crosstown Rebels is the biggest underground EDM label in the world -- number one on Resident Advisor's prestigious poll last year. It's also because Lazarus has been instrumental in making the Pickle the international EDM mecca that it is. His annual Get Lost party during WMC week has helped make the Pickle world-famous, and hardly a month out of the year goes by without a Crosstown artist gracing the club's decks.
Crossfade caught up with Damian Lazarus ahead of Friday's celebration to chat about his A&R style, the meaning of underground, and Get Lost 2012.
Crossfade: You started out as a music journalist. What, if anything, did that experience impart to you as a musician and music businessman? Did it equip you with any special insights or savvy once you entered the game yourself?
Damian Lazarus: As a music journalist I felt it was my role to uncover new emerging artists and expose these new talents to our readers -- whether it was for Dazed & Confused, Straight No Chaser or Trace magazines. I always tried to ask questions that were not obvious, that had depth and would enlighten readers to the personality behind the music, as opposed to simply how they came to make their sounds. This technique has helped me a great deal in the way I run Crosstown Rebels -- getting to know the characters in depth before committing to working with them, for example. I also got to meet and work with many different labels, both major and independent. And being involved in the behind-the-scenes machinery of building new artists' careers was a priceless experience.
Was the transition from DJ to producer challenging for you? How did you approach that first studio project?
It took me a while to decide to make music I was enjoying a pretty successful rise as a DJ and loved the fact that I was able to create my sound behind the decks without having to symbolize that on record. But then I started to think how amazing it would be if I created an album that was simply me -- my thoughts, ideas and my creations with no neccessity to make something specific for the dancefloor. I felt the time was right in 2009 and that I had established myself and my sound strongly enough to finally come out of the woods.
Crosstown Rebels must get a shitload of demo submissions. How do you approach the selection of new artists and material for release? Is there a specific style or aesthetic you're seeking to define the label?
I simply listen for creativity beyond what is just the "current" sound or trend. I also like to find real personality behind the music and then hope that the personality matches the music. Demos that catch my ear must be fresh, exciting, enticing, different and unique.
So what is the definition of a Crosstown Rebel? What sort of artist gets into your little club, so to speak?
Quite a big club these days! Special music must be made by special people.
Get Lost has grown from a modest underground party to an international dance music institution that for many people epitomizes the WMC experience each year. Do you plan to keep a cap on this event, or do you see it expanding into a bigger beast, in the vein of what Sunday School for Degenerates was?
Actually, we had to consider moving this year simply to be able to handle the amount of people that now want to come. But the truth is that for now the Pickle feels like home and every year we extend the size of the terrace to cater for our lovely people that come on the day. I think I was the first person to see the potential of the venue back when it was Circa 28, and we moved the party there from Studio A after that closed. Since becoming the Electric Pickle, the venue has become one of the best loved clubs in the US, and the environment there is finely tuned for our sound. Plus, I love the intimacy of the place and the fact that we run the party across three areas -- helps with the flow of traffic.
Thanks largely to the Internet, lately it seems like many so-called "underground" artists are topping the charts and have massive visibility on the international stage -- Maceo Plex and Hot Natured come to mind. It prompts one to ask what is underground these days? What is your definition of underground? Is it just an sound style or a genuine ethos?
To work in the underground is to work against the tide of commercialism in music. However, as our artists grow from strength to strength on a global scale, our sound becomes more popular but this was always the goal -- to achieve the maximum amount of exposure for our music and our artists from all lovers of more leftfield, non-commercial electronic music. It just happens that these days our sound has become the entry point for people getting into dance music, as opposed to it being trance or electro. And this is a good thing because it means that we can build on this growing fan base and take people in completely fresh, unknown musical territories from here without the next levels seeming to be too alien to people.
You've played everywhere, from the Burning Man festival in Nevada to the beaches of Peru. What are some of your favorite spots to play around the world and why?
I think playing at Burning Man has become the holy grail for DJing. The enviroment and the community there have to be the most open minded anywhere in the world. But I am very fortunate in that we have been working really hard to find the best places around the world and just checking through my forthcoming list of dates looks more like a dream than a regular tour schedule.
You've been a WMC regular for years now. What's the craziest anecdote you have of Miami in March?
It really is impossible to pinpoint one particular moment, but I did get a little overwhelmed at certain moments at Get Lost last year.
What do you have in store for fans in 2012? Any special projects or releases we should anticipate from you and the label?
The big things for Crosstown in 2012 include debut artist albums from Amirali, Fur Coat and Mother of Seven, with new albums coming from Jamie Jones and Maceo Plex and new music coming from fresh artists like Subb-an, Francesca Lombardo, Daniel Bortz, Walker & Royce, Russ Yallop, Jozif and the mighty Infinity Ink. There will also be a new edition of the Get Lost compilation series and a third installment of Rebel Rave. A big year ahead!
Electric Pickle Three-Year Anniversary Party with Damian Lazarus and Adamn Shelton. Friday, February 17. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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