Catching up with DJ Heidi Lawden
Heidi Lawden has been a strong and influential presence in electronic music in a variety of different areas for a long time now. Her DJ sets combine techno, house, disco and everything in between to get the party started and plays all over the world with gigs in Manchester and Berlins fabled Berghain coming up. Heidi’s dance roots started in London but is now based in California and UKBM had the pleasure to speak to her all about music and her storied career in a very interesting chat.
Are you working on any new music at the moment?
Currently not no, I occasionally noodle but have never committed anything to release, I went on a Squarepusher wormhole the other day which further cemented I probably have no business trying.
Your Magic Roundabout show has been going for a while now. How did it start and what have been some of the highlights so far?
My story with dublab began as a guest on VSSL’s radio show prior to playing their party, I was then asked to host 4 shows during the stations fundraiser, after which I was offered the weekly. I now share that bi-weekly with Lovefingers ESP Institute. I love having guests, I’ve interviewed Dan Avery a few times but am particularly fond of highlighting the unhighlighted shall we say and lots of locals, queers and females that deserve way more shine.
Who would be your dream guest to have on the Magic Roundabout?
Lee Scratch Perry, he’d be a handful but ever since I saw Jules Holland in Jamaica (a one off for his TV show The Tube) I’ve been a fan of the person as much as the music. Chris Blackwell would be another, Often I feel out of my depth talking to people, I can be somewhat ineloquent so communing via the medium of music is easiest.
How did you get into club music and culture in the first place?
I honestly barely remember a time I wasn’t, it sounds so cliche to say I grew up on it but I truly did, from my Mom and her mates going out and recounting stories (she was a northern soul head) to going to school disco’s and hearing versions of songs I’d never heard before (Francois K This Charming Man springs to mind) to moving to London as a teen where the streets and clubs I read about in ID and The Face seemed paved with gold and arriving at them and they were. I was always obsessed with radio and the DJ, always wanted to read who made or played on the album or the studio it was recorded in, I’d imagine (and make up) my own accompanying stories to songs, for example Miss You by The Rolling Stones was recorded because Bianca wanted something she could dance to at Studio 54, in my mind.
What were your favourite memories of your time on the London club scene?
I have so many, I could fill the page, a book. My early ins were parties inc Soul to Soul, Delirium, Sacrosanct, Raw, The Mud club, The Wag, AAA, then after hour drinking dens such as Roosterfish wherever it happened to pop up. I wasn’t even old enough to be in these places, but in absence of family in London (I’m from the deep north) I found my family in clubs. I would never join my college or co workers in the post day pub ritual, I’d go home spend ages getting ready and hit clubs 7 nights a week, dance like a banshee and hope Leigh Bowery told me I looked nice.
What was the first place that you ever played out?
A club in Southend every Friday with a friend then the first time I was paid was at The Gardening club, unofficially anytime anywhere house party wise that would let me jump on for a bit (one of note was with Ashley Beedle) or randomly so a real DJ could take an extended bathroom break, using their records.
What were your favourite clubs and venues to go to and to play at and what made them so special?
I always say it but I adore playing Panorama Bar, The Lab. Berghain is a special place, imagine everyone from the staff to the DJs to the attendees being the most ultimate authentic them and the energy that gives you. It feels like my earliest clubbing experiences, no cameras, no inhibitions just pure ritual, commune and celebration, it’s nothing new to gather in this way, it’s primal and celebratory and I think an essential part of a fulfilled life. I’ve never bought into the vilification of it even when vilified.
I throw parties with friends in LA and they are always the biggest headache to pull off (often using clandestine spaces) so the reward there is so much sweeter too, when I finally get to step behind the decks the release is ecstatic.
Who are some of your biggest influences as a dj and a producer?
I have a few Big Bangs, my first ever local hometown DJ an amazing gay DJ Brian, there was literally one club in my hometown, Brian formed some early tastes for me, moving to London people like Gilles Peterson, Patrick Forge, Boilerhouse Boys, Andrew Weatherall, Colin Favor, Manasseh, Princess Julia, Rachel Aubern, Jazzy M, The Watson Brothers, Fat Tony, Soul II Soul, Tim Westwood, Shock Soundsystem were among my early DJ inspirations. London’s Pirate radio stations were never off in my house. Mix tapes from Marley Marl and Red Alert too. Then later I’d go to any party Boys Own and it’s affiliates and DJs were involved with. I later met Harvey and went to see him play and that was a huge moment for me, he was another one of those next level DJs like Weatherall that made me wonder why I bothered. I then really embraced trips to New York to experience places like The Loft, The Tunnel, Sound Factory and those legendary DJs I’d only heard of.
You are now based in LA. What was the impetus behind your move?
To take a break, get some sun, I’d experienced the death of a really close friend and working partner and it had really affected me, it was left I acknowledged in that British stiff upper lip way, I was ready for a change but Indodnt intend for it to be permanent.
How do the UK and US club scenes differ and in what ways are they similar?
LA has me excited like London did when I first moved there, this past weekend for example, I DJd Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I can’t count on both hands the amount of warehouse parties that happened, gay straight and every thing in between and surrounding. The scene in LA is growing and thriving on an underground level, I think it’s slightly underestimated, but the taste and talent level here is really good outside of the more mainstream clubs. Ian Schrager just launched a club here in the middle of Hollywood though that’s a glamorous offering but they’ve been booking great talent and not compromising.
What UK artists and producers are you feeling at the moment?
I love Bruce, I really like anyone I feel like has something unique to offer, or is pushing things forward to my ears tastes. Kincaid is making great stuff, Shanti Celeste, Bambooman, Ian Blevins, Linkwood, Black Merlin, LUCY, Rival Consoles, Haai is Brit based does that count I love her sound, Davis Galvin oh wait he might not be a Brit, Sarah Bates is making really pretty music, Roisin Murphy is my disco queen as is Hifi Sean. Scantia tracks are so exciting, I could go on and on. Dan Avery is always a favorite and he commissions inspired remix choices on his stuff too. Trevino’s music is a huge favorite of mine and I pretty much play something of his most times I play out, his death was a huge loss. Neville Watson released one of the best albums of 2018, and Aquarian is doing exciting things.
What is your favourite club to play in the world?
I prefer clubs with a mixed crowd, I like discerning ears and non discerning shenanigans. Someone recently told me at a party in LA in this ok kinda of hushed tone that a consensual sexual encounter was going down on the dancefloor while I was playing, and I thought yup I’m in the right place.
In your opinion, what makes a good club night?
I always follow or am lead by the DJ or the particular promoter but in reality it’s the people, there’s no club without that magic mix of crowd.
You’re back in the UK soon to play at La Discotheque in Manchester with Danny Krivit, Francois K and Artwork. Are you looking forward to that show?
Yes, very much so, Francois and Artwork are really good friends and both such massive inspirations, there is not one iffy DJ on that line up, wait maybe its me Hahaha. I’m a northerner and like all northerns of a certain age went to The Hacienda, it’s my first time playing Manchester the closest cool big city to my hometown, friends from school have bought tickets, they bought them (even though I offered them list, they bought them to support – so northern) I could not be more excited or proud to be asked to play a city that forged so much of my musical taste. I’m a crier, behind the decks on the dancefloor it’s going to be emotional, I play twice, they have a second room La Pisscotheque I’m sure it needs no explanation, I play in there too. Should be the right amount of sleazy.
What has been the best party you’ve played at recently?
This year I’ve played a lot of things I’ve helped plan, I am one third of a trio of girls, our party is Surround, we do very little in the way of loud promotion shall we say, mostly mailing list, personal invites and it’s a packed sweat box every time. ESP Institute happenings always let me do the weirdo warm up, and I absolutely cherish that, I’m playing an early set before Sherelle at a forthcoming ESP party, I was so excited the first time I was made aware of her then saw her play, wow the energy, It made me excited for the future.
Will you be playing any festivals in the summer?
I am indeed, I’m heading back to Love International, summer camp for DJs and the nutters that enjoy that experience, the cliche is I’m making new lifelong friends every time I go there, it’s in Croatia, it’s fantastic and I get to be a party tourist, as in I’ve seen non of the sights but you will find me on every dance floor. I’m beyond thrilled to have been asked to play Beat Hotel in Marrakesh, Lovefingers and I played their stage twice at Glastonbury last summer, once unplanned at short notice to fill in for an absent DJ. I was sandwiched in between national treasures Midland and Bicep, I thought well this will be when people go to the toilet, but the crowd stayed and had it, yeh I think I cried. I’ve got a few more festival planned for this year that are as yet unannounced.
What have been some of your favourite festival moments so far?
Getting to hear and dance to DJs I’d only read about or listened to mixes online the first time I played Love International, I was a fiend. Glastonbury is something to tell the grandkids, I played a few stages, Block 9 is heaven and Rabbit Hole ended up being around a 6 hr set. I really love festivals I’ve never had a bad time at one both playing or attending I have a bit of a hard time playing during daylight, I’m getting over it but unless I’ve been up all night and I’m seeing the night turn into day I prefer nocturnal set times personally or a darkened zone. Being asked to play Coachella felt like I’d achieved something in my adopted hometown state, the Yuma tent is a custom built pop up club within the festival, so never daylight. Half my family flew out for it, my Mom is and was living for Idris Elba, and all I heard for the year leading up to it was as long as I get to hear Idris play I’ll be happy, yeah, nice thanks.
You have worked with DJ Harvey for many years. How did you come to work with him and what were some of the highlights?
I was DJing and he was DJing and I finally went to see him and retired immediately, he was and is just so good, he was dangerous, and played music I’d never heard the likes of in a club/dancefloor setting. I was working with other DJs at some point and booking clubs so it really just happened naturally. We’re always looking forward to and excited for what’s next, it’s something we share, the thrill of the chase maybe or the excitement of what we’re planning. We both tire easily and hate to be put into any one category, so it’s always great conjuring up what’s next. We get into some hefty heated debates, about pretty much everything, but then pop the kettle on and all is right with the world.
How was the experience of working on the locussolus tracks you appeared on?
Harvey is super fun to work with and be around in the studio, I did so under a false name. The biggest part of my work on the project was in the background though the nitty gritty of steering the ship and keeping momentum afloat.
Would you ever produce any more music together in the future?
Never say never, but you know then I listen to someone like Bruce or a piece of classical music and think nah leave it to the pros. I love to write lyrics I’m as opinionated as every asshole but I can’t work a digital studio, I’m excited by old analogue ssl desks but like who’s gonna open that up to a dance release that might sell 200 copies.
What artists are you really feeling at the moment?
I covered so much of them with the Brits above, I love Wata Igarashi, Bas Dobbelaer & Vandervolgen, Andre Brattan, Gabe Gurnsey, Alleged Witches, Marie Davidson, Autre, Leon Vynehall, Barker, Photonz, Etap Kyle, Matt Edwards, Jamaica Suk, Roman Flugel, Actress, Bartellow, Conforce. I just got turned on to a producer Ambiance who is LA based, and there are a few guys that make edits almost exclusively for Harvey Peter Blaker, Danny B, I don’t even want to own them, they’re kind of custom made for his floors, I’m not even sure anyone else could ever work them into their sets, I don’t like gratuitous edits but a DJ custom making edits for their own exclusive use for their dancefloors dancers is still magic to me, I don’t want to delve into my older favorites but I never ever tire of Basic Channel and often put their music on for a reset, that and old Detroit techno releases, Model 500, Juan Atkins etc.
How are things with the ESP Institute imprint and have you got any upcoming releases you can tell us about?
This year of our lord 2020 is ESP Institutes 10 year anniversary, that’s 10 years of releasing new music, no re-edits, no time life style re-issues or heritage acts just new genre bending music often in sleeves with art worthy of exhibition, a couple of releases were included in an exhibition in The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian design museum actually – Visualizing Sound. Currently I love a release by DALO. Forthcoming an Afrikan Sciences single. Andrew (Hogge) has produced an album by Raymond Richards which is an ethereal Pedal Steel offering, theres another Ground EP forthcoming. Andrew is wholly responsible for the labels A&R we share our new favorites and are kindred spirits in sound but Andrew has an incredible ear, the label I feel is greatly under appreciated, but he works tirelessly because he loves music and sharing new music, I think he’d put a release out a week if he could afford it.
Do you find it a challenge balancing your work with the label and all your musical endeavours?
Yup, but it makes you feel as alive most days as is kills you other days. I literally live for this, I’m rich in life experiences due to choosing this life, or it choosing me. Do I fantasize about my retreat for senior chihuahuas every other day, yes, but I’ve got too many years left in me that I want to spend on the dancefloors of the world.
Difficult question, but what is your favourite track of all time and where did you hear it for the first time?
I have many over different genres, music holds so much for me in terms of emotion and memory and connections to a feeling. E2E4 is pretty much up there for me tho, I think I first heard it in Ibiza, I was aware of Sueno Latino so later discovering the original blew my mind, I feel really unoriginal but it immediately sprang to mind on reading this question and I don’t deliberate over interviews, the stream of consciousness style answers without edit is the only way I can get them done. I also adore Brainstorm Loving is Really my game, perfection in a disco record for me.
What have been some of the proudest moments of your career?
Balancing it all while raising mini humans is something I’m most proud of. Holding down long term friendships often forged over nights out, and not killing plants and pets. Finally having the gall (most days) to believe I can do this DJ thing after starting and stopping due to massive insecurity or lack of nerve and feeling that I have a voice/sound to share albeit via the channeling of talented and wonderful producers & bands musical output. It blows my mind when I pause for a moment on the way to a gig or as I’m sorting through music that I get asked to do this globally. DJs are nothing without the people that make music and the party goers or listeners. We merely channel the connection between these two masters in a collective temporary space, I feel fortunate I get to be a part of that a lot more than I feel proud.
Photo Credits- Peter Speyer / Ego Trip