There’s no running from Coronavirus (COVID-19) even as much as you try to avoid the media and news outlets. COVID-19 dominates conversations and headlines, but for U.K. electronic artist Steve Lawler COVID-19 hit a little too close to home. While he couldn’t be tested, Steve Lawler exhibited COVID-19 symptoms back in March and went into self-isolation before the U.K. government announced a national lockdown. “I was in lockdown three weeks before everyone else. […] I’m getting to spend more time with my children than I ever did,” says Lawler over the phone.
Now as some parts of the world are entering three months of social distancing, Steve Lawler sees how COVID-19 continues to impact the dance music industry: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“I feel so much tension out there now…including with myself…[…] I’m like we got to stick together; we are one of the biggest close-knit industries. The community that we have is incredible, but one thing that I’ve noticed [during] this lockdown is that I don’t believe we are acting close as we once were.” Steve Lawler on COVID-19
The seasoned DJ and producer who has 20 plus years in the business feels the pandemic has triggered a reset around the world; one that the dance music community can benefit from. He cites how he sees artists and other members of the community fighting on social media noting that he’s even been caught in the crossfire and was recently involved in an online tiff. “We should all be coming together, more than we ever have,” urges Lawler.
COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and its rapid spread has impacted people’s well-being and livelihood on a global level. Everyone is feeling the effects of COVID-19 in one way or another. Currently, more than 5.3 million people have tested positive around the world, and the United States alone accounts for nearly one-third of the cases. While Steve Lawler cleared the COVID-19 hurdle a couple of months ago, his brother, who owns a small artist management agency, is still fighting the good fight working to sustain his family along with millions of others around the world.
With a lack of support from the government and funds quickly drying out with the music business at a standstill, Lawler felt the need to help his brother in any way he could. “I’ve been trying to do as much as I can for him because we’re family, we don’t even live in the same country. This can’t be real, this can’t be happening,” says Lawler. With the needs of the world-changing so are business models. Services and products are adapting to current times.
“For the first time in our life, we are not in control..and we’re all so busy getting through the day to the day that it’s hard to comprehend…” — Steve Lawler on our “new” normal
The pandemic may have redefined the everyday routine and turned 2020 on its head, the music dance industry has adapted quickly. In mid-March label powerhouse Defected Records organized one of the first virtual festivals in little to no time. The music can’t stop and won’t stop. Evident enough is Lawler’s debut on Danny Howard’s Nothing Else Matters imprint. “Don’t Ask” is the title to his latest track alongside a special remix from Jansons.
Lawler’s productions have homes in a wide range of imprints including Drumcode, Hot Creations, Knee Deep In Sound, and his own imprint VIVa MUSiC. It’s no surprise that many of his records end up finding their way to his friends’ labels because for him it’s all about what feels right. Working with people you like let alone friends is an organic way to create mutual support. It’s about giving back to industry peers turned friends and help each other find success in their own right.
Having spent half, if not more, of his life developing his career and polishing his production skills, Lawler can see how certain aspects of the industry have watered down the scene. Primarily how technology has reduced the shelf life of records, and he even explains how this impacts touring.
Highlighting Patrick Topping’s “Be Sharp Say Nowt” as a modern standout track that rocketed Topping’s career, Lawler notes that these records are “few and far between in the digital era; most music becomes throw away.” “Mixes have become a throw-away. What becomes the challenge is people wanting to tour….mean[ing] they are using every single asset as promotion,” explains Lawler. As many artists nowadays are doing, they create a whole brand to complement their music. “Whether it’s pictures, videos, mixes, radio shows, CDs, merch…you name it. It’s promotion now for touring,” says Lawler. “The music industry has hit this particular moment in history where nothing serves a purpose for promo anymore because nobody is touring.” However, it’s not just artists feeling the heat but everyone involved in the industry. Agents, publicists, event organizers and venues. “So there are a lot of people who I’m talking to on an everyday basis that are catching their heads saying what the fuck do we do?”
The more and more things you give away for free; the less substance it has. That is a fact. […]The more you give, the less [the] substance. — Steve Lawler on the saturation in the dance music industry
“The industry has almost got to start having these gigantic Zoom meetings. All promoters need to come together. All DJs need to come together and we need to figure this out,” expresses Lawler. It’s crucial that the music ecosystem in its entirety come together under one roof to put forth sustainable solutions for people’s livelihoods and the physical spaces where the dance music culture was created. With live events in an indefinite pause, it’s essential to keep the lights on at venues that welcome artists night after night. “We want to save our community. Not just for our jobs but for the sake of the culture of electronic music, nightlife and clubs,” explains Lawler. “Our culture, essentially, is about music, but more than that this culture is about people. People coming together.”
Lawler recognizes that without music’s power to unite people, there wouldn’t be a community. Its influence wouldn’t be where it’s at now. Electronic dance music is no longer in the shadows or solely meant for the “underground.” It has infiltrated the mainstream with major brands from fashion to technology and everything in between seeking high-profile artists to ink deals. It is precisely because so many people around the world have gravitated toward dance music that the community has flourished and become a life of its own. “No music genre has brought people together like the electronic genre. Punk did great things but it didn’t get to the levels that this electronic music has [done],” shares Lawler.
At the end of the day, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; even the COVID-19 tunnel. The culture that was built by the people will continue to serve the community it’s been built for. “There’s going to come a time when we are all together again. Sharing that love for music, feeling that escape that nothing else can give me but music,” encourages Lawler.
“Whenever I write music, I write it for a club” — Steve Lawler on music production
What’s to come? While the future has always been uncertain, it’s a burning question for many. Will live streams dominate the foreseeable future or will the dance music community pivot to new experiences like festival drive-ins? Perhaps event organizers will follow Gerd Janson’s set at Coconut Beach Munster where only 100 people filled a 2,000 person space. For now, Steve Lawler will continue doing what he does best. Giving the world beats to move to, so, don’t ask and just dance.