This week Beatport.com, the Denver based digital download music resource for electronic music fans, DJs and producers, added two new genres to their music listing, one of those being “electro house.” Being a fan of both, I was very excited to see who appeared within this genre so I could go shopping.
Steve Lawler has over the years, been known for what’s been called a “twisted house” sound that strays from the happy house vibe and closer to Depeche Mode or something even darker. That grit combined with his electro tendencies, his approach to going off the beaten path and his non-stop work ethic has all played a part in his huge success as both a DJ and as a producer, both musically and visually.
Now in its third series, Lights Out 3 is Lawler’s finest work yet, a double-disk of tracks that mix seamlessly from one to another, but give one a different mood or energy from track to track, like going from the living room to the bedroom of a large, expansive mansion. So it’s no surprise that Lawler was chosen to write the title track “The Conjure” for the movie “The Skeleton Key,” a film set in the mysterious town of New Orleans and a plot filled with suspense and intrigue.
Now Lawler keeps the momentum going with his Lights Out tour, which takes the club experience to another level. In my interview with this U.K. artist, I learned that taking the tour on the road was no easy feat and put a dent in his own pocketbook, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kaffeine Buzz: Have you played Denver before?
Steve Lawler: Yes, at The Church, yea. It’s the perfect venue for Lights Out, let me tell ya.
KB: The whole Lights Out concept sounds interesting, but I hadn’t come across it before.
SL: I wanted to give people more than what they get usually. The whole idea is, if you go see a band at a concert or you go and see a theatrical show, you step into a room and you’re sort of, taken away…it can be breathtaking, the show that they put on. The DJs don’t really put on shows. They go there and they perform their set. And that’s good, that’s where DJing comes from and it’s fantastic. But I’m trying to bring in another element of drama.
My background is like Vasquez and Tenagila in the early ‘90s. Those guys brought drama to the room. That’s kind of what I want to do. There’s going to be huge, red velvet curtains covering the front of the room where the DJ booth is. So the warm up DJ will affectively be sitting behind the curtain…so when the show starts the room will go dark and there will be a big bang with the lights going mad and performers coming out with a big intro of music. I want to move people. When people come to see me play, they have a great night and I have a great night, but the difference is the edge and the production that we’re gonna bring on the road to give people an amazing night.
KB: That sounds so exciting to me and others that want to be stimulated visually. I mean, you’re right, when you go see a band they’re moving on stage, they’re playing with the crowd at times, there’s the interaction. And you can get that in a way with DJs, but the lights moving to the sound of the music and even those performers you mentioned takes it so many steps further than the DJ in the booth. In the early ‘90s like you mentioned, the parties from back at that time were extravagant with themes and elaborate décor.
SL: Yes, by giving people more it will add to the experience in the room. And that’s what Lights Out is all about – the experience. Hopefully it will work well. In some clubs it might be harder than others to get what we want, but I’m looking forward to it.
KB: Me too, along with the main element within the music. I’m a big fan of electro and house and you’ve really been pulling the two together for some time now. I really liked what you did with the song “The Conjure” that was in the “Skeleton Key” movie.
SL: That came about literally from the director, Iain Softley. Apparently he’s a big fan of mine. He’s heard me perform in New York and Miami, in Ibiza and here in London. I had no idea about that, but he hunted down my management team and kind of said something along the lines of, ‘I do horror movies and we want the mood of darkness involved.’ [laughing] I wanted something dark, because it was for a horror movie, but I wanted to bring in new, exciting elements of electronic music so it’s sort of evolving. It’s not electro, but it’s electronic sort of sounds with a real, gritty, heavy riff, you know what I mean?
SL: So from there we put some heavy, tribal drums but not tribal drums that everyone would expect, you know, the usual percussion. We did it in a kind of new way that hadn’t really been done before. The part that got sent to me for the remix track…usually I get musical parts but with this, I just got sound affects from the movie. You know, fingers scrapping down blackboards, screams and chanting. I plugged them into my sampler and we used them as kind of a percussive element, so rather than using a high hat, we used a little part of her scream.
KB: Ahhhhh yea. I get it.
SL: If you listen to it, there’s this kind of, weird like breathing going on. And that was basically some sound affects from the movie where she’s walking around the house and she’s breaking like heavy. We got that and put it into a pattern to make it rhythmic. I never really had to do that before in a remix. It was really, really interesting. I really enjoyed it. So I made music out of the sound affects if you will.
KB: Did you watch the movie in order to get inspiration from that? ‘Cause I actually have seen it and now I feel like I have to see it again.
SL: No, I saw certain parts of it and scenes that were, you know, that were sent to me for that reason. I haven’t actually seen the whole movie, no.
KB: It turned out to be a lot different than I thought. I expected more ghosts and gory type stuff, but it was more intrigue and just creepy. It had a really good twist at the end with a more supernatural and dark, black magic and history angle.
SL: And I thought about that when I did the track.
KB: I saw that some of your other tracks, like the one from Ben Wigin, you said he was a bedroom DJ that approached you.
SL: Yea, he approached me about getting DJ work in Ibiza. He sent me a mix CD of his and he sent me this production CD. And there are a couple of tracks on the production CD, one of them being the track “White.” When I called and told him I put him on Lights Out, he fell off his feet, ya know? [laughing]
KB: [laughing] I bet he did. Wow, that must be huge for a guy like that.
SL: Yea. When I did the album, I think there were about eight tracks that were unsigned, not any labels, just new producers.
KB: I think that’s fantastic, because what you’re doing is taking these underground, these bedroom producers and introducing them to the masses. You’re discovering music for people.
SL: I love to help new talent and get that many unsigned tracks on the album. That also means that no one else was playing them, no one else has them. I like that a lot of the tracks on Lights Out 3, you don’t hear anyone else playing. It makes it an album to go and get, really, because you’re not going to find this music anywhere else. I was quite happy with that.
KB: I read that Sasha wanted to get one of them from you, the “Drop Big Bombs” one and you said no. That’s kinda funny.
SL: Yea, [laughing] he wanted the track real bad. I was kind of like, ‘Yea, I can’t give it out. The album’s out and I don’t want anyone having this.’
KB: Well, yea. You want to be differentiating yourself from everyone else. I remember when Darude released “Sandstorm” and every DJ was playing it in every club, sometimes twice in one night. I wanted to shoot him and all the people on the dancefloor who got excited when it came on for the second time. I hate, hate, hate that. There’s soooo much music coming out. But a lot of it is also so diluted, where you can’t tell that you’re three songs into the album. So when a real banging song comes out you want to hold onto it. And with Lights Out, there are so many change ups from song to song, it makes it so much more compelling.
SL: Thank you.
KB: How do you go about discovering some of these unsigned tracks or even those other ones that will fit into the formula you’re creating in your mind and during the concept process? ‘Cause you’re out and about all the time, and I saw you had a number of tracks from Italy and one from Romania. Do you discover this music while you’re on the road?
SL: I do, yea. I think the good and the bad is this digital age we live in. Even though I tour a lot, I’m constantly getting tracks straight out of the studio of people. I’ve met a lot of Italian producers from touring there quite heavily for the past few years. Whenever I get introduced to a producer or some guy that’s just made a track in his bedroom, and then we swap out addresses or whatever. Then they send me their new music, and I’m always open to hearing new music—always, always, always. This album is a really good reflection of how people should get out there and get their music to DJs, because you never know what could happen. The Danielle Tignino track from Rice & Peas, this was given to me by some guy in a club and I loved it so much, I not only put it on my Lights Out album I also signed him to my label. I particularly like hunting down new producers because it’s not music that everyone’s playing. And that excites me.
KB: One of the companies that is really in the mix when it comes to the digital DJ is located here in Denver called Beatport. I’m sure you’re familiar with them.
KB: One of the topics or questions we kicked around was, with the evolution of technology like Final Scratch and Native Instruments and all the other tools that are available to DJs now, it has really forced your typical DJ to become a bedroom producer or whatever you want to call it. In order keep their presence going and to stay in the business, they have to be able to do something more than just spin records. What do you think about that?
SL: Well, first of all, I still buy vinyl. I love the way it feels and smells. I’ll always collect vinyl. What I do is I buy the record and if there’s a track on the record I burn it to CD. So then what happens is I have a backup copy on my hard drive, so if anything ever happens to the vinyl or I lose the CD or whatever, I still have it, which is a bonus. But when I’m in a club, I can perform so much better as a DJ and be so much more creative when I play on CDs. I’ve got three CDJ-15s and two CSX-15s, and I can literally re-edit, remix tracks on the fly when I’m playing. I can loop certain parts and make them bigger. I can mix two tracks together and then loop it so they’re not moving anywhere, to make this really nice new groove. And then with the first CD I can bang out this acappella or with the affects unit I can build it up and take it down to a slow break. You can literally do so much, it’s unbelievable.
KB: So basically you’re really producing on the fly, because you’re creating new songs from several different songs.
SL: Yea. When I’m DJing I’m constantly looking at the crowd. So if I’ve noticed on the dancefloor that I’ve got a nice groove going, and I think, ‘Right. I want to create a break.’ I’ll loop a section. I filter the bass out. I’ll put it on echo. I’ll do a half bounce, and I’ll build the bounce and the echo repeats that so eventually you’ve got this screaming like roll affect, and then, take it all down and release the loop, take out the echo, bring the bass back in and bang, everyone’s going crazy. That’s what you can do using CD players that I could never do with vinyl. So it’s much better, I can be much more creative and be a better DJ, so it’s fantastic.
The digital thing, when I’m on the road I can get tracks sent to me. I can be in a hotel; a producer sends me a track over the Internet or instant messenger. I’ll get the track, I like it, I’ll burn it, and I play it that night. So that evolution is huge man, it’s wicked.
KB: So if you’re doing things kind of on the fly and working the crowd, how do you coordinate or orchestrate that with the light show?
SL: I do have control over it. We’ll have the light and rig guy set up close to the DJ, but if he isn’t, we’ll have some way of communicating with each other. Then what I will do is at a particular moment I’ll take it down to a break and a dark section and tell him to just use the strobe lights as its building. Then tell him to get ready, so when I drop in, he floods the lights everywhere. This show is going to be…I’m pretty much not going to make any money on this tour. I’ve put so much money into it to make it right with the lights and the dancers. But it’s been my dream to have a tour like this, to have people experience something like this because no one’s done it to this extent. Since it’s the third and final one, I was absolutely adamant that it happened this way.
Steve Lawler brings his Lights Out tour to Denver on Thursday, October 13 at The Church.