LAIDBACK LUKE undoubtedly one of Dance Music heavyweight has a two-decade track record of doing things his own way, keeping versatility at the core of his every move. He’s inspired the masses, rewired a worldwide passion for dance music and set a new precedent for fan interaction along the way. He took a few minutes of his extremely busy tour schedule to answer a few of our questions:
21 years of experience as a DJ and producer, did you ever think EDM would take you this far?
No I didn’t. It was one of my ultimate dreams though! To help the music that I loved, to become the biggest around. It’s now called ‘EDM’ but to me it was always about the mainstream flirting, chunky and fun house. Luckily my roots, and my part in this all, is pushing the Dutch sound, but also pushing the Big Room sound. I’ve always set out for it to become bigger than Hip Hop and bigger than Trance, and look at it now!
What’s the best memories from the early days of your career?
Just getting addicted to making music. Spending hours and hours in the studio training my ears, my production knowledge and figuring out melodies and styles. Learning to properly DJ was a big part of it too. You often hear people say it’s about the journey. It is! All this stuff is second nature to me now. The ease is awesome once you learned it, but the journey and that first excitement is gone.
How do you handle fame and the stress that comes along with being a world-famous DJ?
What people often don’t realize is that you get more hate, the more famous you get. You’ll get more praise, but all of a sudden there’s so many people hating your guts just because you’re doing well. It’s tough. I like being loved by many and my intentions are always honest. To handle a lot of this, is to stay close to your own intention. And be happy with what you’re doing even though people don’t understand it. Being happy and keeping positive are key!
What is a typical day like for you? How do you manage your life?
Every day is different! There’s no real routines into touring life as the schedules and situations will always vary. What keeps me going is my own routines I built in. For instance, in a car, when I’m being driven on show days, I’ll always sit in the right back seat. That’s my seat. I’ll always eat at the airports, not in the plane. Usually when I get to the new hotel, I’ll train. It’s small things like that, little routines, that keep me steady in tour life.
Has having children impacted your career?
No, not really. It has enriched my life, that’s for sure. But I’m very much a career driven type of person. In that sense the two combine when I think I have to keep this going to secure my kids of a good life when this, or myself falls away.
As a fan of superheroes, what superhero would you say you relate most to?
I relate to both Spiderman and Wolverine. They are both my favorite superheroes! I can’t seem to pick between both of them. I love Spiderman’s nerdy-ness and lean strength. But I love Wolverine’s temper and brutalness too. I feel the off-stage Luke is like Spiderman, while the onstage Luke, the not-so-laidback-Luke, is like Wolverine.
How do you make sure that you don’t overwork yourself?
It’s feeling the boundaries of your body and mind that’s important. Don’t go over! Even though you think you can, or you can push yourself a little bit harder, you shouldn’t. The result is a burn-out. I’ve had a couple in my career. And actually, I’m that type of guy that said: ‘Burn-outs are for pussies’. Well I was wrong! So now, whenever I feel I’m almost at the boundary, I’ll either nap or meditate. It’s good to step back for a moment to regroup yourself and charge up for what’s to come. Life is about balance, if you tip over there’s always something bound to happen.
What’s been your biggest achievement professionally and personally to date?
Professionally I feel it’s still my official remix of Daft Punk. I’m still a fan and having them approve and love my remix and then being part of their Interstellar project was a dream come true! I’m also proud to say I have mentored kids like Afrojack and Avicii and it’s incredible to see them become this big! Personally, my number one is the birth of my 3 kids. They are my pearls of life. Winning 4 Gold Medals at the World Championships in Kung Fu is another achievement I would’ve never dared to dream of.
What are you currently focusing and working on?
Over a month ago I finished 30 tracks in 30 days. It was a kind of challenge I set myself up with and I managed to round it up, while touring, while DJing and etc. So there’s all these tracks that are set to come out soon and I should be having news about that just after summer!
How would you describe the evolution of your style?
Very organic, and according to the times we move in. I’m happy to say that it has evolved and that it’s keeping evolving! I do set out to do that as I don’t want to get stuck, or pigeonheld in one style of box. This is what made me break from Techno in the late 90s. Being stuck or not giving yourself the freedom to evolve can by mindnumbing for your creativity.
What is the weirdest thing that you’ve seen from the DJ booth?
There’s so many things I’ve seen over the years! People passing out in the middle of the dancefloor. Fireworks hitting the crowd. Getting flashed by girls. Not one particular thing that really stands out but there’s always stuff going on ha ha.
How important is building a real relationship with the music you’re playing for your own approach? There’s so much music out there, is it even possible to build meaningful long-term relationships with a particular track or album?
Yeah that’s very hard to me. Especially nowadays. There’s just so much music out, and everything moves so fast! I’ll still try and keep it genuine and in my head I’ll mark my track of the summer still. In the end you should always go back to the very basics of things and just ask yourself: ‘What WAS the track that marked my summer? What was the track I have the strongest and most special memories of from last year, or last spring?’. It’s simple questions like that that will reveal the real tracks out there that will keep being with you for times to come.
When there’s more music than one can possibly take in, it is becoming increasingly hard to know what constitutes an original and a remake anymore. What’s your opinion on the importance of roots, traditions, respecting originals and sources?
Good point! I’ve seen a bunch of producers putting tracks out recently that don’t even credit the original artists anymore. Which seems crazy to me! It’s been done before though. The Fugees – Killing Me Softly for instance is one of those titles a lot of us got fooled by lol. No hate, I still love the track, but I do think it’s a little blunt to take all the credit yourself. I’m very much a person of respect. So when Steve Angello and I took on to put Show Me Love on our names, we asked the real Robin S to come and resing the vocals for us. I’ll also try to credit Stonebridge whenever I can as he made the instrumental to the original Show Me Love.
Thanks to developments in the realm of software and DJing, playing live and producing have moved closer together than ever before, allowing DJ’s to change the tiniest detail of a track. How do you make use of these possibilities in your sets and is there a benefit?
Well I’m actually shocked there’s so little DJs making use of this! We are living in an era right now where EDM DJs turned so lazy on stage! Even the bigger names playing on an Ableton setup, or even Traktor, they could be so much more creative than what’s happening right now. I’m shocked and a bit dissapointed that there’s no real interest from the artists or crowd to vary more and freak more on stage. I’ll always try and utilize all the tools I have on my Pioneer decks to create something on stage I could’ve never thought of prior to the show. That’s where it gets interesting! And that’s where the real magic happens! Sometimes people ask me if they can have that mashup I was playing the other day, or which bootleg I was playing from that rap song I dropped. Most of the time I’ll just be mixing live and I’ll have to disappoint them that the mashup doesn’t actually exists! But I’ll comfort them by saying it was a unique experience and that they were there for it!
The relationship with the audience is crucial for a DJ, and yet it seems to be a fragile one. How do you see the balance between giving the crowd what they want and treating them to something new?
Well it’s exactly that, it’s a balance. It’s a game of trust. ‘Hey, I’m going in this or that direction now, but wait for it, we’ll be back to what you know from me very shortly!’. This could be the ongoing dialogue in this. Most of the crowd isn’t that interested in hearing something new. Some of them are. And me as an artist and for my creative subconsciousness, it’s great to play something new. In the end though, you want the crowd to walk away from a night and thinking: ‘Woah, this was an amazing experience!’. Where they heard their favorite tracks, their favorite tracks they know from me, but also some new stuff they can go out and look for. Things that are new that made an impact.
What makes a strong transition from one track to the next from your point of view and how do you see the relative importance of establishing a flow versus creating tension through suspenseful breaks in continuity?
It can be both! Sometimes you have to mix energeticly and the mixes will be very short. Sometimes you want to flow and keep the people dancing. Or tricking them into a different type of energy and then flipping it. The possibilities are endless and it really depends on the night, the vibe, the crowd but can even go as far as how the booth feels to me, if it’s hot, if there’s more boys than girls in the crowd and so on. I guess my answer would be that the strongest transition would be the one that’s most accordingly to the very moment itself (think about that one for a moment).
A strong set can be truly be more than the sum of its parts. How, do you feel, is the music transformed in the hands of a DJ? In which way are you actively trying to create an experience that is more than just stringing together a few excellent records?
Indeed, you have to look at the bigger picture. Where did you take the crowd into when you review the whole set? Were you able to catch them? Were you able to make all of them dance, not just a few sections of the floor? Were you able to keep the energy? Did you play the right tracks?! See if I would be part of the crowd and a DJ would drop I’m in love with the Coco I would get so angry! I hate that track! Such garbage I’m sorry. But that’s just me. But keep in mind, there might be other songs out there that other people hate. And you’d get that reaction back as a DJ. So picking songs to play on the spot can be very tricky. Playing a rage EDM set in a small club for people that are 25+ would not be a good idea for instance. They like it deeper and maybe more techy. It’s all this that adds up to the actual experience and will determine if you nailed it or not.
DJs that just press play on their laptop may have given technology a bad name, but without technology, there’d be no DJing in the first place. What’s your perspective on the relationship and the balance between technological advances, music and the art of DJing? How have particular technologies changed your style of DJing?
Don’t forget, playing vinyl was mostly pressing play too. There’s just so little you could do as a non-turntablist DJ playing vinyl. The bad name comes from playing a lot of pre-mashed mashups and edits. Which is a great effort from a producer point of view. But a little bit of fake DJing from a DJ point of view. Technology has definitely changed my style of DJing! For instance, in the vinyl days you could only bring a maximum of 100 vinyls with you. Aka about 125 tracks to play out. My USB nowadays holds 3500 tracks that I bring to shows. No more needle skipping! Cue buttons! FX on the mixers. The list goes on and on.
People are often speaking about the demise of the club scene, but the experience has remained as potent as ever. Why, do you feel, has the club remained such a great place for the discovery and appreciation of electronic music? How do you see the relationship between music and the space it is performed at?
It’s super simple: People still love going out. And the older generation just fades away. They’ll get married, have kids and stay inside. Every two years there’s this new generation of teenagers that are finally able to go out, and they will! Everything is new to them and they’re finally able to experience what they’ve been longing for for years. That’s a great system to keep the club scene going ha ha.
In how much, do you feel, is the club experience shaped by cultural differences? Do you, when travelling, take these cultural differences into consideration – and in how far has your approach as a Producer perhaps even benefited from playing in different countries and in front of different crowds?
The club experience can be very different from country to country. For instance, in China, they have no clubbing history. In clubs in China, you sit at tables and have drinks with your friends. Dancing is what they do in parks. So right now, although they’re slowly getting there, it’s hard to implement a dance floor and have Chinese people dancing to EDM in a club. In Middle Eastern countries they like the VIP treatment. So they’ll dance at their tables which can also be scattered across the dancefloor. Keeping cultural differences in mind is very important! For instance, I know I shouldn’t be playing trap in places like Mexico or South America. Or Dubstep in the UK for that matter. I don’t play tribal music in Brasil because Samba is so implemented there, it’s like their folk and old folk’s music!
Can you give us a bit of the things you find difficult about the DJ life, and what you find most rewarding?
The most difficult is pretty much giving up your social life. Or the ability to see your family a lot. It’s hard not to be home! I actually love being home. Sleeping for only 4 hours a day on tour is tough too. I tour all year around, so my sleeping schedule, including the various jetlags, is screwed. The most rewarding is the appreciation we get. It’s pretty insane so many people love what we do! It’s also nice to be able to make a difference and bring hope and positivity to so many people out there at once.
When all the partying is over how do you like to chill out?
I rarely do! I love doing my Kung Fu and Yoga inversions on the side but when I REALLY chill I’ll just grab my ipad and watch a movie.
Please recommend two Producer to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
Try and look up what Shelco Garcia & Teenwolf are doing right now, as well as KANDY. I’m feeling they have a great year in front of them!