Steve Lawler Talks Raving, Ibiza, and VIVa MUSiC
The title King of Space (as in the Ibiza dance mecca) is one of the highest accolades that an international EDM DJ can ever hope to earn.
But let's face it -- being a megaclub resident doesn't necessarily give you the old-school cred that comes with having been a mover and shaker since the dawn of rave. That's why Stave Lawler wears the royal title so well: The seminal UK DJ-producer and VIVa MUSiC label boss has been making people move to electronic beats since acid house and illegal raves reigned the scene.
Crossfade caught up with Mr. Lawler ahead of tonight's Halloween performance at the Electric Pickle with SAFE, talking about his early rave days, his disdain for commercial dance music, and his latest projects.
Crossfade: You're an original rave kid who cut his teeth with England's infamous M42 motorway illegal parties. What can you tell us about the scene in those days?
Steve Lawler: Well, those infamous M42 raves were actually mine, which everyone at the time wanted to play at. And yeah, I was just a kid, 16. It's funny because I started very young, which now means I've been doing this for 22 years. People think I'm old or at least the same age group as a lot of my fellow DJ friends that have been around that long. But I'm not really that old considering I've been playing for over 20 years. Those days were the real meaning of messy. When those parties happened, which was for years before we stopped doing them, I was 16 to 19. You can't imagine what we used to get up to. I mean, we were having parties underneath a freeway! [Laughs]
Do you think the spirit of rave culture as opposed to club culture is dead? Or could it come back?
It's just changed. And I have to be brutally honest here ... And this is something that I have wanted to say for a while now. Maybe it's not a direct answer to your question, but I don't believe "EDM" is even what we do. Dance music is not the same as house music. Yes, it makes you dance -- we all know that! But what I have seen happen in America in the last two years is the explosion of commercial pop-electro-dance music and so many people think it's the same culture, the same scene as what we do with house and techno, and it isn't! It so isn't. Just because they're both electronic produced tracks does not mean they should exist in the same scene. If I wanted to listen to pop music, I would choose a ballad or a rock song or something that just means something. This electro-pop-dance that all the R&B artists are jumping on is the worst music I have ever heard in my whole life -- cheap, no soul, no meaning. [It's] only made to make money. I don't even like calling what we do dance music, because some people think it's a part of that. What we do is house and techno, and it does have a meaning and a feeling. Just as it's always been, and just how it will always be for us that love house music.
You juggle the multiple roles of DJ, producer, and A&R man. When push comes to shove, which is the most rewarding of these roles for you and why?
Performing, either live or DJing -- that's the main reward I get. Also, in the studio. There is some reward when you have a finished piece of music you're really happy with. And again, the A&R role has its own reward, when you see an artist you have mentored and built and supported do well.
Your penchant for dark musical vibes is well known, and your Halloween performance at the Electric Pickle is being heralded as Steve Lawler "at his darkest." Why are you drawn to the darker end of the spectrum and what what sort of moods or emotions do you look to elicit from listeners on the floor?
I don't have a reason for my taste -- it just is. I suppose I have always been attracted to things that mean something rather than just little quirky moments of fun. My music taste goes way back to The Doors, Depeche Mode, Joy Division. And what attracted me to them was their truth, their honesty -- no bullshit songs. I really can't stand cheesy poppy soulless music, which there seems to be a lot of these days, unfortunately. But it just means that real music lovers have to dig deeper, which is fun anyway.
You've earned the title of "King of Space" after years of residencies there. You even call Ibiza home now. What does the scene look like through your eyes? Why is it so special to you?
It's the most amazing place on Planet Earth. It's a true spiritual home. There is definitely something very, very special about this place, that there are literally no words for. And I'm not talking about the clubs and the nightlife that it has for four months of the year. I'm talking about this island in every way all months of the year.
Having experienced the music industry's radical changes in the last two decades, would you say the internet and digital distribution have added advantages or challenges to your career and the industry as a whole?
Both. The positive is it makes our life as touring DJs a lot easier. I can go through music on my travels, I can carry so many tracks with me all the time. And our music reaches everyone now. The negative is the younger generation of today are missing out on something that was so special -- records. Buying and collecting actual vinyl, beautiful pieces of wax covered in relentless grooves.
What's been going on with VIVa MUSiC this year and what do you have in store for the label next?
We have tightened up ship now -- not just signing new artists anymore and really concentrating on our artists. Running the label like a traditional record label, releasing vinyl and with some releases now vinyl-only. When we started VIVa MUSiC, we wanted to be different. And seven years ago when we started it, we started it with the statement of being the very first digital-only label. But now, as there are so many digital-only labels, we release vinyl. All our VIVa artists are concentrating on albums for us now too, which I'm really excited about.
What have been some of the highlights of 2011 for you, so far?
It's been a crazy crazy busy year, with many highlights from Buenos Aires, Belgium, Romania, Berlin, Japan, New York, Toronto, London and, of course, Ibiza. Like I say, so many. You can check out some of the highlights just from the summer here at my website.
Having played all around the globe, how do you rate the scene in Miami, outside of Winter Music Conference?
A tough question for me, because I'm an honest person, and I have to give my honest opinion. I don't think Miami is what it used to be in the days of the first club Space. And even the second club Space. The Terrace was a place for house music and I had some of the best gigs in my life there, especially on the first club Space terrace. Now Miami seems to be mainly about table clubs -- the more tables, the less dancefloor. But there is a haven and it goes under the name The Pickle. This is a much smaller club than what I'm used to playing, but it's an amazing, tight, intimate room just made for grooving. I'm a personal big fan of both all that the Pickle does and SAFE promotions. I can't wait to get settled in and play some incredible music on Sunday.
What does the future have in store for Steve Lawler?
A very exciting 2012 is ahead of us. Launching a new touring concept/brand. I want to do less gigs next year -- a lot less. Making the ones that I do more special. A lot more music to come from me. My album will be released at the end of 2012. And some exciting things to come from Viva, including something I can't say at the moment, but its big!
Steve Lawler with Diego Martinelli. Saturday, August 6. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets cost $25 via wantickets.com. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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