As label boss of 2020Vision and a world-class DJ, Ralph Lawson surely has enough on his plate to keep him busy. But the producer is currently on a roll with his live outfit 2020Soundsystem, even winning over the notoriously hard-to-please US crowds. With their second album, Falling, still fresh on the shelves, ROB CHADWICK talks to Ralph to find out more…
It started as a means of mixing unmixable records. Now, six years later, it’s an all-conquering force to be reckoned with. And no-one is more surprised by this fact than the man behind it – Ralph Lawson, the head of Leeds-based label 2020Vision and one of the scene’s most innovative figures. We’re talking, of course, about his live band, 2020Soundsystem, an electronic outfit consisting of Ralph, Danny ‘Dubble D’ Ward and Argentineans duo Fernando Pulichino and Julian Sanza (aka Silver City and The Spirals). The band’s first album, No Order, got everyone sitting up and taking notice, but with their new LP, Falling, they’ve done the unthinkable and conquered America. We talk to Ralph to find out more…
How did you get together and decide on the 2020Soundsystem live act?
The 2020Soundsystem project started when I was approached by Fat City Records in Manchester to make mix for their Stars On 33 series. I wanted to mix records from 1979 to 1999, and a load of them weren’t done on computers so you couldn’t beat match them. As I was a house DJ, I had no scratch skills, so wanted to find a way to mix them. I spoke about it with Danny ‘Dubble D’ Ward, and he suggested he played kit over the records to handle any changes in tempo and movement, and then make ‘breaks’ out of the tracks. I would then mix in the next record into the drums that were now stable. I still really love that mix for Fat City. I think it’s pretty unique.
Anyway, we left the project for a while, but I became obsessed with putting a band together. It had been a dream since my teenage years and it was becoming an itch I still had to scratch. So when I got sent a demo by two Argentineans called Silver City that featured live bass and keys, I put two and two together…
Our first gig was at BRB Bar in Leeds. It was more of a jam over records, as at the time we didn’t have any songs. I used to play drum tracks or bonus beats, so the guys had space to play their instruments. Over time we started to get hooks and those then became original tracks.
And if you were to ask me about running a label compared to running a band, I’d say running a band is even worse. Don’t believe the hype, trust your mum and dad, and go and do something less stupid instead!
Your latest album, Falling, has been hailed as one of the more chilled electronic albums of 2009. Do you think this is fair?
Has it? I don’t think it’s that chilled. It has moments of extremes, soft and hard. We spent a long time making sure we made it a proper album from start to finish. We tried to capture the essence of the live show, while making a classic-sounding record.
Bisco and Psycho sound like festival jamming sessions. Do they go down as well they sound like they should?
Yeah, these are the big ones at the festivals for sure. If we’re not kicking it as much as we like, we can always rely on these to smash the place up.
There have been a lot of live acts trying to break through of late. What would you say to bands trying to break into the electronic scene?
Give up! No seriously do. You will have loads more stress and earn loads less money than just DJing. I have no idea why I started down this route, and now it is too late for me! Save yourselves!
Does the band give you more angles and avenues to go down in terms of production?
Of course. I’m just a thick DJ, and I’m honoured to have world-class musicians to play with me. I’ve learnt so much from them. I love it when we just jam – they always come up with lines that blow me away, and we run with it from there. There are more angles to throw up ideas as well. We smash it up for about 30 minutes and press record, and at a few points we find we’ve hit a good section. We grab that and turn it into a track.
You did a lengthy tour of America which was hugely successful. Did you expect that great feedback?
I’ve just got back from the US embassy as we speak and have a brand new visa for a year which I intend to use. But we didn’t expect that sort of feedback at all. We turned up at this festival called Bisco, and everyone was like: “Man, you inspired us to do this.” We hadn’t realised our No Order album had made such big waves over there. It’s seen as a pioneering work. We closed the whole festival that night – all the other stages shut down and we played to every single person there – around 10,000 people.
What’s next for you guys?
We’re back in the States from November 5 to 15, and we’re already planning next year. There are possibilities for Australia and beyond…