Interview: Steve Lawler
Outside of this film, do you have some favourite music documentaries?
I am a huge fan of documentary films and watch a lot of music documentaries. I echo the sentiments of the Director when it comes to electronic music based documentary. We did our research and watched a lot of them, and it was a lot of the same thing: flashing lights and the discotheque. When we watched any documentaries about rock music, like on Oasis or Happy Mondays or Jimi Hendrix, these are films that really get into the grit of what makes the person the artist they are. I felt that a lot of dance music documentaries didn’t cover any of this grit. Either that artist doesn’t have grit in their life or they don’t want to talk about it. One of the first things Piers edited into the movie was me saying that we’ve been doing this long enough and it’s about time we tell it like it really is.
Music is very closely connected to emotion so the things that happen to you drive your art. They are part of what makes you the artist you are. I don’t think our genre has ever really covered that.
I totally agree. If it’s not something specific to a product, like the recent ‘808‘ film, electronic music documentaries tend to not be too substantive…
…there was a film about the the Neve mixing board, where many bands like Nirvana worked on at a studio in Los Angeles that was very good. But even that was more about an item and a place rather than the people behind it despite having some interesting stories in it.
2014/15 has actually been a bit of a renaissance of the music documentaries. For example, there have been some great ones on Kurt Cobain, Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, and Sharon Jones. Again, though, no electronic music figures…
One final question, not too specific to the film, but it is mentioned quite prominently, is how much of an influence the underground nightlife scene of New York City has influenced your music. As I am here from NYC, I wonder if you can give us an idea as to the very first time(s) you traveled to NYC as a professional?
I saw Junior Vasquez in the early 90’s at Sound Factory and I saw Danny Tenaglia toward the late 90s. What I saw in these two artists were things I had never seen before. I grew up me and my friends were going to Acid House parties. I wasn’t aware a lot of the music I was listening too was American, German, Dutch, or Belgian. This made me look at American import records. Then I stumbled across a darker sound and that was what New York was to me. It was either New York or Chicago and Chicago had a slightly more, almost, poppy sound with pianos and vocals. But anything coming out of New York was a lot more dubby and dark. It had a lot of gay influence in the music. I was instantly drawn to this sound, which is how I came across Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia. There sound just blew me away. I like all genres of music, but this was my vision. I could see the music. Before I would listen to music, but when I heard this stuff I could see the atmosphere. I could see where it belonged. This is where my style was born so New York has probably had the biggest influence on me of any place in my whole career. That’s why I started to play long sets. I think I was the first British DJ to play 12-hour sets at my residency’s, and it’s because of what I learned from people like Tenaglia and Vasquez. The music demanded it. It’s what you did. You can’t just go out and play a 2-hour set; it can’t tell its story. You need 5 or 6 hours minimum for the true nature of the music to come out.
How do you see the New York scene these days? It’s a big split between the glitzy Manhattan side and the rawer Brooklyn side.
I have played both and try and do as much as I can. I’ve done everything in New York really. I even did the Dekalb Market in Brooklyn..
…that was actually the last time I saw you play…
I did a project called “Life”, which was 12 parties in 12 major cities around the world and in venues that were not licensed disco clubs. We did a few but never saw the project finished because it became too difficult.
We were actually on our way to the Brooklyn date when the driver got a call and said the police had raided the space. I had to stand there and watch the promoters get put in the back of a riot van. It was really upsetting to me and I realized I couldn’t do that anymore. I did illegal raves back in the early parts of my career so I am well versed in these kinds of events, but you can’t get away with it anymore.
I’ll be honest, it’s been a real shame to see what has happened to New York. When Twilo closed down it was the end of an era. Anyone who was there and still goes out will know exactly what I’m talking about. There was this whole community of dedicated music lovers, party people, and freaks. It was beautiful. New York really did have one of the best scenes in the world. It meant a lot to me, so to watch it turn into table service clubs, people standing around, is disheartening. I tried to go out and do as much as I could in Brooklyn, but then there you would have all these trendies that didn’t give a fuck about music. I won’t mention names, but some promoters just follow the trends. I wonder where the people have gone who were really in love with the music.
I’m going to be playing Output in February, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.
Yes! That was my usual stomping grounds when in Brooklyn. It’s run by the same guys who run Cielo.
Cielo is a legendary, proper space in New York. I mean, you can go there in the middle of the week and hear Louie Vega play some beautiful music to 100 people on a Wednesday. I say that back to people at home and they can’t believe it.