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Interview with Steve Lawler at Creamfields

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You would be hard pushed to find a more in-form, in-demand and talented artist as Steve Lawler. Regarded as highly by his industry peers as he is by his huge global base of musically educated fans, Steve has been busy with the beats long before genres were but a twinkle in clublandʼs eye. An electronic artist who defies generic boundaries, he began his career organising the infamous motorway raves back in the early 90s underneath the M42 motorway.

Steve held a triumphant residency for nine years at the Balearic club Space in Ibiza, where he earned himself the nickname ‘The King of the Space’.  Now, VIVa Warriors – now known simply as ‘Warriors’ – is most well-known for being the flagship night of Sankeys Ibiza. Held every Sunday of the season, VIVa first moved to the club in 2012, and has since pulled in huge names like Eats Everything, Skream, Derrick Carter, Groove Armada, Tiga, Pete Tong and Hot Since 82.

Right before he took the stage as Special Guest on Pete Tong’s AGPT stage at Creamfields, we sat down with the VIVa Music boss to discuss the UK festival scene, the challenges facing London’s nightlife and what he has in store for Ibiza…

Steve, welcome to Creamfields! Can you recall how many times you played here now?

I was just talking to the girl in the Press Office; the last time I played Creamfields was when Cream the club was still open and run by Darren Hughes. So the last time I played was quite a while ago. I played the first 2 or 3, but I haven’t played since. It’s about ten years, right? I certainly haven’t played in this current location. I’ve played Creamfields everywhere else in the world. Argentina, etc. I’ve just not played in England for some years.

How do you perceive the UK festival scene at the moment? It appears to be an increasingly saturated market. We’re seeing lots of boutique, regional festivals that are competing with the larger, more established festivals like Creamfields. What’s your take?

Well this year I’ve played Lovebox in London, EE festival just outside London, we’ve got Bassline festival in Exeter, I did the Winter Social festival in Kent, Parklife and this of course, and all of them have been absolutely mobbed. So I don’t see it as competition, I see it as what people do in the summer. I think the people that suffer with all your summer festival is your weekly clubs. People save all their money and go out to these festivals. Or go to Ibiza. Or go to Mykonos. Or Croatia. I can only comment on what I’ve seen – and where I’ve played – and they’ve all been sold out. Certainly the arenas where I’ve been playing, whether it be our own arena, or like today for Pete, the arenas are packed. So I think it’s almost become a cultural thing for this generation.

Do you think that perhaps there’s a danger we’re putting our club scene in jeopardy? If festivals are becoming so popular, is that not going to take business away from our permanent late night venues?

No, I don’t think we’re at danger of losing them. I think it’s up to the promoters of these venues to be smart. You know, don’t go booking a big expensive line-up on the same weekend or the weekend before a big festival is in town. If it was me and I owned a club I would shut it down if there was a big festival on my doorstep happening a week later. But then the clubs can benefit from doing afterparties. For example, I know when I did Parklife, every club in Manchester threw an afterparty. And they were all absolutely slammed. And those clubs benefited from the festival being there. And I’ve seen the same in London. I played the after hours party for EE festival. Again, it was slammed. Because the festival finishes at twelve o’clock and people still want somewhere to go.

I honestly think we’re not in danger of saturating it, but I do feel we need to keep our eye on integrity, quality – because that always needs to come first. If you lose integrity then over time it’ll become worthless. The more we do; it feeds off each other. Culturally electronic music has got it locked down! Big time. The number one culture around the world – not just the UK – is electronic music. It’s not R&B. Or Rock. And it hasn’t been for some time. And that has happened because there’s so much that goes on. If it was just a few people, I think it would be a different story. At the moment I feel so long as keep the integrity intact, then we’ll be fine.

As an industry, how long can electronic music sustain its long-term popularity? These things tend to go in cycles, right? Surely it’s just a matter of time before R&B or Rock experiences a resurgence?

Well, I would say that in music things always do go full circle. So Rock will no doubt have its time again, for sure. But the reason why I have faith in electronic music remaining at the forefront forever is because it is driven by technology. And the future is driven by technology. And with that alone I think it’s safe to say we’re going to stay at the top of our game. Sometimes people ask me what advice I can give up-and-coming DJs & producers given that it’s so difficult now to make it. This music ain’t going nowhere. So even if you’re trying really hard and got nowhere, then just carry on because you’ll get there. There’s no rush.

What are your thoughts on the future of London’s club scene given the licensing issues were currently seeing going on at fabric?

It’s a tough one. The way that I see it is that we cannot lose that club. We cannot. And I honestly think that if Sadiq Khan allows fabric to get shut down then there needs to be protests. Everyone needs to get in the street and protest. Because it’s not just shutting down a club, it’s attacking our very right to congregate together around what we love. We’re going back to culture again. It’s not just important to London, but it’s important for a whole generation. If we never had the warehouse parties that we had – if they were all stopped by the police, thank god they weren’t – would the scene be where it is today? No. Look at the amount of money that the government receives in tax from the night time economy. We need to make sure that these clubs, these institutions are protected. I mean, I’ve only played fabric four or fives times. So it’s not like it’s a place which I have a really strong emotional attachment to. But it’s important to the industry. It’s important to our culture. We cannot lose fabric. The fact that 2 people have sadly died there is awful. And I’m telling you now that that is a big enough blow as it is to the people who run fabric. It’s the worst thing that can happen. That will affect them a lot. So to have their club taken away from them as well is unfair. It’s not their fault. Of all the clubs I’ve ever been to, fabric has to be the safest. Electronic gates, sniffer dogs – they are doing everything they can to keep their club clean & safe.

Our concern is when we look to other examples of where this has happened, like The Arches in Glasgow, where the authorities actually used their good practice against them. And you’re right about the cultural importance of fabric. It’s the venue where I cut my teeth as a clubber. It’s moulded my taste in music, my social circle…

… which has helped mould you as a person. Now you’re an electronic music journalist. It isn’t just four walls where disco music gets played. It ain’t that. It’s more than that. And honestly, any football match you go to, people are taking drugs. Drugs are not just associated with nightclubs. And the sooner the government realise that the better. For one, I think that there should be drug testing everywhere. If they want to make things safe, don’t shut down a club, because people will just end up doing drugs around the corner. In the park. If you want to start making things safe, then keep the clubs open, but start putting statuary things in place that actually keep people safe. The conspiracy theorist in me is beginning to wonder if things are more than what they seem. Maybe that building is worth a lot of money to a property investor? You know: it’s London.

London seems to be at a real crossroads at the moment, where we’ve just had our 24hr weekend night tube approved, and yet we’ve lost our two premier venues in the space of a fortnight. Of course, Studio 338 being the London home of VIVa Warriors, which was destroyed by fire just a few weeks ago, and involved a fatality to a member of staff.

As far as Studio 338 goes my heart goes out to them. As soon as I found out we contacted them to find out if everybody was safe. Somebody very, very close to the owner died. Above everything else – above the club, above whatever the club means – it’s an absolute tragedy for those guys. Not long after this happened, they’ve made a statements on social media saying “we care about you clubbers, we’ve had amazing nights together, and we’re gonna try to do something” and I will support them all the way. This shit is important. London really is in a flickering state at the moment. London is the capital of the UK. And the UK is the leading force in electronic music. You can’t take our capital from us. You know, what the fuck? Seriously. You know I’m passionate about the whole fabric & Studio 338 situation. I think it’s terrible. We can’t lose these venues. It’s not about business. It’s not about money. It’s about culture. It’s not just for the current generation, but for the generations to come.

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Congratulations on the continued success of Warriors at Sankeys in Ibiza. What is it? Four or five seasons now?

We’re in our fifth year now.

It’s fair to say it’s the venue’s flagship night. The night of the week where it’s banged-out week-in, week out. For me, Sankeys is the perfect fit for Warriors – for the crowd, the sound, the vibe. Could it be argued that the party has outgrown the venue? Sankeys is a relatively small capacity compared to the other Ibiza clubs.

When I first decided to do the night I did it because I had my Friday & Saturday gigs. Mostly doing festivals on a Saturday, and big club shows Fridays. So to go into Ibiza on a Sunday was something a bit more intimate. So we started year one with just the Basement. And we rammed it, first year. But then already in year two we had to start opening other rooms. By year three we were opening the whole club. Now we’re having to not let people in. It has grown more, so in that sense, we’ve outgrown the venue is the truth of it. We’re doing over 3,000 people. We’re opening up every single nook and corner of that club. And it’s packed. And if we push towards 3,500, it’s dangerous and uncomfortable for people. In the whole summer – I think we’ve had 10 weeks so far – we’ve been packed. I think there’s only been 2 weeks where we’ve not hit capacity. And I don’t want the night to suffer by people saying “I don’t want to go there, it’s too fuckin’ packed!”

As we’ve heard commented on DC10 in the past.

Yeah. And DC10 is not that much bigger. People think Sankeys is smaller because of the way the rooms are split up. But once you’ve got the smoking area, Spektrum, the Lab and the Basement all open, and all the walkways and the mezzanine level, it’s over 3,000 capacity. But, honestly, it’s not about the numbers. I want to keep the night quality. It’s a quality music night. I’m playing a lot of techno at the moment, but with Warriors I tend to take it a bit deeper, a bit trippier. Because I can. I don’t know what the long term plan is for Warriors going forward, but I am eternally grateful for what it has achieved, as it was never planned that way.

…It was an organic process…

Yeah, I never set out and said “I wanna do this big night, and earn lots of money”. I didn’t go into it like that. This is for us: if we only have 400 people show up, fuck it, who cares? We’re doing it for us. All our crew of DJs, our friends, our Ibiza crew after a weekend of gigs all get together and have a party. Even when artists aren’t playing, they end up coming to Warriors. I’ll just be chatting to Daley (Hot Since 82) outside, and he’s not even playing. And we have a lot of industry friends come down. It’s always been our haven, I suppose. But now it’s grown into a big night. It was never planned, but I’m very pleased about how it’s worked out.

And Sunday nights in Ibiza are fiercely competitive nowadays.

Yeah! I mean it’s gotta be one of the hardest days as far as other nights are concerned. Just last week there was Solomun +1 with Richie (Hawtin), not that these are direct competition, but also Steve Aoki at Amnesia and Armin van Buuren, then Space, then us, all on one night. We still did over 3,000 people, so it didn’t affect us. It doesn’t seem to matter who we book, either. It doesn’t matter which guests we get in. Whether they’re big names, or smaller names: it’s the same numbers.

Is it a credit to Dave Vincent, as a visionary, bearing in mind he’s not an Ibizan native, to utilise the worker’s market better than any other club?

I think DC10 did. Let’s face it, that’s how DC10 became what it was. It was a worker’s hangout. An industry hangout. That’s how it started. But that was back when it was run by Charlie Chester – another English promoter. I dunno, maybe you have to be British to understand the importance of a British crowd? For me we’re handsdown one of the best crowds in the world. We know how to enjoy ourselves. Let’s face it: we like to party. And that’s another reason why I think Warriors has been a success story, because we’re about 70% British, 30% mixed. We’re predominantly a British night, so we’re packed. Because the British like to go out and get on it! The atmosphere is amazing. It’s incredible! So I’m glad we’ve got that crowd, because they bring the party with them.

Talking of Ibiza… Carl Cox refers to you as the King of the Terrace, obviously we’ll be saying goodbye to Space as we know it at the end of the season. Are you able to tell us whether we’ll be seeing you play on October 2nd-3rd?

Yes, I will be – and I think you’ve got an exclusive on that. Yeah, of course I will. My brother has been talking to Juan (Arenas, Space Creative Director) Look, it goes without saying, I would have been absolute devastated if I hadn’t been asked. It’s been a very, very important part of my life. My love. My career. My career is my life; my life is about music. And that terrace is what really lifted me into the upper echelons of DJ stardom. I consider it a very important part of my history. Aside from that, I made a lot of good friends and had some of the best gigs of my life there. It would be wrong for me not to be a part of it.

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