With 21 years of experience as a DJ and producer, Laidback Luke both pre-dates and is fully informed by the global explosion of EDM. However, in an era wherein it feels as though many DJs and producers are comfortable in getting swept up in the mainstream fervor, in arguably being the man who caused all of this to happen, Laidback Luke is already past it, and staring directly into the future of dance music. From having a huge hand in developing Afrojack, Hardwell, and Avicii to opening the world up to North American names like Diplo and A-Trak, as well as producing tracks with David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia, he's one of the single-most important names in modern dance music.
Sitting down prior to his Saturday evening set at Electric Zoo, the interview produces a sense of zen-like balance and calm to match said description. Given that Luke is so busy (and so accomplished), his sense of peace makes sense. In what is not so much an interview but a peek into how to be a success at life, the Filipino-Dutch legend opens up on dance in America, his inspirations, and how much he truly cares both for and about the preservation of the past, celebration of the present, and development of the future of dance music.
"We're Forever" is your latest single with Marc Benjamin. How did the process transpire insofar as collaborating on the development of that track?
So, Marc Benjamin sends me this sketch of the track and I heard the potential in it. I looked at the main lead and main vocal and tweaked it so that it would sound bigger. It's been working really well for me, and I can tell you that it's the best track I've ever done!
Yeah, up until this year I was undecided, as I loved "Natural Disaster" and "Leave The World Behind," but "We're Forever" tops that for me. It's not because it's the best production ever, but because it has the whole package of emotion that I'm always looking for.
You're wearing a t-shirt promoting "Bae," your latest single with your wife, Gina Turner. I just wanted to ask how are things with the wife, and your new child?
Thanks for asking! Tonight, [Gina and I] are doing an official party at Output, and my wife and I are playing back-to-back. It's going to be super deep and super tech. I'm very excited to do that.
Is this going to be more of the Nouveau Yorican stuff?
No, actually we're going to go a bit more deeper than that. It's going to be so deep that I don't even think I'm going to play "Bae!" [laughs] My Electric Zoo set will be way more EDM, and Output will be deeper. I like dipping in and out of the underground like that.
So, I wanted to ask you about the underground. You've done everything from taking guys like Dave Nada on tour to Australia (in 2007), to having names like Milo & Otis in your current "Top 10" favored tracks to play out. How do you "discover" a rising artist? What are you listening for, what are you looking for? What is your process like?
It's very simple. I still check demos on my forum at LaidbackLuke.com. The demos that stand out make a good shot, but also, it's the names that return that I'll give constructive feedback to. People come back, they learn, and come back with new tracks. Back in the day, I guided guys like Afrojack and Avicii to a professional level of producing. Right now I have about 45 kids under me in development. It's something I'm very much into.
I was just talking to my manager about the first Super You & Me party at Miami WMC had Hardwell, Avicii, A-Trak, and Diplo. It was huge! It was like a festival lineup, but back then we were all a lot smaller. It was Avicii's first show ever, DJing for three people, and Hardwell was second on the night, which is crazy! It's very interesting to see everyone's development. I'm happy that I'm still around to see everything.
How is the Super You & Me party going for you these days? It feels as if it's certainly expanded and has greater renown than ever before.
We've been very busy with Super You & Me. We had a big festival season doing TomorrowLand two weekends, hosting my own area. Super You & Me is all about fun. At the base of it is crazy, silly fun with your friends. There's that epic feeling that you can take on the whole world. Not only should the DJs feel invincible, but the crowd as well. It's a fun and powerful feeling that I want to bring across.
In the video for the single "Leave The World Behind," you say "house music is back in the United States," and that was in 2009. It's five years later. Thoughts about where America is at with house music?
I was there since the beginning. I was producing with David Guetta when people like will.I.am and Dr. Dre started hitting him up as [Guetta] was the one using the Dutch sound and breaking through with it. I was the one who introduced David Guetta to Afrojack and they made "Titanium." I was right on the forefront of that, and got so excited to see that dance music was crossing over to the mainstream in the US. I've been waiting for that, and now it's here, and now it's ripe! So what's the next step? I think the next step is getting back to "real" house now. We're done with "EDM," and everything's going to be funkier. People will be open to more acid stuff. It's going to be like Europe, but it's fresh.
Thoughts about playing live in America, then? There are so many people who are new to all of this, so given your level of awareness, knowledge and expertise, what are you trying to bring to the table for Americans?
I'm an old school DJ. I still scratch and improvise a lot, as my set is one big improvisation. For people to see that for the first time, they're blown away. It's very cool. I got inspired by big American DJs like Bad Boy Bill and Jeff Mills back in the day. America used to be huge on the turntablist type of DJs, and I am just a reflection of that era, and I'm happy I'm still around to share that with people.