Over the past 25 some odd years, the Electronic Music scene has gone through a complete transformation. From the packed, sweaty underground Techno scene from years past to the monstrous pop-culture and bass-infused modern era, the genre has grown exponentially. The underground and early days of the “EDM Transformation” saw a tightly knit group of fans divulged in the masterpiece LIVE production and music talent of sets changing pace at every beat, to a repetitive and almost predictable Live set scene currently taking over the world
In that same 25-year-span, we have seen a high turnover in talent. DJ’s have risen to prominence, and some, with the inability or ultimate disinterest in adapting to the changes in the landscapre (can’t really blame these gifted individuals)have stayed true to their roots while maintaining their relevance in the industry. From DJ’s like A-Trak, to Diplo, to Carl Cox, to Seth Troxler and Laidback Luke (to name a few) we have seen the ability to adapt, whether to the mainstream, to staying true to their roots, or to a combination of both. In the current Producers heavy market (and who really knows what that looks like with all of the Ghost Producers running around) the industry has had a select few to see as masters of the art of DJing. These people have set a lasting imprint in the minds of the devout fans from the onset and it doesn’t go unnoticed by other “DJ/Producers” on the scene.
Before many of our readers even knew how to read and probably before some were even born, Lucas Cornelis van Scheppingen has infused our ears with elegance and the ability to manipulate sound. Considering the modern landscape and where Electronic music has come over the years, we had the opportunity to catch up with one of the most respected and talented REAL DJ’s in the World, Laidback Luke. If you have a passion for this music, or think you do, this is a must read piece that will not only have you thinking at your next show, but, have you appreciating even more the art of DJ’ing.
[Marc] Over the years, you’ve been a really outspoken DJ and have had a huge influence on the industry as a whole. We wanted to jump in on the production side to start regarding the music you've been releasing. A few weeks back, you released “RISE” featuring Mark Villa, how was it working with the you Mixmash DJ/Producer? I know there has been talk of a Mixmash album as well. How was it working on this track and the album as a whole?
[LBL] Yes we came up with the idea for a Mixmash family artist album. We actually pinpointed Amsterdam Dance Event as our meet up place. We felt like we could stick together for a couple of days in the studio and that we'd be able to make some incredible music. All the guys that are on the label are so talented and bring a different ear for the sound. And it was just so awesome to be able to work with these people face to face. And with someone like Mark Villa, I'm so jealous of how young he is and how talented he is. I sat next to him and I was like how do you come up with all these incredible melodies? You know my way of coming up with melodies is humming them for instance. And he said “well I don't really know, I kind of hear them in my head”. You know he's only just turned 17, its awesome to see. And I must say you know the future is so big for such a young kid.
[Marc] And of late we are starting to see a lot of this, guys like Martin Garrix and other teenage .
Producers popping up all over the place. It's pretty impressive to say the least. Most of the times Dutch as well.
[LBL] Yeah and in the Netherlands we do have a very big market for kids like that. So for instance with Amsterdam Dance Event you often see dads and their teenage kids walk around trying to speak to DJs because they truly believe that their kids can be the next Martin Garrix. And the mental image is very much about that and the ability they do have to become icons.
[Marc] Right, and it's changed so much over the years. You Instagramed a picture a couple of months back of a 15-year-old Luke. Working in your bedroom and old-school hardware. Fans today would look at this and be like what the hell are those big boxes? They were the computers and the hard drives back then. How's the industry progressed in your eyes for better or worse in the production space? And the access that DJ’s producers have to these new technologies?
[LBL] Well speaking of that time flew by man, the photo you mentioned, is about 20-25 years ago.
And yeah I had all this gear and back in 2003. But, I saw the future coming back in 2003 when I switched over to F.L. studio sold all of my hardware studio gear and I started producing in the box. A lot of my fellow producers told me I was crazy and was never going to be able to get the right sound. And how are you going to do that without equipment? But I could already see this and now we're here and my studio is literally just my laptop, I can set it up anywhere. Most of my tracks I make on airplanes. I master in a hotel room. At home I actually got rid of my studio set up, I'll just plug in, get in bed pull, out my laptop and I can work on a new track. It's such an incredible freedom to have and it's utilizing all the modern advancement that we have. It was only last week that I spoke on a web summit in Portugal where I saw a bunch of new systems connecting to your iPhone and being able to jam out music on there. It's an incredible time.
[Marc] Its unbelievable to see the technological advances we have seen not only in music but as a culture. Completely changing everything. But it has completely created this monetized, corporate feel to the music.
[LBL] Absolutely and that's the good and the bad. The music aspect, I always hoped for music being easier to create. What I did not hope for was the big explosion like this becoming a corporate market. It’s good in the sense I have always hoped for my musical style to become the biggest but there are so many bandwagoners jumping on. You hear everyone whispering EDM is dead. And I'm actually kind of happy. You know, maybe we're going to go back to the “underground”. Maybe we are going to go back to like regular fees and we'll just keep the people in there that were in it for the real reason from the start. The Music and their love for it. I don't spend any time at the mainstage of festivals I am performing, just really not worth the time.
[Marc] That’s right, “EDM” started with that real progressive sound. Now, as more and more people have grown to feel that sound, it has been morphed to even more mainstream sounding and you have this kind of “Dance-Pop” bringing more mainstream radio sound… It’s like the more people hop on board the more mainstream it gets to bring in even more fans.
[LBL] And that’s always been the good thing about Electronic music, there is a future edge to it. See, it's not all about EDM and bashing EDM. For instance in the techno and deep house scene you don't see any real progression in that yet. Techno used to be the music that you would fantasize of being made by aliens or from music coming from a future civilization. Right now it's just sounding like music how has always sounded. I just wish for more progression. So one thing that can be said about the current state of EDM is that we've always progressed.
[Marc] Like you said it's 25 years since that photo was taken of you in your bedroom. So success obviously isn't something that's achieved overnight. It's a long road. Hard work, a lot of trial and tribulation. You're building off the small successes. You’ve seen the progression of the industry so what does that ultimate success look like to you as a producer/DJ?
[LBL] That's such a great question. I have a great answer as well! So I've always had such bad luck with my winning awards or being on front pages of magazines. That sort of thing is hard and for a little while that frustrated me a little bit because you know according to them (to the media and with all respect for our interview of course) it's seen as you know success if you land on the front page of whatever magazine. But you know the years have proven to me that that that's not it. I was approached by a singer one day and she said “you know what you have over other mainstream artists (or people with bigger “names”) than you? You have a respect behind your name, everyone that I meet speaks highly of you”. And this is something you can't hide. This is something to be proud of. Success and just success can’t bring you this. I mean the more success you have the more haters you have. Right here, right now, 25 years later I think, wow that's incredible. You know there is no award or magazine cover that can give you that. And so I'm super thankful for that. It’s not something I ever set out for. It was actually in in Connecticut where I met one of your local DJ’s, he apparently had trained the promoter of a club to be a DJ and he said to me “It was you and watching you and your technique that influenced me and inspired me”. I was just looking at him and thinking “Wow a lot of people are looking up to youand then they're here. You're telling me all this stuff. All of a sudden you know this spreads out and forms into this very special sense of achievement. And I'm not where I want to be yet you know. I'm taking this day by day and I still love being passionate and as fired up as I was when I started this.
[Marc] Right on, Luke. That’s awesome to hear, great perspective. Like I said, you've been very outspoken on the aspect of real DJ’ing and going to sets and adjusting the crowds. That obviously varies when you're playing at a festival and a club. It's a different world when playing in front of 500 people in like vanity in a little city in Connecticut, and 100,000 on an EDC stage. What goes the preparation? I always wonder, for you especially being a real LIVE DJ, is there a different way you go about preparing for how you’re going to start out a set and adjust to different crowds/venues?
[LBL] I love your questions so actually someone tweeted at me this morning asking if I could do a Vlog about crowd reading. And it's such an interest pointed question. So last week a DJ tweeted these so-called rules for DJ’ing and I looked at these rules and saw he's completely forgetting the whole crowd reading part and he's completely forgetting that as a DJ you should be the tastemaker. You should actually be the one that dictates like the new trends the new styles and deliver music that's unfamiliar to a crowd rather than just pleasing them. You should introduce them to incredible new music. So I always say I come very much unprepared into any gig. I do this because of my vast library and my vast musical taste. I have about 3,500 tracks on my computer. All genres of music varying from trap to techno to pop to underground house and what not. And so it's actually then and there when I when I walk into the club that I decide what to play. I always try and catch like a half hour or 45 minutes of what the DJ is playing before me and I always try and see what the vibe is like at the venue. It really depends on the last song the DJ plays when I'll decide what my first song will be. And from there on, my method is thinking four songs ahead. So I usually have like four songs hovering inside of my brain while I'm DJing and depending on the crowds response, for instance for the crowd at Vanity, it was a little bit of an older crowd. I took it took house and people really enjoyed that so I kept gaving them more until the point that they started to lose interest. Then I'll start thinking OK so what can I do next. Maybe you do throwback hip-hop or should I go for a bit for a bit more up-tempo. So basically, what I’m getting at is this was completely unplanned. Two girls approached the deck and they started yelling “Play some techno” so I was like, you know what this is the perfect moment for that. Let's do it. So I went on with my 3-4 track plan and then morphed into that. So when I DJ, I picture myself dancing with the crowd feeling the energy of the floor and you know depending on their mood and depending on my mood as well, just switch through the moods on the fly and it's a very organic thing. Now. As a DJ it is easy for you to pick.
[Marc] Does it become evident to you pretty quickly if someone is playing a preplanned set or if someone is adjusting based on crowd response?
[LBL] Within five minutes I can I can hear it. And sadly enough there's not many real DJ’s on the festival stages or at least not on the main stage. It’s like, I see like the DJ standing on top of the booth and they have transitions that sound similar to how I would play. But, if the guy is standing on top of the DJ its like, what? Are you kidding me? And you know, yeah I do have a sense for what the crowd needs. So sometimes I'll just be watching the crowd or the track will drop and I'm thinking this is not the right track. People don’t see it it's an art. Like, they're not dancing at the moment. They don't want to trap. They need future bass or they need progressive. So I was at a festival and this guy just kept on playing like pop mash ups and I was just shaking my head thinking you have no clue don't you. And so I went on and I gave them more taste of underground stuff with energy and they picked it right back up. And the guy was so confused he turned to me just before I went one. He's like dude I have no clue what's going on like they are not moving. So I went on and brought it deeper and got an immediate response and he was just so confused. Need to know the crowd.
[Marc] You've worked with a lot of talented producers and have done B2B with a lot of DJ’s. Who's been the most fun and constructive in the studio?
[LBL] I would probably take it back to the Swedish House Mafia. I took like four or five days out to be in Stockholm and to be in the studio with them and although they make music a bit slower than me. Like for me I can I can finish a track in like four hours. It was always a very special experience I must say to be able to produce with those guys and I've learned many of my modern techniques from them. It's always tricky being in the studio like nowadays people collaborate more over the Internet and it's actually a much safer way to be able to finish a track like that then when you're in the studio with someone and you're trying to nail a melody or figure out a sound. You’re working for like anhour and half and then the guy next to you says, I'm not feeling it man. Then you know there's going to be a different vibe in the studio straight from there. So on a personal level is very much a personal experience and a very social experience that allows for crazy learning. But, it can be can be a tricky thing sometimes.
As a writer and someone that has been divulged into this world for the pure respect for the craftsmanship behind the work, it was a huge eye opener to hear these words first hand. Understanding the ability this guy has to do what he does at such a mastered level and hearing him express that passion was truly amazing. Probably the most memorable 30-minutes I have had writing for EDM Sauce. I hope this was able to provide as much insight to you as it did for me. If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to hop in the comments. I’m sure this stirred some sort of emotion. Luke, thank you again for an inspiring and eye-opening conversation. I encourage you to take a look at the Mixmash set provided within the interview to see the gift that this guy has and continue to show your support for one of the best to ever slap a deck, Laidback Luke!