Damian Lazarus: 20 Years of Crosstown Wizarding

Damian Lazarus talks to Beatportal about early trips to the Balearics, the future of his career, 20 years of Crosstown Rebels, and what it’s like releasing a book.

4 min
Damian Lazarus 2023 1
Jun 1, 2023
·
By
Ralph Moore

I started writing this new feature two days after Damian Lazarus made a serious splash in London with his new book and a twentieth-anniversary party at fabric straight after where Damian celebrated two decades at the very forefront of dance music with special guests Clive Henry, Mathew Jonson, Yulia Niko and Tibi Dado.

From Get Lost in Miami to Crosstown Rebels parties from London to Ibiza and Day Zero in Tulum, Damian has always had his ears to the ground and his CDJs set to stun so he’s someone I’ve always enjoyed conversing with. In addition, cool and astute collaborations have always been explored, including a link-up with Diplo and Jungle in the summer of 2021 for “Don’t Be Afraid.”

This latest piece looks forward as much as it looks back but starts all the way in Ibiza in ‘97 and slowly makes its way through East London and then across the world to Tulum and finally to Italy, where he now lives. Damian’s book is also a brilliant retrospective through two decades of a label and a life in electronic music. Damian is now a husband and a father, but that dedication to being a dance music wizard will never leave him.

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Can you remember your first forays into Ibiza?

My first trips to Ibiza were extremely hilarious. I want to say 1997? I was managing and playing alongside an act called Instrumental, who had an album out called Acoustic, which was twelve covers of techno records. So they did things like “Little Fluffy Clouds” [by The Orb] within that context. Once I joined them and got them a deal, it came about that we were invited to play Café Del Mar’s 25rh anniversary and the band played hovering on the sea and I DJed and threw in odd sound effects to add into this beautiful string soundscape. That was my first trip to Ibiza. After that we found some shit hash from someone in the port and went back to Jet Apartments, where seven of us were crammed into one room with spare mattresses on the floor. And we got high on some bad hash!

The second time I was doing PM Scientists at Smithfields in Farringdon and our good friends Derren [Smart] and Rosanna were doing the Cocoloco at Privilege and at that time I was playing a fusion of house, techno and d ‘n’ b. But I packed specifically drum ‘n’ bass and electronic records. The following morning we went to Carry On at Space and I was sat on the old top tier on a Tuesday morning and there was no music and people were asking why is there no music?! I was sat there with my record box so totally uninvited, I decided to start playing. I would love to know who was opening that morning but I got away with that for an hour! Cut to 25 years later, and I now have a residency in the same room. You don’t get much more full circle than that.

Do you love Ibiza as much now?

Now? I love it more than ever! In 2002, I played CircoLoco for the first time and was introduced to Antonio and Andrea by Rosanna. It was open at 6 AM at that time and I was in the bottom of that poster for a couple of years before making my way to the middle! Ibiza has always been an opportunity for growth and change and when Black Coffee offered me the weekly residency, my first reaction was “how do I break the news to CircoLoco?” And the second was “can I do 21 weeks?” I was concerned! From experience, I asked friends how to keep things exciting for 21 weeks. So I put together a really cool and varied lineup of friends and artists and that’s kept me on my toes.

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How did you first become aware of Black Coffee?

I first became aware of Black Coffee through Elliot Shaw who showed me video footage and I couldn’t quite see how it could translate: the first week he played at Circo Loco, he really hadn’t done his homework and his idea of Ibiza was big party classics. Soon after, he realized he needed to reassess. In the face of adversity, he’d become a household name in South Africa but he hadn’t broken internationally. The second show, he smashed it and its been upwards since then. Over time, we’ve been getting closer as friends so I asked him to remix the Ancient Moons project and then he asked me to remix “Wish You Were Here” and we both felt it was an opportunity. I have so much respect for him and his talent but I love playing B2B with him and we have an electric connection, I couldn’t have been luckier to join any other artist. I was fortunate in that he already had one of the most happening parties on the island but it was important to bring my own unique touch. And he’s been very open to that.

Maceo Plex is back on the new compilation, what’s your favourite track of his?

“I think it’s probably “Can’t Leave You.” That’s the one that epitomises the Maceo Plex sound. When we first met, he’d been making music for a long time as Maetrik and he came to me with new music he wanted to release but it wasn’t right to release as Maetrik: he had the vision to come to me. In all honesty, most of that album was complete and what was interesting was there was one track I felt that it sat in similar territory to other tracks which I wanted to shelve and that’s the track “Together” that at the time felt like a bonus track. I literally sat on it for 12 years and now finally it’s coming out.

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Can you tell us about Major League DJs?

In the early pandemic days I was working on new music and “Into The Sun” came out during the front end of that period. Jem Cooke has a beautiful voice and together we concocted the track. Although it came out as a single, we never got any remixes. I decided against any remixes, I did the Worship Beatless mix which sounds beautiful at sunrise but for the 20th anniversary, I thought it was a good opportunity and the song was so precious to me, I was looking into the Amapiano sound and came across the Major League DJz and it turns out Diplo was also working with them. I did a lot of digging – they’re talented twins – and there was something about these guys I really liked. We met in Miami when they rocked up at a photoshoot and I really liked them. We exchanged numbers and they tore the roof off. And now they will play with me at Hï Ibiza. They created an absolute monster!

Has the book been a labour of love?

Well, not a labour of love… this book has been an exceptionally challenging episode of my life! The beginning of this situation came about last year when my manager Ed said next year is 20 years of the label and I really wasn’t thinking about numbers. We celebrated 10 but my knee-jerk reaction was let’s ignore it, that makes me feel old. But by the end of that week, I decided to make a book, a compilation and a world tour! He was right but the book was a very challenging and emotional episode. We flew to Italy, where the history vaults are locked up and we went deep. After much searching, I found boxes and it was a treasure trove! The first test logo designs. The various fonts we looked at initially. A letter from Orange telling me I was £860 overdrawn in the exact same month I launched the label. The first parties, Slash and Burn at The Key and Stink in London. The distribution meltdowns. That’s all in the book. The birth of Get Lost, me moving to LA to work with Insomniac. There’s a heavy focus on hedonism but primarily it’s all about community. We created a nucleus family of party-focused individuals making amazing music. It’s really special. And Pete Tong has written a forward.

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What does the future hold?

That’s the hardest question you could ask me today. I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I should take a rest. I don’t know. I do need a bit of time. After this celebration and once the summer is over, I may take some time for myself and make some new music. I would like to take a minute and assess! I am excited by Secret Teachings, our new label. But I am looking for new ideas.

What does Day Zero in Tulum represent for you?

I cannot think of a place more magical and satisfying. What we manifest there is amazing.

And Get Lost?

Get Lost of course will be back in 2024! It started in 2005 for 200 fucked up people in a small venue next to Space and it’s now a 24 hour, 95-artist extravaganza. But I’ve never lost sight of the reason I started it. It’s got underground credibility and still feels like a party for friends and family and we grow every year as a brand, constantly building a bond and taking stock. It’s a team effort and a better experience with every new occasion.

Finally, where is home now?

I’m officially a resident of Portugal and have a place in Lisbon but the family home is in Tuscany. I have built a house on top of a mountain which is a playground paradise for myself and my kids and Elisa and my studio is also here. We now have an office. We have a swimming pool. I come here to be real. As soon as I step in, I know this is the place. It’s serenity and nature and animals and vineyards and hopefully blue skies. This is the place.

Crosstown Rebels pres. CR20 The Album: Unreleased Gems and Remixes is out now. Buy it on Beatport.

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