WHP FEATURE 022
Darren Hughes from Cream started putting me on after the likes of Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and The Chemical Brothers. All these big guys were like ‘who the fuck is Steve Lawler?’
I start our conversation with a simple “so, it’s been a hectic few years for you”, admittedly something of an understatement. “It’s been a hectic 23 years, it’s never been anything but” responds Steve. It’s difficult to argue with that. Over those past ‘few years’ Birmingham-born Steve Lawler has welcomed a weekly Sankeys Ibiza residency with his ‘Warriors’ imprint, toured extensively across the globe and became a Dad twice over just to mention a few of his accolades. However, since his love affair with dance music began in the early-90s with a series of unregulated raves underneath the M42 motorway Lawler has garnered a reputation for himself as one of the hardest working men in dance music. A self-styled ‘child of acid house’ - “I wasn’t brought up on rock or motown, I was brought up on acid house” he says - Steve has grown up somewhat since those early days of hedonism, adopting something of a mentor persona in recent times
“I think I was 19 years old when I first appeared on the front cover of a magazine, that’s how I started being a DJ so to speak” muses Lawler, thinking back to where it all began. “In the mid-late 90s promoters would only book the big acts, but all of sudden Darren Hughes from Cream started putting me on after the likes of Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and The Chemical Brothers. All these big guys were like ‘who the fuck is Steve Lawler?’ but he had that faith in me, and I think because of that I always give my helping hand to artists who need recognition.”
Over the years that helping hand has ushered in generation after generation of DJ talent. Since 2006 his VIVa MUSIC imprint has been home to a core family of artists with the likes of Pirupa, Detlef and Livio & Roby all making their name under the VIVa banner. With a back catalogue that stems over 50 releases however perhaps VIVa’s expertise lies best in its knack at discovering the best of, at the time, new talent, bringing names like Andrea Oliva, Nicole Moudaber and Inxec to the forefront. This lies with Lawler’s continued, but self-professed limited, involvement with the label.
“The only part of the label I really enjoy is the A&Ring” says Lawler, quite bluntly. “I’ve always enjoyed helping other artists but after we started a management company all of a sudden there was a pressure associated to it. I never saw DJing as a job, but I would have to go to meetings with artists and about 10 staff then all of a sudden it felt like a job. I can’t do that anymore, I can’t work all week and then go away all weekend because I’d never see my family.”
That work/life balance is important to Lawler now he’s settled down to become a family man. “There were many times when I thought I was losing my mind” he says, thinking back to before the birth of his two daughters. The life of a DJ, or a life within electronic music in general, can be infinitely rewarding yet relentlessly unforgiving, and while Lawlers infatuation with music is something that has undoubtedly kept him at the forefront for so long, he admits that it may have taken over his life a little too much. “Before I had children I thought it was going to take my attention away from my first love, which is music” he says. “When every thought process that happens every day of the week for however many years is about music you become a machine, but being pulled in another direction gave me the break from music that I needed. Music was everything, but now I have DJing and I have my daughters. I have my hobbies so to speak, I have something else now that I love and that’s a positive thing.”
Nevertheless that’s not to say he’s taken a backseat. At the age of 42 he’s surprisingly young given his achievements, a ‘misconception’ about his age he’s keen to address having spent over 20 years in the public eye. Throughout that time he’s reached a status amongst fans and peers alike which now fuel cross-country convoys to see him in action, something he remains a little uneasy about given that’s exactly what he used to do to see his idols back in the day
I was taking a lot of cocaine, and if you take that much cocaine you become a twat”
;We would travel the country to see artists like Sasha, Carl Cox and Richie Hawtin” he says. “These were the people I was going to see when I was 16, these were the guys I was brought up on, these are the legends so it’s weird to hear people calling me the same. Why I’m called a legend I’ll never know because in my eyes I’m not, I’m just a DJ, it’s what I do and it’s what I love.”
Blame it on fatherhood, after all the sleepless nights and unforgiving mornings that come with being a father would bring anybody back down to earth, or a modesty that’s built up over time Lawler holds a level of normality which is refreshing to see in someone of his ilk. That’s not to say it’s always been that way of course. Looking back at the formative years of his career he’s quick to point out he became ‘a bit of twat’ at times, taken in by the lifestyle associated with a young touring DJ in the age of the superclub. I ask him how he managed to keep himself grounded throughout that time. “I was taking a lot of cocaine, and if you take that much cocaine you become a twat” he replies, quite happy to acknowledge that side of his former self. “I really admire the truth, and the truth is I was doing that every day, I was upsetting the people who I have the most amount of admiration for and I was suffering with really bad anxiety which was cocaine fuelled without a doubt. In some cases I’d literally be curled up in a ball before I went on-stage struggling to stand up never mind getting on the decks to play a set, or anxiety to the point where you feel like the whole room is caving in.”
“Things had to get to a certain point for me to have the strength to make a change that needed to be made” he goes on to say. “A lot of people go through similar pains or issues and it’s important to share that if it makes somebody feel better. If you are fortunate in life it’s almost your duty to be positive and help others.”
That ethos has gone on to embed itself in all aspects of his working life, from his continued involvement with the ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life Foundation’ to ‘The Art of the DJ’, a feature documentary produced at the end of 2015 which charted the trials and tribulations of Lawler’s life. A far cry from the cake throwing, egocentric documentaries of other to remain nameless dance music DJs, The Art of the DJ was a candid look at Lawler’s rise, near self-destruction and rise again. “It was both surreal and a little hard for me to watch at times” says Lawler on the whole experience. “I actually realised how bad certain things were at some points. That was a little bit hard for me to swallow but at the same time I was quite of proud. I had been through a lot, but now I’m alright. It’s weird seeing it all in-front of you I guess.”
It’s safe to say that over his career Steve Lawler has enjoyed a greater opportunity for reflection than some of his counterparts, and has probably experienced more than most of them too. As we speak about his early years as ‘a child of acid house’ I ask Lawler what the ravers of today will be the children of, and as increasing closures lead clubbers once again to the fields for their weekend hedonism would he want his children to follow in his footsteps? “I would never want them to be unsafe” he says, “but I also would never want to strip them from feeling that feeling of togetherness with a group of friends. What it’s done for me and my life, how close it brought me to my friends, and those magical moments that I had, I would never strip that away from my kids. It’s a part of growing up, let them crack on.”
Viva Warriors indeed.