Filed under: Interview
“My parents were quite open in that kind of way, but although I had a very open upbringing, it was quite a tough one, my mum wasn’t always there in my life as I was growing up so I became quite independent and used to being on my own,” he muses. “And I think that as a result I threw myself into a lot of social situations and probably lived very much on the edge as a teenager, considering that I came from a background where I was meant to go to university. Nothing too super-dangerous, but I was very much involved in every youth scene that was going.”
Chatting in his office above the hugely successful club he co-owns The End, he’s also charming, polite and friendly and refreshingly candid about his Bohemian roots.
Two decades on he’s practically a model 21st century citizen, having applied his curious and risk taking penchant towards transforming The End into one of the world’s best known clubs, simultaneously cementing his own reputation as an equally top notch DJ. And right at the top of his high achiever portfolio, is his recording career with long term production partner Mathew Bushwacka, which includes highlights such as their Brazilian themed breaks anthem Love Story and 2002’s 100,000 selling album Nightworks. 4 years later the duo are about to enter a new phase with their third studio album Feels Closer a decidedly Latin sounding album (parts were recorded in Brazil as well as Brooklyn and London), which has just come out on their own new label Olmeto Records.
Interview by Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) : The last time we spoke you were about to release your second album Nightworks and said ‘we live or die by its success’, how do you feel about this new one?
Layo : I have to say I’m very confident about it, certainly in terms of the work we’ve put in and how I feel about it, though whether it’s going to be successful, I don’t know, I have no control over that. The reality is that when you’re doing something creative, the first person you have to make happy is yourself, because after that you can’t control whether another person likes it or not. What makes us confident is that when we listen to the album there’s nothing we’d particularly change; we feel there are a lot of different aspects and highlights to it. In feeling that and listening to it as a piece of work, we are like ‘is it as good as it gets?’ No, but it’s close and it’s close to what we feel we can achieve together. We could go on and do lots of different dance stuff but if we just gave you ten dance tracks I don’t think that would be so interesting, maybe for other people but not for us.
Skrufff : Just a handful of dance based albums have ever become classics, what makes an album more than ten dance tracks?
Layo : We’ve personally always started with the perspective of wanting to work within different realms of electronic music than just the ones that we would DJ in. So for example, we’ve always done a few downtempo tracks because we like the space and the feel of that style of music. And while I might DJ a little bit of downtempo at the beginning of a set, I’m not going to play three hours of it. Also with dance tracks there are thousands of them out there, and it’s not very easy to write a totally original dance track. You can write great dance moments and that’s fine, but it’s hard for sound very dynamic and striking putting together ten of them. And because you can make dance music quite quickly, some people like to knock out an album quite quickly and to write a good electronic music album takes a long time, because it even takes longer than writing as a band I think, because as a band you are each doing your own part, writing songs, you are rehearsing together, it comes together in a different way and you are each doing different bits, but when you are producing in the studio and you have to get different musicians in to do different aspects, take it in different directions, take different influences, It’s quite a time consuming process and a lot of people shy away from that for loads of understandable reasons, but that’s definitely not something we shy away from.
Skrufff : What areas of music do you find particularly interesting at the moment?
Layo : For the last eighteen months I’ve been influenced by that electro-house thing that’s been fundamentally German led, that’s been a major influence because it’s the sound of the hip dance floors which is generally where we play, but what we definitely didn’t want to do was do Layo and Bushwacka does electro house.
Skrufff : You recorded part of the album in Brooklyn, always one of New York’s edgier Boroughs, what was it like for you?
Layo : The bit where we were recording was definitely a bit like that but it’s coming up, I suppose it’s a little like how the East End has come up in London. I think Manhattan got so unaffordable and they gentrified it so much that for young people wanting to live in New York, Brooklyn is nowadays a realistic alternative, because it’s also five minutes away on the subway. We found the studio through a couple of people that we knew though it took us a while to find the right kind of studio; it was modern in some respects, but the look of it was quite old school in another, and they always had tons and tons of different musicians just hanging out and dropping by, so we were meeting a whole different level and a whole different people that we would never meet here.
Skrufff : How did that translate to the album?
Layo : We’d say to the guys who ran it ‘we are looking for a slow, laid back drummer who plays like Oscar Peterson and they’d go ‘OK, we’ve got two guys, one’s like this, one’s like that’. We stayed in Soho in Manhattan and took the subway across to Brooklyn everyday to do the recording. It was amazing, it totally gave us exactly what we were looking for in making the album, because it opened up an avenue of a way of working that we had sought but we didn’t really know how we were going to get there. It was the most enjoyable experience which I think is reflected in our vibe on the album because everything about the album worked out, from sample clearance, to the people we worked with, to getting things done. When you have a project that is beset by problems, you start to feel a bit separated from it, whereas with this one, everything came together in a smooth way. I t happens in life like that sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t just doesn’t and you’re not quite sure why.
Skrufff : A lot of people romanticize New York, do you?
Layo : It’s one of those places in the world I always have a very good time, whatever I’m doing there, whether it’s Christmas shopping with a girlfriend, or going to parties, eating in restaurants or working. But I don’t have any romantic notions about ever living in America, I’m very much a European, in fact I’d probably live in South America sooner than I would in America, but in terms of doing what we did for the album it was amazing. Probably not repeatable actually, because you’d probably never get it in the same way, but it was amazing.
Skrufff : Brazil is one of your biggest markets, how did that happen?
Layo : There are a few reasons, firstly I think our music appealed to the Brazilians very early on, because we’ve got quite an energetic style of DJing and from our very first trips there our gigs were really successful. We’d also made Love Story and named it after the most infamous after hours club in San Paolo – not the one in Rio, which then became like a massive track there. We’ve been there so many times I’ve also now learnt Portuguese in fact I have more email correspondence with friends from Brazil than from anywhere else in the world. I like Brazil’s approach to life, the country itself and the social aspects; it’s a place that I really love. People say ‘but what about the poverty’ and of course that’s true, but it’s there in every place in the world, it’s just in Brazil you’ve got it in very stark terms, one side against the other. I’m not here to solve the political social economic crises of the world, it’s just that I do like the place and I’ve always liked it. I must have been there twenty five times and nothing bad has ever happened to me. Sometimes walking around London late at night feels more edgy.
Skrufff : Going into your youth in London, I understand you worked at Camden Market when you were a teenager?
Layo : That’s right, I worked a few summers there at the weekends and I remember being ripped off terribly. We’d get paid twenty pounds for thirteen hour days, but at the same time you could nick the 501s (jeans), there were all sorts of ways it balanced out. It was a really nice lifestyle at the time, because I’d predominantly do it in the summer and there was a really good vibe between all the people working on the stalls. It provided me with my first experience of having my own money and freedom and it was a hip place in those days. Camden in the mid eighties was probably at one of its heights, so to be there and be that young was all quite cool plus you were mixing with a lot of people who were a lot older which was interesting.
Skrufff : Were you following the youth cults then?
Layo : A lot of the people I was hanging out with had older brothers and sisters and one of my best friend’s older brother’s worked in a recording studio and everything just opened up for me. When I was 12 or 13 I was into electro then I veered off into the hip hop such as Public Enemy. Then I got very into psychedelic music because I was quite druggy in my own way at the time; nothing serious, just magic mushrooms and puff and things like that. Because of my parents’ influence I’d always been into a lot of late sixties music then I started getting into music like King Kurt and The Cramps, then I went from that towards early Dr And The Medics and Zodiac Mindwarp. That led me to Gaye Bikers on Acid, then at the same time Acid House began to come through and there was the duality of the squat parties and the early Clink Street acid house scene. Then the two merged and the two social groups came together and the acid thing exploded.”
Skrufff : You didn’t go to university then?
Layo : I did go to university, to the University Of East Anglia where I studied English and I ran a Monday night club up there where people like Mr C used to come and play.
Skrufff : I imagine you dropped out of college?
Layo : No, though I took a year off and lived in Thailand for about seven or eight months when I was eighteen. I lived in Bangkok for a couple of months and I was in Koh Phangan for about three and a half months – in 1989.
Skrufff : What took you to Koh Phangan in 1989?
Layo : Well as soon as people were talking about it I immediately went there. In fact, in 1989, the full moon parties were only for about 250 people. There were a few chalets on the beach, but you couldn’t get to Had Rin (the legendary beach that now holds the 10,000 strong monthly raves) by road, you could only reach it by a small boat and you could only arrive on the sunset side and not the sunrise side. There were no police, no roads and no cars and it cost one pound a night to stay in the guesthouses. It was totally and utterly open; and great.
Skrufff : But you ended up going back to University?
Layo : Yeah. Unfortunately for me, I experienced a tragedy there, my best friend died there, in Had Rin. so I came back to England for the funeral. He died in an accident – we had split up for two weeks because I wanted to go to the North of the island, but he hadn’t been in Had Rin for so long, and he had an accident while I was up north, That changed a lot of the direction I was taking because I think it sobered me up quite a huge amount. We’d been best friends since I was five years old so it was quite a traumatic time. After that happened, university was great because it came at exactly the right moment and I was able to throw myself into university life. I went to the UAE not knowing anyone there which I have to say was also great, it gave me a clean break. At the time I really wanted that because I wanted to escape everything from before. I’d still come back to all my old friends in London in the summer holidays, but at that point I wanted some space and it was really good for me because I started doing the clubs on a Monday night. That’s when I started DJing properly.
End of the interview
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