A decade since Christopher Lawrence released anthem after anthem on seminal trance labels like Hook Recordings and Fragrant Music, the genre's popularity has ebbed and flowed with the fickle tastes of a domestic dance market hungry for the next European import. None of that, though, fazes American-born DJ and producer Christopher Lawrence in the slightest.
Still one of the world's most popular turntablists, he's elaborated on his bedrock sound with traces of prog-house and techno, but he still bleeds trance music, and he's about to drop a dime on Orange County this Thursday at Sutra Lounge in Costa Mesa. We caught up with him to talk about his forthcoming artist album (his first solo/studio release since 2004), living halfway around the world, and why Southern California is the new home of the electronic music renaissance.
OC Weekly (Rich Thomas): When and why did you decide to move to Australia?
Christopher Lawrence: About three years ago. My wife is from Australia, and we have a son and daughter who were at the age where they were going to start school. Melbourne is a really great city to raise a family, but since I'm on tour most of the year and gone most weekends, my wife can have the support of her family there and it won't just be her left with the kids every weekend. That was the main reason. When I lived in LA I could just go out for a weekend and come back, but now I have to plan things a bit more differently. I go out on three-week mini-tours, then I come back and take a weekend off at home. You have to plan out the tour ahead of time, but it works out really well, and I like where I live.
How is everything going with your radio show, Rush Hour?
It's been going for two years now, and it's syndicated on the internet at DI.FM. It's also syndicated through about 150 FM stations around the world, as well as available as a podcast. For the first hour I do a mix of all new music, then the second hour I have a special guest DJ that does a mix. The show reflects the music I play when I play out, as well as other music that maybe doesn't fit into my set, but is really good electronic dance music that I think people should hear. It covers a wide variety of styles. It's also a great tool for me to get my music out there, since I can't be in every city every day. It keeps me in touch with my audience.
I remember back in the late 1990s and early '00s, it was the European and British DJs who ruled the market. Now we've got a fresh crop from France and Russia. Do you feel like the American producers are still fighting for prominence?
I think the U.S. scene is one of the healthiest in the world, and that's the irony of it all. A lot of people look to Europe and think that anything coming out of there has got to be great. Europe did have a thriving scene, but for them it's slowed down a bit, whereas in the U.S. it's maintained its presence in a solid way. It never was commercially popular, and that might have helped the scene to continue having integrity. Now you look at every major city in the U.S. and all those scenes are thriving, and a lot of European DJs have moved to the U.S. because there's such a healthy scene. I'm proud of where we are. It's wonderful to have been part of that, and to have grown with it over the years.
What do you think about SoCal's renaissance specifically?
Oh man, it's incredible in Southern California. Of all the places in the world, it's got a scene unto its own that is just huge, especially the raves. It's got a great club scene, but the raves have continued, whereas in a lot of cities around the world, the underground parties have disappeared.
Winter Music Conference is coming up next month. How have you seen that event change with the times?
WMC has changed so much. It used to be smaller, for one, and it used to be that you'd run into every other DJ and producer by the pool and just hang out. You'd see everyone and get to know them and you'd all exchange your records and information. Now it's so big and there are so many things going on that I find myself doing a couple of gigs and interviews each day, maybe a radio mix show, and I rarely have time to hang out and mingle like I used to in the old days. Maybe for younger producers and DJs it still has the same communal feeling, but having been there for the past 15 years, it's just all work and very little play.
You haven't released an artist album since 2004's All Or Nothing. What's up with that?
I've just done singles, but I'm working on an artist album right now. I've already got half of it done. I'd hoped to have it done by the spring, but because I've got two more compilations coming out before then, the artist album has taken a back seat until about fall or winter. I've been working with a few different vocalists, one is Suzie Del Vecchio, who just did a track with Paul Oakenfold. I did a single with Dave Aude called "Lie To Ourselves" that will be on the album. I'm doing a variety of things, but it's still trance. I'm staying with my sound, just doing a wider variety of sounds and a little higher-end production.
Do you feel like the current music-buying climate has made electronic music producers steer away from full albums and focus more on singles, DJ mixes and touring?
Yeah, much more so. In the past, producers could sit at home and produce music, and if they did a track a month, they could live comfortably on that. But today, even though there are more downloads of their track than they would have ever sold on vinyl, a producer can no longer survive that way. They have to DJ or play live. You just can't be an electronic music producer without touring. I keep saying to my family, "I'm going to slow down. I'm just going to produce." But the reality is that my income comes from touring, so I don't see myself slowing down.
It's nice to see that you haven't abandoned trance after all these years, despite the music's ever-changing popularity.
For a couple reasons. One is, trance got a bad name because of bad trance. (Laughs). I never played bad trance. I'm not going to let that taint the name for me. Also, things go in cycles. Maybe electro-house is popular today, but maybe trance will be popular next year. For the people that have been my fans for 15 years, I play the sound I've always played. Yes, the music's changed and progressed, but I'm not going to turn around and make up some new name for what I play. At times it's been techno-influenced, sometimes it's been influenced by progressive house, but I'm still playing the best trance music out there, so I see no point in changing.
Christopher Lawrence performs with Randy Seidman and Jamie Schwabl, Sutra Lounge, Costa Mesa, Thurs., Feb. 11, 2010, 9:30 p.m. $10. 21+
Click for more information.