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Photo by Jimmy Mould

Damian Lazarus: Rebel Raver

The eclectic DJ, producer, label boss and A&R man serves up Fabric 54 and a new Crosstown Rebels compilation in respective months

This year has been an annus mirabilis for LA-based Brit, Damian Lazarus. As well as introducing the world to hot new acts like Art Department, via his Crosstown Rebels imprint, he has toured the world under the Rebel Rave banner (alongside pin-ups like Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones and less spotter artists Deniz Kurtel and Glimpse) and has also found time to mix one of the most coherent fabric CDs in recent memory. Showcasing an expected eclecticism, fabric 54 is rich with deep, dance floor magic from the outer realms of the house sphere, and comes but a month before the celebratory, triple CD package that will be Crosstown Rebels presents Rebel Rave (released November). It’s a label compilation that pulls in everything from early dubstep to super en vogue house and, alongside his fabric mix, marks out Damian Lazarus as an underground elite.

Dazed Digital: Can you trace /tell us about any big shifts in your tastes/listening habits between Suck My Deck, Sci Fi Lo Fi and this Fabric CD?
Damian Lazarus: There has been five years between Suck My Deck and the Fabric mix; I guess I would say that five years ago I may have worked with a little bit more aggressive music than I do now. Not that it was ever majorly banging or full on but my current taste for the dance floor is certainly more soulful and from the heart. A lot has happened in my personal life during this time so maybe my sound reflects my daily and personal life, who really knows? All I know is that when I approach a project as important as a mix CD/compilation, I start with a blank canvas and try and paint something real, honest, creative and different.

DD: There’s a brush with UK funky on the fabric mix (Roska tune) … is that bass scene, along with dubstep, something you follow?
Damian Lazarus: I try and keep up with as much music as possible, it is impossible to be completely up to the moment and ahead of all the curves of all the scenes but I like to try and stay on top of as much as I can. My taste has always been open, eclectic but I am most appreciative of anything / anyone trying to push the envelope musically. However there are some people into certain styles of electronic music who can be reluctant to open up to other areas so it’s always a risk to take people too far on the dance floor. I like to take risks but I’m taking more risks right now on my Lazpod podcast.

DD: And how many tunes did you set aside for the fabric mix and how did you narrow them down? Was the flow of the mix (the overall ‘journey’) or the records themselves most important when programming it?
Damian Lazarus: For the Fabric set, as with every other project I put myself into, there is a great deal of planning. I take notes, I record demos for myself to check and listen over, I shuffle music around, I scrap initial ideas and create new ones; all this working up to a deadline that has been set for me to deliver by. During this time and process I have as much music on my initial playlists licensed so as to save time later. On this occasion, for the recording of the Fabric mix, which I recorded in May 2010, I asked for around 30 tracks to get cleared, of which I ended up using 21 so actually not that much changed from my initial thought process. Figuring out the order is very hard because you want the album to have longevity, to be listened to and enjoyed forever and let’s be honest, you want it to be heralded as a ‘classic’, and if you don’t, you should. Anyway, the order is tough, especially for me as I want to take risks and try and create the unexpected, in a way that doesn’t make me look like someone trying too hard to be cool. I genuinely want to make something special that will be fresh for people to enjoy, this is the reason why this particular album maybe feels a bit like it’s a DJ set in 3 parts, because I decided to make it that way.

Can you explain the role Matthew Styles played in the mix and in your life in general?!
Damian Lazarus: First and foremost Matthew Styles is one of my very dearest friends, I love him immensely and I am very fortunate to be so close with someone so hard working, bright and talented. When it comes to the studio Matthew is a wizard and more than that he is a fast wizard, What he can do in 30 seconds, would take most of us mere mortals 3 days to perfect. So this is how it works. I book studio time in with Matthew (usually 2-3 days) and I come to the studio with my tracklist, and a list of notes of exactly how and when the tracks get mixed together. And then we mix the album together; we are both hands on, under my instruction but I will leave the super tricky things for him to do for me. I know my way around Logic, he prefers to mix in Ableton so that divides us but essentially the reason I work with Matthew is because I trust him; and when he turns to me, as he did on this project, and says “this is the best one you’ve done mate”, I believe him and likewise if he feels something isn’t right, I tend to believe him then too. One day Matthew will deliver me the most amazing album of his very own and I’d like to help show the world exactly what he’s made of, but for now, he’s still my loveable ‘old goat’.

DD: Regarding your label, you used to be an A&R and it seems that talent is something that’s stayed with you, particularly this year having Art Department amongst others – did you actually find them or did they come to you? Is the role of an old school A&R – going out to look for new talent – still relevant do you think? Would proper A&R mean we were listening to better music?
Damian Lazarus: The thing with our music is that it’s not that easy to ‘go out’ and look for it; this would entail basically going out to hear the world’s top 5 DJs every night of the week in the hope that one of them would play something exclusive that only they have, and then you’d have to get the information from them about who it is by and then try and find the people after that. Not as easy as popping out to the local pub and discovering the next Radiohead. I still like the old school A&R ways; meeting people before agreeing to sign them, properly checking music before making decisions, etc. I do go and see as many bands, producers, DJs as possible. It feels great to discover or have a hand in helping a new career develop. With Art Department, the two guys, Kenny and Jonny, have been friends of mine for some years, they have both been giving me demos separately and a while ago I suggested to them to go into the studio together and see what happens. I gave them a Riz MC remix to work on together as an experiment and the birth of Art Department followed.

DD: More so now than ever you seem to be cultivating a family group with the label/Rebel Rave concept. Has that been conscious? Are personal relationships with the artists you release important?
Damian Lazarus: I am super excited with the family we are building. There is a great deal of passion and friendship between us all right now; basically the Rebel crew is a collective of misfits, weirdoes and sensitive souls who think too much about music. There is a strong bond of trust between people and we are respectful and honest with one another. This leads to the creation of some amazing music and some very, very good days partying together. In our crazy world, there are often issues that get in the way of progression, and I think we as a group of people (staff and artists) try our hardest to work through stuff together and try to resolve any differences. I try and deliver a balanced sense of creative ideas and business awareness to the crew and I think we all strive together to achieve the same goals. I feel quite blessed sometimes to have many of these people around me, I really do.

DD: The compilation is a selection of finest CR moments from the past, and those still to come… I wonder how you define ‘finest moments’?
Damian Lazarus: I’m not sure how to answer that really, I guess a moment that made us feel good? That would be a fine moment and I guess the tracks on the compilation have made us feel good and hopefully will make new people to the sound feel good too.

DD: What influence does LA have on the music you listen to/get turned on by? Do you think you would be somewhere else musically if you were living in London or Berlin and what made you move to LA in the first place?
Damian Lazarus: I moved to LA to escape from London life for a while. I work really hard both running the label and DJing every week and I discovered that the last thing I wanted was to spend my free time, of which there is little, either getting wasted on a Tuesday night or being pissed off about the weather, the cost and time spent going from one side of London to the other, traffic wardens, people generally being moody, gloomy grey skies, etc. So, regardless of how much I love London, and my family and friends, I just thought I could do with eating better, spending more time with nature and relaxing more. All of which I do when I’m home in LA. I still party of course, but I’m taking better care of myself and maybe my music is reflected in this. I recently even gave up smoking which is quite an achievement for me!

DD: Finally, am I right in thinking you have cats?
Damian Lazarus: I have two cats in London (Indigo and Miffy) and I have four cats in LA (Mooncat, Pixie, Dillon and Bear), I love them all. I have always been a cat person, they are just so intuitive, I love their playfulness and cuteness, I like their often confusing personalities and enjoy trying to figure them all out, they can be a real mystery sometimes. My girlfriend takes care of them when I am away and we have friends that stay at the house when we are away together. As sad as it may sound, I always get super excited about seeing them all when I’ve been away for a while.