Crosstown Rebels' Damian Lazarus Talks Rebel Rave and the Regrettable Obsolescence of Vinyl

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Clubland can be a wasteland. But former Dazed & Confused music editor, current Crosstown Rebels label exec, and minimal DJ-producer Damian Lazarus is a natural-born opponent of mediocrity, unearned hype, and cash-bloated trash.

For the last ten years, he's worked endlessly to improve the state of electronic music, helping to break both blog house stars like Tiga and underground heads like Seth Troxler. Be there when Lazarus protests excess at the Electric Pickle next Saturday.

No better time than Basel week, right?

New Times: How long had you been plotting Crosstown Rebels before finally founding the label in 2003?

Damian Lazarus: Well, prior to 2003, I'd be co-running another label, City Rockers. I was finding a lot of really cool underground electronic dance music. But at the same time, we were having a little taste of chart success with people like Tiga and Felix Da Housecat. So there was always this constant battle between, like, what kind of label are we? Are we superunderground? Or are we doing something more crossover? And in the end, I wanted to retain my underground credibility. So I moved on and decided to start my own label. I took the same initials and started Crosstown Rebels with a view to honing in on some of the most adventurous and exciting producers, artists, and DJs from around the globe.

So it was just something that happened in the moment.

Actually, prior to City Rockers, I was working at London Records' FFRR, who were the first people to finance my first ever label. And that was just proper experimental. So I guess I'd always seen myself as running a record label. But Crosstown Rebels was never any major ambition that I was working toward for years.

It's been seven years already. And it seems like work's been done at a pretty rapid clip? Have you had the time to actually enjoy it?

Of course, I've enjoyed every minute of it. But I've got to say, over the last seven years, it hasn't been easy with the way that the industry is and the fact that there aren't many people buying physical product. The days of running a record label are pretty numbered. We've had some disastrous times with three distribution companies going into liquidation on us, owing us a lot of money, which has been a really difficult thing for us to handle. But somehow we just keep fighting back and keep coming back.

I think it's got a lot to do with the artists I work with, whose musical input I value above anything else in my life. We've formed this really cool little family unit that's always growing in a nice way. We're definitely enjoying Crosstown Rebels. It's a trip.

You mentioned that people don't buy actual albums anymore. But do you still feel it's important to release physical copies of Crosstown albums?

Yeah, very much so. The digital era has definitely taken over our lives. But there's got to be room in people's homes for a record or CD. Because when your computer goes bust and you lose everything, you're really going to rue the day you didn't pick up that limited-edition copy of whatever record that you won't be able to get again unless you pay five times the original price.

You know, these are things that people spend their entire lives dreaming up and creating for your benefit. So is it really that much to ask for you to buy that copy of the record, as opposed to stealing it online, or downloading it from some dodgy Russian website, or parting with 60 cents to buy a piece of air? I appreciate that the world has moved on and we've had to adjust our business. But at the end of the day, I'm a big believer in having a hard copy. I go record shopping every week. I have to have physical copies of things. It's like books. Who wants to read a book in front of computer screen? We spend our entire lives in front of computer screens. If I'm reading a book, I want the book. And if I want to listen to an album, I want me album. But that's just me.

Is this new release, Rebel Rave, an attempt to put together an up-to-the-minute retrospective of the Crosstown Rebels label?

No. Usually most labels do a kind of five-year benefit, but I actually forgot that we'd reached five years. [Laughs] So then I spent the sixth year thinking about what we could do to make up for our forgetfulness. And I just decided, "You know what? I'm not celebrating any birthdays or anniversaries for this label." I just think now is a good time to release a compilation. With 2011, we're about to enter the year of Crosstown Rebels album artists. We're going to be releasing albums by Maceo Plex, Deniz Kurtel, Art Department, Jamie Jones, and hopefully Vision Quest. That's just in the first six to eight months of 2011. It's probably going to be the biggest year we've ever had in terms of what we're releasing and how we're releasing it. We've just entered a new distribution deal with K7. Things are looking pretty good at the moment. So, touch wood, this is going to be the start of a new era for us.

Disc three is a group of recreations of Crosstown tracks by Clive Henry. What exactly did he do to the originals?

Everything on that disc was previously released on Crosstown Rebels. But in some cases, it's just a sound or just a loop. So Clive selected some of his favorite cuts from our discography and he set about reconditioning everything. He took various moments from certain tracks and then recreating it into brand-new work. In some occasions, you're listening over a five-minute period and you're listening to five or six tracks all playing at the same time. Some are pitched down, some sounds are brought in from something else, the vocals might be from one track, the kickdrum might be from somewhere else ... He's really cleverly annotated some of our deeper moments on Crosstown Rebels. He created a really special DJ mix.

What's the connection between this compilation and Rebel Rave TV?

It's the same Crosstown Rebels artists featured on both formats. And Rebel Rave TV is an opportunity for our fans as well as people who don't really know much about who we are to get a little bit more information about our DJs, producers, our producers, the process of making our music, what we do when we're on the road, the kind of people that we are, the kind of close-knit community that we're building, the fun that we have, and the great parties that we play. I like to look at it as an insightful document of our times. There have been nine films made so far and the tenth one is being made in the beginning of January.

I've heard that Rebel Rave TV's gonna be broadcast through cable giant Comcast.

Yeah, I started talking to the people who run the Arc channel and they were blown away by what they saw with Rebel Rave TV. So they offered us a deal to get it shown to I think it's like 17 million people. It's a really great opportunity for us to spread the word. I think some of what we do with Rebel Rave and Crosstown Rebels is maybe too underground. But it's really going to be interesting to see how a wider audience will take to what they see.

How do you maintain the rebellion when you're operating within big corporate structures?

It's sort of an experiment, really. We've been playing small, dark hovels for some time. And I think people are generally ready for something different and fresh. I think people are bored of being force-fed nonsense commercial music. It's just become dull and boring.

Damian Lazarus. Saturday, December 4. Electric Pickle, 41 NW 20th St., Miami. Doors open at 9 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.

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