“In EDM we’ve reached our peak”: Catching up with Laidback Luke

It’s been a big year for the Nicest Guy in EDMâ„¢. Laidback Luke has had to defend himself against accusations of laziness in the ‘What DJs Really Do’ video, and stood up for Chainsmokers after their appearance on American Idol pissed off the entirety of Twitter. But he’s also been in the news for reasons more pertinent to his music, like his celebration of the tenth anniversary of his Mixmash label, a killer set at Tomorrowland, and the announcement that he’ll be back in Australia for Stereosonic.

One final piece of big news for the DJ and producer, born Lucas Cornelis van Scheppingen, was the birth of his daughter in March. When we talk to him he’s in New York, where he spends time with his family when he’s not travelling the world playing festivals. Even in New York he’s working though, since his wife is DJ Gina Turner and they collaborate on projects like Nouveau Yorican.

When we talk to Laidback Luke, he and Gina have spent the day “working on this instrumental she had, on this Detroit techno kind of thing.” We pinned him down for a chat about balancing parenthood and DJ superstardom, and why dance music is having an identity crisis about authenticity.

Have you had much time to work on new music lately? It seems like you’ve had a pretty hectic year. In the last few months you did Creamfields, Tomorrowland, Electric Daisy Carnival…

I’m always touring, non-stop every year. What I do is I produce a lot on the road. Most of the time I finish my tracks in hotel rooms and even at airports and in airplanes.

Some people can’t come up with new music on the road – they have to be in their home base or wherever they feel comfortable. Being out and about, on the road and in planes, does it inspire you?

To be honest I’d love to sit in the studio and work on music all day. I love being in the actual studio, but it’s a real necessity for a touring DJ to come up with new tunes all the time. I have adapted to the crazy life and I was forced to produce new music on the road.

I’m glad it’s worked out for you then.

I work really fast. I finish tracks in about four hours, and I’ve been doing that since 2005 actually. The majority of tracks, you know, from me came out of short sessions and were basically mixed down in a hotel room.

You’re coming out to play the main stage at Stereosonic this summer – our summer; how do you feel about the state of main stages in 2014? You’ve seen a bunch of them. Are you seeing DJs doing interesting things with their sets?

It’s always a hard one because you have such a big crowd in front of you. So A: it’s hard to pinpoint, and B: a lot of DJs rely on stuff they did previously on the main stages. Whereas for me, the real challenge is to grab the whole audience and really pinpoint the track that’s needed at that very second.

I remember the last time in Australia the crowd was very big and it pulled a lot of people that want to be part of the Stereosonic experience. Instead of it being very much an EDM-based crowd, I noticed there were a lot of people that are into mainstream music and even rock. I remember my biggest track was dropping Queen’s We Will Rock You in a full stadium, and it was like hitting the jackpot.

What made you drop that in particular? When you’re reading a crowd, how do you get from looking out at people to thinking, “yes, this is what they want to hear next”?

Basically the vibe and the energy and seeing what they react to. Sometimes I’ve had crowds that, when I played my biggest track, they didn’t respond and sometimes it gets really scary. “Wait a minute, they don’t know anything I’ve done, OK. Let’s try a bit of David Guetta then. No response? Maybe it’s a techno crowd. Let’s go very underground.” Basically the first 20 minutes of a real improvised DJ set you might be trying to test out what the crowd is really into.

I saw some of the footage of your set at Tomorrowland. I thought it was hilarious that you opened with the ‘Tomorrow’ song from Annie.

I like thinking out of the box like that. A lot of the times I do a play on words in my DJ set. For instance at Electric Zoo in New York I have this whole section of jungle and safari anthems, Welcome To The Jungle, Guns N’ Roses, into a Congorock Safari remix. I like doing that stuff.

As someone who listens to a lot of music, are there any trends in particular that you’ve noticed in dance music over the past year?

I’m really into the future house stuff right now. What that is to me is basically deep house garage mixed down in an EDM vibe. The stuff that Oliver Heldens is doing, Tchami as well. To me that gives us a whole new playfield. In EDM we’ve kind of reached our peak, we don’t know what’s creative anymore and what stuff we can do. Basically this is a whole new open palette to start experimenting on, taking it somewhere it’s never been before.

When the Chainsmokers appeared on American Idol and a lot of DJs gave them flak for it, it was interesting that you came to their defence, and you also had to defend yourself against the pre-recorded set video. I was wondering why you think it is that dance music now seems to have these really rigid ideas about authenticity?

It’s because of the commercialisation and especially how everything blew up in America. It’s really easy to kick against the commercial sound. I did it back in the day as well. Mauro Picotto, when he was still doing commercial trance, that was really easy to kick. Alice DeeJay and whatever, it just happened. In terms of the Chainsmokers, those guys are really nice guys and actually in this for the right reasons, and one of the reasons that I love is just to have crazy, stupid fun.

When they appeared on American Idol they weren’t pretending to DJ, they were just happy to take a selfie with J-Lo. I like that! I like that kind of fun stuff. I set up DJ Boyband in 2004 just to have some silliness going on. And actually that kind of silliness is why I often dress up in a superhero costume to DJ. If you compare what I do with the people that sit in an office five days a week, I’m like ‘what we do is we have a party’. We should not be too serious. Why be serious at the office and be serious at the weekend as well? Let’s have a little bit of fun.

You’ve had a big year in more than one way. Your daughter was born in March – congratulations. How much has that changed your work schedule?

She’s my third child and what I really like about what she brings now is she brings a lot of fun into it. Raising my two sons, they are 13 and 11 now, was quite a struggle because I was becoming successful, needed to stick a lot of time in DJing and producing. With my daughter, because my wife is a DJ as well, she understands that I need to be there for DJing and then when I get home I can enjoy her more. That’s a really nice combination.

It’s great that you’re able to juggle these things.

It’s all about planning.

Stereosonic 2014 dates

SYDNEY: Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 November

PERTH: Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 November

ADELAIDE: Friday 5 and Saturday 6 December

MELBOURNE: Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 December

BRISBANE: Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 December