Make no mistake - 2009 is the year that Steve Lawler got his groove back. The Birmingham-born veteran DJ may have been a constant and influential presence on the dance scene since he first broke through in the late '90s - coining a kinetic new type of percussive house as a resident at Cream, before bringing his own, hugely successful Viva Nights parties to London's The End - but in recent years it seemed that his popularity had waned slightly, as the minimal techno crew moved in to dominate our beloved scene.
But how things have changed. The kind of tribal rhythms and nocturnal acid house beats Lawler has always favoured are back in vogue, the stars have re-aligned, and his trademark, impossibly deep dark drums, and gift for building unstoppable grooves with more locomotive power than the nearest 10-ton juggernaut are in greater demand than ever. He's feeling the love from all corners of the dance music spectrum, smashing clubs and festivals from the US to Mexico to Romania, not to mention Space, Ibiza, busting out a patented new Lawler concoction which draws from his musical past but has one eye on the future.
"You go through different stages in your life and in your career," Lawler concedes. "Back in the late '90s and early 2000s I was huge, but you can get a little complacent, get wrapped up in it a little too much, and all of a sudden, you get older and you want to get a little more focused and take a little more time over things.
"My DJing in the last 12 months has been the best in my whole career, and I think that's because I've got all the previous history to learn from. I've been through all the different stylistic shifts, and I don't care any more what people think, I just do my thing and I'm very happy."
Always a keen advocate of the growing East European, and in particular, Romanian dance music scene, Lawler doesn't miss a beat when asked about his most memorable gig of 2009.
"One of my favourites was the Sunwaves Festival in Romania, where we had a Viva Music arena," Lawler gushes. "The crowd was amazing as they always are in Romania and it was almost reminiscent of Ibiza back in 1990. The festival finished at three in the afternoon, and that never happens in Ibiza now, on that scale. It was on the beach, the sun was shining, everyone was partying and it was great."
This year, Lawler has refined his rhythms, playing a blend of his own productions, tracks from his label Viva Music, and other edited cuts from across the divides between house and techno. Though his DJ set up has remained the same throughout the last 12 months, he's about to undergo his biggest technological upgrade for years.
"I've been using Serato for a few years, but my set up is about to change massively. I'm going to Berlin in December to meet up with the Traktor guys who are going to get me all set up. With the technology that I'll be using, everything that I play will be an edit. I'll be able to edit stuff on the fly, loop stuff, kind of what I do now, but with way more detail, and I'll be starting that next year."
It would be no exaggeration to say that Lawler's productions have become some of the most sought after records of 2009, with cuts on Systematic ('Distrait') and Rekids (that epochal mix of Radio Slave's 'Koma Koma') in particular taking him to a new techno audience and blurring the boundaries between genres in a way which surprised many. On a roll, he's putting the finishing touches to a new single, 'Gimme Some More' which unites him with one of the great house vocalists, Roland Clark, and has a multitude of other remix projects in the works for Cocoon and Slam's Paragraph label.
Meanwhile, his own imprint Viva Music is shortly to expand, hydra-like, with several new sub labels, each focusing on a different aspect of electronic music.
"Viva has been very successful, so we're investing and starting up these other new labels. One of them is Viva Music Limited, which will be just vinyl-only tracks, each limited to 500 copies - we're gonna put them in nice shrink-wrapped sleeves, make 'em look quite tasty!" Lawler reveals.
He's back on top, and loving it…
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