Before the international tours and headlining time slots, every big-name artist had to start out somewhere. In our First Gig Flashback series, we tap the most in-demand DJs to trace the first steps they took out onto the stage to grab their first taste of the limelight.
With all the play-it-safe DJs these days more concerned about their ostentatious stage antics and bombarding social media presence, you’d almost forget the reason why they are up there in the first place. But not Laidback Luke. The Dutch double-L has always stayed true to the game.
Exhibiting a master-class level of dexterity and on-the-fly motility, the stalwart has cemented himself as one of the most tried-and-tested technical selectors dance music has to offer. His hands speak louder than any hypeman hogging up the mic, deferring to a constantly changing track selection to keep things from ever turning stale. He wouldn’t be caught dead behind the decks just merely pushing buttons, because he’s far too busy pushing boundaries.
This weekend, he’s slated to slay EDC Orlando like he’s been doing to crowds for a solid two decades now. But before he drops in to Tinker Field to hit all the peak-time pleasure points, Laidback Luke takes us back to where his reign over the rave first began.
Where and when was your first gig?
This was in January 1997, at a party called Checkpoint Charlie in Reading, UK.
Who else was on the bill?
I believe Derrick May was on the bill as well.
How did you land the booking?
I was named one of the up-and-coming talents of the year in UK’s Muzik magazine at the end of 1996. The photographer who came down to Amsterdam to take some press shots of me brought his friends as well, and they were the promoters of Checkpoint Charlie.
Was your name listed on the flyer, and do you have a copy of it tucked away for safekeeping?
Yes, my name was on the poster and everything! Sadly enough, I didn’t save a copy. I did have the poster hanging in my studio for a long, long time, but this is almost two decades ago. When I moved houses, I got rid of all the posters I had hanging in the studio. I used to hang up all the posters that had my name on it, covering my whole studio layer by layer. It got lost in there somewhere!
What was your compensation for playing?
Quite a lot, actually! I remember it was about my monthly salary that I got for that show. I bought my first camcorder from that money at the airport flying home to Amsterdam, haha.
How many hours of practice did you log up until that point, and what setup were you using at the time?
I was only DJing for a year, but I had practiced a lot. I used to record a set every night of the week and then listen to it back every morning, trying to learn from my mistakes.
Describe the vibe of the party.
It was insane! It was actually my first time in a club outside of the Netherlands, and the Dutch crowd can be pretty flat. I was amazed by how much energy I got back from the English crowd.
How many people were on the floor when you took the decks?
It must have been about 200. I think the club only held about 400.
What was going through your mind the moment you got onstage?
“I can’t do this,” and “Why are my hands shaking so badly?!”
Did you make any rookie mistakes, either onstage or while dealing with the promoters?
The biggest one I remember was that my old manager was unable to call the promoter when we got into the hotel. It was a +44 UK number, and he had no clue how to properly dial that from his phone. I guess it was the first [time] outside of the Netherlands for him, too.
Name one track you played that defined this moment for you.
Laidback Luke “Club Climax”—I started my career in techno, so check it out!
If you could live it all over again, would you have done anything differently?
Yes. I never liked the feeling of anxiety before a show. Actually, I had a full week of anxiety for the weekend in my first couple of years. I would have loved to school my younger me in this. The anxiety went away ages ago, and nowadays I’m super confident getting behind the decks.
How long after this show would you say you caught your “big break”?
It’s been several steps from an early international techno DJ career to signing a major label deal in the Netherlands—actually getting very famous in my own country putting out videos and doing a lot of TV to try and get my international career back up, being 10 years into my career. From working with the Swedish House Mafia to getting pushed by Roger Sanchez and David Guetta, putting out “Leave the World Behind” and “Show Me Love,” to something like “Turbulence” and “Dirty Talk” taking over. It has always been steps for me, never one big moment—which keeps me super motivated, actually!
Did you learn a lesson from your experience that you carry with you to this day?
Probably being so happy and thankful someone flew me over and put me in front of such an eager crowd. I knew I was made for this and deserved this. That day was the acknowledgement I was looking for, and I’ll never forget that.