Of the many accomplished DJs who will be performing at this Saturday's Love Festival, Christopher Lawrence has clearly garnered the most acclaim.
The DJ and producer has been named America's best DJ by both the International Dance Music Awards and DJ Times magazine. An underground trance hero, Lawrence tells us we shouldn't expect to hear anything by dance hitmakers like Paul Oakenfold and David Guetta when he hits the decks here in town. Instead, he'll be playing a mix of obscure but no-less-worthy talents like Steve Birch, Astrix and John "00" Fleming.
We talked to Lawrence last week about electronic dance music's past, present and future, along with the troubles it continues to encounter in live settings.
Indy: Given how dance music is continually evolving, I'm wondering what genres were popular when you first got into DJing.
CL: The music I first heard that turned me on to it was acid house. Prior to that, I had been a goth, and I'd been in the industrial scene and the punk scene. All kinds of scenes. But when somebody took me to my first underground acid house party in San Francisco in 1990, that completely, more than any other music I've ever heard, changed my life.
The music I heard was unlike anything I'd ever encountered before; the vibe of the people at the party was unlike anything I'd encountered before. And it was from that moment that I knew that this was gonna be my calling in life. I didn't know what I would be doing, I didn't know in what capacity, but I knew that this music was my life.
Indy: So to what degree did elements of acid house find their way into the trance music you've gone on to do?
CL: Well, the trance that I play is underground trance. There's been a lot of confusion in the last, probably, 10 years, because there was a genre that spun off of trance that is really cheesy, it's commercial, it's pop, and it's entry-level dance music. And unfortunately that was classified as trance, because it came out of trance. But I don't play that sound. [Laughs.]
The sound that I play is closer to the sound of techno and even underground house. You're not gonna hear a lot of lyrics, you're not gonna hear a lot of obvious cheap synth lines like you do in the pop trance.
One of the sounds right now that I'm really interested in is called psychedelic trance. It's probably the most directly linked to that first acid house sound, because they still use that 303 bass line, which works really well on the dance floor because it moves the body while the trance elements affect the mind.
Indy: A number of the DJs coming here for the Love Festival will be playing some form of house music, which seems to be the one style that's virtually unstoppable. Why do you think so many people still relate to it?
CL: I'm not the best person to answer that question, because I don't spend a lot of time in the house scene. But my wife likes house music, and I can tell you what she likes.
It's got a lot of bass and it moves the body, especially that zone between your stomach and your knees. And I think a lot of people do like the lyrics in house, even though they're not used like in a typical pop or rock song, where there's a verse-chorus-verse type thing. So I think that's another draw for house music, that it does have a bit of a human element.
Indy: How do you see dance music impacting people differently in a live environment?
CL: Well, it's a completely different experience. At a club or a rave or any electronic music event, the focus is the music, the lights, the people around you. It's an experience you can't get anywhere else. It's about going to an event with your friends and hearing music that you may not have ever heard before. And the DJ is a conduit for that.
Indy: Is that one of the reasons DJs do mix albums, so people can hear the music again rather than just wondering what you were playing?
CL: Yeah, exactly. I just did a mix compilation called Rush Hour. It's a souvenir of a night out, but it also has an additional benefit. I tour worldwide, but I can't be everywhere at the same time. So now people in Poland or Nicaragua or South Korea can download my music and subscribe to my podcast before I get there. So when I play, I've got fans already established that are interested in the specific sounds that I play.
Indy: So, given the timing of this, I need to ask you about the calls for a rave ban in L.A. and the deaths last week at Germany's Love Parade. [See "Love hurts," p. 18.]
CL: With regard to Love Parade, it's a tragedy, and it was a preventable tragedy. Whatever the precipitating factors were, it didn't need to happen. People are going to an event to celebrate, and then there's this trampling of people. And what's even worse is that you can only imagine that people were trampled by the people closest to them, which would be their friends. And that's the thing that just makes me sick.
Indy: Obviously, the use of Ecstasy has been commonly associated with the rave scene. Do you feel electronic music is being unfairly targeted, or do you think that Ecstasy does stand out as a problem?
CL: I don't think it stands out as a problem. I mean, look at the number of people holding up their Jack Daniel's bottles at a heavy metal concert. And every concert I've ever gone to — I'm not talking about electronic dance music, I'm talking specifically about live band shows — no matter where you stand, you smell weed. You go to any type of jazz or blues show, people are going to be drinking and smoking. I think that music goes hand in hand with recreational activities.
Indy: Nice word choice there.
CL: You know, I think people would be lying if they denied that. But if you just look at statistics, the volume of people that go out to party to electronic dance music, very little — if any — violence or crimes are committed at these events. So it makes one question why this is being targeted.
And one reason I can tell you is that it doesn't have corporate sponsorship. If Nike was flying the flag behind the stage, the police would think twice because they know that Nike's lawyers would come down on them like a ton of bricks. Or if it's sponsored by Budweiser, you know it's gotta be safe. Hey, it's Budweiser! But we don't have Budweiser at raves because they're all-night events, so we keep the alcohol out.
Indy: Can't you get Lucozade [energy drinks] to weigh in on your behalf?
CL: That'd be nice! [Laughs.] But I think that's a big part of it. The whole scene has traditionally been DIY, the promoters started out years ago doing it all by themselves, and the DJs are not signed to labels that are promoting our tours. If Clear Channel was throwing these events, I guarantee you that the media and the police would not treat the event in the same way.