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Damian Lazarus, Cockney Rebel 

London-born dance producer talks techno and the changing face of electronic labels

Friday, Feb 26 2010
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Damian Lazarus is sitting at the dining-room table of his Echo Park home trying to recover from a five-day touring blitz that he and his label mates at Crosstown Rebels have just finished. He's a bit worn down, but that's part of the deal. The next morning he leaves for Mexico for a few days, then on to more gigs with the Rebels crew as part of the Rebel Rave tour. The London-born Lazarus, who speaks with a smooth cockney accent, has quite the résumé. His first record-label gig was at the respected London Records imprint FFRR, where he worked alongside Pete Tong, with a roster that included, among others, Armand Van Helden and Asian Dub Foundation. From there, Lazarus and a partner started City Rockers. Their first release? Felix da Housecat's groundbreaking 2001 electro-house record Kittenz and Thee Glitz.

Over in Berlin, Kompakt and Perlon records were priming the world for the minimal techno sound, and Lazarus was trying find an angle that worked for the U.K. market. He was also beginning to make tracks himself, and was working it out at his London club, whose resident DJs were Erol Alkan, Soulwax and FC Kahuna. They needed a warm-up DJ. Lazarus stepped in.

Since then, the producer has created massive minimal tracks with oddball rhythmic bursts and hooks that pop on the dance floor. Last year he released his first solo full-length, Smoke the Monster Out, on which he branched out to create actual songs, with vocals. Lazarus just released his third single from the album, "Diamonds in the Dark," a totally weird track with warbled voices and a catchy guitar strum.

click to enlarge Damian Lazarus: a London transplant now living in L.A.
  • Damian Lazarus: a London transplant now living in L.A.

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L.A. WEEKLY: Tell me about this tour.
LAZARUS:
It's the first proper "label tour" where I've taken out as many of the acts as I can. I started thinking about it last summer, about how to plan 2010, trying to get methodical. My album came out last year, and I was touring that all over the world until the end of the year, and I realized that there would be a point where January would come, and what was I going to do? Do I just book some gigs, or put something special together? And it took on a bit of momentum because the artists I'm working with now, Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler and new artist Deniz Kurtel, everyone's at the peak of their game, they're all real fresh and young, and people all over the world want to see these guys. It was a good opportunity to go out and present our sound and our vision.

That's a pretty big commitment.
Yeah, plus I've always considered what I do to be connected very closely to hanging out with the core people who support me and the music. It doesn't mean that I would just go to any old party, of course, but when I go to a city and I have a lot of people come out, I feel like it's the right thing to do to go hang out and get to know them and meet my friends. Because I'm in for such a quick amount of time at most spaces that I think it would be a bit rude to just go and fuck off straight away. And it's been like that for a few years now. I've tried to ease off a bit lately, but my problem is I rarely take a gig just for the money. I rarely walk in somewhere knowing that I'm not going to enjoy it. So most of the stuff that I agree to go to are cool parties with great people, so most weekends get pretty crazy, actually. But since moving here, I've tried to get the balance right.

It's a tough time to run a dance label.
Yeah, digital sales have taken over the whole industry. Vinyl has become, in reality, a mug's game. You're an idiot if you start a record label [laughs]. But we're idiots, and we love what we do, so we carry on doing it. It's a total boutique industry now; I tend to hope that there are still artists out there who love vinyl still, love to collect records still, like me.

Plus, vinyl legitimizes a label. Anybody can do an MP3. If you're also printing vinyl, you're for real.
Yeah. The digital market has gotten so oversaturated because it's so easy to do. And the quality control is not really there. Now, if you're an 18-year-old kid looking for a new electronic record, you go into your various portals and you have, on a weekly basis, something like a thousand new releases. It's ridiculous. It used to be we'd release a new record and there would be, like, 40 or 50 that week that you'd be competing against, of which there would be four or five that would be any good.

But ultimately it's still about quality.
Exactly. And with Crosstown Rebels, I think we have a really strong brand. I'd like to think that our fans trust me if we bring in a new artist, or commission a remix, even if it's an unknown person. I'd like to think that I've got a really high quality control for what we do.

Damian Lazarus brings his Rebel Rave tour to Avalon on Sat., Feb. 27. Also on the bill is Calvin Harris.

Reach the writer at rroberts@laweekly.com

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