Behind The Beat Interview | Laidback Luke On Avoiding Burn Out, Humility and Mentorship
The One and Only
Who’s an electronic dance music pioneer, producer, dj, mentor, innovator, owner of a record label and kung fu master all rolled into one? None other than the incomparable Lucas Cornelis van Scheppingen aka Laidback Luke. Hailing from the Netherlands, Laidback Luke has always had an inherent love of music. He began producing and djing in the 1990s and although his path to success wasn’t easy, he has without a doubt manifested an unforgettable legacy on this earth. Laidback Luke has released a tremendous amount of original productions (Blow, Night Like This, Mortal Comeback, Speak Up, We Are The Stars, Turbulence, Timebomb, Show Me Love, etc.) remixes (Natural Disaster, Dirty Talk, Indestructible, Heartbreaker, etc.) and bootlegs, as well as owning and running his own label Mixmash Records. His technical skills at the decks are simply unparalleled in addition to his commitment to the mentorship of others. In my opinion, besides being wickedly talented Laidback Luke’s most striking and profound quality is the sincere humility pervasive in all his actions.
You’d think such a humble guy would be serious on stage too right? Absolutely not. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing Laidback Luke live you know that he possesses the innate ability to play perfectly to the demographic before him and with infectious magnetism and silliness. In an age of prerecorded sets, Laidback Luke impressively never plans his sets and therefore every set from him is unique.
When They Popped The Question…
I was asked if I wanted to interview Laidback Luke only two days before he rode into Seattle on his Musically Driven bus tour. I immediately and enthusiastically said yes as I’ve been a fan of Luke’s for many years. Despite the little time I had to prepare for the interview I already had practically a thousand questions I wanted to ask him.
Before I stepped on to the bus to meet him, it really hit me what an incredible opportunity lay before me. The opportunity to talk to one of dance music’s legends. I did not take this opportunity lightly – I knew it was my duty to ask thought provoking questions that would elicit valuable pieces of advice for aspiring artists and life lessons for humankind in general. So without further ado I present to you the genius, charm and wisdom of Laidback Luke.
*The stunning pictures featured throughout this interview were taken by A.J. Apuya in Seattle, Washington at the Showbox Market.
OTB: So I just watched you on DJ Sounds, incredible! How was that experience?
LL: To me it’s just an hour of fun, displaying what I can do on the decks. It’s funny I’ve been reading every single comment on there and I hate the youtube haters but I do feel I need to explain why I do some of the things in there. For instance why I work the effects so much — it’s a Pioneer DJ Sounds video so I actually need to display all the things that a Pioneer mixer is capable of. I mix as many tracks as I can because mixing less tracks is easier and I can make very smooth mixes with very seamless transitions, that’s easy to me – so you know I’m challenging myself. It’s basically I go in, don’t know what to play and and do it in an hour.
OTB: That’s amazing. So that brings me to the number one question I wanted to ask you. I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time – first time I got to see you was Ultra Music Festival in 2011 and you had my favorite set of the whole festival. It resonated so deeply with me. Then I saw you again at USC Event’s Freaknight (halloween festival) last year on your Super You and Me stage and basically what I’ve always loved about you, other than your music, is the fact that I feel like every set I hear from you is A) different and B) you have this incredible ability to really play to your demographic and I know that you don’t plan your sets – so I’m curious for more of an insider’s look into this…when you’re about to play a set can you walk me through that journey – do you think about how many times you’ve played in that city before and what it was like or do you walk up to the decks and read the energy and go – can you walk me through that process?
LL: Well it’s funny because I’m usually clueless right before I go on. I usually will only know the track I’m going to start with when I hear the last track of the previous dj and then I’ll go by the vibe and energy of what’s going on in the room. I can tell you a little secret though, I know in each and every country in the world what tracks are big and what will work. Just to give you a simple example DJ DOD was with me on the tour as a new talent and has played for a British or UK crowd for a while now, well he doesn’t know Krewella, and I was playing Krewella over here and he was like, “Wow! Everyone is singing along, what is going on?” – so the other way around if I was to play a Krewella track in the UK I know that it wouldn’t go down well. So over there I would play Ellie Goulding or something like that, so each and every country has their own stuff that they know and what they like.
Laidback Luke’s Golden Rule
I have one golden rule in catering to the crowd, I would never play a track I don’t like so everything I play I honestly do really like.
OTB: I love that, that’s very neat. So going back to the DJ Sounds I also have been reading the comments and there’s a song in there that you play towards the end about 51 minutes in something like “where this love collides” is some of the lyrics so I’m curious is that one of your new tracks?
LL: I can’t tell you anything yet…
OTB: (laughs) Omg no! Well it’s stirring up a frenzy so that’s something people are going wild about, by the way my dad is a huge fan of yours!
LL: Your dad?! Wow that’s incredible!
OTB: My dad, brother and I have been listening to dance music for 12 years…
LL: That’s amazing!
OTB: So I’m a mega fan, huge fan! Even my dad loves you..
LL: See these are the messages why I make music, like I don’t fucking care about private jets, or any of that stuff, I love it that I can touch people. I recently met a couple I was playing for the fourth time in Ireland and those people came to my first show in Ireland, they met each other there and four shows later they’re expecting a little baby – all thanks to my music. They came up to me after my show and they were like, “This is thanks to you,” so you know those kind of things money can’t buy. And this, this is amazing to hear!
Once Upon A Time In Ibiza
OTB: So, something also I heard on DJ Sounds was a music video coming up with Martin Solveig for “Blow” and you mentioned something about deodorant?
LL: Yes it’s gonna be ridiculous, it’s gonna be like huge, well I said it in DJ Sounds this is the most money I’ve ever spent on a music video and Martin is actually a really good director in videos. He directed the whole thing, he came up with the concept and apparently he’s been doing this for every single video he’s done so far. It’s a hidden talent of his and I love Martin’s videos and this one is actually a next level, this is going to be the best Martin Solveig video you’ve ever seen and it’s gonna be hilarious. I can tell you something more, so it’s gonna be about deodorant we’re gonna have … so what is it called in English where you…like when Brad Pitt did a thing with Chanel where he was really serious making a statement about the smell and the perfume and then he says, “It’s not a perfume it’s a lifestyle,” and then you’ll see me starring in these very cheesy martial arts movies and kicking people and looking ridiculous and Dillon Francis is going to be in it as well. We dressed him up as Jesus and we also had him dressed up as a goth emo guy in a fashion shoot with a black wig and black bangs standing and being like depressed and we had a live zebra next to him and it just looked crazy and yes you’ll see it soon.
He Wasn’t Exaggerating…
OTB: I’m very excited for that! So another thing that’s always struck me about you and I tell people all the time is how you’ve mentored countless djs and I have been reading about Luke’s Army so I wanted a more in depth look – so you have these 40 “kids” that are yours and so what is the process of mentorship like? What do you do and how you find them?
LL: So basically they come to me, they’re in the demos I listen from the forum, my forum is very much a breeding ground for new kids posting their new music and if I hear talent then I’ll get them a little bit closer to me. I have a couple of kids on twitter that I know and speak to a lot, they’ll ask me for tips, I’ll listen to their new tracks and I’ll judge them and this can be a process like a couple of years. When they get better then they’ll get a special demo email from me and I call the email address like “Luke’s advanced students” for kids that are on the cusp of a professional sound and you know if they come out sounding very professional then I’ll sign them to my publishing company and we’ll release tracks by them on Mixmash. I’ll tell you this, before this I just did it without any business appeal it’s just something I love doing, I love helping people, I love mentoring people. I always hoped to get a mutual respect thing in return but a lot of the talents have gotten very big and forgot about me all of a sudden so now I am actually forced into signing them and helping them out. It’s not something I like doing but it benefits the both of us, so it’s cool and that’s where the Luke’s Army comes from and that’s where the 40 kids come from and yeah there’s a lot of good stuff on the way.
OTB: Wow that’s really neat. So I’ve also read that when you were starting out you didn’t have a lot of places where you could go to ask djs a lot of questions and I was curious when you were first starting out what was the most helpful thing that you did to become a better dj? Was it just practicing or was it watching or was it both? What was the one thing that really got you to improve your skills?
LL: What I would do religiously is record a set at night, one hour, and then in the morning when I would wake up and listen back to it and really focusing on the mistakes and seeing what I could have done better. Also, when I started going into the clubs I had a really hard adjusting to the sound of the clubs and it was very loud and the monitors were in a different space and the club resonated and I was really thrown off by it. So I saw a tip were Dave Angel advised people to just change up the monitoring in your studio or bedroom if you practice in your bedroom – just put the speakers in the other corners of the room and for instance change up mixers as well. Borrow a mixer of a friend that’s different and then have two turntables here and here the mixer and just you know make it rough on yourself. All that kind of stuff, it’s a lot of practicing.
OTB: Wow, that’s such valuable advice. So obviously you’re wildly successful but that didn’t come with some hardship so what do you think was your biggest obstacle in getting where you are today and how did that shape you and what did you learn from it?
LL: Well there’s a couple. I’ve been through ridiculous times, like crazy, like rock bottom. You always see that in a success story where you need to make very difficult choices. So for instance I’ve had burn out twice in my life, I had a burn out when I was 20 and I had a burn out when I was 30. I always laughed at people with burn outs, I was like c’mon you wuss how can you get a burn out? But it’s basically it’s crazy I was going with my kids to Disneyworld and the burn out hit, I was in the bus enjoying my time off and I all I wanted to do was fucking scream inside of the bus because I was just getting crazy. One of the most difficult decisions in my life was divorcing my ex-wife and you know it felt like I was choosing my career over my family life and my family life has always been very important to me and yeah it was a tough decision. For instance I started out with an agent who gave me my first shot and I remember her telling me once, “Luke if you leave me I won’t be able to pay the rent anymore,” but she was doing a shitty job so I needed to fire her and stuff like that are the things that you need to overcome to take it to the next level. You know it isn’t fun and djing and touring this much makes me miss my kids, I miss my kids after five days of not seeing them, it hurts. I can’t complain I live a fantastic life but it comes with a cost.
A Deeper Look Inside Luke’s Life (I highly recommend watching this!)
OTB: How do you fight burn out? How do you stop that from happening?
LL: Well at a certain point you notice the boundary, so I’m a typical workaholic, I love to work, love to work hard. But then I won’t eat, I won’t sleep, you know, I was battling a lot of stress but then at a certain point your body just says fuck you we’re not doing this anymore. So nowadays it has lot to do with my kung fu and tai chi living healthy and sleeping well. So you have to take care of yourself to prevent that.
Ultra Music Festival 2013
OTB: I was reading about that, that’s amazing! I was posting facts about you before the interview and everyone thought that was so cool. So also from DJ Sounds I heard that you’ve always loved the rock and roll lifestyle and look at us we’re here on the bus! You’re going for the college kids and not the clubs so can you tell me more about how it’s going and the vibe so far?
LL: Well the good thing about the bus I don’t need to deal with airports, flights, going into an airport two hours before it leaves. Usually djs on tour only sleep four hours a night and dealing with airports and the people the people that work at the airports, people that are rude, people that try and get in front of you in the line, things like that seem very huge on only four hours of sleep. So this saves a lot of time so we’ll finish and I’ll just go and get ready to sleep in my bunk and the next day we’re at the next location. It saves me a ton of time and you know you said the rock and roll life, but I don’t do the drinking and the partying anymore, this is what keeps me from having another burning out as well. But I do like the atmosphere, the touring, I mean we have our little team setting up in the afternoon and just making sure everything is okay it’s cool I like it.
OTB: That’s so neat, I feel like you still have some sort of a family on the road, a support system…
OTB: And man, airports, I can’t even imagine dj life with the airports…
LL: I mean I take over 200 flights a year, I was talking to a flight attendant and I found out I take twice the amount of flights as flight attendants per year.
OTB: (gasps) WHAT! Okay well that’s a LOT of flights. So you’re incredible obviously…
LL: Oh no, I’m no one.
OTB: And humble! You’ve achieved so much so what I’m curious about is what’s left? What’s left for you to achieve? What other life goals do you have?
LL: So yeah I have a couple. So I’ve never had the opportunity to score a cross over hit, ever. So that’s still a dream of mine, something I would love because I am a producer at heart, I started producing before I started djing.
OTB: On the scale of like what? Because I feel like you’ve had a lot of really popular songs.
LL: I wouldn’t mind a “Levels”! Like something that would hit top ten in a majority of countries and you know I know it’s an honor that a lot of my songs have touched a majority of people. This one would just go for the history books. I just only need one. But you need to be very lucky. I have been aiming for that kind of deal, it’s kind of like a lottery ticket, where you know you can have the track but then if radio doesn’t support you or the right people don’t pick it up…
OTB: I feel like the climate is right. I don’t know, I love all your music, so to me I’m like wait they’re all so popular to me but I mean I remember the days when I was listening to dance music by myself so now there’s this whole revolution in the States and I never, ever thought I would be here and talk to someone like you, it’s such an honor!
More Mad Skills
LL: Aw that’s amazing thank you! So I have another goal in about ten years I’m thinking of, well if I’m still very lucky to be able to tour, if I am I want to tone it down a little bit so doing one weekend on and one weekend off and I want to open a kung fu and tai chi school. I’m currently at an instructor level and doing seminars at international schools and helping out with the kids classes…
OTB: Where would this school be?
LL: Well my wife is from New York and we have this amazing house I want to grow old in so yeah.
OTB: That’s so great! Last thing I want to close on is how much you’re loved by your fans, you’ve responded to so many of my tweets, it’s ridiculous, and all my friends say that and I want you to know that you really inspire so many people, the way that you conduct yourself and you really are an inspiration. So a question I have from one of your fans and she wants to know if you could have one superpower what would it be?
LL: So I just want you to realize that I feel I have that superpower already and it’s to move masses with my music and I’m very grateful for the support and the love I get and thanks to you guys I can feel like a superhero.
TomorrowWorld 2013 as The Green Hornet
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