I got to sit down and talk with the one and only Laidback Luke at this year’s edition of Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland. A fixture in the electronic dance music scene since the 90s, Luke has seen it all. Luke and I discussed a wide variety of topics including pre-planned sets, “the EDM bubble,” and new directions Luke would like to take his music. We also discussed two of his other loves, his family, and Kung Fu. Here’s what Laidback Luke had to say.
You recently made some comments about pre-planned sets, tell me about where that came from and what is your take on pre-planned sets vs mixing live as a DJ?
“I mean, yeah, technically there’s nothing wrong with pre-planned sets if you’re a DJ and you’re starting out, it’s kind of like DJ basics. What I tried to do with my rant was to educate, to give ins and outs of how you can overcome that. You can become more confident getting on stage and you improvise more. What the fault is with pre-planned sets often, is that you picture a crowd and a setting in your mind and then make a track list according to that. Usually when you go on stage and you see the real thing, it’s always different from what you had imagined. And you’ll drop a track where you thought the crowd would go wild and it doesn’t fit, it’s not the right moment, they’re not responding, so it always varies. And in that sense it’s very handy to be able to improvise.”
This is the 21st edition of Nocturnal, you’ve been in the business a long time, what’s your take on the state of the EDM scene nowadays, what was it like back when you first started, do you think there’s a bubble that’s going to burst or is dance music in good shape?
“I think the press likes to say that the bubble is going to burst anytime, however, the electronic music scene has been going since 1989. It’s funny because I know a lot of people that stepped into it when it first started out. So in the 90s they always said to me as well they thought it would only last for about 10 years. Right now we’re even at a point where we’re growing older than hip-hop, than rock. It looks like we are the longest lasting, so in terms of a bubble bursting, no, I don’t think so. In terms of a lot of things changing, yes, every year it changes. And I think this year has been a big opening for various types of BPM, people experimenting more with trappier stuff and down-tempo stuff. So that has been very interesting”
For you as an artist, how do you stay fresh, stay ahead of the curve, and bring people the new stuff that will keep them coming out to the shows?
“Luckily I have this sixth sense of how to spot things that are coming up, and I’ve called it many times throughout the years. And I think it’s interesting to keep it fresh, you can just compare it to eating food, if you eat the same food for five years, you’ll get bored. Especially as an artist it can really block your creativity if you’ve done everything you could in that type of genre. So I’m always very open to various types of genres. I’m currently pushing this new sound, which doesn’t have a name yet, which is essentially 150 BPM Dutch house. So, I guess it’s in the trap tempo but then all the programming sounds like old Afrojack, what we used to do.”
Your newest track, “Fcukin Beats”, your previous ones you were going more melodic, why did you want to do something more festival oriented?
“This was because of the album. Because ‘Focus’ came out we had a couple of singles coming out that were more melodic, more radio based, so after that I really had the urge to make a few dance floor bombs. There’s going to be a collab’ coming out with KURA that’s coming out this month, that’s going to be one of that fast Dutch house tracks. And after that I’ll go more crossover.”
I know you do martial arts. Tell me a little about how you got into that, how it affects your life and career, and what would you like to do with that going down the line?
“I’ve always been into martial arts, I’ve done karate my whole childhood, and I’ve been doing Kung Fu for about 16 years now. It’s funny you say I do it on the side, but in 2013, I competed in the world championships, won four gold medals for the Netherlands, and I have a tournament coming up next week. So it’s kind of like my second life. I do feel I really need it to balance out the stress and the pressure, even the amount of worshipping us DJs get, just to keep me grounded, just to keep me working hard and down to earth. But, with Kung Fu, our grandmasters, they’re like 90 years old, so this is something you can do into old age, and eventually I do want to open up a martial arts school.”
Going back to work-life balance, you’re a family man, you’ve got kids, how do you strike the balance of being a dad and being at home and being a touring musician?
“The answer is probably the most boring answer in the world, but it works for me, which is just plan it out, plan your time out. Gina, my wife, and I, basically we schedule out the whole month, so these days I’ll be touring, then we can see the kids, then I’m going to be in Amsterdam, then I’m going to be in New York, so we really plan it out.”
Reflect on the year 2016, what do you feel like you’ve accomplished as an artist, and what do you feel like is still left to accomplish going forward?
“I still have this dream, I would love an international radio crossover hit, I haven’t had one, obviously I’ve had a couple of successes, but that one track, you know, that would be amazing. So that’s going to be the focus in 2017, I guess, and I’m planning on doing another album, as well. This year has been, I wouldn’t even say chaotic, but so different from previous years. We see a lot of new talent coming through, I see myself suddenly being one of the older guys, I’ve had a lot of fun just going back to house-ier sounds. A very chaotic year but a very comfortable one I must say.”
I guess going off that wanting to cross over, who would be one artist who you’d want to work with. We see that with electronic music, guys like Justin Bieber, crossing over.
“It’s always a battle to try and work with bigger artists, so I’d rather not do it. In the past I’ve noticed it’s just such trouble, lawyers, contracts, delays. I really prefer working with someone where it just goes fast and very natural.”
Any words or messages for the fans?
“Just expect new tracks and awesome shows, and thank you for the support.”
Who would be someone your fans would be surprised you listen to?
“I have this one guilty pleasure, I love Maroon 5.”
As we head into the home stretch of 2016, Laidback Luke is only getting started with new music and tons more shows on the horizon. October will be a huge month for the Dutch DJ/producer, Luke will be celebrating his 40th birthday both in Amsterdam at AIR, right before Amsterdam Dance Event, and at Marquee in New York. The events are invite only, but Luke will be inviting some lucky fans, so make sure to follow his socials in the coming weeks. Luke will also be throwing a Super You & Me costume party at Exchange in Los Angeles for Halloween weekend.