British tribal house and techno DJ Steve Lawler is best known for his themed DJ compilation series, from “Dark Drums” and “Lights Out” in the early 2000s to his latest, “VIVa,” which has recently evolved into “VIVa Warriors.” But whatever he chooses to call it, the beats are filthy and the vibe deep and sexy.
Festivals such as Winter Music Conference have always fit Lawler’s musical mission of complete commitment and total surrender to the sound – he’s notorious for immersing himself fully in the scene. This year might not be so wild for Lawler, as he’s cut back his parties to his one gig on Wednesday, March 26 at the National Hotel pool party, but that’s good news for those who catch it, as Lawler is sure to leave the place in ruins with his intense sound.
Are you ready for Miami Music Week, and what do you think of the name change from Winter Music Conference?
It seems Americans like to change names – dance music to EDM, and now the conference. The name doesn’t really matter to me – it never has. I’ve never been an artist who has frequented the actual conferences that go on in the daytime. I’ve always seen Miami as a music week, so perhaps the American attitude has got it right – it is Miami Music Week. For me, I’m a musician, I’m a DJ, and my life is about music. I go there, and it’s more about showcasing music and talent. So I think the name is quite fitting.
Your VIVa Warriors party is at the National Hotel this year. What can we expect?
We’ve literally just decided today to cancel all my other gigs in Miami, so my VIVa Warriors show at the National is going to be an exclusive one this year at MMW. Years ago, there was a time at WMC where every DJ would play their one and only party. For me it was my Lights Out parties, [Danny] Tenaglia would have his Space show, and Louie Vega would have his etc., and that’s how it was. I remember breaking out quite early on and being one of, if not the first, to go to Miami and play five or six parties in just four days. I loved it – it was amazing, and really good for me to get myself around that much at WMC. But now, it’s become exactly that. So many parties are the same, with the same lineups, with DJs playing four or five times, so I’m going against the grain. I’m doing one party, and as a result I’ll be doing three or four hours for sure. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be flying in the day before, chilling out, doing my party the following day, then leaving a couple of days after, so it’s a big one-off event for me.
What’s the musical concept behind your VIVa series?
VIVa Music has never been a trendy label. The reason why is because it doesn’t follow trends or anything specific. I literally put music out on the label that I like and that I play. First and foremost, VIVa Music is a dance-floor label. A lot of labels will release music that is more obscure, or more abstract, because that’s what the owner of the label likes and what they want to put out. I’ve always kept VIVa Music to stuff that’s aimed at the floor. Aimed at the basements and the warehouses of this world. House and techno is my real passion, so that’s what my label focuses on. I have other labels for other styles of music; for example, I put my more electronica and experimental music on Evive Recordings, one of our sister labels. So for me, VIVa Music has really been about my musical taste and what I like to hear and play in a club.
How is the vibe in Miami compared with Ibiza?
It has to be said: I don’t really think anything compares to Ibiza. I don’t think anything compares to five months on that very small, hedonistic island. Miami itself has changed dramatically over the years, as has the whole scene. The way you release music has changed, the way you make music has changed and the party scene itself has changed. And one of the things that I see with Miami at this time of year is, now it’s like taking a handful of festivals and condensing them all into a short space of time. It’s great for people to go there, because you really will get to see pretty much any DJ that you like in abundance. They get it all in one place at one time, and I think that’s the positive thing about these music conferences.
You’re known for tapping into a darker side of house and techno – what would you like the crowd to get out of your set?
I don’t have a set track list that I will go out and follow. I’ve seen a lot of DJs literally write down their track list, and I can’t do it that way – I need to feel the vibe in the room. If I turn up to a gig and it’s outside and it’s sunny, I’m probably not going to play too dark; it’s not going to be fitting in my mind, and that’s not how I feel. If I turn up in a dark low-lit basement, then I’ll definitely take it deeper and darker. In all honesty, it’s very difficult for me to describe my own music, because other people might hear my music differently to what I do. For me, I just play house and techno, and how I feel on that day.
Are you as wild as you used to be?
I have my moments! But I have to pick and choose my moments more now than before, not three days a week. Being a father does that to you.
How many WMCs have you attended, and is it still as much fun for you as the first time?
I’ve been going since ’96 or ’97? And everything’s different to how it was then. The whole music scene is different, the way music is made is different, everything’s different. To be honest with you I find it hard to curb my enthusiasm; I’m more excited now about music and gigs than I ever was. You’d think that after 20, 25 years of doing this it would diminish slightly, but my hunger in fact still grows. It seems this just runs through my veins like blood.
You’ve done Dark Drums, Lights Out and now VIVa – is there a 4th phase coming?
There will be. … I always keep myself hungry by starting new projects. I had a seven-year residency at The End in London called Harlem Nights, and a record label called Harlem Records. I’ve constantly started projects – Dark Drums, Lights Out, VIVa Music and the latest one being VIVa Warriors, and it does keep me hungry. It’s always a new challenge. It’s something you have to get into and get involved in creatively, which I find really exciting and really enjoy. You get a team together and work on it, and there can be stressful moments in building something, but I feel the reward is always there when you achieve it. So yeah, there definitely will be something else soon; how soon I don’t know. I know the next big project for me is my documentary which will be coming out this year, and I think this will definitely shock some people. But what I’ll do around that to support it I’ve no idea.
Is Miami still the best place for the conference?
The best people to ask this would be the people who pay to go. One of the things that I feel that isn’t right about it is the pricing. Miami becomes very busy at this time of year because we all go there because of the music week, so everything from flights to hotels to restaurants and everything in between gets more expensive for that period. I just feel as though it’s kind of pricing people out who love music but can’t afford to go, and that doesn’t feel right somehow. But Miami is a great city for the conference, because of the amount of venues it has, and its location. I just think it’s getting a little bit expensive for people. And the police could do with calming down a little bit on shutting down parties and things. I’ve had some of my parties shut down by police in Miami, and it’s a real nightmare when it happens. I think it’s the paying public who should answer this question. They should tell us where to go.
Describe a perfect day in the life of Steve Lawler.
It would have to be around three things. Whatever it is, it would have to be around my daughter, my wife and music; then I think it would be perfect enough.