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Interview: Laidback Luke Talks Creating A Sustainable Asian Dance Market, Being A Modern DJ & More

We chat with the legend ahead of a trip to Asia.
Laidback Luke

Laidback Luke is someone who needs no introduction. With almost 25 years of producing under his belt, he has put out some seminal 1990s house and techno records and helped pioneer the modern dutch and electro house today. As one one of the more skilled DJs on the circuit today, a world class producer and kung-fu fighter, we had to catch up with him ahead of his appearances this weekend at IMS Asia Pacific and then STORM Shanghai Festival.

We chatted with him about DJing habits, the rise of dance music in Asia, its similarities with North America a decade ago and how to create a sustainable environment and more.

Have you ever gone out and had a bad DJ set recently?

Not really. I would say a bad DJ set would be a set where I can’t catch a crowd, or when the equipment fails on me. But even then, I’ll make the best of it. I recently played at Creamfields UK and we had to swap out a deck mid-set. That bummed me out, but I would never have the crowd notice, or feel that.

In your recent Vlog with Afrojack, you guys talked about reinventing DJing. How do you think that can happen?

It’s mainly because of using new technology. I’m not opposed to that. Producing, and DJing has always been about that. With the coming of new times, I agree the art will evolve. But, I don’t want to lose the art, nor the fundaments of it.

Do you think someone can be successful in todays DJ climate being just a DJ and not a producer as well?

Yes, but the success will mostly be local. It would be so nice to have DJs emerge again that are really only DJs! I always advice for those type of guys to collaborate with producers and put out tracks that way, to get your name out internationally.

Do you ever feel pressure to play the role of the artist with all of your own music?

No never! Where I feel the pressure is that I’m usually scared or unaware of people knowing my music. I’m quite insecure when it comes to that. Maybe it’s because I came up DJing a ton, without being famous. I would always rely on other tracks, rather than my own.

How involved are you with all aspects of Mixmash / Ones To Watch?

I am quite involved, but I do have two teams running the labels. It’s grown like that over the years and I’m paying them to do a job without me interfering too much. We have some quality people on those positions! And although I’m a control freak, it’s amazing to see how good of a job they are doing with the labels.

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Can you lay out an average day on the road and when you are at home for the people (like me) who are in awe of how much you get done each year?

Aww thanks a lot! Well most you can catch on my VLOGs on my Youtube Channel ‘Laidback Luke’. I even made a VLOG about what DJs do throughout the week! But on the road the schedule is usually this: Travel to next destination, always try and get some music or listening to tracks done while traveling, sleep on the plane, workout on the next destination, dinner, pre-show nap, rock the stage, catch up on social media, sleep for four hours, pack up and travel to the next destination. 

At home I do have a lot of time allocated for my kids. But usually at home I’ll do a lot of editing of the VLOG to make my deadline, working out in between as well. I’ll try and make music when the kids are in bed. That and catching up on emails as well. Thursday is the deadline day for Mixmash Radio and Friday is crunch day for the VLOG. The main secret to getting so much done in a year is planning. Every single aspect of my life is planned out to maximize time. I rarely just hang on the couch and I’m always spending my time wisely.

We are in a weird time when many artists are working across genres with and collaborating different with artists all over music. Yet many fans still throw up barriers around their favorite genres or artists for how they think it should be. How can we as fans or as artists help to break down those walls?

I can’t blame them! Luckily I’ve always loved all sorts of music. I think there’s a time and place for any type of music. Just as you never eat the same type of food all year round. Having those walls will only limit you, whereas there’s so much out there to enjoy!

Since the conference talks about dance music in Asia, I wanted to ask what are some of the biggest challenges you see with dance music developing in what should become the biggest music market in the world?

I think the biggest challenge will be to keep it going. To keep it popular. Like with the rise of hip-hop in the States again, you see that electronic music is taking the back seat again. How can we not take the back seat? How do we keep it fresh and edgy? How can we have it not become old, like rock music?

Who are some local acts that could rise up to that headline the next Ultra or Epizode (or similar festivals)?

When it comes to Asia, I’m banking on our Mixmash family member called Unity. The kid is humble, has great music and has amazing stage presence. Before doing an Ultra, you’ll need to have a couple of years of experience and having your name bubbling under to be ready for it. But if he keeps going strong like he has, he’ll definitely be a contender!

Do you see any similarities in the Asian dance music market now and what we saw in North America in the mid 2000s?

Absolutely! It’s the same exciting, fresh feel it had back then! To see it blow up like this over in Asia is so good for Dance Music! It’s almost like a rebirth.

What is coming up? You have a new album in spring 2018? Will is be like Focus or a little different?

A little different, it will be an album full of collaborations. Celebrating new talent, but long term relationships with big name DJs as well!

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