Close to two decades on from bursting onto the scene with a widely-caned bootleg of The Prodigy’s Climbatize, Chris Lake is an established name on the international dance circuit, particularly in the US, which he has called home for more than a decade.
In 2005, the Norwich-born DJ and producer established Rising Music as an outlet for his unique style of twisted tech house, and followed that up in 2017 with the formation of Black Book Records, which has seen him team up with the likes of Green Velvet and Solardo. It’s also provided a portal for his own releases, such as the old-school influenced I Remember, released in May of this year.
Along the way, Lake has enjoyed considerable success with singles such as Changes (with Laura V, which broke into the charts in 2006) and 2013’s La Tromba, as well as for the 4x4=12 album alongside longtime collaborator deadmau5, which earned a Grammy nomination.
In recent months, while the coronavirus lockdown has curtailed his live appearances, he’s kept busy with a series of regular Twitch videos that see him deconstruct his own productions, seek feedback on new demos, and occasionally display his gaming prowess.
909originals caught up with him…
Q. Hi Chris, thanks for talking to us. How has lockdown been for you – was it a particularly productive period?
Sporadically productive! It’s been nice to spend more time with my family. I’ve not really left the house much at all for five months now. I’ve been experimenting with music, streaming, gaming – acting like I’m a kid again.
It’s been fun, but I just do this gaming stuff to distract myself and stop me from reading the news and getting angry… 🙂
Q. While other artists have been doing live DJ streams, you’ve been using Twitch and other streaming services quite creatively, to get feedback on new demos and even go through the production process behind whole tracks. Why did you decide to do this?
Well, I just didn’t feel particularly in love with jumping on stream to DJ like many of my colleagues were doing, mainly because I’m in a very restrictive, rented accommodation while my house is being remodelled. Plus, I couldn’t get a setup running to do a set the way I’d like it, without having people over to the house to set it up. We’re home caring for a relative and my wife won’t have it..!
So I decided to take a different approach, to do everything myself – with the help of my team, remotely – and learn everything about streaming that I could and how I could use it effectively. I’m still exploring.
The production stuff is fun. I’ve finally got it working without issues; there are so many things that can go wrong. The demo submission stream is bringing about some really interesting results. So many producers are so keen to learn and get guidance. I give them a window into my selection process – even though I’ve not signed a single track yet, I know something will come along.
The gaming side of it is literally me messing around. I feel sorry for anyone watching me play Call of Duty. I’m terrible. I did get into Sim Racing though, this year, and that’s my new passion. I LOVE my Sim. Best purchase I’ve made in years.
Q. Would it be fair to say that your more recent productions have featured a more ‘stripped back’ sound – a more back to basics approach compared to the tracks you are most associated with (Changes, La Tromba)?
Maybe. Ironically, those two you mentioned are very simple too. Changes took four hours to make and the project is quite bare overall.
But yes, I’ve learned how to create more space with sound and I use it as much as I can. It ends up making music more powerful that way, I think.
Q. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the setting up of Rising Music – what was your ‘plan of attack’ when you launched the label, and how did that evolve over time?
I’d always wanted a label since I was young, but when the opportunity to start Rising came about, it was mostly to be an outlet for my music. The rest spiralled from there.
I never particularly had a ‘grand plan’ for it and I’m sure the label suffered as a result. We put out some great tracks but I ended the label four or five years ago now. We had some good times though.
Q. Black Book launched a couple of years ago. What are you trying to do differently with that label?
Well, much the same as when I started Rising, it was for me to release music. This time, though, there was more of a vision of what it would be and become. I’ve a lot more experience now, of course, and I have a truly killer team working with me on the label.
We work really hard to make everything we do be creative, artistic, and cohesive. We want to develop artists, music, and sounds. We want to throw great events – our Black Book summer series planned for this year across North America was set to be unbelievable, all special outdoor venues, 4,000+ capacity. We all know why they didn’t happen.
With Black Book I’m getting to act like a man who learned all the mistakes of running a label before and wanting to do it again, but better. It’s working so far.
Q. For the past few years you’ve been closely associated with the US scene – you would have been present for the big ‘EDM wave’ that emerged around the turn of the last decade. How has the US dance scene matured in the years you have been playing there?
Yeah, I moved out here around 2011 or 2012. My wife loves it out here so it makes sense I work closer to home. That’s why I play more out here, really.
Those EDM days in the US were very formative for what it is today. Dance music came to the US like it was a new-found genre in certain ways, which is ridiculous when it’s origins lie here, but ‘EDM’ took off in the country and became a mainstream term.
Say what you want about those years musically, but EDM truly created something out here that didn’t exist before. You started seeing loads of people writing about dance music. Promoting dance music. The radio started playing it.
As a European, you get used to this happening. We hear dance music on the radio all the time, right? It wasn’t like that in America. Hip Hop and RnB were king here. EDM changed that.
Then, off the back of that wave, people have stayed in the scene and evolved their own tastes and helped expose it to others. There’s all sorts of dance music supported all across North America now – there is a big appetite for it.
Q. You first broke onto the scene when you were very young, with your Climbatize/Sweet Dreams bootleg, under the pseudonym Christopher D`Abuc. Do you think it was easier or more difficult to make an impact then, compared to these days?
I don’t know if it was easier or harder. It’s definitely drastically different. I wanted my stuff played on Radio 1. I wanted to get vinyl in the stores for DJ’s to buy and play my tracks. All the methods are way more digital now.
The ways to publish your music now are unbelievable, though. Getting out there isn’t hard. Getting heard is.
Q. I read somewhere that you got into production through your love of progressive house – the turn of the Millennium was a golden period for that particular genre. What artists/releases would have been inspirational for you, I would imagine the Global Underground albums?
Yes, you got it. I used to be all over the Global Underground and Hooj Choons message boards!
Timo Maas was a stand out artist for me. Anything he touched I loved. Do you remember the Sander Kleinenberg – 4 Seasons EP? Unbelievable stuff. I’d make stuff back then to try get Sasha and Digweed to play it. That was my goal.
Q. What advice would you give to up and coming producers, particularly in these challenging times?
Create, don’t imitate.
Q. What is the most essential piece of kit in your musical arsenal – what synth or plugin would you say encapsulates the Chris Lake ‘sound’?
Ha ha. I don’t think it comes down to the technology. I run the same gear as thousands of other producers, yet my music sounds drastically different. It all comes down to the individual and their ears and their decisions. That is the secret weapon.
Q. What sort of industry do you think will emerge from this coronavirus period – what will have changed?
Well, a scene you can look at in two parts. I do expect some people to come out of this period having come up with some unbelievable new sounds of music. I expect innovative ways of approaching shows.
But unfortunately I also worry for who will be able to afford carrying on playing their part in the scene. Time will tell who and what survives. But no matter what, the music will live on.
[Thanks to Chris for talking to us. Main photo by Corey Wilson. More information on upcoming releases and tour dates are available at Chris’ Facebook page]