Steve Lawler is not a Sasha, an Oakenfold or a Digweed. Unlike those industry icons, Lawler exists in that exciting prestardom cosmos where self-proclaimed music geeks feel in-the-know to claim him as a favorite, and such beat bosses beam like big sibs at his success (though it probably has them a bit nervous). Originally from Birmingham, England, Lawler drops sets and compilations that are consistently acclaimed as brilliantly “druggy,” cemented by his Lights Out series on Global Underground, a one-two punch of filthy 2 a.m. house. The first installment hit shelves in May 2003, and the second followed five months later.
To support the second release, Lawler is touring North America, stopping in Minneapolis to lay a serious beatdown on an intimate room inside the Quest Club (formerly owned by Prince) and, the following day, to reveal how “the Danny Tenaglia of the UK” hunts down good vinyl. Walking into downtown's Let It Be Records, the perennial music collector's pit-stop and a longtime staple of local music, Lawler experiences minor whiplash. “Fatboy Slim would love this store!” he exclaims.
Coaxed away from the numerous rows of old gems, Lawler heads downstairs to the dance room. After about an hour, store owner Ryan Cameron, accompanied by store manager (and huge Lawler fan) Jevne Miller (pictured above), asks Lawler if he wants to check out the special room, not open to the public, where Cameron keeps old stock, including about 200,000 never-been-played 78s from the 1940s. Record labels often buy the relics to remaster and then reissue on CD.
After that vintage thrill, Lawler ventures down the block to visit newcomer Vital Vinyl, an all-dance-music boutique of sorts run by three passionate 20-something students — Mike Tadros, J.P. Hungelmann and Jens Thorsgard — who are all eager to assist Lawler in his quest to update his collection. “Obviously, I'm taking on new records every week,” he says. “But what I look for in a record never changes.” Today, he's looking for his brand of wicked sexiness bolstered by tribal percussion and perhaps a few crunchy acid-house numbers, which Lawler has been implementing into his sets. Here's what he uncovered:
“Come On” (Nightshift)
I love this track; it's very deep and typical of the West Coast sound and all of the Tango guys. It's an exceptional release for them, I think. I really like the label Nightshift and this particular track. It's sexy, tripped-out and definitely a mood-setter.
AGEHA FEAT. JOCELYN BROWN AND LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY
“A Better World” (BeatFreak)
These women are two of the most legendary divas on the planet. The track has a very traditional tribal-house sound, but rather than riding on deep, progressive overtones, it's more house-oriented, which is why I like it. It's got all the big drums and a really good rhythm, breaking into this really funky, old-school U.S.-garage sound. I think Danny Tenaglia would like this one, and anyone who collects house music should buy it. It's been put together by one of the most exciting artists in Spain right now. I get all of this stuff through the post, but for whatever reason, I wasn't sent this one; maybe they didn't think I would go for this garage-type sound, but I love it.
FANCIULLI & KNIGHT
“Dug It Up”/“Hot” (Portent)
I already had “Hot” on a CD, but I bought this because I only had the one side and wanted “Dug It Up.” Mark Knight has actually done quite a few things on my record label. He produced my biggest record at the moment, “The Acid Test.” I'm really into his sound. The other guy, Nic Fanciulli, is turning a lot of heads in the UK right now, so I'm quite happy to support this particular track. It's a traditional house groove that I would play early on in the night and would be very strong in a small room. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to house: I love the old-school sounds in it, and I consider this kind of stuff my roots.
“Release Me (Peter Rauhofer Reconstruction Mix)” (Star 69)
This, to me, is club music. This is my favorite track on Star 69 right now and one of my top records at the moment. It's amazing: one of those vocal records that is just sexy as fuck — proper, proper house music. I've played it in Italy, France, Iceland, Spain and America. If I could pick one record in my box that describes my sound the best, this is it. Listen to that fat, dirty bass line! It's really doing it for me.
MARK KNIGHT & MARTIJN TEN VELDEN
“Acid Test” (Fantastic House)
I've had this one for at least six months and used it in my Essential Mix put out in October. There have only been Pete Tong and myself with a copy for quite a while, and I've been playing it every single set. I've even played it twice in some sets! As soon as the acid line comes in, I love it. It goes into an acid break and has a building clap. It's difficult to explain a track that doesn't have a vocal, but it's got a really strong, rolling drum. The crowd reaction it gets is just wicked! It's about six or seven minutes long and doesn't really do much, but its acid groove is just so infectious. I'm really having fun getting some fresh acid numbers like this one back into my set right now. I like going into an acid tangent for about a half hour. To move forward, sometimes, you have to look back.
MADE BY MONKEYS
“I Try” (Star 69)
The mix that I like on this record is the Peter Rauhofer mix. He's one of my favorite producers, going way back to his Club 69 days. The thing is, with Peter, there's this certain kind of sound he produces that I really like, and there's this other harder sound he produces that I hate. Peter, with me, is a love and hate thing. No one else does it like this. It's a very sexy tribal-house sound that uses progressive overtones without sounding dull. It's very electric and uses a really good male vocal by Maria Matto. Hmm. Well, I guess it could be a woman or a man with no balls; I'm not sure. Star 69 is one of my favorite labels; they always have stuff to fit my needs. This track really is the bollocks. I'd use it toward the end of the night when I'm playing quite up there and really pumping it. I would imagine Sasha and John Digweed playing this one, a very hands-in-the-air track.
“Untamed”/“Quest Forsaken” (Regress)
This is filthy, twisted, dark house at its best. It's mad. It is the kind of track that I throw on when I've been playing for three or four hours. I've taken them up. I've taken them down. Now, I just want to have a bit of craziness on the dancefloor, so this is exactly the kind of track I'd play. It's got loads of noises flying in and out of everywhere and doesn't follow any sort of rules. It's out there, but it's strong and has a lot of energy. It doesn't build one way or do one certain thing but is made to fuck with your head. That's why I purchased this one — for that kind of moment.