First Gigs: Steve Lawler

You’ve dedicated countless hours behind the second hand DJ booth you’ve crafted in your bedroom, and you’ve lost count of the amount of times your neighbours have complained about the noise by now. But your very first gig is where you can finally take those skills honed in the spare room of your parents’ house and showcase them in-front of actual people. Yet often, through a mix of nerves or formative music loves better left in the past, your first gig is sometimes better forgotten. Barely attended DJ sets in local pubs or playing techno to a disgruntled crowd at your Auntie’s wedding is where many DJ’s hone their skills, though, and if anything, your first gig is something to be cherished.

Saying that, Steve Lawler’s first gig is more accomplished than most. The VIVa Music founder has spent nearly a quarter century behind the booth, first coming face-to-face with the crowds during the height of acid-house. Now, as Steve Lawler is set to ring out the year alongside Groove Armada, Catz ‘N Dogz, Melé B2B Lord Leopard and many more as Elrow descend on Motion for their New Year’s Day bonanza, he talks through how he spent his early years as a child of acid-house.

Remaining tickets can be found at:

Where was the very first place you played?

It was a field in a disused monastery. Me and a bunch of friends that used to do a pirate radio show got a generator, some lights, a sound system and some decks and threw a party. We had about 200 people come. I was 16.

How did you feel before going on stage? Were you nervous?

I was and am still nervous, anxious, whatever you want to call it. No matter how big or small the show, I always feel a sense of presence, a sense of responsibility to deliver and that makes me nervous.

Did you always start out playing house and techno? Or was it something else that brought you into electronic music – trance, hip-hop…gabba?

I have played house and techno right from the very first record I played. But being a collector of music in general over the years I have been able to play alternative sets, with DnB, broken beat and trip-hop. Throughout my career I created opportunities to do this by having my own night. I had one called Hedonism, which was a Sunday night lounge affair in Birmingham’s trendiest bar at the time called Circo. I played regularly in the mid ‘90s in the back room of Birmingham’s Cream warehouse where I played with a crew of 4 of us for 12 hours, anything goes, from The Beatles to The Chemical Brothers

What urged you to start DJing and encouraged you to try it that first time?

I went to a night called The Snapper Club back in 1989, when no-one knew the DJ or cared who they were. No-one was facing the DJ, people were dancing together face-to-face, but I was the one who was always looking at the DJ, being mesmerised by the fact this one person’s taste could control so many people with records nobody knew. I thought about DJing every day since then, it’s still with me today.

The Art Of The DJ from Steve Lawler on Vimeo.

Did that first show ever put you off DJing again? For a little while, obviously…

It did very much the opposite, I started throwing regular illegal raves at only the age of 17. Because I simply had the bug of playing music to an audience.

What did you take away from that first show?

I was so excited. I was buzzing for weeks, and literally the next day I was planning the next one. I couldn’t wait.

How did your set and the night in general go, was it a success?

It was a huge success. As with all the legal parties we did more people than we expected always turned up. These were parties under the M42 in the middle of nowhere, and the only way of getting to these parties was by following a convoy of cars. We used to ask “where the fuck are all these people coming from?” But they kept coming, in their hundreds…

Are there any standout stories from that night? Both good and bad…

The first party we did in the disused monastery, we had issues. As the night turned into early hours the dew in the air started to get under the needles on the decks, they kept skipping and sliding everywhere until eventually we had to shut everything down. The party was insane and still a success, though.

Is there any advice you’d give yourself before that first set?

Yes, only take 1 pill!

Steve Lawler, Darius Syrossian and Max Chapman team up on the upcoming ‘Back To The Future’ EP on Do Not Sleep. As the title suggests, do not sleep and pre-order the record here: