Ralph Lawson is one of the key figures that shaped the early days of dance music and owner of one of the most respected electronic music labels in the world – 2020Vision.
By choosing the name of his label you can see that his vision is crystal clear. 2020Vision was originally 20/20 vision, which is when you have perfect sight. Lawson wanted to create a perfect vision of music.
Ralph had already been exposed to house clubs in his hometown of London before he moved to Leeds. He arrived in Leeds in 1988 and sought out a house music scene there. Leeds was known as ‘Goth Capital’ in those days but there was one famous dance club called ‘The Warehouse’. There he listened to the beats of Nightmares on Wax, who were originally George Evelyn and Kevin Harper. N.O.W mixed hip hop from Run DMC, Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane with house music from Chicago. George was also playing early bleep house, mainly delivered by Warp Records. This was fresh, new and homegrown music from local bands. N.O.W had their own track ‘Dextrous’ out and label mates LFO busted their monster LFO ‘The Warehouse dub,’ long before it got really big, in the club.
There were two rave organizations in Leeds called Joy and Kaos, celebrating events for up to 2000 people. Ralph became resident at Joy through passing the promoter mix tapes. But the raves increasingly saw the music become harder and faster and move away from the original sounds Lawson loved. So in 1991 it was time to do something different and back to basics was born with promoters Dave Beer & Alistair Cooke. Former punks, Beer & Cooke wanted to give people a different, more discerning experience from the increasingly cheesy raves. DJ Alistair Cooke played Nitzer Ebb, Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242, while Ralph continued to play the early house tracks flavoured with Balearic beats exported from the London DJs who came to guest at the club.
Asking him about the influence Ibiza had on him in those days Lawson says, ‘It was not as big as you might think, it was more the London DJs like Andrew Weatherall, Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling who brought it over. We didn’t go to Ibiza until 1992 and it was really disappointing! We were booked in Amnesia, the club was quite empty and the resident DJ gave us a hard time by taking away the monitors before we started to play. The same thing happened at Ku, which later became Privilege. We missed the first wave of Ibiza and by the time we got there the clubs were not good! We took our inspiration far more from the Hacienda in Manchester, but we mixed that with the emerging Leeds scene of bleep house and our influences of live bands and punk. I loved the purity of American House productions on Nu Groove, Big Shot, Trax and DJ International. But I had grown up with punk rock and loved the energy of live shows. I suppose this was a weird mix.’
The second wave Ibiza then hit him hard as people started to come back to the Island from 1998 onwards. The clubs were packed again and gained international recognition thanks to promoters such as Darren Hughes who created ‘Home’ – the Sunday party that today is We Love. Cocoon brought German techno to Amnesia in 1999 and Manumission filled Privilege with 10,000 people with their unique mix of stage performances and music.
Lawson came back to Ibiza to play for Home in 1998.
‘The decks were on the bar, there was no DJ booth! Sundays were the focal point of the week on the Island and everyone was there. The sound system was actually pretty bad and had to be fairly low as it was all open air but it didn’t matter too much as the party was amazing.’
Speaking about his own productions I have to ask him about the story behind one of my favourite tracks of all times, ‘Lovelee Dae’ from Blaze. (While I write this I listen again to the mix and got goose bumps all over – amazing)
‘The guys from Playhouse were really into 2020Vision. Back in those days there were no emails so Ralph received a fax from Jörn and Roman Flügel (who later became Alter Ego) saying how much they loved the label. They had played a night at their first club ‘Wild Pitch’ in Frankfurt where they played 2020Vision records all night. It later became the legendary Robert Johnson club.’
They asked him to do a remix for ‘Lovelee Dae’. They swapped with their own mix of Random Factor’s ‘Broken Mirror’. After the remix for ‘Lovelee Dae’ went so well 2020 did more remixes for Blaze – ‘Wishing You Were Here’, ‘Funky People’ and ‘Fantasy’.
Another output from Ralph Lawson is the live project called 2020Soundsystem, which is on tour right now.
‘It started in 2003 from my desire to create a better live experience for dance music. Hardly anyone has managed to perform our music well and I feel it has really held back the scene. I hope we manage to prove you can play dance music with real musicians in clubs and festivals. We have live drums, bass, keys and DJ. I am privileged to play alongside such great players – it’s so humbling. At the moment our idea is to give people a present at the shows. So we made a live session and give the CDs away for free to the people at the gigs, making it an exclusive gift for people who are actually at the show. The latest festival was the Garden Festival in Croatia and the last club we played was Fabric in London.’
You can catch 2020Soundsystem on August 4th at the Eastern Electrics Festival in London. They are also currently working on their first new material since 2009. They already have quite a few tracks but they need to feel it is fresh and substantial, and that takes time.
Ralph Lawson is an ambassador of house music; he brought European influences into American house music and vice versa.
‘I always loved dub. I was really into Lee Scratch Perry, The Scientist and Mad Professor as a kid. The early US house records always had dubs on the B-side where they would lose the vocals or ‘dub them out’ with delays. I always played the B-sides rather than the A-sides – the stripped down dub versions are where some of the greatest moments in dance music happen.’
His vision of a perfect day in Ibiza?
‘Getting up early on Salinas beach and jumping into that amazing water, fresh fruit on the beach and a big pure Marijuana joint before playing a day party for all my favourite people in the world. Let’s catch our own fresh fish and cook it on the beach for dinner. Take everyone to Space for a night session and head off to some crazy after party before going out to DC10 on my day off. I guess I cheated as that’s really two days isn’t it! Oh well that’s a day in Ibiza!’
Sounds really perfect. So what will happen on December 21st 2012?
‘Well, it will be the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, and for sure I won’t enjoy it. It’s the most depressing day of the year in England. I suppose you are asking about Mayan prophecies and predictions that it will be the end of the world? Well I am aware that we are on the edge of existence here but the world won’t end on that day! What does really piss me off is that people have no respect. When I see people going off the beach and leaving all the rubbish behind, which is washed into the sea – it drives me crazy. We need more understanding of the big picture, if every single one of us would take care of their own stuff we could make a big difference.’
Expectations of 2020Visions are very high; Ralph always looks to support fresh new artists. On 2020 there are Huxley, PBR Streetgang and Joyce Muniz all coming. He also recently started a sub label called 2020 Midnight Visions with more leftfield, young producers like PhOtOmachine, Ossie and Behling & Simpson. The main change has been that the label now does it’s own parties. They recently held their first ever full terrace takeover in Ibiza at We Love Space but it’s the shows in London that have really taken off. Throwing real one-off underground parties in warehouses, on rooftops, disused train stations and in film studios.
And you have a long running show on Ibiza Sonica, tell us about that.
Yes I have been at Sonica since close to the start making the 2020Vision Mix. I think radio is massively important for the island. It has two well developed dedicated dance music stations. They inform people where to go but most importantly play the music you will hear in the clubs or in the beach bars. Sonica is also worldwide through their website. They have heavyweight artists on the air like Carl Cox, Giles Peterson and Digweed. I wish we had the station on the radio back home!
So what about the future for Ibiza?
‘I truly love Ibiza so it does concern me to see the continual rise in prices. Do we really want to make the Island an exclusive playground for the rich? Are there even enough rich people to sustain that and surely it’s not just for them? It’s hard for normal people to attend parties when the entry and drinks are so expensive. I remember when the clubs were empty and that can happen again. Now you have Croatia offering a cheaper but increasingly fresh and exciting alternative for young people in the summer. Ibiza is in real danger of falling back into what happened back in the nineties and nobody wants that. So I wish that one of the big clubs would make a statement by lowering prices or creating a cheaper entry ticket for early birds perhaps? Surely everyone can still make plenty of money? How much do you actually need? In the long run I think it’s also a more sustainable model. It’s fine when you are at the top like Ibiza has been for over ten years now but people remember you forever if you look after them, they come back.’
Ralph, we thank you so much for your words and can only more than agree with them…..
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