Last weekend Circus held it’s last night at The Masque after convincing the powers that be to reopen the doors for one final time and allow the club to say a proper goodbye to the venue it’s called home for the past 10 years. A night renowned for putting on stellar line ups, we caught up with one of the headliners on the bill – Steve Lawler – and had a chat with him about what inspires him as a DJ, why he’s welcoming vinyl back into his life and his thoughts on how it all went down on Saturday…
You are one of the stalwarts of the dance music industry; did you ever think when you started out that you’d still be DJing 20 years later?
No not at all, because when I started out I went against all the advice of my friends and my family to make this a career. When I started DJing in 1990 it wasn’t really a career thing, I wasn’t producing music I was simply collecting and playing records on pirate stations and at illegal parties.
The illegal aspect of what seemed to be part of a lot of the scene didn’t make it an obvious career choice, I ended up working in a record shop which of course back in those days was an very important backdrop of a lot of the big DJs such as Graeme Park. I never really looked at what I was doing as a career; I was really following a passion and trying to do it as much as I possibly could – as you do with anything you enjoy.
No doubt you’ve inspired youngsters to give DJing a go after they’ve seen one of your sets, but who inspired you in the beginning? And who do you find inspiring now?
My biggest inspiration was Danny Tenaglia from when I first saw him at The Tunnel in New York in the early 90’s. and it was always a goal of mine to play with Tenaglia which I did in the early 00’s at my own night in London. The reason why he was such a huge inspiration for me was because he had no barriers and he could take you on a journey – playing maybe 10 hours of old and new house music – which was such an inspiration for me.
What I really find inspiring now is not necessarily any particular artist but the whole approach to doing things differently. Some people are certainly doing this, finding something different and most importantly having the balls to do something away from the norm.
The scene has changed greatly, over the past decade especially with the decline of traditional decks and a push into more CD/laptop based mixing which is something you’ve embraced quite openly with your use of Serato. Is there anything you miss about playing with vinyl?
As of this year I’ll be playing using the following setup; Traktor (which I’ve being using for the past three years) CDJs and controllers, but I’ll also now be having two Technics turntables. A while ago I spent some time in my record library where I’ve got over 25,000 pieces of vinyl and in maybe 4 days I’d only covered about 5% of what’s there… but in that short time I must have pulled out 100 records that are incredible – records that will sound and fit so perfectly with my sets today. I’m super inspired to pull out older records like this, some of them are real gems that nobody will know, maybe a see-through orange vinyl from Detroit for example. I’m very inspired to have a whole raft of music that nobody else may have. For me as an artist the idea of doing and playing something unique and different is so important.
Your label – Viva Music – was launched as a result of the increase in MP3 downloads over cd/vinyl. You started it back in 2005 which shows great foresight considering that lots of the more mainstream record labels are still trying to play catch up in this area. What was the initial imputes behind this and how well received was it?
We were the first electronic label to announce being digital only. The reason we did it is for the same reason that I do anything; if I see something out there that is being done I look at ways to try something different or at least something new – even if it means putting my neck on the line! I feel it’s my contribution to this beautiful industry we work in.
After four years we started vinyl again because of the demand for some of the artists and music in places like Germany and Italy was too great to ignore. As there are so many digital only labels out there now it’s kind of pushed me back into wanting to do it slightly different again. The last couple of years we’ve been releasing selected releases on vinyl and some on vinyl only, we realise that a 12” vinyl is more of a collectable item now than simply a DJ tool and most of our upcoming vinyl will now have something special about it, maybe a picture / coloured disc or double pack – giving a bit more. For me and the label it’s about delivering something that we can be extremely proud of.
You’ve played pretty much everywhere, with all the superclubs looming large on your resume and you’ve also run a number of your own successful nights (The Midweek Sessions was a SevenStreets favourite from back in the day). Which do you prefer doing – being resident at someone else’s night or running your own?
I’m really glad you were fans of Midweek Sessions, it was an amazing night – it was a perfect example of doing something that you can really be proud of. The decision to do only do 12 amazing parties… everyone at the time questioned why we stopped but it was only ever meant to be 12 midweek sessions. Doing things like that for me has an artistic approach which makes me feel really good. We’re doing the same thing now, creating something with my new concept called LIFE, which is basically me paying homage to playing in non club environments and unusual locations, warehouses, tunnels etc…
All of the parties I did back in the 90’s were a huge part of my career so doing it now with a great team around me it means I can foresee my vision and deliver it with quality. LIFE will show that it really is about the essence of the party and the art of underground music, its something I’m very very proud of and can’t want to get underway.
Last Saturday’s gig was the last night that Circus will hold at The Masque, how was it for you?
Being part of the last ever party at The Masque in Liverpool was amazing. I was really chuffed to be asked by Yos and Rich – both great guys who I have a lot of respect for. It was an honour for me to playing this party and I knew it would be quality. I can’t wait to see this new venue they have for their next venture, I know it will be special. The gig at the weekend was incredible with an amazing atmosphere – probably the best I’ve ever seen at The Masque.
What have you got coming up over the next 12 months?
2012 is going to be a really busy year for me, we’ve got some great things happening in Ibiza this season that I’m really excited about as well as the very special touring concept called LIFE that I’ve mentioned earlier. It’s a project that’s been a long time in the making and taken a heck of a lot of work from the whole team to actually make happen. I’m going to be taking things back to its original organic roots; it’s pretty unique I think, I’ll be performing in everything from disused buildings and strange outdoor venues… we’ve carefully and painstakingly selected venues spread across twelve cities around the world and I can’t wait to announce it!
The idea of playing in a disused mansion, a forest or a naval boat for example really takes me back to when I first started my career as a DJ when I used to throw illegal parties underneath motorways, or in a disused monastery which I did back in the early 90′s. These parties were about nothing but having a good time jacking under the beautiful groove of house music, somewhere away from the glitz and glamour of night clubs and disco balls; somewhere to get down and dirty without a care in the world…
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