Chris Lake on His Return to House Music After Years of Making Commercial Dance Music
Even though most contemporary EDM fans may not recognize Chris Lake as a household name, his prowess carries significant weight within the industry. He's worked with chart-topping names like Steve Aoki and deadmau5, in addition to founding Rising Music, which has released big tunes from TJR, Nom De Strip, and John Dahlback. His personal music career has produced several radio-friendly electro and progressive house releases that have found their way into the scene’s collective queue over the past few years. For this reason, it may come as a surprise that he’d prefer not to be recognized for his more popular releases as he continues to evolve his sound.
Lake recently put out the tech-housey single “Chest,” the first of an extensive series of upcoming releases that mark the return to his deeper house roots. Currently travelling the U.S. on his Origins tour, Lake took some time to speak with EDM.com about the track and its place in his greater body of work as a whole. “One of my problems is that I’ve been a very confusing artist,” he speculated. “I do like a lot of things and I haven’t cared too much about what people think to a fault. It confuses people, y’know?”
As we’ve previously reported, the who’s who of dance music contains quite a few seasoned artists that have worked toward staying relevant to the younger EDM generation. In their earlier careers, many veteran DJs concerned themselves less with public image - a few of whom even actively avoided the spotlight - but as electronic music gained popularity in recent years, those who "weathered the storm" are now feeling pressured to place greater priority on how they’re received by the masses. “I don’t live EDM, I don’t live techno, I don’t live tech house - I live music,” Lake himself professed. “Anyway, the problem is that that confuses the shit out of people. I’m trying to be a little more concise this year with what I show people.”
With regard to the UK progressive house scene that he initially played a role in during the turn of the millennium, Lake shed more light on the difference in priorities that artists had then versus now. “For me, in the early stages, I loved progressive house,” Lake explained. “Not what progressive house is now, but, like, Sasha & Digweed. That was what progressive meant, it was Sasha & Digweed. And I would make a record, and I would make it because I wanted Sasha & Digweed to play it.”
His earlier work stands in stark contrast to more recent tracks like “Helium" and “Sundown,” two anthemic releases with clear-cut mass appeal. “I just guess the downside to it is essentially when you go and do records like that, and they’ve got vocals, they get way, way more attention than the records I feel are much more reflective of who I am as an artist,” he says. “Those records don’t sell very well. They don’t have vocals, they’re not easy to market, they just work really well in clubs - and they get forgotten about.”
When asked about his experiences with deadmau5, he commented, “I can't help but respect that as much as people probably don't like to hear it, he's always been the same. I think that's to be respected because what happens in this industry - it changes a lot of people. It really affects people; it affects their personality and a lot of things, but it hasn't for Joel. He's exactly the same.”
While it's never easy to predict what direction trends will move in, Lake inspires faith in music’s ability to help people find themselves as he makes strides towards determining his own identity as an artist. “I don't think I've ever believed so much in my music as the music that I'm gonna be releasing this year,” he says.
Chris Lake’s full interview exhibits a fascinating perspective on an age-old music industry dilemma. Read it in its entirety below:
EDM: After your last show in El Paso, you’re back at your place in LA before your two upcoming West Coast gigs. How are you spending your down time since you have a break from the tour?
CL: I don’t know if you can see on the camera but I’m in the studio now, just getting some records finished up. I’m actually taking a couple weeks off after these next two shows - my sister’s getting married, so we’re having, like, a family get together. So basically I’m just trying to get everything finished before I leave off to Florida. I have a holiday, which I haven’t had in a long time, so yeah, I’m just trying to finish off a lot of tracks. I finished off a remix for Jess Glynne, the singer for Clean Bandit; she just won a grammy for the “Rather Be” record.
EDM: You probably don’t want to give away too much, but what can you share about the work you have coming out?
CL: I spent a lot of time in planes and airports and when I ended up in Scotland, I started experimenting with some new sounds and just gave myself a bit more time to kind of mess around with new ideas - time that I’ve never really given myself previously. I’ve written so much stuff the last six, eight months, and I’m just now getting to the point where I can release it all.
So, first from the records is “Chest.” I’m really happy with how it’s been received so far. It seems to be getting people’s attention, I’ll put it that way. That makes me happy because it’s definitely not a reaction that I want to be isolated, because there are a lot of records I’ve done that I think will surprise people.
EDM: You mentioned that a lot of this came about because you were in Scotland, and even though you were born in England you spent a lot of your upbringing there. Did visiting Scotland bring up some nostalgic feelings that influenced your creative process?
CL: You are a product of everything that surrounds you; you have to be physically influenced by every single thing that happens around you every second of the day. Being surrounded by people and situations, doing certain clubs, and having certain schedules affects you, and it affects the music you’re influenced by. I think one of the key things that happened was I went to Scotland and had some time off was that I really didn’t speak to anyone (laughs). It was a bit of a “fuck you” moment, just doing stuff by myself, and I had some time, and I tried to get in a creative free flow. That’s exactly what happened, and I started making some of the most creative stuff I think I’ve ever made - and I’m still doing it.
EDM: For most of the Origins tour - like your gigs at Life Nightclub in Las Vegas, for instance - your sets consisted mostly of progressive and electro, but “Chest” is what some might describe as “more tasteful” house. What would you say prompted the change in creative direction?
CL: I’ve always been open to playing all sorts of stuff. One of my problems is that I’ve been a very confusing artist, because I do like a lot of things and I haven’t cared too much about what people think to a fault. It confuses people, y’know? The only people who really understand me are people who come into a studio and they speak to me and they understand how I feel about all different types of music. I can understand what makes an underground record work, and I can understand what makes a commercial record work - or a pop record, or a trip-hop record, or a chillout ambient record, or a deep house record. I can put myself into that mindset, I can make it work and have it be believable that it’s right for that genre.
EDM: That’s interesting, because there was an interview that you did in 2013 in which you mentioned that one of the things that bothered you was producers trying to copy mainstream sounds - but back in 2013, your big release was “Helium.” That track was very similar to a lot of popular progressive house from that time, where “Chest” is a lot more classic house, at a time when the deep house movement is exposing a lot of new listeners to such sounds. If you don’t feel that you’ve adhered to trends, what do you feel differentiates your music from everything else out there?
CL: Yeah, it’s a bit of a weird one. “Helium” was a really strange record, ‘cause I actually made about 10-15 different versions of that record, and one of the big mistakes I made with that record was I wasn’t trying to make a dance record - I was trying to make a record. I was never really thinking about how I was going to make people dance, it’s just that I loved the song.
Now, if you go and listen to records like the track I did with Nelski in 2009 or 2010 called “Minimal Life,” it’s a perfect example of where my head was at at the time. You go and listen to that, and you'll understand where the vibes from "Chest" come from. You go and listen to "To The Point" in 2007 - it had a BSOD Mix which is deadmau5 and Steve Duda - y'know, records like this, and you'll hear where the "Chest" sound comes from. I mean, there's loads of other tracks. Listen to any record around 2007-2008, you can hear how big an influence house has been in my career for many, many years. It's just the perception's completely different 'cause those records were promoted in a completely different way. You're not gonna see them spread all over the internet like you're seeing "Sundown," like you're seeing "Helium," like you're seeing "Boneless," records like this. They're, like, the headline records, so to speak.
Records like "Chest" are just kind of raw club tracks. But the thing is, "Chest" isn't a deep house record! (Laughs) It's a tech house record, and it's effective. I don't think it sounds like other people. It's just a quirky, fun little tool record, and I like it. I like the fact that I don't think you could say that it sounds like it's copying anyone else's style. I'm proud of that. I don't feel like people are going around saying, "Yeah, Chris Lake 'Chest,' it sounds like this, it sounds like that." It just sounds like the vibe I created and I'm very happy with that.
EDM: You’ve also admitted that you have a swearing problem, and it just so happens that you share some common history with another very outspoken artist that you just mentioned: deadmau5. Do you feel that you and Joel are like-minded in any way?
CL: Not in the slightest. No, I think there's lots of things we agree on, but there's lots of things I disagree with him on. I can't help but respect that as much as people probably don't like to hear it, he's always been the same. He's always been the same before he had the success everyone knows him for now to where he's at now, he's always been hard to deal with (laughs) and he's always been very opinionated and he doesn't really have any filter. I think that's to be respected because what happens in this industry - it changes a lot of people. It really affects people; it affects their personality and just a lot of things, but it hasn't for Joel. He's exactly the same.
EDM: In regards to your label, Rising Music, TJR and Nom De Strip are doing pretty well as of late. Are you reminded of your own career arc when you look at how well they're doing as artists?
CL: I wouldn't say reminded of my own career, but I definitely like helping people out - and Nom and TJ are two examples of people I believe in and have done very well. TJ turned into a completely different beast than when I first met him. He's super talented. He's got his finger on the pulse of what's current, but he has his own sound and quirk, and I've always liked it. You know, he's been around for years, and he's been doing his thing, at a very underground level.
Then he made "Funky Vodka." I think a few people turned it down and he was gonna give it away for free as a download on SoundCloud. But then it went number one on Beatport, and Pit Bull did a vocal over it and the rest is history. It's done over two million singles in America alone. And now you go look at his tour dates and he is touring like a madman, and it's fantastic, and I'm happy for him, and it's nice to be involved in it. His sound has changed a lot now and yet he's still killing it in everything he does, and people love him; he's got a fantastic fan base. Yeah, he's really good at what he does.
And then Nom, he's quite the producer's producer, the one you listen to and think "He's making records sound better than basically anyone," but he's probably not known by Joe Public yet, but the producers know who he is and he's the one everyone looks up to.
EDM: His name has a good amount of presence, though; it's in people's mouths.
CL: Yeah, you know, it's getting more and more. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He's just brilliant. I love having him around. We share the studio now, we're good friends, and it's nice having him around. Y'know our careers are all very different, our sounds are very different, but we all find that kind of middle ground, an understanding where we can all help each other out so we can appreciate each other's music.
EDM: You talked about certain tracks being indicators of where your head was at at various times, but a lot of your fans might really want to know where your head was at when you remixed Leftfield's "Phat Planet." Leftfield commanded such an influence on the early rave scene, and that remix was what earned you your first big wave of recognition. What made you choose to remix one of their tracks?
CL: I just loved the record. Honestly, it was just as simple as that; it was just awesome. I'm impressed, you've done your homework. That was 14 years ago. You know, and here's the thing, it's so easy to judge a book by its cover, and I don't blame people for that. You know, I'm sure I do it to so many things around me all the time. One thing I've done and failed at throughout my life is allowed people to understand who I am and how I think. I know I think very, very differently from other people and I've not put much importance on things that I probably should have, like how people interpret everything that I do, but I just love creating music, and I go through spells where I want to achieve different things. Probably the difference with me is that I've done nearly all of it under the name "Chris Lake" where other people have split it up into other things. For me, in the early stages, I loved progressive house. Not what progressive house is now, but, like, Sasha & Digweed. Even if you go back and you listen to my collab with Rowan Blades on "Filth," which was released on Alternative Route in 2004, and that was one of the biggest progressive house records of the year, and it was on the money. I listened back to that a couple months ago and it sounds really cool, it sounds really fresh, I'm really happy with it. Then I got to a point around 2005 where I wanted to achieve that less and less, and I wanted to try something different, and I messed around with new sounds, and that's when I came up with the sound that resulted in "Changes." And everything went off into a completely different direction. And around 2009 I got really into a slightly, like, tech-house-come-disco kind of vibe, and went really down the rabbit hole with that. And now there's a new vibe coming as well.
EDM: It sounds like you're not the type of artist where you make music according to trends, or keep what's popular in your mind during your creative process.
CL: No, but one thing I will say, is, y'know, if I do my job right I'll play a part in influencing the next trend.
EDM: Well if that's on your mind, it seems like every five years or so house becomes popular again so how long do you think deep house will be the it-genre before it gets replaced by one of the fad genres and what do you think that will be?
CL: No guesses on what it might be, and I believe it will be very long. The cycle just keeps getting shorter and shorter and shorter. You know, the main consistency is everything goes back to house. It just keeps going and keeps going, it's the best music to dance to, and the problem with a lot of these fads - I mean that with great respect, but the ones that just come and go, dubstep being the perfect example - it's just tiresome. It's just not as easy to let fly and that's why people just got really sick of it - unfortunately, because I think it's a really great genre. Not completely my bag, but it's a good sound, there's fantastic records done in dubstep. Also, I love breaks, break beat, but no one gives a shit about break beat. (Laughs) Go through and have a listen to the latest Evil Nine mix. It's really good.
EDM: Seeing as how you’ve expressed that one of your failings is not allowing people to understand who you are, is there anything else in particular you want your fans to know about you?
CL: You know what? I don't think I've ever believed so much in my music as the music that I'm gonna be releasing this year. I'm so excited, and I don't think I've ever had as much music to release as I do now, so keep on the lookout, 'cause if you were shocked at what I did with "Chest" then I think I might keep surprising you in a good way.