To stake your claim as a legendary artist in the electronic dance music world is no easy feat. First of all, you have to endure the test of time. With time comes changes, and as we all know there’s an immense difference between the EDM of the past and what we have today, not to mention dozens of sub-genres. However, names like Carl Cox, Roger Sanchez, Little Louie Vega and Derrick May all have one thing in common: they’ve been a part of the genre in its developmental stages and are still around today cranking out great music. However, if there’s one prominent name that should be on everyone’s top five greatest of all time list, it has to be Steve Lawler.
Having been a part of the scene since the acid house days in the U.K., Lawler is still one of the most respected and talented artists of our generation. His tireless work ethic has paid off as his successful Viva Music label is currently on the upswing and his tours across the world constantly sell-out.
Clubplanet recently got the chance to chat with Steve Lawler prior to taking off on his North American tour, and caught up about VIVA Music, the impact of electronic music in America and what there is to look forward to in the near future.
Clubplanet: How’s the year stacked up for you thus far?
Steve Lawler: Really good actually. The only downfall I had was in August when I fell ill from all the touring. I suppose I was doing like an average of four gigs a week and I thought I’d get to the end of the summer but in August I got pneumonia. I ended up in the hospital and had to rest for a couple of weeks. I hate taking time off during that time of the year but I had to get well. Apart from that it’s been amazing.
Clubplanet: I read somewhere that you had 12 releases in the last 12 months.
Steve Lawler: Have I? Jesus. (laughs)
Clubplanet: Do you ever find yourself stumped by the process or is it always business as usual for you?
Steve Lawler: I would say that the last two years for me have been the most productive in my whole career. The main reason being is it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve been really comfortable in the studio on my own. Up until that point I was writing music but it was taking me a lot longer to do something. I’ve gotten really up to speed with everything and I feel really comfortable in the studio. The more comfortable you feel with the technology, the more you free up your mind for creativity, rather than getting bogged down with the process. Being a touring DJ it’s really difficult to get really knowledgeable in the studio because you’re constantly touring. Which is why everyone always uses engineers, because they know the studio inside out. I’ve just been a lot more relaxed in my life and in myself in general.
Clubplanet: Last summer you decided to shy away from the commercial mix compilation and you decided to stick with a ‘We Love VIVA,’ showcase disk that you gave away for free at We Love Space. Why did you decide to do that?
Steve Lawler: Well I was planning on taking a year off to do a compilation in 2009. For me, when I record a compilation or a VIVA compilation I put a lot of time and effort into it and it’s draining, it takes up a lot of my time. So, I wanted to take a year out for one of my actual series compilations. Then the idea dawned on me that I should put out a simple one-disc compilation and showcase some of the artists on VIVA. What we’re doing right now in the office of VIVA is really pushing the artists and the brand. We put a lot of time, money and effort into the label. We’ve started a DJ roster agency for the artists on the label and an events company. It’s our main goal to support the artists and to give them more of a career than they have when they come to the company. It’s working out quite well because when the singles do well the artists to well. Our main goal is to support these artists and to keep moving the brand forward. That’s important for me and important for the rest of the VIVA team. So this compilation is showcasing the artists, it’s showcasing the label and it’s showcasing We Love. It’s great. We gave 10,000 copies.
Clubplanet: When it comes to electronic music you’re definitely one of the legends and guys that have been there and have seen the genre change. Now, when it comes to electronic music and America, how do you see it developing?
Steve Lawler: It’s brilliant! It’s better in America now than it’s ever been. For me personally, the last four or five years I’ve been working very hard on pushing a more underground sound across America. At first it was difficult because of my profile as a DJ. I was being put in big rooms, like 10,000 people on New Years Eve in Montreal. I was put after a trance act and I’d have to go in there and try to bring it down and play some deeper grooves, and it was challenging to say the least. My main priority is to entertain the crowd and to give them a musical journey in the way that I can and the only way that I know. But also introducing new sounds that they haven’t heard before, and it’s a challenging task. But what I’ve felt in the last few years in America is that people are really getting it. The last couple of years there have been great in America for me. I see the success of MANDY, Jamie Jones, Audiofly and even Luciano, these guys didn’t really used to do that much in America. I’m not saying that I’m the answer to this sound that’s being introduced. I’m not trying to say that it was all me. But I’m definitely one of the people that has really tried to push a sort of more integral sound across America. The fact that America is really going for this sound right now, for me it’s personally rewarding. Like Conference [Winter Music Conference] for instance, is a massive indication. I’ve had more and more of the American market excited by more underground music and I find that really exciting.
Clubplanet: Do you find it difficult being both a successful artist and a label businessman?
Steve Lawler: Not really. The label isn’t run like a business just yet. Obviously it is a business, and now we have a headquarters for it and we now have several staff. But the label does not take any profit. Anything that we make goes back into the label. It’s like a labor of love right now. Maybe in the future it’ll be something that I can pass on to my brothers and they can reap the rewards off of it. I’m very happy with my DJ career and that feeds me enough. When it started the label was being run from my income, and now the label is being run from its own income. It’s a really positive feeling. Everyone at the label really enjoys working for the label, it’s a great environment. It really doesn’t feel like a business when you’re in the office.
Clubplanet: When it comes to technology and DJing, is there a new gadget that you’ve been using or do you stick to the same setup?
Steve Lawler: I’ve been sticking to the same setup for some time now with Serato, Pioneer CDJs and the Pioneer Mixer. However, I am about to switch over to Traktor because of the new Traktor technology that is coming out and also there’s a gadget called the Machine Drum that syncs up to Traktor. I’ve tried that and it’s right up my street. I like to first and foremost be a DJ and play the music and loop certain things cleverly. With this new stuff that’s coming out you can sort of re-edit the stuff live on the fly. You can change where you drop loops, you can change where the drop is. It’s very interesting what can actually be done. It’s almost like you’re playing tracks and you can re-edit them on the fly, so that’s what I’m going to get into. I’ve always been about re-edits and always been about playing back slightly different versions, and now I can do it on the fly.
Clubplanet: Who are some guys on VIVA that everyone should be paying close attention to?
Steve Lawler: There’s this guy called Leon who a great producer. He has a couple of big releases out on the label right now. He has the interest from good quality labels, and that shows that he’s doing something right. I’ve had people from all sorts of labels calling me and asking me about Leon. He’s definitely one to watch out for. Dragosh and Darius Syrossian & NYRA are some other names you should look out for.
Clubplanet: What can everyone look forward to hear from you and VIVA for the remainder of the year and into 2010?
Steve Lawler: I’ve been in the studio all week. I’m recording a new single with a vocal from Roman Clark, who’s an old-school house vocalist. It’s going to take me a little longer to finish it because it’s predominantly a song, and it needs a lot of arrangement and time. I’m about to work on a new remix for Cacoon next week right before I come to America. As far as the label’s concerned we have a lot more track that are coming out. We started three more labels, all sort of sub-labels of VIVA Music. We have VIVA Music, we have iVAV Recordings which we’ll target more for the techno side of things we do. Then we have eVIVE Records, which is for electronica and the more alternative side of sounds. For me as a musician and a DJ I love good music, pure and simple. I’ve always been about house and techno, but electronica has played a big part in my life, so that why we started that label. Then we have VIVa Limited, which is a label where we’ll only put out like five different copies on vinyl only. They’ll be in really nice vinyl sleeves and we’re going to make them look really tasty. All together that would be four labels.